Snow White Never Bled

Jill Talbot

                     It is usually only in dramatic representations,
                     religious iconography, and the 'magical thinking'
                     of children that insight is compressed to a sudden
                     blinding flash.
                            —David Foster Wallace

You are lying in a hospital bed. There are painted fish on the wall. Bright blue. Tropical. Hospitals know that nobody wants to be where they are. Juice comes in little plastic cups along with egg salad sandwiches with EMRG on them—when they finally allow you to eat.

Emergency is defined as: a sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action. Origin: Medieval Latin.

In medieval times, emergencies were fairy tales where the princess bled.

You stare at the fish. They are painted to appear as if a window has opened into a sea, as if you could just swim away. But you, being traumatized and a woman, don’t need a painting for that. The truth hits you in waves, often interrupted by people coming in. They send psych twice because you aren’t talkative enough. At least, this is the reason they give. You could come in with a bullet wound and they would send psych. Bad example, perhaps. What are you supposed to talk about? You don’t know. You want to ask how you’re supposed to feel with a dead baby leaking out of you. You don’t. Silence is your new weapon. Their weapon is denial. They act neutral, though everyone knows that with this much blood, this fish ain’t swimming on its own. You think of The Little Mermaid. You will always be pathologized. It is your birthright. This was what you were going to pass on. There will always be people poking and prodding where they don’t belong. But at least, apart from the psych visits, you get to be on the other side. Your psyche is not a game for them to play. When they ask you about your diagnosis, or why you were hospitalized in the past, you say stress. That is, after all, what you believe. If they want what others believe, they can (and have already) look it up.

Do they think you’re delusional—you only think you are pregnant and are just having a period? Before the tests—before the tests—is this what they believe?

You stay quiet and keep your thoughts to yourself, occasionally texting. Nobody wants to be where they are. You don’t recognize the name on your hospital bracelet. You get blood everywhere in the room.

The psych nurse asks you about raccoons, reading a note left by a social worker. You imagine the little babies, clawing away at you.There’s no raccoon superhero for a reason. No fairy tales have miscarriages for a reason. The walls have painted fish on them, not painted gods. What would a talkative person say?

The last time you fought a tree was weeks ago but you still feel the blood, see the blood, you apologized to the tree, explained that it was only because the tree would not be hurt but you would be. The tree would resist but not run. The tree could handle your rage. Would make no new-age or twelve step statements about the universe. Would not get in a debate on identity politics. A tree knows how to take it. In the dark except for the rare country streetlight, you use an iPhone flashlight to see the blood on your knuckles, getting excited as it sparkles under the moon. The ocean waves coming slowly in and out, announcing the universes true intentions. It doesn’t care. When it comes to dead babies, this is the closest you’ll come to comfort. That and that you can finally drink again.

The nurse tells you that they don’t do the laundry, not to worry about the blood. You think but do not say, somebody does the laundry. Someone will come and clean up after your emergency. A Cinderella, perhaps. The fish wink at you. Nothing in the room belongs there.

All stories rely on emergencies. Otherwise, the theory goes, a story is not worth telling. The people who clean up the blood know better. You are your mother, you pray to your mother. Only an inch separates you. You are in the same fairy tale with only a slight mutation. When you first found out, you said that you were the same age as she was when she had you aborted. Freudian slap that no prince could undo. A fairy tale without lipstick and without end.

You think of St Paul’s Cathedral, and St Paul’s Hospital. You would go back to Vancouver if it wouldn’t kill you. You think of the time you saw tourists feed baby raccoons in Stanley Park. Do tourists exist for any reason other than for locals to feel superior? Is that why psych patients exist also? You have met only two psychiatrists without god complexes. You have met many psychiatrists. All of the king’s horses and all the king’s men. All of the flies in the café, swimming through regrets and gossip—sticking in syrup, getting stuck in straws like birth canals.

You remember the Barbie underwear you got years ago from the Women’s Resource Centre when you were staying in the shelter. The fish make it seem yesterday. The friend who shows up at the hospital tries to send you to a shelter. You refuse. You lied to the doctors, told them that a friend would stay the night with you. You are the woman who survived methadone withdrawal alone—you can deal with a little blood and a Tylenol 3 prescription. In fact, you only take two of the ten tablets you are given. You think of the American History X poem you wrote about the conception, The Ode to a Malfunctioning Pregnancy Test you wrote, and all of the poems in-between—the repeating of baby x. The repeating of your mother. All of the poems and essays on borderline personality. All of the useless words. Archeologists dig for bones, not memories.

There are backlights in some of the hospital bathrooms, stopping people from shooting up—no doubt—as if there’s a safe place to do so. Liability, you guess. You are clean apart from the blood and history. You read an article about how placebo works twice as well when the pills are colourful. There is probably some equivalent about denial. Some equivalent about redemption. Something about fish being tropical and not local. Your estranged twin sister is on her way to Vietnam. You are leaking out a baby. But you know—she would know what to talk about. She would not mention the universe or the people who clean the sheets. She would talk about the fish. She would draw them. She would nod her head and you would nod back—your secret twin handshake. You roll over, grabbing your cramping uterus.

Nobody ever tells you what you do with the remains.

The doctor hesitates, unsure of whether or not to touch you. She is unsure of how damaged you are. You want to tell her just to commit, but you don’t. You want to say that being damaged makes you better equipped—not less—to deal with pain. You remember the girl who left a recovery house screaming, fuck you and your fucking higher power!

You imagine she did this while streaking, though this is probably not how it happened but an adjustment you’ve made to make it a better story. Everyone else thought she had thrown away her recovery. You thought she had finally found it. Fuck everyone but the poor person in charge of cleaning up the blood, you want to say. You want everyone in your life to go away. You will live with the fish happily ever after.

You go to the liquor store, finally accepting that you no longer have a reason not to. On the plus side, you finally found a situation where buying beer is facing denial. Though you’ve found many others that weren’t holy. You remember the first x—the first unholy plus sign—you remember the guy. You block him online. Okay, you haven’t, but you hope that saying you have will give you the strength to do so. You roll your eyes at everyone who asks how you are.

You watch the Orphan Black finale and wish your orphan twin wasn’t s far away. You get carpel tunnel again and scratch away at a mosquito bite on your finger. You won’t admit what you did with the remains. Remains—wrong word? Fetus? In the hospital, they called it a dead baby. When you had an abortion, they called it a fetus.

You wish you could go back and delete all the writing about how much your boobs hurt or how tired and moody you were. You wish you could go back even further. When you enter crisis chat, you pause at the not a robot box. You wait for twenty minutes, then tell the worker she cannot possibly help. You say goodnight and exit. You wish you were a robot. You pray. And pray. And pray.

Someone lectures you on birth control. You want to go back to the fish. Go back. Go back. Go back. You think of the grey box of condoms that has been left on the side of the road for months. Country living. You think of the test. You think of all of the tests you’ve failed in life and those you’ve passed and what it all works out to, in the end. You think of happily ever after. You want happily ever after to be the beginning.

You think of Snow White. You think of Lady MacBeth. You think about all of the stories that have been told wrong. Fairy tales cannot be wrong. Nothing devoid of blood can be wrong. You think of adding traumatizing children to your resume, after the last poetry reading. You remember that you don’t have a resume. You wonder why there’s no series called The Butterfly Effect. It would make billions. You think of the faces you make at yourself in the mirror, when you can face the mirror.

At the café where you frequent, you see somebody’s taken down your poster. You ask where it went. Cramps returning. She says she doesn’t know, but you may bring another. You think but do not say—or mutter—that another wouldn’t be the same.

You wish you could go back to Orphan Black. Capture the hope like a butterfly in a jar. Men show up in spandex. Some people will do anything for sport.

You think of fish. You think of Snow White and Cinderella and hospital linen.

You think of the man who told you he spent ten grand on fish and how much more expensive they were after Finding Nemo.

You think of the time your psychiatrist spoke of your prescriptions as tropical fish that would kill each other if you went to multiple fish stores. She wasn’t very good with metaphors. You think of Snow White. You hope she forgives you. You put your hood up and pretend to be a butterfly. You think of all of the hope that is carried on butterfly wings and all that is trapped.

A sign says not to flush: tampons, hair, wishes, dreams, phones… it says nothing about dead babies.

Not really.

Author Portrait

Jill Talbot's writing has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain, The Tishman Review, The Cardiff Review, PRISM, Southword, and others. She won the PRISM Grouse Grind Lit Prize. She was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. Jill lives on Gabriola Island, BC.