Leanna Petronella

The Silver Nurse

            Naomi is my silver nurse.

            She nurses the [email protected] Lydia.

            The [email protected] Lydia is below my ribs and above my legs.

            I am Lydia.

            The [email protected] Lydia is holding its very first baby.

            Every day, Naomi checks the BabyBasket several times. I will tell you how she does it, step by step. First, her necklace of red lights turns on. It flashes one bead at a time, and each makes a different sound as it flashes. This is my signal to stop what I am doing and spread my legs. I can lie down or stand up, it’s up to me. If I’m not spread by the time the necklace is finished, Naomi will give me an error message.

            Error messages are painful.

            Once I am in position, Naomi dips one of her arms into a vase of cleaning solution. Naomi’s arms are long, thin, and silver, like two delicate rods. When her arm is sterilized, she dips it into a vase of petroleum jelly. Finally, she puts her arm into the  [email protected] Lydia. Read the White Book, it will tell you about it.

            When a girl turns thirteen, she takes classes. The wall screens teach you about the BabyBasket. On the last class, when parents are invited, you get a white box holding your own silver nurse. All the boxes break from the inside at the same time and a silver arm rips its way out. It is very exciting. Your nurse cracks and punches until she is free. Then she shakes off the white cardboard and all her lights flash. Everyone claps.

            Every girl poses with her nurse after that. One at a time, at the front of the classroom. The camera flashes just blind you! Everyone wants a picture of your nurse, as she takes her first picture of the [email protected] you. Click, click. You try to keep smiling, but the silver arm is cold. It is your first time acting as a socket.

            You hold up your graduation certificate. Higher, higher, so everyone can see it. The certificate shows the broadcast of the [email protected] you. It is such a pink, open landscape. You know that many babies will grow there someday, but for now, you imagine a handful of silver stars, cool and shiny, like the nurse’s arm.

            When you get home, there are changes. There is a silver bed in your room for your nurse. There are the two silver vases that hold the cleaning solution and the lubricant. There is the sound of the nurse recharging and sending data.

            You get used to the smell of rubbing alcohol in your room. Your room smells like your mother’s now, and your little brothers and sisters take notice. They treat you differently. When you feel generous, you show them how to play games on the nurse. Her back opens to a console. Your favorite is the game of hiding the red apple from Eve. Eve becomes smarter each time you play, it’s one of those games, and you enjoy getting sneakier and sneakier, trying to put the apple where Eve will never find it.

            Your older sister, the one just before you, shows you how to mess with the apple game. How to put the apple right in front of Eve, every time, or to move it over to Adam (he spends most of the game wandering around in the bushes). If you do it often enough, they both just ignore the apple. Eve sits down and starts mending baskets, and Adam goes to the stream to fish. For some reason, your sister likes that, how the apple just sits there, forgotten.

            Another big change after you bring home your silver nurse is the wallpaper in your bedroom. Before, the wallpaper could be whatever you wanted. You liked to do circus scenes or rainbows. But now the wallpaper always show the [email protected] you.

            While you live at home, before you marry your husband, you like to look at the [email protected] Mom on the wall of your parents’ bedroom. Whenever any of your little brothers or sisters are growing inside the BabyBasket, you can look at them there. Their images float. They look like skulls growing tails.

            If you want, you can change the coloring of the wallpaper. Sometimes, you make your brothers and sisters bright green or bright yellow. Then your mother laughs. Once, you figure out how to make the wallpaper entirely black. You can’t see the inside of the [email protected] Mom that way. You bring Mom into the room with her eyes closed. You think it will be a great trick! You think she will laugh and laugh! Mom doesn’t laugh. She asks you how you did it. She writes it down, every step. Then she tells you never to do it again.

            The [email protected] Lydia is growing a pretty good baby, I think. It is a girl. She has a little jutting chin. I talk to her. I tell her about the White Book.

            Then I spend all day watching the wall.

Leanna Petronella

Leanna Petronella's poetry can be seen in Beloit Poetry Journal, CutBank, La Petite Zine, ElevenEleven, and other publications. Her nonfiction appears in Brevity. She holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas and is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Missouri, where she is the Poetry Editor of The Missouri Review. This is her first fiction publication.