A perfect square

by Rosalind McKenzie


My head doesn’t feel big enough. There isn’t room for this thought. It only feels big enough to look out of the lounge room window and see the afternoon sun making lacework out of the trees and know that it is beautiful. But my head does not feel big enough to think about the steady flow of blood and the dull pain in my lower belly. When I try to think about that, it’s as if my head has filled with thick liquid and there isn’t room for a drop more.

Yours was a silent death. No one saw the moment that you died. But there must have been one, a moment when you were alive one second and not alive the next. I wonder what I was doing at that moment. Was I washing dishes? Was I driving to work? If I was thinking about you at all, it was about your life not your death.

They tell me that you were still alive three days ago. When I planted the front garden you were still with me. As I worked, I imagined the garden through your eyes. I chose livid pink azaleas and a flamingo-tinted magnolia because I thought you would like bright colours.

Yours was a lonely death. Perhaps the most lonely of all. No one ever saw you or touched you. No one knew if you were male or female. No one knew if your eyes were brown or green. No one knew if you had curly hair like your father. You never understood what life was about and yet you were expected to die alone.

I wonder if you struggled. Did you kick or did you slip quietly into death, life ebbing away until the last spark was gone? They tell me that you couldn’t feel pain but they don’t know everything. They don’t even know why you died.

I had an ultrasound today to confirm that you had gone. In the waiting area there were women who stroked their stomachs tenderly and smiled at their husbands. On the reception desk there was a little sign about paying five dollars for a video, pictures of the baby. But on my screen there was only black and white haze that the nurse called the ‘products of conception’.

I went to the day clinic to arrange an operation for tomorrow. The woman at the desk made jokes about private health insurance and told me that she was having a bad day. I smiled when I was supposed to and answered her questions. There was a form to fill in and a box that I had to tick if I was pregnant. I left it blank, a small white perfect square.

Tomorrow morning I’ll go back to the clinic. I’ll sit in the waiting room among the polished pot plants and the Vogue magazines and listen to the television. Then they’ll call my name and I’ll follow their instructions and strip naked and put on a hospital gown and lie on a hospital trolley. They’ll wheel me into the theatre and everyone will smile at me from behind their surgical masks and say that everything will be all right. But I will know that they are lying; everything will not be all right.

So, I sit here in the lounge room and gaze through the window into the back garden and try to concentrate on thoughts that can fit inside my brimming head. The jasmine vine needs to be tied back and the lattice work is loose. I notice that the mango tree is laden with flowers, but this is Sydney and it’s too cold for it to bear any fruit.

You were small enough to fit into the palm of my hand and yet the void you left is large enough for me to drown in.


© Rosalind McKenzie

Published with permission from The Sound of Silence
For a trailer see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQXM1bqywO0
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem