Inside Out

I wear an invisible cloak. Sometimes it rests on top of my clothes, people could touch it if they bumped into me.

It covers me in the shower when I have no clothes on at all.

It is there when I crawl under the covers at night, especially there, where my husband senses its vague outline. He feels it when it settles over us.

We used to take such joy in loving each other when we were learning new intimate, landscapes. We had hope, then, that our actions would lead to a new life with ten fingers and ten toes to count and kiss. We made up stories about returning to the countryside on the weekends so our mothers and grandmothers could dote on the next generation.

But hope faded month after month with dripping blood and tears. It became difficult to smile, reach out, and try again.

The cloak clings to me, squeezing like a metal band around my chest whenever we are around parents with babies and small children.

When my monthly cycle stopped, we let down our guard, the cloak went askew. We kept our secret close, not letting anyone know that we were thinking about names.

Our bubble was fragile. It glowed like a bright sun glittering in raindrops sticking to bamboo leaves in spring. And it was oh-so-brief. The gynecologist popped the bubble with a single word, “tumor.”

After that, we couldn’t even fight about our problem, blaming it on drinking, smoking, or wearing tight fashion underwear instead of boxers that allow seed pouches to cool and swing freely.

The cloak was back, making it so that we faced opposite walls, whispering, ‘good night,’ into a dark, desolate emptiness.

By the 1990s, we learned who had manufactured the cloak.

An alternate definition of rape is a violation, plunder, or abuse. What is it called when a rapist is a system, an industry operating with full knowledge about the harm they cause?

I was recruited out of high school, off my family farm in Yongin. They bussed girls into the city, providing housing. I felt so important! My mother would finally be able to buy enough food to satisfy every apatite at our table.

They outfitted us in clean suits and gloves. We looked like surgeons. In air-conditioned rooms, they trained us to etch patterns into chips. But they forgot to mention that the EGE solutions we used would penetrate our gloves and soak into our skin.

Imagine how I felt when the oncologist reported that my blood tests showed EGE levels six-hundred times higher than normal. Poison was the father of my tumor baby.

“They stopped using those in the states years ago,” the doctor said, “when they learned about their effects on reproductive health.” Pity showed in his eyes before he looked away.

I still wear my cloak to bed, it absorbs the tears that used to be for the baby. It wraps grotesquely around me, cradling my growth.

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This short story was inspired by the article, American Chip Makers Had a Problem. Then They Outsourced It.

It was written as a Wattpad entry for #MyHandMaidsTale contest.

 

 

Quaker Ladies Rubble; What Might Have Been for Phineas Gage

 

Estimated reading time 4 minutes.

Excerpt from Phases of Gage; After the Accident Years, a novella based on the life of Phineas Gage.
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1852

Phineas is aboard the Witch of the Wave with his parents and sister, Phoebe. The ship is beginning to move through Boston Harbor.  It will be traveling down the eastern seacoast to Chagres. From there, the family will cross the isthmus to Panama City and board a steamer bound for San Francisco.

As familiar territory fades from view, Phineas is feeling queasy. He reminisces about what he’s left behind.
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Everything changed that day, four years ago, when I became a freak, The Man with his Brains Blown Out.

When I think about Caroline, my insides get agitated. In happier times, we dreamed of our children. I hadn’t realized how fortunate I was when I was just a man, with a girl, working for our future.

Longing and loss shoot through my heart, searing me. I blink back tears. Viewing undulating ocean swells through distorted vision doesn’t help my mood or my wily guts!

I remember a Sunday afternoon like it is perfectly preserved in an unblemished piece of golden-tinged amber. We wandered off by ourselves, walking over the hill to a peaceful meadow, out of sight of the picnic and games. Caroline discovered a patch of Quaker Ladies flowers, tiny things with four white petals and a sunny center. We set to work picking some when she asks me how many children I think we’ll have.

“Coming from a large family,” I said, “I think I’d like not so many that the middle ones are forgotten in the pack.”

She giggled saying she agreed. I chose a flower, twirling it by its stem, sniffing its delicate perfume, “What would you name our first born?” I wanted to know. I reached over, plucking the pins from her hair, watching it tumble over her shoulders. She looks like she used to when she was a girl. Her smile sets my heart a flutter.

Her eyes sparkle, “I think I should like to name her, Susan.”

“Susan!” I was surprised. “You are wishing for a girl first?”

“Yes, silly, girls are a great help around the home. She will watch the other little ones when I am laboring with the next.”

“Come here,” I said. She leaned toward me. I embed the flower stem in her loose hair so it stays in place. “Here’s to the first,” I said, kissing her. For every child we named, I added a flower, following it with a kiss. We’d be breeding like rabbits if the Quaker Ladies were a prediction of our fate!

Before we started back, a gnat flew into my eye— the left one. The hurt that the tiny bug caused was out of proportion to its size. Caroline sat me down. While pulling my lower lid away, she dabbed with a corner of her handkerchief.

“For such a big, handsome man you yowl and complain like a baby,” she observed with good humor.

When she’d gotten the critter out, she wiped at the tears running down my face, kissing the injured eye, then the other one for good measure. I had to thank her for her kind and gentle services… It was difficult to stop thanking her! But a gentleman doesn’t keep pestering a lady once she’s called a halt.

Having Caroline to myself for that space of time, I was itching to finish saving for our farm and for us to be married! The need for money was what had sent me up Cavendish way to work on the railroad.

A chilly wind crawling beneath my jacket brings me back to my place and time. Looking over the Atlantic waters, my mind conjures up my beloved. She stands beside me, her elbows on the deck rail. She leans into the wind. Her eyes are closed but she is wearing a broad smile. “Every day is a new adventure!” she exclaims.

Turning toward me, her long, loose hair, behaves like fine autumn grass overcome by a dust devil. The Quaker Lady blossoms that I placed there come away, pelting my face with such force that they sting like blasting rubble.

My stomach is tight and sour, jumpy. Saliva, like hot water condensing along the sides of a glass pot, seeps into my mouth, filling the crevices below my tongue.

It occurs to me, with finality, that I will never be a father, now. That dream is as dead as my relationship with Caroline.

I hug the rail, opening my mouth, letting my guts erupt.

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One of the ‘great’ medical curiosities of all time.

At twenty-five, Phineas’s life changed the instant an iron rod
(like a crowbar, but without the hooked end)
shot through his head.