by Doug Ramspeck
She has just passed the five-month mark, the same as two years earlier. So he gathers fleabane and white snakeroot in the July heat, ties them together with horsehair, and hides them beneath their bed. And that night while his wife breathes softly and occasionally rolls over, he lies awake and thinks about how pale and weak the moon looks outside their bedroom window, a skull buried in the sky’s mud. And in the morning, he watches a hawk skimming low to the field behind the barn, watches it gently lift a mouse into the air then ferry it away. And his wife tells him over breakfast that Septoria blight has laid waste again to her tomato plants. And his wife tells him that a wasp with its black tripartite body stung her in the neck as she walked back from fetching the newspaper. And his wife is sick to her stomach after breakfast. So later he gathers bull thistle and black cohosh, fastens them with a dead garter snake, and hides them beneath her dresser. And he dreams that night that her belly swells and swells, that their child grows larger and larger inside the alluvium of her body, swimming in its enclosed salt sea. And the next morning he gathers oxeye daisies and sourwood, ties them together with wild grass, jabs his thumb to spill three bright red drops, and hides the flowers beneath the crib beside the window. Then he stands and gazes for a moment at the crib. For he can never look at it now without remembering when he first put it up two years earlier, without remembering how he quickly took it back down. And that night he dreams that their child curls in his wife’s belly like a sleeping snake, curls into the ouroboros, flourishing like wildflowers inside the body’s loam. And when his wife wakes in the morning, he grips her in his arms and says, It’s wild this time. Strong. And he holds his wife so tightly in his arms that she whispers damply in his ear that she can’t breathe.
Doug Ramspeck is the author of eight poetry collections, one collection of short stories, and a novella. His story collection, The Owl That Carries Us Away, received the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize. Individual stories have appeared in journals that include The Southern Review, Iowa Review, Southwest Review, and The Georgia Review. His short fiction “Balloon” was listed as a Distinguished Story of 2018 in The Best American Short Stories. He is a three-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.