WOMB • by Renée Jessica Tan

On the dawn of my forty-third birthday, I woke up and went to the bathroom just like any other day. Before my butt hit the seat, even before my underwear made it past my thighs, my womb fell right out from between my legs, landing with a hard thud on the porcelain tile.

My husband is a light sleeper, and I worried the bang had woken him up. I listened for movement from the bedroom, but hearing nothing, I turned my attention back to the reproductive organ sitting on the floor of the master bath.

My womb was chalky and brittle and looked like a smaller version of one of the tablets on which five of the Ten Commandments are inscribed. Thou shalt not bear children. Thou shalt disappoint your parents (even more). Thou shalt not have any visitors in the nursing home. Thou shalt slip into dementia and incontinence and all by thou-self. Thou shalt die with no one left to remember that you even were.

I stared through my knees at my womb, that desiccated block of tissue lying there between my feet. It had cracked open a little when it hit the ground. I thought I should grab it, patch it together, and run to the freezer. I wondered if my husband had remembered to pick up more two-and-a-half-gallon Ziploc bags. Would that even be big enough to seal in my womb?

The womb was so ashy and flaky, I worried that if I touched it, it would disintegrate in my hands. I sat down on the floor next to it and leaned against the tub. I forced myself to pick it up, holding it with the tips of my fingers. Having just fallen out of me, it was cooler than expected. A few bits crumbled off, but I was pleased to find that my womb, though dry, turned out to be surprisingly solid.

I began to pry it open. I worked at it slowly, slowly, until, like cracking open a watermelon, my womb broke into two pieces. After blowing away the dust, I could see everything that was inside.

I saw a small boy who loved to go on long hikes with his parents become the first person to run a marathon on the moon. I saw an impossibly gorgeous young lady clutching a gold statuette, waterproof mascara working overtime, as she thanked her mother for all those years of driving her to voice and dance lessons. I saw a budding research scientist dissecting stuffed animals on her parents’ dining room table, childhood experiments that eventually lead to her discovering the cure for quadriplegia. I saw myself in the front row at the swearing in of the first half-Asian president of the United States. (I so wanted him to be a her.)

There still could be time to will such greatness into being. The load in my hands felt heavy and full, pregnant with so much potential. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to shove my womb back up inside me, run to the bed, and tell my husband to get to work.

I scratched at the inside of the womb. Dark tissue collected underneath my fingernails and large chunks fell onto my lap, revealing another layer below.

There was a rambunctious toddler holding a book out to his mother. Instead, she plopped him in front of the TV so she could finish reading her email. There was a third-grader who refused to eat dinner after a teacher told her she had breasts because her mother fed her too many hormones. There was a teenager chewing anti-anxiety pills as his mother rewrote all his college application essays. There was a woman sitting comatose in a tiny cubicle for thirty years because her mother didn’t think going to art school would lead to a practical career.

And in the very pit of my womb, I found a forty-three-year-old woman staring into her own old and broken womb as she sat crying on the bathroom floor.

I put my womb back together and wrapped it with all the toilet paper left on the roll. I picked up the whole thing, this mummified vessel filled with all my unborn children, and threw it into the bowl. I worried that my toilet would overflow, but held my breath and flushed.

Renée Jessica Tan has been published in two short story compilations and at Flash Fiction Online. Her short story Baghead was read at the Selected Shorts live show at Symphony Space in New York City. Renée lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband, an illustrator and frequent collaborator, and two cats who are plotting their demise.

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