The Nursery Rhythm

The Nursery Rhythm

Credit: Emily Blundell Owers

A small blue cross. This is the beginning.

How many women have sat over a toilet and experienced this same muddle of emotions? She wonders.

Her husband delights in the prospect of a third member. He is over the fucking moon. ‘Hey diddle diddle’ says the woman, her husband’s bovine body arching over that white crescent in one big leap. It is only normal to have concerns, to have doubts, she mustn’t be so hard on herself.

She dreams now, more often than usual. It is as if the life inside her has reawakened her imagination, as if her consciousness in those liminal moments of half-sleep has been added to, doubled. She tells her husband about one of her dreams. ‘You were all bush down there, I took a razor and shaved you. Under all that hair we found a small wooden door, you opened it and from inside crawled all of these tiny spiders. There were thousands of them and as they all poured out of you into the room you became more emaciated while they became bigger, until they filled the room entirely.’ Her husband laughs, ‘that’s messed up’ he says then pulls his trousers down. His penis is tucked between his legs. He ruffles his pubis. ‘Is this the door you speak of?’ he says.

Post sex the woman slides two fingers inside of herself. She makes herself come then looks at her index and middle finger. She parts them and observes the thick viscous web that bridges them. Her husband beside her is fast asleep. His face relaxed, baby-like, his bottom lip jutting out in a lugubrious pout.

At the hospital the doctor applies gel for the ultrasound. ‘How are you?’ he asks. A mundane question. Three common words and yet this is not a question she has given any consideration to for some time. Her husband, raffish, bouncing, enthusiastic as ever, tells the doctor that they are excited and asks what the purpose is of an ultrasound so early on. ‘It must just be a cluster of cells. Surely there can’t be much to see?’ Assuming a kind of symbiosis between the well-meaning husband and his wife, her absent answer goes unnoticed.

‘We check for abnormalities, it’s just protocol. Informed early decisions are better.’ Abnormalities, thinks the woman. What a word. She tries to make an anagram of it in her head and gets as far as ‘abort’ before the doctor says: ‘but you have nothing to be worried about. As far as I can see, everything is fine.’ The doctor smiles. The husband beams.

Humpty Dumpty is her husband. She dreams he has a great fall and that inside him is a perfectly formed baby.

The woman’s body is changing. Her breasts have got larger, as has her bum. Her husband is pleased. The woman cannot shake the sense that she has been invaded. Is this normal? thinks the woman, understanding now better than ever the categorical differences between a relationship that is symbiotic and one that is parasitic.

Another dream. Her husband is pregnant. It is he who must have the baby. He is delighted. When she wakes up her husband is fast asleep; she experiences a pang of something that feels strangely like jealousy, or maybe guilt.

Discharge, thick and unrelenting. It spools from her in wispy silk-like strands. ‘Is this normal?’ asks the woman. ‘Yes, it’s fine,’ says the doctor. ‘Everything is fine.’

She and her husband watch a nature documentary in bed. The documentary follows the story of a spider couple. Before the children are born, the mother, before being devoured by her own young, devours her husband’s body. The thought both scares and exhilarates her.

[Interesting trivia fact from the documentary: A spider’s silk has a higher tensile strength than steel.]

At the hospital, the doctor, masking his concern, relays news that there is a small complication. The baby has turned in the womb so that its limbs have become tangled; the ultrasound shows a confusing bundle of white lines surrounding the plump little body. The doctor says they should anticipate an early delivery.

The husband prepares. He has become an insatiable shopper; buying prams, cots, toys, clothes, bottles, nappies, reams of wallpaper and more. Every other day there is a delivery and the mountain of parcels grows.

The woman tells her husband to stop filling the house with crap. He looks wounded and says nothing. The last thing to arrive is a bungee cord and harness that the husband fastens to the living room ceiling. Seeing the cord she thinks back to a nursery rhyme she used to sing as a child. ‘Incy Wincy spider went up the water spout, Down came the rain and washed the spider out.’ She cannot remember how the rest of it goes.

The woman’s stomach is stretching, becoming defiantly round. She goes to sleep with the baby drumming gently against the wall of its home. She dreams again of her husband. This time he is on a bed of roses cocooned in a thick white blanket. He looks like a Russian doll. He has a happy-dumb look on his face. She looks on as a giant spider descends from the darkness above and begins to suck the fluids from his body. His body begins to atrophy, his hair pales and his skin sags until he is an old and withered man, still baring that happy-dumb look.

They have a date now. The doctor says that due to the strange way the limbs have become entangled to wait any longer could be dangerous. They will have to induce labour.

Post sex: The woman touches herself then retrieves two silken fingers. She struggles to separate them, as though they have been glued shut. Her husband rolls over and opens one eye. ‘This may be the last time we have sex this side of our baby’ says the husband sleepily. A moment later he is snoring away.

The hospital ward is quiet which is just as well because everything seems to be going wrong. The drugs have not worked, induced labor has failed. ‘The baby seems to like it in there,’ says the doctor. They will try a C-section. C-Section, what a funny word, she thinks, like it’s a place, a secret location, like area 51 or something, a place full of strange alien creatures.

There is stress, panic in the room, more doctors, then forceps. She cannot see what is happening. She is concentrating on breathing. While the medical staff work frantically to deliver her baby she inhales more gas. Little Miss Muffet, Sat on a tuffet, Eating her curds and whey; Along came a spider, Who sat down beside her, And frightened Miss Muffet away. It is not a nursery rhyme she has heard for a longtime and yet it plays in her mind as vividly as yesterday.

All of a sudden the doctor announces that he can see a head. They make the incision larger. ‘I’m not sure what I’ve got a hold of,’ says the doctor. Then there is a scream and one of the midwives passes out. ‘Well this is new’ says the doctor. In his arms he is cradling a beautiful baby with eight long hairy legs. The woman cannot yet see. The doctor cuts the umbilical cord and slaps the baby’s bottom. The baby begins to cry then all of a sudden there is shouting as the baby leaps out of the doctor's arms, runs along the floor and up the side of the room, stopping above the new mother’s bed. ‘It all makes sense now’ says the woman. Then the spider child descends into her arms and she cradles it awkwardly. Unsure of how to cradle a body with eight limbs she turns to her husband who has tears in his eyes and a wide radiant smile.

‘She’s beautiful,’ he says.

And this is the end.

Micha Horgan

is an Irish-Iranian writer and artist based in London. He has written for The Times, Vice and other publications and he is currently working on a collection of short stories. His art can be found around Hackney, or on his Instagram @chairmanhog. Photo by Grégory Pierrain.

All contributions from Micha Horgan

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