content warning: death
Wrapped in blankets that smell like soap and soft bread, my baby comes home with me. This bundle, this speck of a thing, looms so large and heavy in my arms. Right now, mountains of expectations—to do right by him—make my breath shallow, my throat dry.
The nurse says I must breastfeed, but I can only squeeze a few drops of colostrum, and I’m told that’s good—that’s something. But it’s not enough, and I’m drying up. They tell me to drink more water. I drink gallons. Still, nothing—and the baby screams for food. So, I express what I can, a few drops, a teaspoon maybe, but the milk is running out.
The nurse calls every day. She tells me to keep trying—that women who resort to other things just aren’t trying hard enough—not drinking enough water.
From my window, I see dust rise up over the mountains, entering through the tiny cracks in my house. It feels like rain, settling on my countertops, lightly coating the bathtub. I gather it in my hands and mix it with the drops I can pump, but it’s still not enough. I resort to eating the dust, mixing it with water, but nothing suffices. Water’s not the problem. It’s not the answer, either.
Each day, the dust falls thicker. It covers the floors, the windowsills, the bedsheets. The baby and I need a jacket. Not because it’s cold, but because we need shelter from the particles that keep falling. They cover our skin and make us itch, the skin flaking like more dust, our flesh raw.
Driving into town for a jacket, I see a restaurant sign that says, “Eat Big Food.” I stop in to see if more food will help because water certainly doesn’t. My tiny baby shivers and coughs while people around me shake their heads and murmur, “Poor baby. Looks like your mother doesn’t feed you.” Grease drips from their burgers while dust mounds in heaps on the floor. The plates and napkin holders on the tables are caked in it. A woman in a booth near the window chugs a carafe of water and wheezes. Two others slump at the counter, gripping empty glasses.
The wind picks up when we go outside, and the dust swirls like entire deserts set loose. I search for the horizon, but the wind and sand—all the particles of everything around me—press so hard, so compactly against my body and the one I carry. They push us, and all of the people around us, together into one tall mound, until our lungs fill with dust and each particle becomes a new cell that closes our breath. The baby crumbles. A voice in the wind whips itself around, still asking, “Did you really try?” Its hollow sound echoes, reverberating through the bones in my now-empty arms.
Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) is a writer who taught English and Spanish in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in international literary magazines and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Tiny Molecules, Rejection Letters, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @ckennedyhola.
Header photography and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson