March 4th, 2011 - Abby Frucht
Even the bus might have served as a warning. I don’t ride buses, and this was a rattletrap single-decker with flickery lighting on unaligned tires that made it feel like wherever I might have hoped I was going was the wrong place to be. And when the door jolted open and the monsters lurched in - ten of them, thirty, their square boots stomping – I might’ve worried one might plonk down too near me and rub its elbow into mine. How bloated they were, their skins stitched so poorly their insides spurted, their voices raised as much in greed as in lamentation as down the aisle they tramped, their dung landing every which way, their words a slopping of gibberish demanding all passengers cry out and shrink from the wretchedness of them. I wasn’t frightened, though, and when I woke I brushed my hair at my place at the window looking out at the ice on the frozen lake, like I would the day after, and the week after that, and in March a year later, 2011. The ice resembled spilled milk on a cracked table. I’d fallen through it one year, rescuing the dog. He was thirty yards from shore, chasing a raucous throng of geese. I was over my head. I couldn’t claw myself out. There was a single open ribbon of bright, clear water, but it would lead us only further out of the bay. The ice collapsing underneath us, Ike wrapped his forelegs around my neck as dogs will when you’re rescuing them from drowning, climbed onto my back, and wouldn’t let go. I wasn’t frightened, though. I thought of my sons. One was in college needing somebody (me) to put the evil eye on his English professor, and the other stood coolly on the sidewalk outside middle school, waiting for me and Ike to pick him up. Two things saved me: I wasn’t weighed down by boots, since I’d been wearing only clogs which I had kicked off while running onto the lake, and then a couple drove up and parked on the street in view of where I struggled. They must have detoured to look at the late winter ice and to hear it groaning. I don’t know how long they stood there wondering what I was – two-headed, clamorous, my leather jacket breaching only to plunge underwater again - but when they started making rolling motions with their arms as if performing a children’s song for me, I understood them to mean I should roll, not climb. A police car sped up, siren blaring. Soon I was rushed across town to the hospital and placed in an inflatable heat bed thing to be comforted by nurses, even though I wasn’t frightened.
The day I woke from the dream about the monsters on the bus, even though I wasn’t frightened I felt occupied by them, and when I sat down to work, Ike curled up warmly around my feet, a duty he’d only recently taken on. A week later I’d be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I understood the dog didn’t dare leave my side because that’s what dogs think is required of them when you have cancer. And I understood too that the dream with the monsters had been my body’s way of warning me something was in me that didn’t belong. I told my sons I wasn’t frightened, and I think they believed me. I had surgery. It hurt, but the radiation burn hurt much, much more, and though I’d never objected too much to needles, I now find them unbearable.
Today, at 63, I take my place at the same frosted-over March window regarding the scarred, pocked landscape of ice, which resembles my breast, post-surgery. Soon the ice will break up and clatter loudly to shore in humongous blue shards, a beautiful sight, like fractured glass cities. You’ll be sitting at your desk and you’ll discern a low roar amid a high-pitched crashing, and when you race to the window to watch it roll in, you’ll find the lake buckling, heaving forth, making way for the ducks in their mating season. Some ducks gang rape (it’s true), the lone female assaulted by fleets of males, and though she doesn’t look terrified, sometimes she perishes, fighting them off. Nature really is monstrous, but would you have it any other way ever, you ask? Some years you’re in it, and some years it’s in you. And both. And always.
Abby Frucht is the author of two short story collections: Fruit of the Month, for which she received the Iowa Short Fiction Prize in 1987, and The Bell at the End of a Rope (Narrative Library, 2012). She has also written six novels: Snap; Licorice; Are You Mine?; Life before Death; Polly’s Ghost; and A Well-Made Bed (Red Hen Press, 2016), on which she collaborated with her friend and colleague Laurie Alberts. Abby has served as mentor and advisor for more than twenty five years at Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Her new book of poetry, Maids, tells the story of Abby's efforts to speak to and about the women employed by her parents when she and her sisters were girls on Long Island in the 1960's,'70s, and 80's. Maids, which was a finalist and/or semi finalist for the Slope Editions Book Prize, the Marie Alexander Poetry Book Prize, The Robert C. Jones Short Prose book prize, the 42 Miles Poetry book prize, and the Deborah Tall Lyric Essay book prize, was published in 2020 at Matter Press.
Abby urges you to give to the Coronavirus Care Fund at the Domestic Workers Alliance. Visit domesticworkers.org/coronavirus-care-fund. Additionally for every copy of her book, Maids, purchased directly from the Matter Press website, she will donate the full price of that sale to the Coronavirus Care Fund. Visit matterpress.com/maids/