Marigold lifts her chubby face and disheveled hair from her toilet seat and wipes off her mouth with the back of her hand. The orange chunks that cling to her wrist are from last night’s chicken parmesan, which she’s been craving ever since she found out that she was pregnant these past five months. She’s held off eating it because she knows what kind of damage it normally does to her system, but last night, she just couldn’t help it any longer. She needed a comfort food, albeit, one that gives her massive indigestion, especially before giving her husband the terrible news about the, well, she doesn’t want to think about that right now. They haven’t bothered her all morning and she feels grateful for it. God must be keeping them away from her after a rough night of lunacy, all coming from inside her head and projecting itself outside of her bedroom door, laughing at her and calling her names like “cunt rag,” and “cock lover.”
Her cheeks swell up and her neck bobs before she heaves up even more vomit into the toilet. Her heart races as it splashes in the water below. When she’s finished, her entire face is now dipped in-between the toilet seat, and her hand searches the air for the lever that will send last night’s meal into oblivion. When she flushes the toilet, some of her hair is still down inside the bowl, getting wet from the twirling water. She couldn’t care less at this point.
It’s been four weeks since she started getting the dry heaves, vomiting only about half the time that she actually had to rush to the bathroom. Today is a particularly bad morning, though, as she’s been vomiting ever since she got out of bed, the smell of recycled marinara sauce clinging to her hair and pajamas. She can even feel a sliver of vomit in the slight mustache that she has at the side of her lips. She hits the toilet paper so it rolls down by her face and pulls a few sheets off to wipe her mouth. She throws the paper into the toilet and flushes it again. She’s been doing it all morning, even for just a little bit of throw-up. She can’t stand seeing the sight of it.
Her stomach gives her a respite and she tries to stand up. She holds onto the wood paneling in the sink to push herself up and as she does so, her baby bump pokes out through the bottom of her pajama top, revealing bits of hair that stand on end around her protruding belly. When she gets to her feet, the morning light peeks in through the window and it makes her feel dizzy all of a sudden. It causes her to almost fall right into the door. She grabs her baby bump with one hand and holds onto her head with the other as she stumbles on her bathroom rug. Once she has her balance, she reaches for the marble sink and her towel rack and closes her eyes. The world is spinning in front of her now and she just wants to regain some sense of equilibrium.
As she stands there, she looks down at her extended belly again and sees the stretch marks that curve around it, looking as thick as veins. She’s been wearing pajamas for the past few weeks now ever since she lost her job, but why get dressed up if there’s nowhere to go but back to bed, she keeps telling herself. She doesn’t let it bother her. She was never much into fashion anyway. While she wobbles in place, she steals a glance at herself in the mirror and sees what a total disaster she is. Heavy bags hang underneath her eyes that seem to drag down the rest of her face and she can now count at least twelve new white hairs sticking out the front of her head since last week. For the first time in her 49 years of existence, she actually looks her age, and it bothers her. Deep down though, she knows that God doesn’t like that she cares so much about her looks, especially after He blessed her with her first bundle of joy after twelve years of trying and failing.
A sharp twist hits her in her stomach all of a sudden like the tossing of the mighty ocean, and it forces her back to her knees. She lifts the toilet seat and vomits violently into it, getting it all over the seat and some of it on the floor. When she’s finished, her heart can’t stop pounding. She feels like she’s going to die.
All her life she’s hated the feeling of throwing up, and she always preferred to sit on the toilet instead for about an hour and just defecate it out, rather than taking the few seconds it would take to throw it up. Her body doesn’t think it can take much more of this as her heart knocks up against her chest. Morning sickness has taken its toll.
A lot of this is all her own fault, though, and she knows it is. This terrible morning is all because God is punishing her for her guilt, and she knows that this is true because her beliefs tell her so.
She can still feel her husband’s dry kiss on her forehead and then on her lips when he told her that he loved her this morning. Still lying in bed, she said, “I love you, too,” even though, she knew that that was a only half-truth, if not a lie altogether. Honestly, and she knows that God is upset with her because she can feel the energy in the rosary beads pushing up against her, but ever since she got pregnant, she’s loved her husband less and less, finding his once charming weaknesses appalling now. What kind of a father would he be? She often wondered. What kind of a man cries when he gets frustrated about his job, stamping his feet under the table and turning red in the face like a child when he talks about his boss? Even worse, what kind of a man cries when he makes love to his wife, babbling in tears about how much he loves her and cares for her and how he would do anything for her? Well, if that’s the case, she wonders, then what kind of a father would he be? In her own life, she’s always felt that a man should be strong and not show any weaknesses, just like her father before her mother killed him. That’s what makes him a man. Her biggest concern isn’t her husband, though, but rather, her oncoming son who she doesn’t want to grow up to be some kind of faggot or anything like that. She hates fags, just as God does, and later in their marriage, she’s spent some time wondering if her own husband was turning into one himself and not even realizing it. He’s gotten much more emotional ever since he turned 40.
Her feelings about her husband have actually been so negative lately that she’s been questioning the past fourteen years of their marriage in just these past five months. Her dislike for him has gotten worse and worse with every day that goes by. Even worse is how she feels at his side at nighttime when he unconsciously wraps his arm around her, bringing her closer to him. It makes her want to gag, and she’s been doing enough gagging as it is this morning. If not for the…well, she doesn’t want to think about that right now, so she presses it out of her mind. But something else pushes up to the front of her thoughts, and she just can’t shake this feeling, even if she wants nothing more in the world than to do just that.
It’s her dream from last night that pervades her thoughts. And as she flushes the toilet again to get rid of the odor, her mind focuses on how real it felt, as it felt more real than anything else has in her entire life.
In her dream, her eyes trailed up a large oak tree, and on this tree near the top was a single cradle, rocking back and forth. She couldn’t quite see inside the cradle because it appeared hazy to her. But something inside her told her that her baby, Aiden, was within it, and he was so high up on this tree that there were literally clouds floating behind him. The sky was cerulean blue.
In the wind, which made the cradle wobble precariously on the slim branch, she could hear the melody “Rock-a-bye Baby,” playing in the background, and everything was peaceful, even on this suspect branch. The baby’s happy cooing could be heard coming from the cradle, and all was good in the world. She felt that her child was safe and secure.
But suddenly, something in her stomach dropped, and at that moment, she could feel that something was very wrong. Her perspective moved from the cradle and traveled all the way down to the end of the branch and there stood a shadowy figure watching the baby, its hands behind its back. As she stared at the figure, she saw that it looked right back at her even though its face was devoid of any features. After a moment, the black figure walked with perfect balance towards the carriage, causing the branch to sway slightly underneath it.
“No,” she kept yelling, “Stay back,” but the figure wouldn’t stop. Instead, it walked right up to the cradle and looked down into it. The figure, in one swift motion, overturned the carriage and out of it fell an indiscernible object that she knew had to be her child.
As the baby fell, she realized that she was now looking up towards the baby parallelized. All she wanted to do was open her arms to catch her child, but all she could do was watch helplessly as the baby tumbled closer and closer to its doom. When it finally fell close enough to the ground, she turned her head and shut her eyes. She heard the sickening thud as the baby made contact with the ground, and it made her jolt up in her bed.
“What’s the matter?” she could hear her husband say outside of her when she woke up, but she never answered him. All she did was snuggle up underneath his puny arm and he was back to being fast asleep. She could feel him kiss her hair in the dark and heard distant hyena laughter. She didn’t dare ask her husband if he could hear it, too.
“It’s just like your letter,” a low, seedy voice whispers inside her head, and just then, it suddenly registers to her. She did write something like this, about only two months ago. With her weak arms, she staggers up and pushes herself out of the bathroom, and her slippers flop on the carpet as she shuffles. She drags herself into the hallway, resting her arm against the yellow wallpaper, and comes face to face with a picture of her and her husband saying their nuptials. In the picture, her chubby face isn’t so fat and she doesn’t have the extra chin she’s now carrying. Instead, she has the flat features that she’s always had since she was a child, and her brown eyes, which she’s always hated because they’re too spaced out from her nose, don’t look so bad in the picture as make-up does wonders, and her smile doesn’t hurt either. She pushes herself past this picture and takes a right into her bedroom. She rushes to the bed and sits on her flower laden blue comforter, leaning forward. Her breasts, a whole cup larger now, press into her knees as she opens the bottom drawer of her bedroom cabinet and moves her underwear to the side. She uncovers a whole stack of papers in fancy typed lettering that were sent to the Sunny Side Greeting Card Company.
She takes a whole bundle out, and leafs through them. She checks the dates in the upper right hand corner that documents when they were written. In a way, they chronicle her slow progression into insanity as they get worse the further along she was in her pregnancy. She often wondered why she didn’t just throw them out, but something deep and threatening in the back of her mind told her not to, so she kept them hidden in the bottom of her drawer underneath her underwear. Now she knows why she kept them.
October 12th, one of them near the middle of the pile reads at the top of the paper. The greeting begins on the front of the folded paper.
If the world was small enough to fit in my back pocket.
She unfolds the creased paper.
I would journey to it and find you, living inside my head.
Marigold opens the next card, marked October 17th.
Once upon an anniversary, a very unique husband entered my life and made it more beautiful with the tender embrace of his arms, the touch of his kiss, and the understanding tone of his voice.
She opens it and reads:
I will see you again when you gather the courage to find me. I will be in the lake of hair, drowning.
Her eyes light up at the next one, and she remembers that this was the one that had the senior editor finally calling and telling her in a quiet voice that she’s worried about her and thinks she should get some help. Why she sent these out, she has no idea, because she doesn’t even remember anything being wrong with them when she initially mailed them. In her mind, they were like any of the other cards she used to write for the company. It’s as if something in her mind blinded her to her insanity, and she doesn’t have any idea why.
The next card, marked October 11 reads:
Because you mean everything to me.
I love you for always being more than just a mom and being a mother to me. Somebody who will always be by my side to share in my victories and hold me in my defeats.
She opens it and reads:
The child will be in his crib on the branch waiting for the stork. The man on the branch is waiting.
What does it all mean, she wonders just as something in her head licks the inside of her forehead.
“Maaaarrriiiigggoooooold,” she can hear from the hallway, “Mararrriiiiiigggooooolllllldddddd.”
She rips the papers off her lap and shoves them back into the drawer, closing it shut.
“That’s not going to help you, Marigold,” the voice in her head says, the first time it’s talked to her all day, “You know I’d never leave you for too long, baby.”
Marigold picks up a small bronze statue of two boots off her dresser and hurls it across the room. It bounces off the door.
“What’s the matter, Marigold?” the voice says from the hallway, the image in her head that of the shadow figure from her dream, “We should be friends. Everybody needs some friends, Marigold.”
The angry mother holds on to her belly and rushes over to the door, swinging it open and yelling out at the yellow hallway, “Leave me alone!”
There’s nothing there but a smoke detector and the picture of her and her husband, holding hands.
Crazed laughter explodes behind her now from the wooden bed post, and she sprints out the room and slams the door behind her. She rushes over to the kitchen where and finds her Bible on the counter. She picks it up and opens it to the page with the red ribbon down the middle of it that she had it opened to before she went to bed.
Advice to the Community, Peter, 5:8-9
8 Be Sober minded; be watchful. You adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for [someone] to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.
And resist him she shall. The lion is currently in the house with her, but she will not let him get the best of her. Her will is too strong.
“We’ll see about that,” the voice now says from the refrigerator.
Marigold runs to it and opens it up only to slam it. She opens it again and slams it again, making a magnet with a picture of her and Jeff standing on either side of Mickey Mouse on it, fall to the floor. Something in her mind spurs her to bend down and pick it up, and when she looks up, she hears the refrigerator yell—
Marigold falls on her bottom and kicks her way away from the refrigerator, the back of her head banging the leg of the kitchen table. The voice has never been that close to her before.
“Don’t listen to him, Marigold,” another voice, a new one that is old and filled with wisdom, says to her, “The devil wants your baby’s soul, and he’s trying to get to it by going through you.”
“No!” Marigold says with tears leaking down her face, “I won’t let him.”
“I’m going to get him, Marigold,” the dark voice says to her now from the ceiling fan, the voice clinging to the blades in the propeller, “Yes, I am, Marigold, yes, I am. Because you have sinned, and sinners deserve to suffer.”
“But doesn’t she deserve repentance?” the sapient voice says, “Could she help it that she doesn’t love her husband anymore?”
“Probably not,” the sticky voice says, licking her ear lobe now, which makes her cringe and move her head to the side, “But so what?”
“God has mercy,” the old voice commands.
“But I don’t,” the dark voice now says underneath her, trying to lick her privates. She stands up quickly to avoid the slithering tongue, and the whole world goes black behind her eyes from the pressure of rising too fast. She feels sick to her stomach again and throws up on the floor.
“Stop, both of you, please!” Marigold yells, wiping the vomit from her mouth.
“I’m afraid your baby’s going to have to burn,” the evil voice says, now actually lurking inside her womb. Marigold looks down at her stomach and begins to claw at it.
“No!” Marigold shouts at it, “Get out of there. Get away from him!”
“He’s doing this because of you, Marigold,” the wise old man says, and Marigold stumbles over to her couch, putting her hands on it just to keep her balance. Her eyes survey the possessions she and her husband have accumulated over the years—the red love seat, the matching ottoman, the coffee table, the flat screen TV—and she realizes that all these material items have done is taken her farther away from God. She looks over all she has bought and wonders why they didn’t just resort to a life of simplicity after they moved from their old house in Montclair to Randolph. Instead, they bought anything they could afford with their joint bank account, and she picks up a fine, silken pillow that they bought and throws it at the TV screen. It hits the carpet without any damage at all.
“One tossed pillow ain’t gonna save your son, honey!” The evil voice barks, and she can feel his claws cupping the baby inside of her, rubbing his tiny head and smiling at it with a set of canine teeth.
“You can’t go on living like this,” the old voice says, rattling off in a staccato voice, “You must salvage your son’s soul.”
“But how?” Marigold asks, looking at herself in the TV and seeing the old man’s visage standing right behind her, a blue aura encircling it.
“Purge yourself of this evil,” the old man says, and she turns around only to find the basement door behind her rather than the old man himself.
She walks to the door, hoping to find revelation as she opens it, but all she sees is darkness.
As she looks down into it the basement, she suddenly has a moment of clarity.
“No!” the evil voice shouts, “Don’t!”
“You must have faith,” the old man says to her as she looks down the staircase that darkens by the fifth stair, “Remember, Psalm 121, Marigold, The Lord my Guardian.”
Marigold turns around and holds out her arms, closing her eyes as she recites it, “I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come?”
“No!” the evil voice screams, now standing outside of her and floating away from her with its hands outreached, “You’re making a big mistake!”
“My help comes from the Lord!” Marigold shouts with confidence, “The maker of heaven and earth.”
And she falls backwards into the abyss, her heart at peace as she disappears into darkness.