I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, edited by Shelly Oria, is a multigenre anthology with a focus on the crisis of reproductive rights in the United States. The book’s international supplement features sixteen additional works of fiction, nonfiction, and art by contributors from around the globe. Preorder the book, and receive the supplement, I Know What’s Best for You All Over the World, free as an ebook.
Baby Is Fascinated by Light Bulbs
by Julia Raiz
Translated from Portuguese by Marcela Lanius
these are the first months of Baby in this country called Brasil
Baby is fascinated by light bulbs. Fascination turns into laughter, and Baby is laughing at the glass, on or off. At the bulb. At the loose thread hanging in conversation with the fan. We wake up at dawn to feed Baby and we don’t see Baby laughing at the light bulb in the dark, nor does Baby see what we don’t see. Baby just looks at the light bulb, cold, unlit, glass. We know about glass. We know it’s pliable like lava when hot and hard when it cools down, fast. We know that it is possible to use two boards and firmly flatten hot glass, to turn it into a flat thing that looks just the same as the gum that homeless boys scavenge in the street and then rebubble.
The Social Worker says: Sterilize these crackheads, these women who exchange children for cigarette packs. And then she tells us of the woman who came through the door screaming, Take the monster. Take the monster out of me.
Baby doesn’t know the pronunciation or meaning of the word Monster. Sometimes, when we have to get up in the middle of the night to feed Baby, we take our time, on purpose, just because we like to see Baby’s mouth drop down, defeated. We like to prove to ourselves that Baby needs us more than Baby needs the light bulb.
Baby sleeps with an arm at a ninety-degree angle and fist closed as if shouting, TODO PODER AO POVO or ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE. In the country where Baby was born, English is not spoken, Hungarian is not spoken, Yoruba is not spoken. In the country where Baby was born no language is spoken. Baby was born in the country of languageless children or, better yet, in the country of languagelessness. Baby has a tongue and the first exams said it is not a tongue with a lisp.
Baby’s tongue curls, peels off the mouth, and floats around the hospital, above the heads of non-Baby babies, babies born without the connection between bladder and kidney, navel and kidney, esophagus and kidney, babies that have to undergo delicate surgeries performed by tired doctors, assisted by tired nurses.
The Social Worker wants to say, I am the Social Worker. I am here to defend myself.
I have an eight-year-old son and a fourteen-year-old son, and until three years ago we all slept in the same room. I nicknamed the room “shelter” and I used to say to my husband: You can choose the shelter or the room next door, I don’t care.
I care about the kids. I take care of children all day. I see children looking at the sky and crying, waiting for an “auntie” to bring them their paperwork. I care. Abandoned children love and hate paperwork. Documents are important papers, documents get you here or there. My two sons’ nicknames are Polack. Polack 1 and Polack 2. I live on the same backyard as my mother, on the top floor of a shed. I can’t count on my mother-in-law for anything. When I’m late for lunch my mother worries.
I see these crackhead women—I say it like that because whoever uses crack is a crackhead—I see these crackhead women arrive here with these adult-looking children and then stick a pacifier in their mouths. Thick, cracked pacifiers made of plastic. If you look closely at the profile of these boys, you will see that they already look like adults. I advocate for Sterilization. The Nurse on the maternity ward of Mother of God agrees with me.
The Nurse told me about a couple who arrived wearing flip-flops with their stuff jammed into a plastic grocery bag and the father said, Where eight people eat, nine can eat too, and ten, and eleven, and even twelve (twelve seemed like the limit).
I’m burly, I’m a big woman, I will enjoy sleeping with my kids in the same bed as long as I can, that’s why I don’t understand abandonment, I don’t understand the law, I only understand the needle, I only understand the cut.
Another foreign company announces that it is going to leave Brasil. We had no idea that we would have to live like this, a life that would require efforts beyond perseverance, prevailing over something new each day, climbing over piles of bodies. And because we’re not the only creatures here, because we don’t have priority over anything, our lives are in danger.
Today another country banned flights from Brasil and their president made a joke about it. It must be funny if you’re not from here; I imagine that no one is smiling when they say, I don’t want to convince you, but I’m sure this land is cursed.
People talk about karma; people talk about destiny being a postman who doesn’t love or hate you, just delivers your mail. Why is being with these people within these borders our correspondence? How close is leaving yourself behind to leaving the others behind? How close is ecstasy to indifference?
There is an old Jewish tale that tells of a large ship with several floors. The man in the first cabin, the one closest to the ground, decides to dig a hole. When the others realize what is happening, they question his choice, and he replies: The cabin is mine, I paid for it, I’ll do what I want. The ship sinks with everyone inside. We watch our Country as if it were a ship rocking with so many people inside and we hope that some people fall so they can learn. Or at least fall before we do.
Baby does not know the pronunciation or meaning of the word Company or the word Country; Baby’s “after” will be different from our “before.” A blade that cuts, being held hostage by someone bad, noticing a pile of leaves that covers the place where a corpse was buried: all this scares us, but Baby does not know the meaning of the word Fear. The village is also our Country and the dead are also our family; returning to the dust is getting rid of identity, all of this we know in our hearts, but we still don’t know. What we’ve decided to do for ourselves is to focus on life-sustaining rituals. Last night, in silence, we talked at the table about the scarcity of food. Baby doesn’t eat yet, the only thing that matters to Baby is that the ship called Brasil is lit by light bulbs.
We dreamed that we had our good heart in our chest, like a lake, where we swam with Baby, holding hands, long dives, pirouettes—we didn’t have to go back to breathe, because everything was water-air in our heart.
On its surface we saw our faces reflected as if on a splinter of glass, and in the cracks were little pieces of ourselves, a dream of reflective action. When we woke up later, we ate, and eating is another reflective action: made by us for us, made by us for Baby. Also the lung reflects with the Disease. The contaminated lung tries to breathe and suffers small cuts that leave scars and can generate clots. The lung looks like ground glass on the radiograph. It shows exactly that in the exam: lung with a ground-glass appearance.
A nurse’s father died when it was today and it was early. A nurse is not the Nurse. While her friends decided whether begonias or wildflowers would be sent to her home, they didn’t know that there would be no one there to receive the bouquet, because the doorman had died when it was last week and it was late. The doorman, who guarded a nurse’s door, was dead.
The doorman, not a doorman, the doorman who never dealt with needles, did not know that Brasil is the main destination for hospital waste from the Great Country of the North. Twenty-three tons of sheets, pillowcases, and used needles arrive here. The needles travel up North, crossing the territory, and they will be sprinkled like magic dust on the Country’s floor during the crossing. The fabrics made from used sheets and pillowcases are reused to make pockets in pants and supply clothing industries. The garbage takes a route that is 3,816 kilometers long.
Right now, several people from this Country are there in the Great Country of the North, furnishing their homes with what they find in the dumps. This week the Great Country of the North begins offering vaccines to tourists.
Blue aprons and blue caps on their heads, in front of a huge line of cars, those who can get tested: these days, the dream is to get needled.
Our family worries us, half of them for their heads, the other half for their pockets. Many people know that the pocket is a vital organ of the human anatomy. Humans are the ones who created for themselves organs that are under constant risk; humans complicate their own health—this is what characterizes our species. But we are not a species and a rich person is not a poor person and a poor person is not a hungry person and a hungry person is not a person who does not have to worry about food, but we do need to worry about our own heads. We are in one of these classifications of biological-economic science, and our family ranges from worrying less or more about their pockets and worrying more and more about their heads.
If we could take a walk with our family to places where there are people circulating, where there are windowed shops with books, maybe we would see this new book release called How to love a country. And our minds would answer the question: How to love Brasil? Impossible, and our hearts would cry open in a corner being eaten alive by worms. The development of a Country. The development of a child.
Blue aprons and blue caps on their heads, to leave our house is to live via the crucis of denial: we deny bread, coin, bread, coin and bread; was that how people lived during the war? Maybe this is too much, how can we know, but it’s certain that the word Hunger is bred on the posters, one on top of the other giving birth to Hunger Babies around the city. Hunger is a big hollow belly where little mouths, when they are born, spread branches on the ground.
The number of millionaires has grown, the Social Worker says, the number of children abused before their first year of life has grown. A well-dressed citizen gets out of his half-million-real car, and we imagine he’s going to hit us with a knife in the middle of our ribs. We call the family in power the Family-Disease. The president’s sons are photographed in front of forty boars hanging by their ankles on a hunting day; geometric and colorful shapes on the screen distract Baby, while our pockets sag, our head spins imagining a feast with large pieces of human flesh.
Julia Raiz (São Paulo, Brazil, 1991) is a fiction and essay writer. A PhD student and feminist activist, she works as a cultural agent in the area of literature. She is also part of writing and art collectives in Curitiba, Brazil.
Marcela Lanius works as a translator. She holds a PhD in language and translation studies and has been developing various research works within the field of translation studies, writing about feminist literary criticism, literary translation, and English-language modernisms.
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