By Ang Kia Yee
Viveka lies there, her limbs sprawled out so she forms a large human X. As the sun gently cooks her body, she thinks drowsily about porn. More specifically, she thinks about tentacle porn. Can't imagine what that would feel like. Probably a little too slimy, but not that bad. She reaches for her phone.
A man walking by whistles softly at her. After he passes, Viveka props herself up on her elbows and peers at her body. She curls her neck inwards to look at her collarbone, and as always it's impossible. Another one of those: body parts you will never get to see for yourself without using a mirror, or a phone camera. Isn't it strange, especially, that you'll never ever really see your own face? You'll always be looking at a reproduction of it.
Her phone pings. It's Thomas.
More than once, she'd walked in on Thomas watching porn in their shared office at Molly's Achievers' Kindergarten.
"Fuck. Sorry," he'd said the first time as he slammed his laptop shut. Viveka had choked on a salad leaf, and walked out quickly to cough until the dressing finally tugged it down her throat. Then she opened the door and said, "It's fine. We're all stressed. I get it."
The second time, he'd slammed his laptop shut again, but once he realised it was just Viveka, he opened it up and resumed. She'd nodded at him and left just as a loud, feminine moan erupted from Thomas' speakers.
The third time, he'd only glanced up to check for Viveka's face returning to the screen. His hand was in his pants. Outside, among the wooden puzzles, plastic balls, Thomas the Trains, Elsas, Peppa Pigs, Iron Mans, and Barbies with their own fake shops to shop at with fake money for fake clothes, the children jostled around tablets for turns at the pre-loaded educational games. Once a round started they were dead silent, and it was in one of these silences that Thomas came. Viveka's phone pinged. It was her e-receipt for a year's subscription to Headspace. If she was going to work with a porn nut, she would need an extra hand to reach her goal of spiritual nirvana by 35.
Beach Viveka reaches for her phone. She puts on her earphones, and plays one of the Anxiety tracks. She takes a deep, slow breath. She closes her eyes. Every time her mind wanders she tugs it back to her breathing, over and over and over. She slips a hand over her lower belly. The warm skin grows hot and begins to sweat. When the session ends, she keeps her eyes closed.
Teaching at Molly's had been her first job after university. She hadn't had the right qualifications, but the vacancy at Molly's had offered all expenses-paid training, and she'd snapped it up. It'd thrilled her to know that she was leaving the dull, over-intellectual university environment for a herd of noisy, innocuous babes. This was her return to the real world, the very roots of humanity.
A year in, she still believed in it all: saliva, diapers, snot, sweat, hands that went everywhere and into everything, mud, spills, loud wailing (mostly from the children, thrice from parents, and once from Molly herself in the principal's office), even the fighting. Something about the noise and stickiness still felt like magic. Once, she had been too tired to stand, so she lay in the play area, eyes closed. One of the kids came over to ask if she had died, and she smiled like a milk-drunk baby. No, honey, I'm happy.
Every night over dinner, she told Peter about "her babies". Her adrenaline rush over for the day, she was systematic: each child was named, discussed, briefly celebrated, and nudged on like a bead on a monk's mala. She basked in this slow stock-take, feeling between her fingers the smoothness of each prayer bead, and resisting the urge to place it in her mouth and roll it around with her tongue.
"It's really sweet," he said. "How much you love them."
"They just make me really happy."
"I can tell."
"I love you, Peter."
He nodded and smiled. That night, oddly, they had sex in the kitchen rather than in bed. Viveka couldn't tell if she'd subconsciously wanted it, or if Peter had, or if it was mere accident (although how could that be?) but it didn't feel novel at all, other than gripping kitchen drawer handles and the cold marble counter top under her ass. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't sexier, wilder, or better. Afterwards Viveka cleaned up with kitchen towels, while Peter chucked their clothes into the laundry basket. They showered (separately) and climbed into bed.
"So, how's the museum project going?"
"Slow," Peter said. "I'm still getting used to this restoration stuff, working with historians and you know, facts, rather than just-"
"-your aesthetic gut."
"I trust you. It's going to be great."
"I hope so."
Peter drummed his fingers lightly on Viveka's thigh, then fit his hand around it and stroked it with his thumb. Viveka turned to face him.
"Peter. Do you want children?"
His thumb continued to stroke her skin. Viveka kept watching, waiting.
"Do you want children now?"
"I don't see why not."
He smiled at Viveka, his dark eyes disappearing completely.
Two hours later, as Peter snored lightly next to her, Viveka lifted her silky pajamas top and placed one cold hand on her belly. She slid an index finger into her navel and pushed in as though digging.
Viveka was headed for Molly's. It just rained, so the mud stuck to her shoes. When she arrived, she took her shoes to the sink. As her fingers grew filthy rubbing the mud off under running water – she felt it.
A kick. It was faint, but she'd definitely felt it. She dropped her shoes. With both palms flat against her lower belly, she waited. Another kick. She froze. A smile inched its way onto her face, breaking it open.
Thomas arrived then, shaking off his umbrella just past the doorway so rain splattered on the floor, missing the doormat, entering the kindergarteners' cubby holes and wetting a pair of crayon drawings on the wall. He saw Viveka standing by the sink.
Viveka didn't answer.
"Hello? Loser, whatcha doing?"
Viveka picked up her shoes, shook them off, and walked out.
"Hi. Just washing my shoes."
"You alright? You look kinda pale."
Over the next two weeks Viveka Googled furiously, and avoided sex with Peter. There wasn't supposed to be kicking till at least 16 weeks. But she'd felt it. Was she already four months in? Why hadn't she had morning sickness?
Lying in bed one night, she had her back against Peter, her face lit by her phone screen.
"Yes?" She didn't turn away from her phone.
He slid his hands onto her body, resting them just under her breasts in a hug.
"What are you up to?"
She put her phone down and turned to him.
He leaned close and kissed her gently. His body pressed close and hot under the shared blanket. She wiggled her toes.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you too."
She closed her eyes.
"Yeah. Long day."
She felt the heat of his body pull away from her. He turned back to her, quickly, to kiss her cheek.
There was a kick again, but this time it was hard, and Viveka choked. It felt like the kick was puncturing upwards in her body, hitting her lungs and her trachea. She ran her hands over her body, checking for wounds. Nothing.
Her entire body tingled with a violent pain. She got onto all fours and tried to stand. Where was Peter? Slowly, trying not to scream, she stood up. She felt something warm trickling down her leg. It was blood. She started to cry.
She pulled on a thin cotton dress she didn't remember owning. It was flame-red with small white flowers. The blood, which was now covering most of the inner halves of her legs, quickly stained the dress. She pulled on a coat, black, and wrapped it over everything, all of her, as she ran out of the room.
There was a loud pop, and the lights came on.
"Happy birthday!" A blur of faces screamed at her.
Another kick. This time Viveka landed on her knees.
"Darling, what are you doing?" It was Peter. His face was really pink, almost red. "It's your birthday! Come, get up."
He pulled her to her feet, and she noticed the crowd of faces before her. All the kindergarteners, Thomas, her parents, even Molly, they were all in the kitchen. Molly beamed at her.
"You're wonderful, Viveka, you really are. We're so lucky to have you at Molly's." Molly hugged her.
"Vi," Viveka's mother said. "You look kinda pale. Is everything okay?"
"We're so proud of you, honey," her father said.
Viveka looked down. The flowers on the lower half of her dress had all turned red. Was the baby okay? She wanted to ask. Did anyone know if it was okay?
"Peter," she said. "Peter. We need to go to the hospital."
Peter couldn't hear her. He was with Thomas, holding a beer, laughing. Viveka's parents brought a cake to her. Every inch of it was covered with lit candles.
Everyone turned to Viveka. "Make a wish!" they screamed.
The smoke from the candles made Viveka choke. She squeezed her eyes shut and locked her fingers together. That was when the cake fell, and the fire hit the floor and began to spread.
"Shit," Viveka said. "Shit. Shit, shit, shit."
The fire was everywhere now.
"Get out!" she screamed. "Everyone get out!"
She looked up. There was nobody there, just her.
"Viveka. Viveka." Hands closed around her cheeks. She tried to push them off, but they kept coming back. They gave up on her face and moved to her shoulders. She twisted her body left and right. They gripped harder. They shook her. She lifted one leg and kicked.
Viveka opened her eyes. Peter was on the ground, groaning.
"Peter?" She snapped awake. "Shit. I'm so sorry."
She climbed out of bed to reach him. As she did so, she glanced down quickly. Her silk pajamas were wet. But it wasn't blood.
"I'm alright," Peter said as she helped him onto the bed.
"I'm so sorry."
"It's alright. Are you okay? You were having a nightmare?"
"Yeah," Viveka said. Then the smell hit her. Urine.
"I wet the bed."
Viveka covered her face with her hands. Peter pulled himself up to kiss her cheek, before falling back onto the bed with a groan.
"I'm really sorry." Viveka got up and tugged her clothes off. They were cold and sulky as they landed on the floor. She pulled the sheets off the bed, shifting around Peter as he lifted himself here and there to let the fabric pull free. It was only when she'd chucked the wet things into the washing machine that she remembered.
Viveka heard him get up and shuffle out to her.
"Yes?" He popped his head into the kitchen, yawning.
"I think I'm pregnant."
His eyes widened.
"I'm pregnant. I think."
They decided to go to the doctor's in the afternoon. After the initial surprise and joy and fear had waned, and Peter had asked all his questions, he made breakfast. They ate in silence. It was a spell. Neither of them wanted to disturb it – one because of fear (this was it, this was growing up, becoming a father, becoming boring and ordinary, god, this was frightening and he wasn't sure of anything at all), the other also because of fear (please god let the child be alright, what was that dream about, was it a bad sign, what would she name it, this child).
"Did you dream of a baby or something?" Peter asked when they were in the car.
"Kind of," Viveka said. "I think so."
"Nothing," the doctor said. "You're not pregnant."
Viveka stopped breathing.
"You're sure?" Peter said.
"You're sure?" Viveka said softly.
"Yes, I'm quite sure."
"What about the kicking?"
"It's possible that you imagined it. Even if it were a false pregnancy, you should experience nausea, breasts swelling, that sort of thing. Have you experienced any of those symptoms of late?"
"Then I'd suggest that you rest and take time off from work. It might be stress-induced. If it persists, I can refer you to a psychiatrist. Either way, the baby wouldn't have kicked this early in the pregnancy."
Viveka had sex with Peter that night, and the next. She had sex with him four, five times a week, and Peter let her. It was nearly the same each time: the ravenous kisses, hands flicking quickly at the nipples, then flying to the crotch, then more rubbing, more flicking, sucking, sliding in, remembering to moan, then thrusting and going and making sure he came inside her, not a drop wasted.
Each day she waited for that kick, that sharp pain to come, to announce an arrival. Peter cooked more of their meals than usual, and hugged her each night after dinner, his face pressed into her hair. He held her cheek and stroked her jawline with his thumb.
"It'll come," he said, though he wasn't sure if he wanted it anymore. "Don't be afraid."
Once, the kicking came back, and the same doctor said the same thing: no child, nothing. See a psychiatrist. Stress-induced. In your head. Maybe. Viveka cried on the way back in the car. Peter wasn't with her this time – he was at work, and they agreed she'd be alright going alone. The kicking came back again and a different doctor said the same thing with different words. Viveka was tired. No more sex.
Peter was relieved. He took days off from work to cuddle, watch BoJack Horseman, and bake banana bread with Viveka. Viveka took leave from Molly's and mulled around at home, knitting mug cosies and coasters and eventually, scarves. She read, ploughing her way through Crime and Punishment and Kafka on the Shore. She revived her university porn habits, secretly investing in a vibrator and a pink silicon dildo. She listened to Headspace between her Pornhub subscription, and found a rhythm between the two that calmed her perfectly.
"Pasta for dinner?" Peter asked one evening.
"I don't mind."
"I'll do pesto. What'd you do today?"
"I took a walk, actually. A couple rounds around the park."
"That's good. You should get out of the house more."
"Where would I go?"
"Well. What about the beach?"
So here she is, warm and soft in the sun, feeling like fruit. The tide is coming in. Viveka closes her eyes and falls asleep.
This time she knows it is a dream. The monstrous octopus looms as she floats, submerged in the sea. It is dark reddish-purple and translucent at the edges and, Viveka senses, female. The octopus studies her carefully, then launches towards her. It is difficult to see through the darkness. It is very silent. Viveka waits. The first tentacle that wraps around her waist is gentle like a hug. Viveka's body tingles, and she moans. Another tentacle, over her chest, sliding back and forth. She quivers. The tingling grows, consuming Viveka's body. A second moan escapes. It feels so good. Viveka arches her back and begins to rock and gyrate her hips. A third tentacle comes. This time she grasps it and pulls it to her crotch. It latches. Viveka is loud.
Viveka wakes, abruptly. Her legs are wet from the tide washing in. It comes again, licking at her thigh. She props herself up. It's still bright, and a few children are playing some distance away. And then – Viveka feels a kick in her belly. So gentle it feels almost like a nudge. Viveka doesn't move.
Slowly, shifting towards the water a little, she lowers herself back onto her back. When the next wave comes in, it reaches her crotch, wetting it.QLRS Vol. 17 No. 2 Apr 2018