Venus is the mother in an oyster shell. The walls cave inwards, over her and under her in a sterile white casing. A little light of crystalline; crystal salts that burn to black in brackets of cold glass. A cold horizon, ether sky over aqua calm; the sea that calms and drowns her deep inside.
Quick, desperate breaths in from the mask; it is a shield that moulds itself over her nose and her mouth — to disguise the pain. The gas is thick and heavy, with fingers of giants pressing into the pain. The gas stings inside her lungs, tracing a poison through her throat as she breathes, in out. In out, a tightness over her chest that rises and falls as the ribcage crushes her heart. A puncture, perhaps a tear. The numbness fades as the pain surfaces, coming to shore on a wave; a synchronised motion to the amniotic kicks inside her womb.
Placentas’ refusal, tempest kicks. The mask is deteriorating from a stout torrent of pain. The mask is dissolving into her face, as if it were milk instead of flesh. Her lips crack as the pain sinks in. A static sigh lies upon her lips, reckoning the chaos to stay inside. She sighs, she exposes a sigh. The first sound to escape since the motion began inside her womb, the first sound she would allow herself. This was not and never was a matter of control; this was not fear but care, care for the treasure she nurtured inside.
Her child, her precious pearl. The silver sheen of a child so precious, so pristine it glowed inside the womb. No jagged edges and no sharp pushes, the pearl slipped effortlessly over the hipbones. Pearl could be a dancer, pirouettes inside the belly. Pearl could be an artist, stroking silver in utero. Pearl could be a lover, a parent, a child at once. Child could never, never be harmed.
The pearl was born, pushed out with an imposing cry. Venus cried, the white coats cried, child cried and child cried and child cried. Chaos had torn the mother, forced a fissure in her pristine body. Opened her up and tugged at her until she was pulled apart. Her precious pearl was born, thirteen pounds and six ounces. Venus cried, her child was no precious pearl now. Her child was a black pearl.
Dark and deformed, barely human. Two beetle eyes shifted violently under translucent eyelids: the life was discerned.
Venus whined through her last cry, heart striking her ribcage in its final beat. As the pearl’s heart throbbed for the first time, Venus’ heart failed in closing regard. She closed her eyes on the child, she closed her eyes on the pearl. Her softness, her skin, frozen in time as Snow White. Venus drowned, asphyxiated inside her own shell. The pearl surfaced, the pearl was born.
The white coats moved inwards, drawing in on Venus and her pearl. A ritual of sacrifice, they observed, she had not belonged to this world. The pearl cried still, shrill and unforgiving. They handed it to the impatient nun at the door, holding its body like hot coal.
The nun saw the pearl; she saw the child as sacrifice. The mother had given her life for her child, birthing the child in her death. She considered the child, burnt and bloody, but a human it must be. Scorched so horribly between the legs, she considered the child. She forced its legs apart, a girl it - must be. Mother died as child was born, Gravida. Gravida opened her eyes.
The lurid stench of the city was only aggravated as the streets began to swarm with the exposed sweaty flesh of men and women rushing home from the office. Gravida easily cleared a path through the crowd, as the majority moved away to avoid any closeness to her fierce, unkempt appearance. The remaining stragglers, each adorned with open mouths and darting eyes, were immediately pushed aside by her overbearing stature. As she turned the corner into one of the city’s most frequently avoided backstreets, she found solitude from the crowds. The only people who remained on this street were residual urinating drunks with matted beards and unconscious prostitutes poorly hidden behind the bins. She walked a small distance down the street to the small door with crumbling blue paint, kicked a rat away from her leather brogues, knocked three distinct times on the door, and waited.
Before any sign of impatience could adjust her stilted façade, the door opened just enough to reveal a tall, slim, dark-haired beauty in a heavily-stained navy tunic. Recognition lit the face of the woman, who gave a small nod to Gravida before inviting her inside the dim, dirty hallway. Every flake of white paint trodden into the carpet, each missing hinge from various doors, the dusty lamps, the frayed blue carpet on the stairs, seemed to suggest this house was exactly what was to be expected from any person who braved the backstreets to enter. The pungent smell of sulphur and chlorine lingered in the walls, growing stronger even as the woman led her upstairs. The house was quiet, derelict; the only whispers came from the staircase, the wood creaking under her imposing frame. Not a word was uttered until the last door on the upstairs corridor was lifted back onto its hinges and the bolt forced across it.
“You are ready?” Gravida’s deep voice penetrated the silence of the small cluttered room.
The woman responded with a sight nod, frivolously moving around the room to collect rusted steel instruments, clouded glass jars and bottles of thick clear liquid. As the woman placed each item delicately into the old leather suitcase on the table, Gravida would reach in to inspect it, carelessly pushing the content around. Unlike people in the street who met the fierce figure with avoidance tactics and open mouths, the woman in this house was either unafraid, or very well practised at hiding her insecurities. Gravida withdrew her hands from the suitcase as the woman closed and locked it, leading the way out of the room, down the stairs, onto the Godforsaken backstreet from whence she came.
In fluid motions the women arrived onto the darkened city streets, walking briskly in the opposite direction from the diminishing crowds. As before the majority retained a distance from Gravida, whilst the remaining few gazed up at the dark beauty that walked gracefully next to her. The pair kept their rapid pace for an hour before the crowds disappeared entirely; spaces appeared between the buildings, and the artificial darkness of the city returned to a more natural darkness.
“Here.” Gravida halted, her eyes shifting over the tangle of roads. The only light resonated from the occasional flickering amber streetlamp, casting deep shadows over the figure. She raised her long fingers towards a decayed warehouse, waving over the dark bricks and cracked windows. With a swift glance to the woman beside her, she marched to the wrought iron stairs and took hold of the railing.
“Is it safe?” The woman faltered on the first step, regarding the crooked fire escape with unease.
Gravida continued nonchalantly up the stairs, unyielding to the woman’s abrupt swing to uncertainty. As she approached the large steel door, she pulled out a chain with several rusted keys attached. One by one she pushed and scraped the keys around in the various locks, forced two screeching bolts across and shoved the door with her large shoulders until the hinges shrieked. A pungent stench of damp and musk escaped into the cold night air; Gravida inhaled as if sampling a delicate perfume.
“Welcome Doctor,” she declared, holding the door open. After the woman moved inside she relinquished the door, which collided harshly with its bent frame. She lit a paraffin lamp and smiled. “Finally, I will present you with our very first girl.”
She led the woman underneath the steel supports, inside the racking of the abandoned storage area where she had created what resembled a hybrid office and shrine. She placed the lamp on the corner of the desk and lit another, handing it to the woman who gazed around in the dim light. A makeshift desk had been built with old crates and threadbare red velvet, the top littered with crumpled documents, faded photographs and torn bible pages. An assortment of elaborate crucifixes hung from the steel pillars above, some spinning slowly on their long black threads. On the wall behind the desk were several garish images of the Virgin Mary in varying shades of saturated blue, in amongst a web of old and new photographs. Beautiful women, seemingly ignorant of the camera, stared in all directions.
Gravida searched through the pages on her desk with rare delicacy, upturning photographs with the tips of her long fingers. After some moments a hoarse sigh surfaced from her dark lips. Poising a photograph in her large palm, she invited the woman to view it. The girl in the picture was sixteen or seventeen, long flaxen ringlets, the rounded face and red cheeks of a child. Unlike the others on display, the subject of this photograph seemed to stare fixedly at the camera, grinning a Cheshire smile. It would not have looked out of place in a family album.
“Beautiful,” the woman suggested, glimpsing Gravida’s reaction. “Agreeable?”
“Indeed,” she confirmed. “She has been waiting for you, three months already... I’ll take you now.” She fixed her thumb against the woman’s lower back and stalked out of the old racking into the large open space, guiding her into a small room at the very end of the warehouse. The crumbling walls were disguised with cracked white tiles and a thick green grime. Several drains in the floor spat a brown liquid out into puddles on the floor. In the centre of the room stood a large table adorned with a clean white tablecloth. Sat on the table was an exceptionally pretty and petite girl, swinging her legs and grinning widely, just as she did in the photograph.