13 Ways: Side Effects
Posted on March 27th, 2012
Glenda slept in the bath and dreamt of their baby. In the dream, she had not miscarried well into her second trimester, as had happened in real life. She had not been rushed to hospital in an ambulance, having nearly bled to death from an internal rupture before arriving at the ER.
She had not awakened to her husband, in tears, saying to her that their baby had not survived, but “thank God” she had. This had confused Glenda, as neither of them believed in God, but she’d not questioned him at the time, considering it a point hardly worth making.
No; in the dream, all was beautiful. Their dream baby was at least six weeks old, healthy and vibrant, and sound asleep in her crib. Glenda was her usual not-sick self, only happier because their little daughter had arrived safely in the world.
She was abstractly aware of being both in and out of the dream – present in their old flat, yet also hovering somehow on the periphery, watching the scene unfold.
It was late, and she was alone with the baby. She was waking from having fallen asleep on the couch while watching the news. The news was still running, but the sound on the television would not work, so she could not understand the full context of the images flashing by, all of which seemed to be about swarms of insects devouring crops and devastating farmers’ lives. Hungry children stood in queues, some crying, all reaching out empty bowls towards faceless adults who doled out rice to them. The children seemed to be crying because there was not enough rice for them all, and the adults were clumsy, repeatedly spilling whole spoonfuls onto the dusty earth.
She tried to remember where Alan was, but could not recall the details of why he wasn’t home at this hour. She went to check on the baby, quietly approaching the crib in the nursery; but even before she reached it, she could feel that something was wrong.
In the seconds it took for her vision to adjust in the dark, she began to make out the shape of an enormous insect – as long as the baby herself – resting on the infant’s chest, which laboured under its weight.
She moved fast to grab a feeding blanket and cover the back of the thing, then struggled to pull it away from her child; but as she tugged, the predator fastened tighter, claiming the baby for its own. The baby began to cry then, in pain or fear.
Glenda tried to shove her body between her daughter and her attacker, but failed. She slapped at its head, and chopped at its legs, in an effort to break them.
It reared up then, and she could see it fully for the first time – a formidable praying mantis, with its wings spread out, and its forelegs splayed wide.
The thing hissed at her, lashing her face. Glenda lashed back, ready to fight to the death. All the while, she could hear her voice as if from a distance, howling with primitive rage.
She woke up moaning and splashing water everywhere, and scrambled out of the bath. She figured herself lucky that she hadn’t drowned, but realised that the bath was now cold, and the room itself even colder. She was shivering, and her fever was back.
And her loss, her overwhelming loss. That was back, too, as fresh as the day it happened.
“Oh, damn! What’s wrong with me?!”
Tears streamed from her eyes as she cursed herself. It was not the grief that angered her. She understood it took time to heal, and she allowed herself that. It was this damned insect thing she didn’t understand.
Why couldn’t she just relax? Alan would be home soon, and she would recover from this bout of flu or whatever it was; and if, in fact, these insects were gathered around their home in unnatural numbers – well, they could decide what to do about that together.
She was half convinced she was delirious, and half not. She tried to reason with herself that, if the insects were hallucinations, then they could not hurt her; and that, if they were real, they meant no harm. So why did they feel sinister? Was country life making her crazy?