Mother

On this day where we celebrate the #1 Women in our lives, please remember how much work there is to do for every woman to be as loved as we love “mother”, whoever that woman is for you. Happy Mother’s Day.

I’ve been spending the afternoon reading about women and came back to the V-Day movement, reading about women of the Congo, reading about the women in Haiti, and the girls bought and sold in cities and far-flung nowheres in Asia. I don’t think that I will ever grow an emotional “callus” to hearing these stories and I hope I never do. But something in me has shifted, because before, when I would start to hear women and children’s stories about violence, rape, displacement, etc., I would tune out or leave the room or nod in some kind of solidarity and try to find out more on how I could help or do something. But now I want to listen. Listening is such an integral part in understanding, and developing, and doing.

There are hundreds of vids on YouTube about what’s going on in the Congo and all over the world. I will not choose one over another.

Women for Women International has been eye-opening.

Suggested reading:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.

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the taming of the broad: women in art

Kat Laranger’s princess series works are unstoppably haunting. Check these out. Her quote on her work is wonderful:

“The idea that women should be clean and small and mutable really speaks to me of the power they must have. Women are fleshy, walking, talking, human-making machines, and all things fertile are also dirty, bloody, and open. There is no privacy in womanhood, and that idea is not always an easy thing to deal with.”

Women Targeted in Haiti

Taken from:

Haitian women become crime targets after quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Bernice Chamblain keeps a machete under her frayed mattress to ward off sexual predators and one leg wrapped around a bag of rice to stop nighttime thieves from stealing her daughters’ food.
She’s barely slept since Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake Jan. 12 forced her and other homeless women and children into tent camps, where they are easy targets for gangs of men.
Women have always had it bad in Haiti. Now things are worse.
“I try not to sleep,” says Chamblain, 22, who lost her father and now lives in a squalid camp with her mother and aunts near the Port-au-Prince airport. “Some of the men who escaped from prison are coming around to the camps and causing problems for the women. We’re all scared but what can we do? Many of our husbands, boyfriends and fathers are dead.”
Reports of attacks are increasing: Women are robbed of coupons needed to obtain food at distribution points. Others relay rumors of rape and sexual intimidation at the outdoor camps, now home to more than a half million earthquake victims.
A curtain of darkness drops on most of the encampments at night. Only flickering candles or the glow of cell phones provide light. Families huddle under plastic tarps because there aren’t enough tents. With no showers and scant sanitation, men often lurk around places where women or young girls bathe out of buckets. Clusters of teenage girls sleep in the open streets while others wander the camps alone.
The government’s communications minister, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, recently acknowledged the vulnerability of women and children but said the government was pressed to prioritize food, shelter and debris removal.
Aid groups offer special shelters for women and provide women-only food distribution points to deter men from bullying them. But challenges are rife more than three weeks after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left as many as 3 million in need of food, shelter and medicine.
Women who lined up for food before dawn Saturday said they were attacked by knife-wielding men who stole their coupons.
“At 4 a.m. we were coming and a group of men came out from an alley,” said Paquet Marly, 28, who was waiting for rice to feed her two daughters, mother and extended family. “They came out with knives and said, ‘Give me your coupons.’ We were obliged to give them. Now we have nothing — no coupons and no food.”
Aid organizations set up women-only distribution schemes because they trust the primary caregivers to get that food to extended family, not resell it.
“We’ve targeted the women because we think it’s the best way to get to families,” said Jacques Montouroy, a Catholic Relief Services worker helping out Saturday. “In other distributions when we’ve opened it up to men, we found that only half of the men would do what they were supposed to with the food.”
Soldiers from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, guard many of the streets around the distribution points, but they can’t be everywhere all the time.
Aid workers say they’ve been staging elaborate decoy operations to draw men to one area while food coupons are given to women in another. Each of the 16 daily distributions throughout Port-au-Prince presents its own security challenges, Montouroy said.
“The coupon distribution has been hellish,” he said, explaining how crowds of men swarm around the women.
Even if the women successfully make it back to the camps with their 55-pound (25-kilogram) bags of rice, that doesn’t mean their worries are over. Some camps are even providing special protection for women, with tents where they can receive trauma counseling or be alone to breast-feed and care for young children.
“My sister died in the earthquake, so now I have to take care of my three daughters and my sister’s two,” said Magda Cayo, 42. “I try to keep them close but I see lots of hoodlums looking at them. We’re all nervous. It’s no good.”
Women have long been second-class citizens in Haiti.
According to the United Nations, the Haitian Constitution does not specifically prohibit sexual discrimination. Under Haitian law, the minimum legal age for marriage is 15 years for women and 18 years for men, and early marriage is common. A 2004 U.N. report estimated 19 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed.
Rape was only made a criminal offense in Haiti in 2005.
In the months after a violent uprising ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, thousands of women were raped or sexually abused, the British medical journal Lancet reported. The coup set off a bloody wave of clashes among Haiti’s national police, pro- and anti-Aristide gangs, U.N. peacekeepers and rebels.
Because so many police stations and government offices were destroyed in the earthquake, some women may have no place to go to report assaults, according to Melanie Brooks of CARE, which is working to protect women while providing disaster relief.
She said women recovering from quake-related injuries are even more vulnerable because many are not mobile. An additional threat is HIV; Haiti has the highest infection rate in the Caribbean.
“The women whom we’ve talked to tell stories of rape, assaults or men following them around when they’re bathing,” Brooks said. “These stories are becoming the new bogeymen now. Everyone is looking over their shoulder.”
Before the earthquake, the government set up a panel to look at ways of empowering Haitian women. But the Women’s Ministry was among the government buildings destroyed.
Three Haitian women working on important judiciary reforms to protect women against sexual violence — Myriam Merlet, Anne Marie Coriolan and Magalie Marcelin — died in the earthquake. Many view their deaths as setbacks for all Haitian women.
As women lined up for food at the National Palace on Saturday, U.S. soldiers kept the men behind a cordon.
“It’s discrimination!” said Thomas Louis, 40. “We’ve all lost mothers, sisters, wives. Without women we can’t get coupons. They’re treating men like we are animals.”
(This version CORRECTS that several camps are providing shelter for women, rather than one.)

Prison

Prison

In “A Drop in the Mercury“, Thelma has a distorted vision of what life would be like in prison. For the most part, she understands the hierarchical systems involved, and, that she wouldn’t be able to survive in that kind of environment. She longs for chaos. She longs for a perpetual state of arousal — emotional and mental arousal — that prison seeks to quell and altogether destroy.

Most people are familiar with the derogatory images and ideas (moreso than porn, I think) associated with women in prison: babes behind bars, raving horny chicks turning to lesbianism, women being “worse than” men in prison because of the violence, etc.

This image is an example of the classic stereotype we know and love, one that still “robs” a woman of any ability of being genuinely aggressive, hostile, or anything else “unfeminine.”

But what’s it really like to be a woman in prison? Let’s start with some facts.

It sucks. As it does for a man in prison. Who the fuck wants their rights taken away? Their families? Their children?

The number of women in prison is on the rise. By the early 90’s, female prisoners were 9.3% of the nation’s incarcerated population. The majority of women in prison, as with men, are women of color, from poor backgrounds or generally “low” social standing. An overwhelming amount of women in prison are also mothers of children under the age of 18.

The subculture that develops evolves from a number of factors. In “Prison: Prisons for Women – Prison Subcultures“, an interesting set of definitions for ways of life in womens prisons is described. In short, many of the subcultures that evolve come from women trying to preserve the identities they had before landing in prison. Some seek to stay out of trouble, others don’t care and continue the violent lives that led them in prison to begin with. Others still adapt to survive, and end up becoming people they weren’t before they ended up in prison, in order to not be harmed or killed.

One’s sex life of course changes once in prison. A common thing is the development of “studs” and “femmes”, the personas of a more masculine and ultra-feminine woman, as described in this ABC story “Inside a Maximum Security Women’s Prison.”

This video touches on the spiritual and emotional journies of women in prison, as they near the end of their sentences or are just beginning them:

Briefly on the Duality of Self and the Violent Woman

First, a song for Thelma. The Misfits – “London Dungeon”

That’s better.

In “A Drop in the Mercury“, Thelma has a deep, emotional issue with the existence of society’s rules. Many people take comfort in them, others see them as a veil of stability that’s all bullshit. And how many of us actually follow the rules of society because we understand them? How many of us do what we do to be “normal” and “acceptible” because we don’t want the consequences?

Are We Naturally Good or Bad or Just Inbetween?

“You’re answering to some kind of mommy and daddy your whole damn life. Why’s it so bad to be bad if you’re born that way?” Thelma says. 

It’s a point that came up during a discussion with a friend about human nature: what happens if someone’s just inherently bad? Often people attribute such a thing to mental illness or demonic possession, or a shitty job on behalf of someone’s early caretakers for their lack of understanding of how things “should” be. I’ve always thought that maybe it’s just based off of the way things feel; that demonstrations of kindness are naturally attractive rather than punching someone for the fuck of it. But then there’s that word again — naturally. It’s been seen in children that have been abused with no correction later in life, that if you learn violence is “okay” or “normal”, you’re quite capable of carrying that through to your adult life. So then is it a nurture thing instead. 

Personally I feel we are inherently both. The ying yang is present in all things, why not that? We’re certainly capable of good and terrible things as humans. In the opening line of the essay, “Are Human Beings Inherently Good or Evil?”, “EAM” writes:

“The nature of humankind has been explored endlessly, with no definitive answers.”

Well of course — we’re too close! We’re in it. And God knows, it’s often impossible to come to clear conclusions about anything when you’re in the mix.  

In Durkheim’s “The Dualism of Human Nature and Its Social Conditions”, (PDF link), the conclusion points to further understanding of human nature coinciding with growth of the population. And as the world filled with more people … what happened? Seems to me we’ve gotten angry since Emile wrote that one.  

Violence and Woman

While perusing the internet for material for this entry, I found how often many articles and personal reactions included the word “we”, yet rarely really talked about the lives of women. The fact of the matter is, people find it much more “cool” or even “amusing” and “sexy” to see a woman fight, or for her to rob a bank, or to be a serial killer. Why? Is it because she’s standing up for herself in some way? Controling something? Being unruly, unpredictable, plain weird? Or because she’s adopting qualities that are seemingly more inherent in a man — violence?

“There are as many violent women as men, but there’s a lot of money in hating men, particularly in the United States — millions of dollars. It isn’t a politically good idea to threaten the huge budgets for women’s refuges by saying that some of the women who go into them aren’t total victims.”

That compelling little statement was made by David Thomas in the book Not Guilty: The Case in Defense of Men. The talk show, magazine, publishing and “woman industry” indeed has as much to do with perpetuating the woman = victim, man = BAD! scenario. But why? Is it something so simple as wanting to “get back” at men? Is it that women’s roles in gender violence are more subtle — more mental than outright and physical? Or is it that the capability of retaliation and plain innate, violent motivation, is just simply ignored?

In When She Was Bad … Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence, the issue of women not being inherently violent is tackled primarily through the child-murder angle, but still discusses the fact that women can be just as violent — if not moreso — than men. What makes us sweep the violent woman under the rug? I don’t even think it’s a preservation of “innocence”, so much as it is an instinctual preservation of “mother” — protection, continuation of life, foundation of comfort and/or family. If that symbol begins to look like the things we weild it against, like violence, war, anger, hatred, etc., then that has to be dealt with, even if that symbol’s imperfections are simply inhere to her humanity. 

Thoughts?

Tomorrow: Women criminals and life in women’s prisons — the psychology, and the hierarchy that Thelma imagined.

The Biological Crock?

The Biological Crock? A little rant on what society says my body shall order me to do.

Ah, the bioclock. The preset number of eggs women are given with, that age and die off as she gets older. The body sends a “warning” that a woman doesn’t have much time left to reproduce. This is called the “ticking”. The random dreams about pregnancy. The sudden staring at baby clothes. The passing thoughts, particularly among professional women, who say, “Well, it wouldn’t be so bad to go a few nights without sleep,” or something like that. It’s the nagging poke of the uterus extending her finger into a woman’s side, saying, “Hey. Get knocked up before you can’t. NOW.”

A basic rundown of the process of the clock can be found in this lamely written article from the Chicago Tribune.

An interesting fact that comes into play here too, is the socioeconomic factor brought in by the ever-persistent, fucking useless gender inequality. In this CBS News article, the following quote seriously pissed me off:

“The more qualified, the more successful, the higher earning the woman, the less likely it is she has either a partner or a child. For a man, the reverse is true. The higher earning the man, the more powerful, the more likely it is.”

There’s another bit later in the article where a woman relates something called the “H-bomb”:

According to the fertility charts, Lisa, Ani and Leslie, in their mid- to late 20s, are at the perfect age to have children. But like most men their age, they want to have it all: Big careers in top management and children. They also want husbands, which isn’t so easy for take-charge, high-achieving women.

“It’s actually very difficult,” says Vartanian. 

In fact, at Harvard, she says, they call it the H-bomb: “The H-bomb is basically, some guy turns to us and says, ‘So what do you guys do?’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re students.’ Oh, great. Well, where?’ ‘Oh, we got to school in Boston.’ ‘Oh, great. Where in Boston?’ ‘Oh, in Cambridge.’ ‘Oh, where in Cambridge?’ ‘OK, Harvard Business School.’ And as soon as you say Harvard Business School, or even Harvard, they turn around. I mean, that’s the end of that conversation.”

Why should a woman have to choose when a man doesn’t even have to give the second thought to it? Have kids or have a career? The allusion to the choice of either have a life or have a husband is even more infuriating. 

Yet in all this, even if a woman ends up “waiting too long” either because she is having trouble finding the right partner, or because of career or life circumstances, or whatever the case may be, few of the articles I’ve read through before becoming angry or nauseous with this topic mention adoption as a viable option. And not even adoption abroad — adoption domestically. There are OVER HALF A MILLION children in the American foster care system today, with 150,000 waiting on being adopted.

If you really, really want a kid, adopt. Honestly. While we may feel a call to get children from other countries (which I definitely do stand behind as well), it is easier and less expensive too to just adopt domestically first. These kids need homes and help just as much — they may not be somewhere wartorn or going without food or water — but in the end their needs are the same: a loving home. All that damn clock is telling us is to reproduce, and love what you make. Love is at the basis of it all. Give it to the ones who need it, be they your biological or adopted children.

Is “the ticking” real or is it the result of some kind of social conditioning?

My mom had me when she was 41. This was in 1981. I am 28 now. I was not born retarded, crazy, or somehow dysfunctional. I made it through just fine, and my mother did not go to drop thousands of dollars on a fertility doctor. My parents didn’t have me earlier because they weren’t interested in having kids really. I was a happy little bundle of accident (I think that’s cooler than to be planned, really. The best things happen on accident!). As a woman in the CBS article mentions, women are not their uterus. One can make a decision not to have kids and that clock could be playing the fucking star spangled banner at full blast. My mom didn’t care.

Being 28, I am supposed to be in the beginning of the ticking. I have noticed more of an obsession with furry animals and taking care of things, but outright wanting to have a kid has not crossed my mind. 

Catherine Redfern writes in glorious grumpiness about the choice issue presented by the fucking biological clock:

The idea that there’s a ticking time bomb inside all women, making us desperate, obsessed, and broody – its just horrendous. It’s not the idea of babies themselves that makes me mad – it’s the concept of having to choose whether to have one or not, and being forced into that choice by our imperfect, time-bound bodies. But it’s a decision that the majority of us will have to make at some time or other: do I want kids or not? Well, do I? Do I?

… 

Not to mention the unspoken pressure of expectations. If I don’t have kids, I’m denying my parents the pleasure of being grandparents. And there’s my partner’s parents too – so straight away that’s four people disappointed, not to mention aunts, uncles, etc. Although I’m sure no-one would ever pressure me into it, there’s still a feeling that by making a choice for yourself, you are denying someone else of something they may never experience any other way. The amount of pain mum went through having me – the scars, the drugs – surely I should give something back? Am I selfish not to?

The clock, I conclude, is in the societal expectation. 

“Not everyone wants or has to be a parent,” a wise soul said on this message board

Don’t do it if you don’t fucking want to do it. And if you feel the wild pressing urge to have a child but can barely support yourself, DEFINITELY don’t do it. And if you want one, and can’t find the right person, or your uterus put up the “CLOSED” sign at the cervix, then adopt.

There are 6 billion people on the planet. Let’s take care of each other first.

Nine Weeks of Strange, Week 6: “The Impatient Clock”

Ah, the weirdest story I’ve ever written, “The Impatient Clock”, as found in Women in Strange Places: Stories. Contrary to popular belief it’s not a reflection of what I wish on the Octomom. But it does raise some questions about parenthood, and the concept of woman being a channel and a medium. 

Video intro and excerpt below. Get ready for a controversial roller coaster ride of topics, and some magic tricks thrown in … for the kids.

Tomorrow: Magic and the Megafamily.

 

The Impatient Clock, (c) Celeste Ramos, 2009

from Women in Strange Places: Stories.

At break time Yona ran to the bathroom before the line formed. As she felt her body drain into the toilet, she thought about what she and Leo, her half-brother, could make for dinner.

            Nora was her usual ride to and from the factory. Yona had forgotten that come quitting time she would be stranded, and she didn’t want the manager, Mr. Pitin, to find out. She hated the way he looked at her from the window in his office. She didn’t want him to offer.

            She called Leo, waking him out of his early-evening nap, and begged to him for five minutes to come pick her up.

            The windshield wipers fended off the fat drops of rain. Yona sat with her purse on her lap and her ankles crossed. She smiled. Leo caught this from the corner of his eye.

            He cleared his throat and said, “No, Yona. The car will be wet for days. You know how this piece of shit is.”

            “I can’t help it – ”

            “Yeah, yeah. You love the way rain feels on your face.”

            “Right.”

            “Well do it when we get home. I’m not going to spend time and money drying out this car because you wanted to stick your head out the window in a downpour.”

            The grey-on-grey industrial neighborhood smeared off the car windows and mirrors. As they got to their neighborhood the streets were lined by red-brick apartment buildings with rusty black fire escapes.

            Yona gave a sigh as she walked in the door.

            “How was work?” Leo asked, locking the door behind them.

            “Eh.”

            Leo gave a faint smile. “I don’t know what to cook.”

He moved his wide, tall body into the kitchen, snapping at his suspenders in thought. A few of his oversized “magic quarters”, the ones he planned to pull from behind a child’s ear later, fell out from the folds of the elastic.

The second kitchen light was out again. The yellow light of an old bulb strained to cover the entire room.

Yona went down the hall. She passed dusty bookshelves and Leo’s collector’s items in boxes that were worthless beyond sentimental value. There was still a heap of old, empty metal cages in the living room, where unlucky animals had once lived.

            She came back into the kitchen, saying, “Leo, why are the cages still there?”

            “Because I haven’t moved them.” Leo set the quarters on the counter and dropped his suspenders off his shoulders. He began to chop tomatoes. “I’m going to make pasta and meat sauce. Good?”

            “Sure.”

            “Easy enough. I have a show tonight, got a new trick I wanna practice one more time before I go on.”

            Yona rolled her eyes.

            “I’m gonna lie down in a box, then come out through a door that’ll be on stage. Just a door with a frame, in three seconds. I hope that psycho assistant of mine shows up, it’ll be a tough one to do on my own.”

            Yona sat up on the kitchen counter. There was a hole in her black tights. “Leo, that’s a tired trick.”

            “Not the way I’m going to do it. What do you care, you’re out of the family business now.”

            Yona shrugged.

            “What’s wrong? You look angry or something.”

            Yona began to play around with one of the silver knives.

            Leo wiped his right hand on a towel and reached into his back pocket. He brought his hand up to Yona in a fist, moved his fingers a little bit, and seven beautiful paper flowers popped out. He laughed hard at Yona’s scowl and set the flowers beside her. He continued chopping.

“God you’re a bitch Yona.”

            “Pulling rabbits out of hats and flowers from the thin air of your back pocket doesn’t do anything for anyone.”

            “Oh stop. It’s not all we do. You had one hell of a disappearing act for a long time. And the melting lady was a hit. That one gave me nightmares. And all the rabbit tricks…”

            “Yes, the rabbit tricks. The one I accidentally killed in front of that poor little boy was just perfect.” Yona shook her head. “Never again. It’s a sham. It’s a lie.”

            “See, you say that as if what we do is supposed to be taken seriously! People know it’s not actually happening. But the fact that it looks like it does makes it fun. Pretending. Imagining. Imagining if we could bend the world to do as we wished … Contrary to Yona-ian belief, people do enjoy being lied to. They pay for it. I mean bankers and therapists for god’s sake! They make a living out of it! You had a great show. You just got spacey.”

            “So embarrassing.” Yona grazed the tip of her finger along the knife edge, remembering the days in her teenage years and early twenties when she was The Amazing Yona.

            Leo looked at her. “It’s either do magic, work at the factory, or buck up and leave town. I know you can’t imagine what else you could be doing with yourself.”

            “OW!” Lost in thought, Yona had sliced the tip of her forefinger with the knife. She dropped it into the sink and hopped off the counter.

            “See? Spacey,” Leo said. “You were bred to be a magician. Remember our crazy family tree?”

            Yona ran her finger under the cold tap. “Magicians on both sides of the family. Please, Leo. That’s not what I want. I know what I want.”

Leo sighed.

            “I want a baby.”

            “Well find a man who wants one too and you’ll be nine feet wide in no time.”

            “Don’t make fun!”

            “You’re too much of a realist to have kids. You can’t do magic tricks in front of them. Isn’t that a hint? You need your imagination back.”

            “Ugh!”

            “What the hell do you want a kid for?”

            Yona shrugged. She knew Leo wouldn’t understand. She decided to keep the secret about her miscarriage. That pregnancy was the one that had made her want to leave magic in the first place. “I dunno. I think my clock is ticking.”

            “You’re only twenty-eight.”

            “Doesn’t mean I don’t have a clock.”

            “You’re twenty-eight. Get your damn life in order.”

            “You’re forty-four. Get your life in order! I want one so bad I faint when I’m near a kid. I don’t think my body cares what’s going on around it. It’s got its own plans. It always does.”

            “Yona. For once in your life, take my advice. Don’t be another one of those baby machine bitches having kids like it’s their duty in this world. If you have one, you have it because you want it. You definitely don’t have one because your body says so! Do you know the things I’d be doing if I listened to what my body wanted all the time? The world would be on fire!” 

            “Oh what do you know about it. You don’t have a womb!”

            “I’m trying to stop you from making a mistake. I’m not helping you raise that kid.”

            “Come on. Every kid needs an uncle.”

            “I’m not your brother,” Leo said.

            “You’re my father’s son. Close enough!” Yona jumped off the counter and dug through her pockets for her cigarettes. “Be nice.”

            “No. I’m tired of being nice to you and your womb. Kids aren’t band-aids. Once you have one you’re gonna just want another because the first one’ll grow.”

            “You just don’t like children.”

            “I like them when they’re not mine. And when they’re appropriate to the mother’s sanity. You having a kid and still living with me will make that kid basically mine. And you’re insane. And I have a social life.”

            Yona rubbed the top of her head. “I should grow my hair long again.”

            “Then do it. Maybe it’ll help find you a husband instead of wanderin’ around with that short chop cut you have.”

            “I’m gonna smoke.”

            “Open the window. I don’t want my sauce smelling like cancer. And don’t take any from that purple pack.”

            “I can’t believe you’re still using trick cigarettes.”

            Yona passed the basket of laundry she had forgotten to put away again. She opened the living room window high. Leo called it the “scary window” because it was the only one that didn’t have a safety rail or part of a fire escape outside of it. Yona loved it. It gave a clean, unobstructed view of their boring part of town. It didn’t offer reality cut up through metal rails.

            She sat at the windowsill, with one leg tucked under her and the other swinging against the inside wall, her bare heel next to the light socket.

            The rain outside fell steady and yellow in the streetlight. She stuck her head out and looked upward, loving the feel of the cold drops landing on her cheeks and on her lips.

            A great, heavy mother pigeon, coming back from her last round of food hunting for the evening, nearly collided with another bird when both were surprised by Yona’s sudden appearance out the window.

The mother pigeon’s feet grazed Yona’s forehead. She was startled by the feeling of a claw and a glimpse of a dark wing in her eyes. She felt it brush over her nose. In that moment she leaned back hard to get her face away from the bird, forgetting about her position at the window, and fell out, back first, into the eight floors of night below.

            Yona woke in a massive grass field, wearing a long navy tunic. She was surrounded by dandelions in the breeze, birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, apple trees and squirrels. She got to her feet in a start and scanned around the idyllic scene.

            “Where the hell am I?” she mumbled to herself. “Leo?!” she called. “This isn’t funny, what is this?!”

            She turned in a circle, looking at the gorgeous expanse of nature around her. The air was hot and smelled of soil and flowers.

            “Hello!”

            Her confusion bled quickly into fear. The complete memory of where she had just been came back to her. She had fallen out of her window at night, yet around her it was bright and beautiful – it looked like the first day that had ever occurred on earth.

            Assuming she was dead, Yona lied down and wailed. She mourned everything she didn’t get the chance to do, and how much she would miss Leo and the rest of the family. She wondered what kind of children she would have had. She wondered why God had chosen to take her so early, and in such a way!

She imagined poor Leo in tails, top hat and boxers, talking to the police in the living room about how many damn times he told her not to sit at the window like that.

            But Yona was most certainly not dead. She failed to see a bit of thread poking out of her nail from the mini-accident that morning at work, and the maroon cut on her finger, from when she was playing around with the knife while she talked to Leo.

            At the top of the hill she looked around to see more ongoing expanse of green nature. A few miles away she saw a dense wood, and beyond it, a perfect series of snowy mountains.

            At the bottom of the hill on the other side was a wooden house that stretched far back into the tall grass surrounding it. It looked like a hallway with a roof and a beautiful front porch and front door. Every window was framed by stained glass and marble. Wind chimes and weather vanes glistened and sang.

            She wondered if this was really heaven.

            She approached the house slowly as she came down the steep hill, fearing she would trip her bare feet on rocks hidden in the grass. But her path was smooth and soft, all the way to the house. When her feet got to the eight steps of the front porch, she smelled the wood, hot and sweet in the sun. The handrails were adorned with woodcuts of smiling children.

            Once at the front door she didn’t know to knock or to just come in. She imagined her guardian angel and relatives and all the dead rabbits she accidentally killed, waiting inside to greet her.

            There was no doorbell. Her mouth fell open when she saw herself in the oval glass set in the door. Her skin glowed with health.

            Yona knocked on the door. She didn’t hear anything from inside. She knocked again. Silence. She walked over to the end of the porch, passing a wicker-backed rocking chair and a small table. She tried to look in through the window but could barely make out the insides of the house.

            She turned the corner of the porch and saw that the house went back a lot farther than she’d observed from the hill. It was almost as if the house had grown in the time it took her to come toward it. Along the sides of the house were large, circular glass windows. None of them offered a view into the home.

            Back at the front door she found that it was now open.

            Out of a sudden sense of apprehension, Yona turned around and looked behind her. Nothing else had changed. The hill was still the hill out front, the mountains and woods were still in the distance. Nature was still perfection around her.

            “Hello?” she called in to the house.

            She heard plates and utensils clanging.

            For being heaven, she thought, whoever was there wasn’t a very gracious host.

            Yona walked in slowly. Four red-velvet loveseats were angled around a wooden table with a pair of Tiffany lamps on top. Rich, burgundy rugs covered sections of the glossy floor.

            “Um … my name is Yona, I – I’m lost.”

            She looked around at the walls. They were empty save for a few miniscule paintings of the nature outside. A grandfather clock in the far corner announced the arrival of three o’clock.

            In the doorway to the kitchen she saw a beautiful, soft-yellow curtain that was parted and tied to dull hooks on either side of the frame. It was a yellow that reminded Yona of a nursery; the neutral color for a baby that didn’t speak to its gender, only the pleasure of its existence.

            She touched the silk-and-mesh fabric and smiled at the hints of glitter in it. She walked into the combination dining room and kitchen.

            She found a heavy woman there, seated at the far end of an oval table. The table was gigantic and old. It looked like a relic from a castle. In front of the woman was an oversized wooden bowl that overflowed with maroon and tan colored hunks. A wooden spoon poked out of it.

            Yona would have greeted her but she was utterly shocked, because this woman’s face was completely covered by her hair. It was blacker than black, thicker than thick; each strand was the width of at least fifteen strands of Yona’s hair. The woman had it combed down the front of her face and then formed into a braid near where the start of her chin would be. The massive braid snaked along the table, and fell off the side of it to the stone and tile floor.

            “M – Ma’am?” Yona said lowly. She was still staring at the length of the braid.

            The woman was silent. She grabbed the spoon. Her other hand went out in front of her, slowly, palm up, inviting her to sit at the other end of the table.

            Yona looked around and saw no one else near by, no pots or pans hot on the stove. She looked at the table again, and saw that a chipped porcelain bowl and a place setting had appeared at the seat across from the woman.

            “What’s going on here?” Yona said. “This is – this is insane, where am I?”

            The woman moved her hairy arm and fat hand toward her face, and lifted the start of the braid slightly, as she lowered her face to the bowl. The braid now completely obscured any clue of this woman even having a face, and her hand went down to her lap.

            “Lady? Are you listening? Hello? Are you deaf under there?”

            Yona took a few paces toward her but then took them back and fell into the seat the woman had offered her. She stared in horror at what the woman was eating.

             The maroon and tan hunks in the bowl were fetuses. One of them had flipped out of the bowl as the woman shoveled spoonful upon spoonful into her unseen mouth. The fetuses looked baked or mildly toasted; their skin was tight around their would-be bodies, their vestigial arms and oddly-shaped heads were crisp. Yona could hear a slight crunch after each spoonful went into the woman’s mouth.

            “Lady! What are you doing!!!” Yona screamed.

When she took the breath to scream she caught the scent of the contents of the bowl in front of her. It was a white soup that smelled distinctly of wet soil.

            Yona stuck her spoon in and lifted it, watching the goop drip and slide back down toward the bowl. She became repulsed, realizing that the stuff moved and looked like semen.

            The woman stopped eating. She sat up slowly and Yona could feel the woman watching her. The bowl was empty.

            The woman began to deflate and shrink, inch by inch. Her hair retreated into her scalp as if it was being reeled in. Yona sprang from the table and slammed herself against the wall, screaming. The woman bled a little as the hair on her arms pulled into her flesh. Her nails grew long, her grey rag of a dress became a glittering black sheath. Her hair shrank and pulled back until it was the same length and cut as Yona’s.

            The woman had Yona’s face. Her eyes had no iris or pupil.

            Yona ran out of the kitchen and down the endless hallway ahead of her.

            She looked behind her and saw her blank-eyed self chasing her with an axe in hand.

            Yona stupidly came to a stop in disbelief. The woman swung at her with the axe. Yona ducked and watched the axe get stuck in the wall. She turned and took off running again while the woman tried to yank it out.

            “You fed me!” the woman screamed behind her. “They are mine!”

            The woman fiercely chased after Yona, swinging the axe closer and closer to the back of her neck, each time getting it stuck into the wall with the ferocity of her swing, yet she’d be right back within steps of Yona as if she had never paused.

            To Yona’s terror, she saw that in a few yards the hall would come to an end. There was nowhere to go except out the window.

            The woman grabbed her by the back of her tunic and shoved her forward, so that Yona hit the end wall with a tremendous force. Yona sat up against the wall, dizzy and crying.

            “Who are you!” Yona shrieked. She pulled her knees up against her chest.

            The woman knelt in front of her and held the axe edge to her throat. Yona couldn’t look at her for more than a few seconds at a time. She couldn’t believe that her own face was looking back at her, with no eyes to speak of, with a voice that was like a collection of sighs and groans.

She ripped the side of Yona’s tunic and shoved her knees apart.

            “What do you want!”

            The woman brought her face to her left ear. “You fed me!”

            “Fed you? Fed you what?!”

            “The children. The promises, your thoughts. You will never bear those children. They are conceived in my home. I will never deliver them to you!”

            Yona looked at the woman’s arm and neck and the raised veins that moved beneath them. It was like her blood was swelling inside her. Through the windows she noticed a change in the light. The sky had become like charcoal, yet the grass and the flowers maintained the same bright colors as if the sun were still shining on them.

            In one forced, painful move, the woman pushed her hand deep inside Yona’s vagina and pulled out her uterus. She twisted and yanked to rip the remaining tissue, and then sat back onto the floor to eat it in front of Yona. The taste seemed to bring incredible relief to the woman, as she lifted her face and smiled a peaceful, genuine smile like a child eating so much candy.