Marigold wakes up on the cold cement floor to the sound of a deflating balloon. It’s the sound of her womb shrinking, as every orifice in her body expels air. In her daze, she can smell the pungent aroma of menstrual blood and feel air pumping out of her body in short, punctuated bursts. It feels like a factory along the interstate, belching off exhaust.
She turns from her back to her side and puts her hand across her lessening stomach, not fully understanding what all of this could possibly mean. She groans as she raises her head and through bleary eyes, she can make out that she’s down in her basement for some reason. The closest thing to her is the yellow washer and dryer, and she drags herself over to it and pulls herself up. Once on her feet, she stumbles about the musty room as light peaks in through the window by the ceiling. But something doesn’t feel right. It’s as if something has happened to her that she can’t quite grasp yet. She staggers over to the stairs and sees splotches of blood on them, each step covered in its own circle of crimson.
She rubs the back of her head and feels the scabby hardness of dried blood on the tips of her fingers, and she looks at the residuals of it underneath her nails. None of this makes any sense to her yet and it’s all just a blur, as if she’s walking around in a dream.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM!
Marigold looks up at the noise and it’s coming from the door at the top of the stairs. There’s heavy knocking and the whole room shakes and rattles. Somebody is trying to get in.
“Marigold!” her husband screams from behind the door, “Wake up, baby. Please don’t do this to me. Oh, my God.”
The whole room shakes when the door is thrust into and she falls to the ground on her behind. For some reason, she can sense that on the other side of the door is her husband’s ear, trying to listen in for a heartbeat, but that doesn’t make any sense, as why would her heartbeat be on her side of the door?
“Hold on a minute, Jeff,” she says, standing back up and grabbing onto the banister, “I’m coming.”
As she raises her leg for the first step, her underwear feels heavy all of a sudden, as if blood has seeped right through and it’s sticking to her thighs. She cringes at the sogginess but continues on, touching her flattening stomach and dragging herself upwards.
“Marigold, please, please, please,” her husband cries, and she can feel teardrops hit the other side of the door now. The closer she gets to the top, the stranger it seems to her that the door might be horizontal rather than vertical, and the reason that her husband has his ear to it is because he’s listening for a sign of life. Her flattening stomach also begins to feel strange to her now, but why? What should be there in its stead? What’s going on with her body?
Three more steps to go.
“Wake up, Marigold, wake up,” her husband cries, and she can feel the shaking of the room again, as if the room itself were a body and she were just living inside of it. She grabs onto the doorknob at the top, but recoils as soon as she touches it because it’s ice cold. She puts her hand beneath a fold in her dress and opens the door with it. When the door swings open, her eyes have to adjust to a corridor of darkness that sits in front of her like a heavy shroud. Where is her living room, she wonders in a haze that assaults her eyes and nose like Hay fever. Where is her couch, her TV, and her carpet? In short, where is everything? Marigold blinks a few times and shakes her head, and by the third blink, she no longer feels hazy and dense anymore, but rather, back to her normal self, her senses returning to her like fireworks behind her eyes.
“Where am I?” she says, looking all around her as the distinct smell of mud hits her nose. She immediately turns around for the stairs only to find that the stairs are no longer there anymore, the darkness behind her seeming to stretch on ad infinitum.
As she takes one step forward, her feet sink into the soggy mud beneath her, and a sharp feeling hits her all of a sudden like hunger pangs. She grabs at her stomach and fear envelops her as soon as she realizes that she doesn’t have a baby bump anymore, but rather, the slight fat that she had before she was pregnant, which sets off an alarm in her head like a fire engine.
“Aiden?” She shouts, scratching at her stomach with both of her hands. “Oh, my God, Aiden, where are you?”
She reaches out to the wall to maintain her balance and screams.
Something just licked her.
“Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God,” she yells, running headlong into the darkness. As she runs, her house slippers slosh in the wet earth and kick up mud behind her. She squeezes in her shoulders and can hear the tongues lapping beside her now like dog’s trying to cool off on a hot summer day. Where is she? What is this? What’s going on? Are the walls nothing but tongues? How can that be? What kind of place is this? She runs without swinging her arms and a sort of mania envelops her now. It’s as if the farther she runs, the deeper and deeper she delves into her own insanity, the corridor being something of a tunnel into her innermost nightmares.
As she peddles faster, lifting her legs high to not get them stuck in the mud, her foot slips on a slippery patch, and she falls face first into the muddy floor. The lapping tongues laugh at her now. They sound like wind ruffling through a paper bag.
“Shut up!” She screams at the walls, but some faint sound beneath her steals her attention. With her ear now close to the sloppy mud, she can hear what sounds like the faint noise of baby cooing. Her eyes light up with the hope that only a mother could have in a tunnel that is nothing more than mud and darkness and tongues.
“Aiden!” she shouts to the ground. She sits up and begins to claw at the floor like a starving animal tearing through a garbage bin. She doesn’t even care about the tongues anymore. She puts her ear to the floor again only to hear her child cooing even louder now, the gurgling sound rising to the surface, “Aiden, I’m coming for you, honey. Hold on.”
When she makes a big enough hole in the dirt, she plunges her hands into it only to get her arms stuck up at the elbows. She struggles and pulls her arms out only to slam them back in again even deeper this time, leaning her whole body into it until she finally feels something in her hands.
“I’ve got you,” she exclaims, wrapping her hand around a long, stiff object, “Mama’s got you.”
The object in her dominant left hand doesn’t seem like any discernable baby shape at all at first, but it has to be as what else could it be? She heard something cooing beneath her, so she latched onto it. It must be her Aiden, it just has to be.
But as she holds onto the strange arm or leg or whatever it is, she can feel that the stiff object is covered in veins, and the top of it has a rounded bulb on it that feels like a mushroom tip. Repulsion washes over her when she realizes what she’s holding and she lets out a squeal as it emerges from the mud, bringing her hand up with it. The tongues laugh at her again, finding her plight hilarious.
Even in the hardened darkness, she can make out its outline as it eases up out of the ground like a standing cobra. A single, vertical line cuts down the top of the mushroom tip and it lights up the area in front of her, waiting for her to make the first move.
“Pick one,” a stern voice in her head demands, the timbre bouncing around in her mind like a fly swarming a light bulb.
Beneath her, she hears the cooing of her child again and in front of her, she sees the image of a penis, standing up erect in her face. In the deepest corners of her mind, she understands what the strange sights and sounds in the hallway are trying to tell her, but she doesn’t know how to answer a question like that. She doesn’t even know where she is.
With her chin dug deep into the mud, she suddenly sees what looks like blue yarn in the shape of a woman walking down the hallway towards her. When the blue yarn reaches her, it lies down next to her, and now, she can feel that she is two people in the corridor—her current self, and herself as a teenager, the two of them here to make the decision whether they want to choose the baby or the penis.
For her current self, the choice is obvious as of course she would choose her child over the lust soaked indulgences of her youth, as what first time mother wouldn’t? But her younger self complicates matters, and she whispers in her ear: Why can’t you have both?
Something as thick as logic in the back of her mind asks her the same question, and she doesn’t have an immediate answer for that anymore. She’ll never touch her uncle’s penis again, as he died years ago in the Gulf War, but what about this penis in front of her now, which is obviously a symbol for something else? Why can’t she touch that? Something in her mind urges her to do so, but something else in her mind tells her not to.
The penis is the symbol of your teenage years, The girl by her side whispers in her ear, Didn’t you have fun back then, Goldie? Didn’t you like it when your panties were full of cum for a hot prick? The penis is just a symbol, babe. A symbol of your youth. What harm could it do you now?
Don’t do it, another voice in her head tells her, this one her own, You don’t want to go back to that place, Marigold. It took you years to break away.
Beyond any feeling that she can comprehend from the two voices, something like fluid goes off in her mind and all of a sudden, she does miss the feeling of lust that characterized her life before she found God and her husband. She thinks about it every day, actually, even if she doesn’t realize it.
Come, the teenager says, and all at once, as she looks into the starry eyes of her younger self, she can feel her current self retreating until she is back to being young again, in love with the idea of being wanted for her flesh and her legs. In her vision, she is back to sitting in the back seat of her uncle’s Toyota Camry, bouncing up and down as he rides over all the potholes. In this memory, he is driving her away from the hospital after her mother killed both her father and herself in a murder-suicide over an affair her father had been having. This is the first memory that she has of her uncle, and she always kept it locked away safely, right now being the first time that she’s thought about it in years.
“It’ll be alright,” he had said to her, turning his bald head back to look her in the eyes, “They’re in a better place now.”
A better place like where, though? She once asked herself this question for a whole summer and it disappointed her greatly when the only answer she could come up with was under the ground and buried.
As for her uncle, she was only with him for two years, but they were two years that changed her life forever. Early on in their relationship, he would have trouble doing something as simple as looking her in the eyes. His shyness showed front and center, even to a 16 year old girl such as Marigold. Even hugging her was difficult for him as he would wrap his arms around her as if he were hugging a tree and couldn’t get his arms all the way around it. She would sometimes feel a small poke coming from his pants when he would hug her and she would always wonder why. Is an uncle supposed to feel this way about his niece? Shouldn’t it be wrong?
She wasn’t disgusted, though, and after spending the first year with him, she began to understand his embarrassment around her and found it a little cute; especially when he would sneak glances at her from across the dinner table, looking at her above his food. This charmed her because at age 17, she was hardly what one would call a looker as she had a big forehead, small breasts, and outbreaks of splotchy pimples every week or so. Not a single boy in her high school would pay her any mind, let alone ask her to the senior prom.
So when he walked in on her when she was changing a tampon in the bathroom on that fateful day that would change her life forever, she didn’t react the way that he had probably expected her to. Instead, she acted in a way that was quite the opposite, really. It threw both of them for a loop, turning them both inside out and afraid of who they really were inside.
There she sat at the edge of a toilet, putting in a new tampon, when her uncle opened the door and walked inside, his face like that of a zombie.
“Stan!” she squealed as she clacked her knees together and pulled up her underwear to her thighs, “What are you in doing here?”
“I can’t take it anymore, Goldie,” he had told her, his face flushed and hopeless,
“I’ve kept myself away from you for two years but I can’t do it anymore, I don’t care about the consequences,” and like a man possessed, he walked right over to her and unzipped his pants, his penis dangling in front of her face, slim but long like a stick one would find in their backyard.
The troubled man closed his eyes and tilted his head up to the ceiling, as if God was going to strike him down with a lightning bolt at any moment. But Marigold liked seeing her uncle’s penis sitting before her under a mess of pubic hair and stretch marks. She had never seen a real penis up close before, and she was charmed that someone actually found her attractive enough to not be able to resist her. When she bent forward and put his penis in her mouth, she looked up at him and saw that his eyes were welled up.
Days after the incident, with him avoiding her every chance he could, she never saw him again as he enlisted in the military and wasn’t even there for her 18th birthday, when she was old enough to be on her own. It was in those years before she found God and after her uncle left her that she fell into a life of sin, drugs and casual sex, all to fill the void that her uncle left behind.
With the self-destructive and suicidal image of where the encounter with her uncle left her, the current Marigold steps out of her youthful eyes and explains to her younger self that the love she had for her uncle wasn’t love at all, but rather, the naïve search for emotional acceptance that she could never attain before she found God. When she tells the younger one this, she can feel the stern voice inside of her smile, and she herself is proud that she has finally come up with this conclusion.
But the teenage girl by her side leans over and whispers in her ear, But didn’t you like it for that brief moment when he made you feel special? If you accept the penis, then you’ll finally have reached acceptance, and the current Marigold chews this over with deep thought, not knowing herself well enough to know which side is right, her past or her future.
With much thought and consideration, she reaches for the penis, and thus, youth itself, and also puts her hand underneath the mud, reaching for her future. But the penis sinks back into the ground like a gopher and the cooing sounds stop all at once. All of a sudden, she is left in darkness again with the lapping tongues and when she looks up, she can see something like a square light turn on just above her. In the brightness of the light, she can see both of the walls on either side now, and they are nothing but tongues, the entire wall a vision of absolute hell.
The square light, when it brightens even more reveals that it’s a mounted television screen, and on it is a bald, old man’s face. His look is stern, showing disappointment.
“You have chosen incorrectly,” the old man says, and she instantly recognizes the voice as the one from back at her house, the image of leaping down the stairs at his command rushing back to her like a smack in the face.
“Who are you?” she asks, staring at the screen with wide eyes, “Why did you tell me to jump down the stairs before? Where am I?”
The old man looks at her as if just the sight of her makes him sick. His swarthy skin and desert brown eyes give him a Moroccan appearance and his thick wrinkles make him look as old as time itself, “I can’t believe you picked both the penis and the baby,” the old man harps, shaking his head in disapproval, “I fear more than anything in the world that I may have made the wrong choice in picking you, but my prophesy can’t be incorrect, you must be the one.”
“What are you talking about?” She asks, “Who are you?”
“I am called The Prophet,” the old man says, and she can hear in the way he says his name that he is of great importance, “You have failed a test, Marigold. You have chosen yourself over your child.”
“I would never do that,” Marigold shouts back.
“The test you were just given goes much deeper than your maternal instincts,” the old man says, looking her right in the eyes, “You still cling to your past and have not given it up for your future. What would your husband have to say about this? What about your baby, who I have brought you here to save?”
“What do you mean, save?” Marigold asks, pulling herself out of the mud, “What’s wrong with him?”
“He doesn’t want to be born and now I can see why,” the old man scoffs, “You lie to yourself that you’ve changed and found God, but you still resort to childish memories and seek instant gratification. You’re not willing to sacrifice for child or for God.”
“What’s wrong with Aiden?” Marigold asks, side-stepping his put downs, “Where is he?”
“Aiden is where all children stay before they are born,” the old man says with an acerbic tongue, “He is in the Internal Landscape, resting on the Tree of Life.”
“What are you talking about?” Marigold says, and the old man sighs as if he doesn’t have time for this.
“Inside every human being is a world deep within them that is not known to the conscious or even the unconscious mind,” the old man says, “In this world lies all that makes you uniquely you, but is also connected to the universal mind that has existed within people since the beginning of man. The archetypes of this world oversee it. I am an archetype known as The Prophet, but you know me better as Conviction, the keeper of ideas, imagination and faith. I have brought you here to save your son, because right now, he wants to miscarry himself.”
“What do you mean miscarry himself,” she asks, “What are you talking about?”
“All you need to know is that your child is in grave danger,” the old man says, “If you choose to save him, the journey ahead of you shall test you even harder than the test I just gave you.”
“Grave danger, how?” she asks, stepping up closer to the screen.
“You will find out more soon when I can see you in person, but for now, because you have failed your test, I have no choice but to send you to the Barriers of Regret. Had you answered correctly and chosen the baby like your instincts initially intended, I would have been able to send you directly to my Forest, but you have failed and thus must suffer the consequences.
The air and walls around Marigold begin to fall apart now like a house of cards until she’s outside now in the midst of fog. The TV stays suspended in the air.
“What is this?” she asks, looking all around her and feeling the warm air cloud around her.
“You are in the southern hemisphere of the Internal Landscape, Marigold; the swamps. You are in my sister’s realm now.”
“What? Swamps?” Marigold asks, the air getting cloudier around her now, almost making the TV disappear completely.
“There are four hemispheres in the Internal Landscape,” the old man says, the screen flickering now, “they are known as the Barriers of Regret and all travelers, or, somnambulists as they are called here, must travel through at least one of them if they fail the test, and you have fallen into the Swamps. My bitch of a wife, Logic, has created each one of these barriers and you must cross it to get to the Heavenly Forest, where your child resides. Do you understand?”
“No!” Marigold shouts at the TV, which begins to fade in and out now, “Where am I? What is this?”
“That’s all I can help you with now, Marigold,” the old man says with rings underneath his eyes now, “You must get across the Swamp if you want to get to the Forest where your child resides. Get to him before he miscarries himself or we’re all lost.”
“But where is the swamp?” she asks the TV, which vanishes into the foggy air. The air parts in front of her and she sees a small dock and hears the sound of water sloshing close by. She walks to the dock and looks down and sees a small boat that could fit two people, rocking up and down in what looks like black tides. She sits on the dock and lowers her foot into the boat, falling into it and rocking back and forth as the fog engulfs her. She takes the oars in her hands and rows as something in her mind tells her it’s the right thing to do. The water feels heavy and bulky as she rows, and it already begins to put a strain on her shoulders.