A Parental Reckoning: Cutting Cords

by Amy Cipolla Barnes

Twelve wall lizards cut my son’s umbilical cord. I imagine they chew through it while emergency Duramorph in my soft spine closes my eyes and slash-opens my swollen belly. I listen as the lizards whisper parenting secrets while my pumpkin-colored son sleeps under grow lights and gets his heel cut every hour. They hold us captive for days and days with only cartoons and soap operas and non-stop news in our sterile aqua prison where no one sleeps.

When we’re finally allowed to go home, the lizards skitter-crawl behind my wheelchair like old friends. My middle is tattooed with my son’s name in home improvement store staples that dig deep to remind me he exists, that I exist. There’s a tiny tree stump of a cord on his belly and I leave it there as long as I can and put it in a plastic baggie to reattach some day.

I write words only in a pale blue baby book, words about his words.

– – – – – – –

In my lucid house, I dream only of lizards – joke-telling comedy circuit lizards in zoot suits, sidewalk dog-sized lizards, my son as lizard, myself as lizard – but don’t write about them because I am a mother.

I write black ant rows instead, bits of minutiae and measurements and moments to prove I have a baby. My new son prolifically writes with his fingers on my skin, tracing illegible baby hieroglyphs he learned from the lizard people that guarded us in the hospital.

– – – – – –

When my daughter is born three years later and three weeks early, I pat the sterile space for friendly lizards and late-night cartoon channels. My husband watches her birth from a porthole with our son and steals a picture of a blurry Mad Hatter clock the exact minute she’s born. Afterwards, I eat paper graham crackers and play cards with the red queen and the green lizards on the night shift.

I write in indelible and invisible ink, in my head to remember all the things, the hard things like not sleeping and the easy ones like laughing at parking lot trees.

– – – – –

I cut the cord between my son and I again, at the kindergarten door. He writes help me on my leg and grips it like it’s the first and only time he’ll be alone. The new cords are hard to cut but I saw away at the pipe cleaner wire with dull safety scissors because it’s time. I slither home and write with invisible tears in brief moments when lizards rock his sister to sleep.

It’s still too soon to share the musings with anyone else and I think I’ve cut my own creative cords forever. Only I can read the words about funny things she’s said and nouns he’s brought home on vocabulary rings. I teach him the words and imprint them in my own brain as story prompts, basic ideas that become magic when I throw them like wishing papers imprinted with blurry black letters.

– – – –

Suddenly, my son is twenty and the cable boxes are too; obsolete, the cable company calls them and I wonder if they’re talking about the boxes or me. I cut the cord to 99 channels, and instead discover 99 stories of my own to write and the lizard-given secrets of laughing trees and crying snow and smiling dresses and buildings full of oranges.

I’ve given birth to books with marching letters about mothers and children and growth and loss and joy on every page, pulled from my brain files – real memories and sleep ones and anesthetic ones and numb ones and joyful ones and imagined future ones – wrapped in gold cords and curtain cords and pink velvet ropes.

– – –

Writing is a good distraction because there’s a cutting series of events to come, that I feel in my gut even dropped on a soft pillow of fried chicken and banana pudding and graham crackers and left-behind baby DNA.

The college says they’re keeping my son.

Another college says they’re keeping my daughter.

I read that lizards can regenerate a tail, but not a limb. I look at all my cut-off parenting places and see tiny bits of my children regenerating, tail on my belly and my arms and my toes like odd pieces of them growing in new places.

I can’t sleep and instead frantically write lizard words and ant ones and people ones and more ones, all the words to fill the empty spaces that are there already and the ones waiting to be generated and regenerated

– –

My now-house-sized son clings to my limbs from a distance over phone lines and texts and funny-faced facetime. I trace faded staple scar names on my belly and call the lizards to cut  the invisible cords because I can’t bring myself to do it, but know I must.

I hear the obedient green creatures gnawing away when my son comes back home and we’re all sleeping under the same roof again, until both children are spirited away with green guards skittering behind, whispering future secrets and words.

Read more of Amy’s work here at Reckon:

Fiction – Casual Savior

Fiction – Mother Road (with Sara Hills)

Parental Reckonings: At the Intersection of Motherhood and Writing

Parental Reckonings: Writing in the Silent and Loud Hours

author Amy Cipolla Barnes

Amy Cipolla Barnes

Amy Cipolla Barnes is the author of three short fiction collections: AMBROTYPES published by word west, Mother Figures at ELJ, Editions and CHILD CRAFT, forthcoming from Belle Point Press. Her words have appeared in a wide range of publications including: The Citron Review, JMWW Journal, Janus Lit, Flash Frog, Nurture Lit, Complete Sentence, Gone Lawn, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, Apartment Therapy, Southern Living, Motherly, Romper, Allrecipes and many others. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021 and 2022, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for Retreat West, The MacGuffin, and Narratively.

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