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Gary J. Shipley

Primaternity

I have headaches that expand into the world and make the people around me ill. They don’t know it yet, but my neighbours are all slowly dying of me.

I hear things like this and all the joy is gone. I don’t even want to breathe anymore, not if it’s to hear more things like this. Feels like a state-controlled programme conceived to make me cut my throat already. And if I was more paranoid, less resilient, not pre-soaked in despair since before I could remember, then maybe my habits would be different. Maybe I wouldn’t be glancing into mirrors expecting to see someone else. Maybe I wouldn’t be quite so immune to the misdirection of my self-loathing. Maybe the days wouldn’t be this horrible liquid, crawling uphill with no sense of where it came from.      

I’m buried next to myself. It’s the way I compare a rule to what instantiates it. I’ve been reborn so many times I’m my only surviving blood relative – and it’s not as if I even know if it’s possible to exist anymore. I had thoughts yesterday no mother could absolve. They rolled around in my head all day like prisoners on the floor of the Bridgewater State Hospital. I have headaches that expand into the world and make the people around me ill. They don’t know it yet, but my neighbours are all slowly dying of me. I used to have pets until the brain cancers got them one by one. I’d say I find it hard to live if I knew what that meant.   

It was a list and there were pictures: pygmy marmosets, tarsier, titi, squirrel, saki and capuchin monkeys. I’d read the shopping list of favoured species before I thought to look away. And there were pictures of their short-haired, foetal bodies, and those o-so-darling oversized nocturnal eyes. I wondered: where they were going, was there anything they could see? Was it possible for light to reach inside as far as that? And then, squeamish either way, found I had no impetus to know.  

How they were adapted to fit made me want to weep. The tails, which can be twice as long or more as the rest of the monkey, were the first to be removed. And then every tooth and then every nail. And then the anaesthetic wore off, and no eyes were built for what it left. My fellow-feeling for these tiny beings touched me like I was any kind of man or woman who felt things for other things as if I were them – an extension of my self-interest, if you will. And this apparition of me nontransparent for once, and so much less the vacuole I’d come to unknow. I saw it moving and caring and following me about, dark and vaporous and leech-like, a more tangible version of whatever I was whenever I thought that way.     

Post-natal depression attracted the wrong kind of friends. It happens. They sat round in circles drinking coffee and tea and cannibalizing each other’s traumas. Their gossip was a feverish collaboration, each one pretending to be further from recovery than the one before. The terrible thing about the violation of their being-without-child was how habitual it had become. Some of them pretended to be more insignificant than they were, which was the most difficult thing they’d ever done – and the most significant. They regarded sex without babies as a violent simulation. They compared it to bulimia: the more they had the emptier they became. With the help of inertia and deep-fried food, most became too ugly even to masturbate. They exposed themselves in too many chatrooms at once, came away with the feeling that no one cared, not like they did on TV, where people got paid to behave like the real thing.          

In case you didn’t know, for some women the being pregnant part is precisely where it’s at: the material promise of it, the feel of a life moving inside them, all of it unsurpassable. There’s nothing comes close to growing your own painkillers. And don’t creators always make the best destroyers? 

The most pregnant of the bunch smoked a dozen cigarettes an hour and had no sense yet of how this regulated her schizophrenia. She had visions of daily routines (work, husband, house) and heard voices when people spoke. They all swilled anti-rejection meds by the handful. In addition to their bumps there were the angular protrusions of the contraptions required to sustain these cul-de-sac pregnancies: the feeding, waste and breathing tubes, the devices into which they were inserted, that removed or supplemented as required.  

Those who still engaged in vaginal intercourse said how their more impressively endowed partners sometimes complained of a pinching sensation at their most deeply inserted region. But mild discomfort is no consolation, not for evil this far gone – and I should know. You can’t ameliorate laboratory-grade cruelty with a well-directed taunt. And what is trolling their subreddit with pictures of intact monkeys plucking fruit from the branches of trees but paper clothes on a suicide risk in a room full of nooses? What are monkeys in wombs anyway but listening to your favourite song over and over until you fall asleep? 

I guess I’m manufacturing one cause célèbre to disguise another. Truth is, it takes a pretend forest to obscure a real tree. But as luck would have it, pretend forests are easy: I grow them in a day. 

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Gary J. Shipley’s recent books include Mutations (Infinity Land), 30 Fake Beheadings (Spork), Warewolff! (Hexus) and The Unyielding (Eraserhead). He has been published in numerous literary magazines, anthologies and academic journals. More information can be found at Thek Prosthetics.