Critical Mass

Preview 2008:“Salvation” by Lucia Nevai

By Jane Ciabattari

This excerpt is from “Salvation” by Lucia Nevai, to be published in June 2008 by Tin House Books. 

With abject, slavish desire, with off-hand, sloppy curiosity, with gratitude, with sedation, I was accidentally engendered. Never say the word rid around me. My mother tried to get rid of me. My face to this day is deformed, my forehead bumpy, puffy and white as mold. Her attempt was half-hearted; her method unknown. Where do I feel it? In the lungs. It comes back in winter when I wheeze. It comes back when I feel cowardly. There's pressure, slight at first, and frontal, then heavier and from all sides, as if I'm in a crushing machine that will reduce my mass to a minus number. Through it all, I'm hyperventilating, sucking oxygen as hard as I can, turning and twisting in my close, red space, inhaling all the Os I can find. Oxygen, that cool, sweet, slender thread of life I love. Oooooooooooooooo. 

She failed. She let me live. With my big head softened up like that, I tried to go easy on her when I was born. Now, I failed. She pushed me out to the tune of a thousand and one blue curses. Given a choice, I would have stayed inside. She was glad I was out of her life and on my own. She put on lipstick and left the hospital. 

It was an unpleasant interval. Where was her smell? I missed the sound of her voice echoing down through her innards to me. I'd grown used to its tone, its twang. Sometimes she sang. I missed our drugs, whatever they were. The rubber nipple held begrudgingly by the nurse delivered squeaky clean nutrition. I refused it at first, looking for whatever it was I was used to. The nurse felt miffed and cut me off. Lacking our tranquilizers, disgusted by formula, I could have used a cigarette. No luck there either. People to the right and left of me were bawling. I gave it a try. Out came half a coo. I didn't have the lungs for bellowing, thanks to you-know-who. I gave up wanting anything. That seemed to work. My first successful approach to life! I would remember it always. 

Sunlight was entrancing. Neither too simple nor too complex. It was substanceless, yet it filled up the four pink nursery walls, entering the room in shafts, structures it accepted from the windows interspersed along the wall. Motes and flecks suspended in the air were illuminated by it as if they were valuable. There seemed to be more than enough of it outside the window. Sunlight: warm, silky, intelligent, unlimited, impartial, kind, unfathomable. I waved my fist in it, stirring it up, introducing a new smell that wrinkled my nose, the smell of bleach. All around me, people were wailing. I blew one bubble. I felt inadequate, envying their freedom, wondering what it would be like to throw back your head and let loose, test-driving a pair of healthy, new, red-blooded lungs.