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What Becomes Us: An Excerpt
Our parents had failed five months in a row to make a baby, and Father was growing frustrated. He couldn’t figure out what our mother was doing wrong. For his Christmas/Chanukah present she gave him a skiing vacation in Steam Boat Springs, Colorado. She secretly thought it would give her a break from him, but he insisted she join him, so he could continue his spermatazoon campaign.
At first, it was tranquil. They stayed in a cabin in front of a hot springs. Father, the chef-owner of a health food restaurant in Santa Cruz, California, made whole-wheat chapattis on a camping stove the night they arrived. Mother, an elementary school teacher, suggested they take turns describing the highlights and lowlights of their day. The next morning they awoke and went down to the hot springs, where the old man who ran the place floated naked in an inner tube, wielding a ski pole to spear any debris that had fallen into the springs the day before. Our father thought the steaming water might damage his potency, so he did his 250 push-ups on the edge while our mother slipped in. Mother saw a mountain goat scrambling along the cliff above the pool.
But that was the end of the tranquil part of the vacation. Father was an experienced backcountry skier, and Mother began disappointing him on their first day out. He tried to help her. He told her she was leaning too far forward, locking her knees, raising her heels too high, holding her poles too far out.
The conditions were icy, and she fell and skidded on the crusty snow while he made perfect, whirling turns down every slope, then called up complicated directions through clenched teeth.
Have we mentioned what they look like? He: blond curly hair, a gladiator face, Roman nose and cleft chin, and then a wrestler’s body, no neck, all chest, bandy legs. Our mother is skinny, long neck, long arms and fingers, wide flat hips. She’s like a curvaceous paper doll with the curves all on the edges.
Because she was ovulating, at night they continued their sexual exertions. She lay there while he performed his quick, efficient operation. She felt like she was the mortar and he the pestle.
On the fourth day, they woke in the morning to a pretty blanket of powder over everything. Our father was elated. The old man floating in the tube said the new conditions were dangerous, but father said the old geezer didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.
In early afternoon they came to a slope that was more like a cliff. She was exhausted, on the verge of tears, her face cold and wind burned. Her legs were shaking and her arms ached. She said she’d wait at the top for him.
Father said, “You’re hysterical. Irrational. Just follow my directions.” He told her she needed to grow a spine, “Man up,” he said. He continued his pep talk.
Finally, she said, “Okay, fine, I’ll do it.”
He wiped her nose with his sleeve and tapped his fingers twice on her forehead. “Think, buddy, think,” he said. “Keep those knobby knees tucked, pivot on the pole.”
She looked down the smooth white drop. She allowed herself to slip over the edge. She fell head first on her second turn, her poles clattered away, one ski came off. Her left cheek was scraped raw from going through the ice just underneath the snow.
She sat up.
She could hear Father yelling down at her.
There was a kind of whump sound, big and hollow, like a bass drum that reverberated uncomfortably in her heart. She looked for Father, but he was skiing into the line of trees. Then the upper slope detached itself and began to slide towards her. The snow turned liquid. She tried to swim with it, like he’d instructed, but it poured over her. She couldn’t keep her head free.
She woke curled in a cold fist. The snow was heavy, dense, pressed on top of her and packed inside her nose and ears and mouth. It was so dark she didn’t know if her eyes were open or closed. There were tiny sparks and frissons of dizzying light. She thought she might faint. She spit snow out and heard whimpering, little mews. She realized it was coming from her.
She waited for Father to rescue her. She counted to a hundred, six times. It felt as if her lungs were shrinking, her throat squeezing closed. Please, she thought. She couldn’t remember what number she was on.
Finally, she thought, I’ll just go to sleep. Her tears made two small roads of warmth down her face. She exhaled, readied herself to give way for the final time.
But then she remembered that there might still be life inside her. She pictured a tiny mouth opening in her pelvis. She was sure it was there, starving for air, desperate for breathing room.
She moved one finger. It was the middle one. Then she moved her shoulders. As soon as she began to try to escape, that pelvic need sizzled through her, shocked her awake. She began to roil. She bucked and shook her head and arched and reared up into blue, blue sky, gasping and crying, covered in powder.
And not alone. Because that is the moment we came to consciousness in an explosion of bright, bright blue. Not one, but two mouths opening in perfect synchronicity. Twins startled into being, we immediately knew every thought our mother ever had, her past, her present, everything that is, except our future.
Micah Perks is the author of a novel, We Are Gathered Here, a memoir, Pagan Time, and a long personal essay, Alone In The Woods: Cheryl Strayed, My Daughter and Me. Her short stories and essays have won five Pushcart Prize nominations and appeared in Epoch, Zyzzyva, Tin House, The Toast, OZY and The Rumpus, amongst many journals and anthologies. Excerpts of What Becomes Us won a National Endowment for The Arts grant and The New Guard Machigonne 2014 Fiction Prize. She received her BA and MFA from Cornell University and now lives with her family in Santa Cruz where she co-directs the creative writing program at UCSC.