New Voices: “It’s All Perfectly Natural” by Emily Chiles

September 30, 2019

After the birth of her child, all Maddie can think about is food. In this gorgeous and brief story from Emily Chiles, themes of motherhood, of role models, of hunger primal and innate are explored with deft prose. “You want to sort of just make a sandwich with your hand.”

I don’t even like Dez. He wasn’t even my boyfriend. I just remember how when I lifted my top and tossed it onto the floor, his face was like Indiana Jones discovering that vault of gold. I like that memory and I try and hold onto it while Barb tells me all about colostrum, liquid gold, how it nourishes the baby in ways scientists still don’t entirely understand.

“Okay, Maddie. What you want to do is make a C with your hand, like this.”

Barb the hospital lactation nurse grabs my left breast like it’s a sandwich. Maybe not, but I’m thinking a lot about food just now. I haven’t eaten since my water broke in my dad’s old Subaru twenty-nine hours ago, halfway home from my math final. Yesterday, which feels like last year, I put “community college student” under “Mother’s Occupation” on the admissions forms in the maternity ward. Father: unknown. I’m pretty sure it was this kid named Dez who works nights at Denny’s. His mom’s apartment, twin bed, grayish sheets, broken condom. For all I know he’s still playing hacky-sack in the Denny’s parking lot with his loser friends.

Six pounds, seven ounces. A girl with reddish fuzz on her head and a squinched up red face. All the nurses keep calling her “peanut.” When her eyes open they are a very dark blue. They look human but also not. She is mouthing my collarbone. She is in the world. I try to lift her towards me and make my best C. My breast reminds me of a seal lounging on a rock.

“Support the baby’s neck like this,” Barb says and shows me how.

“Like this?” I say. But I end up smooshing the baby’s face into my nipple, which is as big as Barb’s palm.

Barb shakes her head. She smells like ammonia and stale coffee. Her face is freckled and brown like my mom’s is. Was.

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