The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

December 4, 2011 by

Farmer’s Market

It happened, and then it was over.

There was nothing much to talk about, and I have mostly forgotten the details. The images are somehow fuzzy, remembered in strange slow motion, as if I am still distracted, surprised that I am in the center of the memory, rather than standing on the side, looking in.

It was a cloudy gray Sunday, late morning. I was in my Super-Mom role; my husband was at the library drinking coffee and reading educational philosophy (on Sundays, he assumes his Super-PhD-Man role), and I was in the park, with our three kids, and my cousin’s two daughters. When my cousin dropped off his girls, his nine year old ran off with my three year old, who promptly fell and skinned her knee and started crying; his seven year old ran off with my six year old, who fell off her scooter and started crying; and the baby started screaming for the swing. My cousin gave me a look. I smiled my Super-Mom smile, answering his unspoken ‘are you sure you can handle this’ question, told my girls to tough it out, and carried the baby over to the swing. And I was fine, and so were the kids, as long as I didn’t think too much about what could happen. I let the girls climb and swing high and jump off and pushed the “what-ifs” aside, because otherwise my husband couldn’t ever work on his PhD, and my cousin’s kids couldn’t slip seamlessly into our family, and that wasn’t the family I wanted.

After the park, we walked over to the Farmer’s Market, tasting dripping chunks of pomegranates and crunching sweet apples. The baby was in the stroller, and the girls teetered at the edges of my peripheral vision, sharp in-focus images against the autumn crowd of Ezra Pound’s couplet, “In A Station at the Metro,”

The apparition of the faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Suddenly one of those petals was coughing, her face turning red, and her mother beside her, wearing a baby in one of those modern, back to true motherhood carriers, started calling for help, “help,” help, she cried, and I realized that I had noticed the girl before the mother had started spinning and searching and that my focus had lost all of my girls and honed in on this red creature. Her hair red and curly, like the orphan Annie’s, her face round and red, her body strangely rigid. I watched the mother spinning, turning this way and that, searching, and stood for what feels like forever hoping someone would step in. Somehow nobody did. I called to my girls – “stay close” – and picked up the child and turned her upside down.

It resolved quickly and silently. The girl stayed red, and then I put my fingers in her mouth, and swept out thick apricot, and the girl’s color seemed to return, but she would not talk, and yet I knew she was breathing again, and I put her down, and she took another bite of her pear. Her mother was so strangely ungrateful, unaware, my heart pounding my whole body shaking and she seemingly so calm. That was all, a few moments.

We continued walking, and my cousin’s daughter said “Gross – you put your fingers in that girl’s mouth!” and the children became obsessed with finding me a way to wash my hands. All day long, they kept asking me, “Did you wash your hands? Did you wash your hands?” And what I did not tell them was that I had been washing my hands endlessly, thinking of Lady Macbeth, hoping to cleanse myself of the responsibility for caring for these lives, but knowing I could not, knowing that forever the spit of that child would be dripping from my hands, and I could never wash them clean.

For it was a brief moment and I stepped into it and I was lucky, and the girl was lucky but in that moment the What Ifs that I had been succeeding in keeping at bay finally penetrated, flooding the structures I had so gingerly built. And I was afloat, adrift in the wild waters, calling silently for help. Pomegranate rinds and stained mouths looking on, drifting by.