In my new life, I was slim and lived in downtown Toronto. I had a funky apartment-one of those lofts in the Distillery district-waitressed at an Irish Pub, and took painting classes. In my new life I drank red wine, went to avant-garde poetry readings, and dated men who wore ripped jeans and quoted Marx and Martin Luther King Jr…”
by amy corbin
Cold turkey was how I quit. It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. I threw my smokes in the trash with the pregnancy test. I really don’t think I could’ve smoked if I wanted to — the guilt would have been too much. I ate right and even took water aerobics. If anyone had asked if I wanted a boy or girl, I would’ve said I wanted a healthy baby; but when Julia was born, she looked so perfect, and I knew inside I must’ve really wanted a girl.
I was surprised they let me take her out of that hospital. She came with no manual, and I truly had no idea what I was doing. Breast feeding is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, but it was not nearly as easy or beautiful as I’d imagined. The lactation nurse told me to just put her on and she would lift her nose to breathe. Of course, that turned out to be the biggest myth going.
“Julia looks a little blue, dear. Are you sure she can breathe?” asked Nick.
“Yes, she can breathe. The nurse was just in here and told me what to do.”
“Umm…she’s definitely not breathing. You need to get her off.” I took her off, and she was definitely blue and gasping for air. I’d almost killed her, and we hadn’t even left the hospital.
Things were great at first. Nick had the week off and made sure I didn’t suffocate Julia. But, things started to unravel when Nick went back to work. The days were long, and I had no one in that crappy little town. Somehow I’d envisioned motherhood to be much more glamorous. I thought I would have play dates with other mothers and we would discuss art and politics, while sweet quiet children played at our feet. But, there’s nothing glamorous about haemorrhoids and gigantic, drippy, veiny boobs. Nobody tells you this stuff. It seems like a conspiracy because when I had mentioned it to my mom and her friends; they nodded their heads and had that pained look in their eyes. I’m certain that women don’t like other women. “Let them suffer like I had to. That’ll teach them.” I swear that’s what they’re all saying in their bitchy minds.
The only thing I looked forward to each day was my morning shower. I loved that morning shower. Showers are magical – the warm, invigorating water muffles all other noise. When you’re in the shower, you can imagine you’re going anywhere with anyone. But I wasn’t going anywhere in my maternity clothes that still fit too well.
It seemed I would just be getting dressed and it was time for Julia’s lunch. So there I sat feeding again. At least we had cable. We weren’t going to get it (too expensive), but I begged and begged.
Julia did not like evenings, and would cry from supper-making time until almost midnight. I’d try to make quick suppers so I could tend to Julia. Nick had such high standards though. His mother made her own bread, hung laundry outside, kept the house spotless, all with six kids. I could hardly manage an interesting supper with one kid.
I’m not sure what made Julia cry so much, but there didn’t seem to be anything to console her. We’d move her from the swing to the vibrating chair, sit her on top of the dryer, play soothing music, take her on car rides. All of it worked for about five minutes, but then the crying would start back up again and seemed even louder.
Nick would say things like — what did you eat? What did you do today? Maybe it’s all the Law and Order you watch. We never really fought until Julia was born. We could’ve had sex again after my six week check, but we didn’t. Maybe because we were too tired, maybe because I was so fat and unattractive, or maybe because it seemed like we both just hated each other.
I didn’t blame Nick when he stopped coming straight home from work. He’d say he was going out for a drink with some work people or he was staying late at the office. I could tell you roughly when the affair started. He started paying more attention to what he wore and even bought a new belt. The funny thing is that I didn’t mind because he became so nice. It was also a little easier to have only the crying and no fighting. And, I stopped making supper. I started to talk to Julia a lot. Not just things like — do you want to go for a walk now? I was talking to Julia like she was my best friend. In a way, I guess she was.
I also started to daydream about a different life. In my new life, I was slim and lived in downtown Toronto. I had a funky apartment-one of those lofts in the Distillery district-waitressed at an Irish Pub, and took painting classes. In my new life I drank red wine, went to avant-garde poetry readings, and dated men who wore ripped jeans and quoted Marx and Martin Luther King Jr. In my new life there was no Nick, and no screaming Julia.
I told Nick that I wanted to move back to Toronto. Why live here in the middle of nowhere? “Well, I’ll tell you why — because this where my job is, and I can’t get this kind of job in Toronto. I don’t want to live in Toronto anyway. Why would I want to live in Toronto? So I can sit in traffic all day and breathe in the smog-filled air? I’d rather shoot myself in the head.”
Jenny didn’t live in Toronto either. I never said that. For some reason, I was afraid to say I knew. I felt if I said something then he’d leave. Then I would be stuck with Julia living on welfare in some cockroach-infested apartment in Ontario housing.
I started to worry obsessively about Julia. I’d wake up at all hours of the night to check on her. I was worried she was too hot, too cold, or on her stomach. I needed to make sure she was always breathing. I read every article on crib death.
I read online about pain-free ways to kill myself and not-necessarily-pain-free ways to kill Nick. Sometimes I would imagine killing just one of us but other times it was a murder-suicide. Sometimes I’d black out and wake up sweating like a pig. I’d go into the shower and when I got out I’d stand in front of the long mirror naked and grab at my fat and hurl insults at the mirror. “You fat lazy pig. No wonder your husband is having an affair. You would too if you could find somebody to sleep with you. You fat piece of lard. Your daughter is going to grow up and be ashamed to be in public with you.”
Whenever I drove, I’d visualize driving into other cars or even smashing into walls. I stopped driving except for groceries or stalking Jenny. I followed her home, stole her mail, phoned her house from telephone booths. I even photographed her from afar. She wasn’t even that cute. She had that typical bleached blonde hair and fake tan, which I guess guys go for; but, if you ask me she looked like a hardened party chick. You could just tell Jenny smoked by looking at her. I would stare at her cheap celluloid face and talk to her about my plans for killing her boyfriend. Sometimes I would shoot Nick but other times I would carve him up. “You like Nick? You can have him. Would you like his arm or leg?” I would ask flat Jenny.
It seems like a big mistake. I know everyone who’s in here says that, but I really didn’t do anything. I told the police what happened, but they didn’t believe me. It was one of those nights that Julia was crying and crying and Nick was out with that whore. I couldn’t take it anymore and I put her up in her crib, and went out on the porch for a smoke. I know…I know — I quit smoking. But I started to have just a couple in the evenings to relax me. I was so sweaty, and the cool night air felt good. I went back in, to check on her, and that’s when I saw that woman in her room. She was standing over her crib smiling. Her hands were inside the crib. I looked into the crib to see what she was doing. It was then I realized that she was smothering Julia. I screamed for her to stop. I was crying and sweating. But it was too late. I pulled the pillow off her face, and there she was: blue just like she was that day in the hospital. She looked so peaceful.
(illustration: dee sunshine)
Amy Corbin has had her work published in numerous publications, including Filling Station, The Cynic, Ascent Aspirations, Every Day Poets, Every Day Fiction, Short Story Library, Writers’ Stories, Concise Delight, Calliope Nerve, Boston Literary Magazine, and The Smoking Poet. She was an honoree in the 2011 Binnacle Competition for her story, “Dear Mr. Barlow” and won third place in The Shine Journal’s 2011 poetry contest for her poem, “Close Your Eyes.” More from Amy Corbin can be found in the Vault of Smoke.