The lucky few experience an annunciation. The bellies of the rest remain silent. The doctor himself doesn’t know what is happening at such times. Not really. His hands are merely holding the Lord’s hand.
What does it mean to give life and to be born into this world? Noémi Kiss’s Ikeranya (Mother of Twins) is a rhythmic series of stories, monologues and meditations on the process of giving birth – from artificial insemination through labour to the first birthday of the twins – alternately narrated by the mother and the babies. In its detailed account of both the physiological reality of childbirth and its spiritual aspects, Noémi Kiss’s book does not shy away from taboos of pregnancy and parenting.
She’s lying stretched out, naked as the day she was born, unconscious, the signs of life slowly seeping through her starting at the tip of her finger and ending in her heart. She gradually regains consciousness. At first vague and indistinct, a shaft of light pierces her eye. Spots of joy. At last! It has made her back slightly damp. Still, it’s not the real thing yet. Sleep is straining at her eye as if it meant to start all over again. Spots all around. It makes her head whirl. The piercing circles end in a screaming headache. Flashes of clawing light, the start of another bout of sleep. She sees, or rather, barely just senses the doctor casting a glance at the blood pressure gauge, nodding, whispering something to the nurse. Must be some horrendous military secret he’s sharing with her, something that’s all about her, the sneaky, underhanded method concerns only her, except she of all people is not allowed to learn the recipe. He releases her hand and leaves her. From here on in, she is floating all by herself. The thin voice at the door says as an afterthought, hold tight, concentrate on them staying inside, address endearing words to them, and they’ll be born. A leap into the abyss!
The infusion drips very, very quietly. You realize it’s there only when the plastic bag over your left shoulder empties out, giving a squelching sound, squelch! The nurse appears and quickly replaces it, her hand is in a cast, she laughs, it’s not a sleeping potion, don’t worry, just protein to contract the bloated ovaries. When she puts a hand to it, her belly feels like two purple spheres. They’ve grown, been inflated, yet when she came in, they were just small dots. She felt like a balloon and nearly threw up, but it wasn’t really that big, at least, that’s not how she remembers it. It had matured gradually. She asks for a painkiller, pops it in her mouth. The nurse places a plastic cup by her side. She takes it with mineral water and drifts back to sleep. Closed pupils. She wakes to the sound of someone munching on salt sticks. The girl that had gone before her was sitting in a chair, swinging her legs. Six ova, that’s not bad, but I have ten, that’s how many the doc sucked out, go babies, go! The girl laughs at her helplessness, but she means it as encouragement. The doctor is a saint and you, dear nurses, are angels. He’ll make you a baby. It’s guaranteed. Don’t you worry, you won’t feel a thing. It’s painless. And you don’t have to contort yourself on a mattress with spread legs. Except, she’d like to screw and not like this, getting it on the sly on a hospital bed. Bet you the biologist is just letting them have a go at each other. He’ll make a zygote out of two cells before you can say Jack Robinson. Go, go, go!
You can get up now, the nurse urges in a sweet fatherly fashion but when there’s no answer she relents, switches to motherly tones. She sprouts whipped cream wings. She’s surrounded by a web of plant creepers. In her imagination, she kneels. A plunge.
Powerful pauses, blank intervals, fleecy clouds playing celestial harmonies. They break off. Bang! Snap! Silence deep as the grave. Feels like a couple of minutes of an eclipse. They part the curtain by the bed. The nurse switches on the lamp.
Two infusions finished. Two. The doctor said just two, two and no more. Do you hear me? Wake up! You really must get up, the nurse urges. Kindly raise your back. I’ll take your arms and help you. I can’t, I can’t manage, I’m sorry, my back hurts, it won’t obey, I can’t get it to obey. I have bricks growing in my belly. I couldn’t. While I’m dreaming.
When she was a little girl, her grandmother used to take her to church during Advent. A thin, skin-and-bones man was riding a donkey into Jerusalem. During the first mass they blessed wreaths, then in the priest’s house placed four silver candles on top, and ribbons, then sprayed them with snow powder, decorated them with walnuts and cones, and on the way home, they took some to the ailing, and when the third Sunday had passed, they waited for the conception. When that, too, had passed, little Christ was born, a huge, purple baby. On the third day he matured into a boy, the sun set, and before long he was crucified. Her grandmother carved three puppets, lined the chicken coop with straw, and placed Joseph doll, and Mary doll, and the baby bandage inside. They got shit all over them because the hens walked on them. A manger-stable. The stink comes here to sleep. Warm like a mother’s womb. On Holy Night, when the angels had come down to earth and the visit of the Three Magi was over, too, the manger collapsed. The characters were played by the hens. The sparkles set the straw on fire. It was probably this fire that caused the accident. Old man Joseph took Mary doll and the child into his care. It was sad news when grandmother said they ended up in the garbage or in the cold dung-pit, the remaining dolls surviving the New Year bathed in the wintry, frozen fasces. Why is mother lying? If it’s not Jesus that brings a child, then who? Tell me! What’s the use of angels if there’s no conception? Mother sidles up to father, they rub legs, and that’s how the baby is born. My father slips into my mother. That’s what makes the baby grow in her tummy. Somebody among the mothers told a whopping lie. Everything collapsed.
She heaves herself up on her elbows. She’s light in the head, but it all goes smoothly. Taking one step at a time, she climbs down the ladder of the bed. The medicine worked. Her belly is empty, her head is empty. That’s good. It’s good news when there’s nothing, when there’s peace and you can live and breathe and your heart beats like everyone else’s. There’s nothing better in the world. The clatter in her head has stopped. She doesn’t feel like tearing at it any more. She crumples the sheet as she descends. The nurse rushes over to fix it. The next girl is wheeled out, but there are three more in line by the time she returns from the bathroom. They hand her an unopened pregnancy kit. I don’t want to see you here again, go and don’t worry. Go, go, two zebra stripes! In the locker, she finds her clothes in order. Just like at school, she slips on her panties, inserts a sanitary pad and hooks up her bra. When she turns to the side she sees in the mirror that there’s no trace of the protrusion on her abdomen, all traces of the recent procedure gone. She imagines the face of the Holy Spirit in her womb. They fiddled only with her tube. The doctor burst her ovaries with a big needle. She imagines it once again. But the spirit has been transformed into the likeness of a bearded old man, thin and bleeding, a sheet covering his hips. She’d like a big pink baby, like in those Renaissance paintings. It’s not going to happen, damn it. They’re going to die, when they haven’t even lived. A teardrop begins its descent. Rolls down to her pussy.
Yes they will. One, two, maybe three children. Depends. Girls and boys, or only boys and only girls. Who cares? It’s there in her belly, kicking around, making loud noises in the wee hours of the morning. The minute of waiting is bursting with tension, there are only seconds left, really, and then it’ll be time to fill up the empty space in the little bed. Baby bed. Moses, sheepfold, pacifier, rattle. Until it slips out, no one’s going to believe it exists, that there’s a human being inside her belly. Till that happens she’s the only one that knows. The doctor merely suspects. He doesn’t know anything. He just got it for her. Ultrasound images prove that they exist, but images don’t coo. A couple of days, a couple of hours or minutes and the first sign of life will come.
It’s cold outside, there’s snow, a lot of it, as if the street were swathed in gauze. The windows are adhesive bandage covering the Holy Night. She gets on all fours. One of the softest spots is the rug under the tree. Here the waiting, for what little time is left, is easier. Meanwhile the first sparkler is ignited. It throws sparks, its glitter cutting through the room, casting tiny round spots on the wall. In embryonic positions, spheres dance around their own axis. The apartment is awash with light. In the dining room all the candles on the Advent wreath have already been lit. She looks and imagines the face of her unborn babies in the light. They’re close, softly cooing and babbling, gently breathing. Then it stops, and they’re not tiny any more. More like children. Aware of their own existence. Cells that it won’t be right to hoodwink with the story of how others are born. Next year we’ll knead the first couple together, I promise. And I’ll tell you how you came to be. A cheap trick, mother.
The second day of Christmas. They come out of hiding. Tiny black baby-embryos inside the abdominal wall. It’s them, the twins, conceived on a hospital bed, and the Holy Spirit tied them to the wall of the uterus, glued them there with a catheter. They’re crying. Always thirsty. Sucking and shitting. The lucky few experience an annunciation. The bellies of the rest remain silent. The doctor himself doesn’t know what is happening at such times. Not really. His hands are merely holding the Lord’s hand. Even if his touch helped bring hundreds of little divinities into the world, this whole thing is beyond comprehension.
© Greetings to Dickens 15 Christmas Stories, An Anthology of Short Stories, Edited by Emilia Mirazchiyska, Compilation and translation © Scalino OOD, 2012
Noémi Kiss: Ikeranya
Budapest: Magvető, 2013
Translated by: Judith Sollosy
Tags: Noémi Kiss