“Afterlife” by Cassandra Lane
The Lynched Man’s Widow
Mary feels the baby curling inside her, tighter and tighter, unbearable pain. She closes her eyes and prays for the coiled mass of limbs to dissolve. She and Burt had promised to raise this man-child together. Now, that Burt has been lynched, murdered, buried, his promises of a better future ring hollow. Mary wishes the fetus would stop feeding off her; she has no more to give it. She wishes it would shrivel to a seed and disintegrate into nothingness.
But nothingness, like hope, holds itself just out of Mary’s reach.
Wife of the Lynched Man’s Son
Avis pushes her first baby’s body out into the world and knows right away that she had borne a dead thing.
“Let me hold him,” she pleads with her midwife. She wants to smell his baby hair and baby skin.
As the midwife washes him up, fear suddenly tears at Avis. Will he smell like death? And, if so, would she ever be able to scrub the stench from her nostrils, or would it follow her the rest of her life?
When the midwife places the baby in Avis’s arms, Avis cups him to her neck. He is a doll baby, beautiful and lifeless.
Avis has eight children after her stillborn. With each pregnancy, she waits for death to beat her over the head again. She sinks her nose into each baby’s hair, searching for the lost scent of the one who did not live.
The Lynched Man’s Great-Granddaughter
At 16, Sand swore off ever becoming a mother. As the eldest of her mother’s five children, she felt like she had already walked that path. When she was 17, she aborted the fetus that was growing inside her without shedding a tear.
When she discovers she is pregnant again at 36, something in her is soft and ready. She watches water births on YouTube and includes this preferred method of delivery into her birth plan.
On her day of labor, the doctor tells her that her risk of infection is too great for a water birth. Defeated by the contractions, she does not fight him. She waddles into the hospital bed to dilate more centimeters and wait, lasting half an evening before the contractions break her.
“I can’t do this naturally,” she cries over the phone to her mother. “I feel like a failure.”
“You have to be very still,” the anesthesiologist tells her, but the more she tries to stop trembling, the more violently her body convulses. A nurse eases her back into a prostrate position and covers her with blankets she cannot feel.
After she gives birth to her son, she falls into a dead sleep. When she awakes, she is convinced that the afterbirth is still inside of her, some parcel of flesh that the doctor had not seen. She had read somewhere that this can happen. She presses down on her swollen abdomen, obsessing over the definition of afterbirth: when the placenta and fetal membranes are expelled from the uterus after the birth.
She had not felt a second wave after her son was born. She imagines that she has afterbirth stuck inside of her, floating around, unable to find an opening.
Is it alive? she wonders.
Is it the past or the future, or both?
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Cassandra Lane Artist Statement:
Cassandra Lane is a former newspaper journalist and teacher who has published
essays, columns and articles in The Times-Picayune, The Source, TheScreamOnline,
BET Magazine, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bellingham Review and Gambit, and
in the anthologies Everything but the Burden and Daddy, Can I Tell You
Something. She is an alumna of Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA) and A Room of Her
Own Writing Retreat (AROHO). Her essay, “Familiar Fruit,” will be published in the
anthology Ms. Aligned later this month. She has performed readings at the
Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, Beyond Baroque, AROHO and more. She
received an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. A Louisiana
native, she now lives with her family in Los Angeles.