When we get pregnant, we go live in a garden. We’re sent there. The grass is soft and our bodies swell beneath the largest willow tree you’ve ever seen.
It’s just like the catalogues. There are catalogues, I know, even though it isn’t really optional. The woman on the cover beams and you think, Hey. That could be me. She’s not showing yet, on a ladder high enough that makes a star behind her hand in this way that makes you feel like you’re looking straight at God.
There’s nothing in the catalogue about mouse bones. No close-ups of blistered hands.
Just the long cascade of shining hair, the lemon tree dripping with lemons, and the endless wide-open sky.
We get pregnant because we are gardens. We grow things. It says that on our t-shirts, embroidered with green thread across our hearts. ‘We grow’ our gloves say. ‘Growers’ it reads on our standard-issue shoes, our undershirts, our maternity shorts.
The park isn’t so much a park as it is just orchards—it’s lemon trees, lime trees, trees full of grapefruits and pomegranates as far as the eyes can see. I mean, there’s a wall past where we can see, but we’re not there yet. It’s still the early days. We are gardeners, harvesters, get handed a sack and ladder one another up.
We pick and we fill and the sun lowers like a gold barbell and the moon comes up like a silver one.
We drink sparkling water with a wedge of lime and throw our heads back under the moon, feel like howling.
This is so much better than the real world, we say, meaning men, being handed our standard-issue lunch sacks, a ham and mayonnaise sandwich sealed inside.
We bite into it, salivating.
We change into our stand-issue Growers PJs and sleep in our workwomen’s shed.
For a while, we don’t even see men. They’re there, at the watchtowers, at the garden’s gates. But mostly it’s women we see—women who hand us our sandwiches, our Growers Gloves, women who check the fetus’s heartbeat before our own.
The first time we see a man, it’s after one of us got caught chucking limes over the garden wall, or one of us smuggled an illegal cell-phone, or two of us were found in the workwomen’s shed kissing.
There are strict rules they don’t list in the catalogue, but when one of us breaks them, all of us breaks them. We are a unit. We are more than we are.
So for a while, they take away our sparkling water and sandwiches and instead we get proselytized. We catch mice in traps for our dinners. You are about to be somebody’s mother, the proselytizer says. You need to be better.
I hold the dead mouse in my hand. The proselytizer bangs his hands on the table, and I can feel it, through the mouse body.
I can feel the body in my body some of the time. I look down at how I’m rounding out, how I’m changing to accommodate this newness. My little lemon or lime.
The proselytizer waves his hands, lets us go.
I don’t eat the mouse. I sneak out of the workshed that night, bury her under a tree.
I miscarry. I miss carrying. I carry so much. I hurt all over with carrying.
After I bury my not-child, they send me away.
I am cast out of the park and wait for someone to make me pregnant again.
I could be anywhere. Grocery shopping. Pumping gas. Taking a walk. Singing. Showering. Cleaning a dish.
Anything at all could be happening before a pregnancy occurs.
Aaaaaand….I’m back. Most of the women are new faces, sparkly-eyed, all catalogues.
We are handed starched gloves, clean shoes, freshly folded sheets.
We are handed a flashlight and two batteries because they do night harvests now. Be careful, they warn us. Use your batteries wisely.
I sit under the lemon trees those early nights, during harvest, flashlight off, moon huge, hold my body by the shoulders, making a crisscross of elbows like if I squeeze hard enough I’ll be armor, and not a cannon about to bring the whole ship down.
I cry the whole time I lemon-pick. It sounds like an exaggeration but it’s not. I’m worried about my baby being a not baby. I’m worried about what happens to me whether they make it or not. I’m worried about another pregnancy, another pregnancy, another pregnancy, another pregnancy.
I don’t resist when two women hook themselves to me like guardrails.
I’m put into a medical tent so white I can’t keep my eyes open.
One day a woman breaks out of the garden and makes a run for it. Literally made a rope blanket out of bedsheets and scaled the fence.
She is imprisoned. There are talks of the electric chair once the child is born.
But that’s not how they like women to die.
Women die of strangulation, of brutal rape and shallow graves. Women die at gunshot, knife-point, during child-birth.
This is our legacy.
Time passes. I don’t really know how much but I can tell the days are getting shorter, the nights cooler. They put a lock on the workwomen’s shed so I can’t sneak out at night under the lemon tree crying to change myself into something I’m not.
I get well enough to pick lemons. They say, Cry all you want. Get back to work. And they hand me my gloves.
During night harvest, I look at the white-hot moon in the pitch-black sky.
I turn off my flashlight and creep to the wall, lined with barbed wire and metal spikes. There’s footsteps on the other side. They are slow, measured. Heavy. I know it’s a man’s walk. I know by how dark the sky is, how unhurried the footsteps are.
I know because I’ve never made a sound like that in my life.
Melissa Goodrich is the author of the collaborative collection The Classroom, the fiction collection Daughters of Monsters, and the poetry chapbook IF YOU WHAT. She lives with one princely rabbit. Find her at melissa-goodrich.com and tweeting @good_rib.
Artwork by: Spencer Selover