Sweeps Week

Cover of Sweeps Week

Jill and I were watching General Hospital when she told me she wished Mike loved her half as much as Luke loved Laura. Luke loved Laura so much he had her right there on the disco, Jill said, but that’s not how I remembered it. Mama, clucking her tongue, told me Luke was being improper. I’d been just a little girl, running my fingers through the ridges in just-vacuumed carpets. 

“Don’t look, Lucy.” Mama snapped. I focused on the carpet, pulling coarse threads free and placing them in my mouth. I ate so much my tongue became a welcome mat, my stomach a hallway. In my memories, Mama has no face. Only a voice, reprimanding. I tell Jill that Mike loves her plenty and she snorts. We both know plenty is never enough. It made me want to open my mouth to her, tell her to knock the dirt off her heels and come on in—any room of me was available. 


That summer I drove to Jill’s place in Riverbank every few days so we could fold the laundry our big-headed babies made. Luke and Laura were old by then, married, and their blue TV glow washed our babies’ faces like water. Jill wasn’t so diligent with her tummy time, I swore I could see her boy’s head flattening like a pancake. He turned in terse semi circles around the floor, a soft square of skull rubbed bald at the back of it, trying to find her. I followed her lead, waiting till I’d left her to turn my baby over onto my chest as our hearts beat, separated only by our skin, and whispered apologies into his ears. They were pale and soft as sea tumbled shells. Pink all the way into oblivion. I’d put my own ears to his, just in case, listening for the ocean. When I was done with his ears I sometimes put my head on his round belly. It was a fat little pouch that held the universe and I listened dutifully there too. Jill didn’t breastfeed her boy. When his mouth opened into a dark maw of need, she shook formula and tap water together. They barely moved, just enough to be real. I envied them in a way closer to thirst. Mine sat soft and pliant in their cups, the skin gathering like the starchy tops of pudding. I pinched the loose pleats between my fingers and rubbed it, wondering where the weight had gone, if it sat now in the tender collection of fat where my son’s wrists should’ve been. I weighed them in my palms, trying to match what I had lost to his gain. 


Before we went to Jill’s, the baby and I both had to get enough to get us through the soaps—all the way to Oprah. Oprah had stories juicy enough to eat, but the baby and I never could stay. I had dinner to make, appetites to attend. The baby and I would pull into the parking lot between towns and I would offer my son each side. The heat was sharp as needles, sweat pulsing down my neck while he grunted and sucked, making a meal out of what I couldn’t see. When he was done eating I buckled him in and dropped, on my hands and knees, to the floor of the car, pulling the slender fibers off the car mat and licking them into my mouth. Small dirt clods, salty and gritty, a desiccated french fry, slim and hard, but still itself, as if in amber. Even the paper receipt claiming the fries provenance I ate, dissolving the shiny paper in spit until it was just pulp, until it was nothing at all. The baby watched and cooed as I crawled under him, nearby but not present. More an animal than he should be alone with. When the rooms inside my body were populated, full to the walls with the week’s detritus, I crawled back into the driver’s seat. From the window I watched cars snake out of the lot, towards the developments that spored across what was once wild. Ranch houses where peaches used to grow, and all of us pulsing towards it like clots find a heart. 


Most days our appetites held, my son eyeing my breasts only as we were leaving, me able to keep my mouth busy until I’d walked out the door. We could get through all One Life to Live and All My Children, through to General Hospital—the last and best in the block, a cherry saved to the end of the sundae—before the baby or me felt hunger’s thumb hook in us, milk rising to the lip of my skin just as I pulled out Jill’s driveway. Some days, though, the rooms in me became flooded, unbearable, drowning whatever I’d eaten in my son’s need before we’d seen through the credits of our second show. During commercials for paper towels, less towels, maybe, than some foregone kind of man, I had to slip into her bathroom and lift my shirt up. Milk hissed against the basin, percussive and pale. It swirled down the stuttering drain, and I wondered if my son could feel it, the waste, made for him but unoffered. If he would also hunger for things just out of his reach. 


Pale hairs were always stuck to the wet counter under the soap dispenser, freed from a patch of scalp just above Jill’s left ear. I watched her sometimes, touching its bare expanse, worrying what little remained until it shed and rained onto the couch between us. I slid them free and swallowed them, slippery and viscous, the taste of her completely obscured by soap scum. Jill’s diet made all the extraneous parts of her flee, hair falling to the sink, nails broken and short. The one time they slipped inside me, the edges jagged, sharp, but I swallowed the cry and let her work over me. Our bellies had been so big only our hands could find each other, though when I reached for her, she slapped my hand away, hips bucking hungrily, but choosing instead to starve. Her body rejected whatever she wanted. I suspected it the reason her baby was able to stay in the first place. 


One afternoon I came back and settled next to her on the couch, empty, her son gazing curiously at me. The skin under his bottom lip was raw and fruit-punch pink from his sucking, gums working anxiously to approximate a nipple. Luke and Laura had been replaced by an emergency broadcast that was making Jill rub rub scrub the silk patch on her head. The camera panned to oil slicked ducklings flapping their budding wings against the weight of the grease. We waited for it to pass, the tender bodies of birds eaten by blackness. We had other things to think about, other birds—already boneless. Water ran off the short yellow tufts of ducklings , and I made a mental note to buy dish soap. 

“Did yours turn dark?” She said suddenly. 


“Mine turned dark when he was born. Stayed that way, too.” 

Jill lifted her shirt and clenched the hem between her teeth. Her nipples were mauve, a single blonde hair curling shyly underneath her breast. The body, insisting on itself. Above her belly button, the same furrow of skin I had, puckering against the vacuum our babies had left. “No. They didn’t.” 

She stayed that way a minute, her shirt mottling with spit, tugging it down over her stomach and turned back to the TV. I stayed facing her, hot in the cheeks. A stain bloomed, hopeful, through my t-shirt. My body, insisting on itself. 


Normally she walked me out, arms and elbows brushing primly, a perverse replacement for fucking, but that day she stayed on the couch, twisting at the waist to rest her head on the back of the sofa. On the TV Oprah sat across from a man with a brown caterpillar above his lip. It wiggled and seethed as he talked. Jelly bracelets and their meanings, teens and their wants, all the danger therein. 

“I’ll see you next week?” I asked as my son snuffled at my blouse, banging his skull on the bones of my chest. Jill turned back to the set, picking up her baby and giving him a firm pat pat pat on his diaper. It sagged from the burden of his own piss. Jill loved her baby, she did, she just didn’t think about him that much.


But of course, I never did again. 


My son chattered in the back as I tried to focus on the road, palms slick and tacky with sweat I couldn’t seem to wipe off. The wheel slid easily underneath them. If I wasn’t careful, I thought, I could slide onto the 5 and keep going. It didn’t sound so bad, just the baby and me. I had enough gas to get us at least to the redwoods. I knew some had hollowed trunks, smooth enough to sleep in. If there wasn’t room for the two of us the baby could have it, and I would sleep curled around the base, roots for pillows. Wanting for nothing, hungry only for what I had. There’d been an accident on McHenry. A car had buried itself with the precision of a buck knife into the side of a farm stand, corn exploding into silk. Translucent ribbons curled around the wreckage. I rolled my window down, trying to smell it, but I only smelled rumbling diesel engines, the asphalt, my own animal sweat. A body, insisting on itself. The baby keened at the new sounds from the road, matching the angry horns with his squall. A cop, hothouse red and round faced, gestured at me to keep driving but I stepped out of the car, approaching the wreckage. I thought, if he comes closer I will take a bite and let the juices drip over my chin. Right now, I thought, I could eat the world. The asphalt bit divots into my knees as I first bent, then knelt, in supplication over the corn, pressing my nose into the detritus. Sweet, and musky, and nearly as soft as I remembered her to be.


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