Yesterday I had arms that moved and did things.

In the morning my limbs lifted the girl child above my head and twirled her. I think she giggled, but it wasn’t clear. Then they dressed and fed her, and washed her messy face. She scowled at the cloth, or that’s what it looked like. Later the arms drove me to the high school, where they held a flute, and showed a teenager how to play études and scales.

Those arms drove me back again to the house in the suburbs. On the stoep I opened the door of the parrot cage and scratched the bird’s head. Its beak bounced as it mouthed, “Polly put the kettle on.” It’s a new trick that, the bird mouthing the song it once could sing.

At 4 p.m., I walked through the veggie patch and pulled out a blackjack plant, growing in the spinach bed. It buzzed and snapped at me—angry at its decapitation, then whining, the weed wilted on the hot stones. Then I opened the latch of the toyhouse post box, bolted with a rusty nail. I wiped my palms, sweat-dusty on my jeans. The postbox exhaled a heavy sigh. I sorted the mail while the baby slept, and opened all but one note. I never held paper that weighed so much as that one envelope, heavy as a coffin.

I put it, unopened, under my pillow, and ran water for the baby’s bath. I tested the temperature, like I always do, but my inner wrist registered neither hot nor cold. The baby seemed happy though and she fusses if the water’s too hot. So, I suppose, the water was right. But it’s been bothering me that I might accidentally hurt her. I don’t want to burn her. I try the water again for a signal. But it will not speak; it no longer sings the lullaby it did when I bobbed in the bath, heavy with child.

I started making supper, but dropped the Bunnykins plate. It cracked into bite-sized pieces. I took the carrot from the broken Peter Rabbit in my left hand and grated it against the peeler in my right. I watched the paper-thin strips of the vegetable flake and fall, but felt neither metal nor moisture. I tried ice and the just-boiled kettle for a point of reference. But neither made an impression. They too had fallen silent.

When I stroked the grater, it was no longer vicious. The texture was smooth; it might even have been comforting. I think that was the last thing I felt. I saw I had finished grating the carrot when red spots marked the counter and stained the little orange pile of gratings. My fingertips looked ragged—not a pretty sight.

I remembered salt. Someone once gave me salt for my wounds. But the salt had no sting. I vaguely recall something scriptural in that: What can be done when salt loses its sting? It surprised me to see that my hands still managed pegs and shoelaces, car keys and padlocks. I was perplexed that they still functioned and served me.

This morning I woke and my upper limbs were gone. A black woman had tied the baby on to her back and the child slept. I went to the toilet, and I’m sure I was alone. Yet who removed my undergarments and wiped me dry? My car keys are gone and the grater too.

Today I am restless and confused. Probably I’m mourning or perhaps I have leprosy. There’s a nurse here, or two. “This is a leper colony?” I asked. She unpacked my pyjamas into a steel cabinet on castors.

“You see, I liked having arms,” I said when she didn’t answer me.

“They say grief does strange things to one. I never knew grief could eat fingers and palms,” I tried to explain to another nurse as she rolled back the blankets and patted the mattress, indicating that I should sit down.

“I may be grieving for the dropped Bunnykins plate; but perhaps I’m sorrier about that than I am about my departed elbows and hands.”

Is it the loss of coldness, or the absence of heat that makes the wet pricks come unbidden to my eyes? Shall I see Jesus if I shout, “I am unclean!” I look again at my arms and they are wings. Perhaps I have died and am now with the saviour in heaven.

Should I yell “Hallelujah!”

The nurse says no. My tears flow now; but am I weeping with joy?

No. When I taste my tears, I remember a little again. When I taste my tears, I remember a loss.

I am sad because I gave my wrists away. I offered them to a big man, who I thought was nice. I asked him to look after them, but he took them away. He sent me a baby in exchange. I forget his name, and I lost his address. Now I’m remembering a little more and perhaps I’ll find him again. He wrote me a letter, but I don’t know where I put it.

Tomorrow I shall ask the wings to write for me, requesting that by return of post, the big man send my wrists back to me. The angels will carry the letter to him and return them feather-wrapped, safe and sound.

Then I shall lift the silver flute, plant carrots in the rough red earth and fold the washing, crisp on the line. When I hear again the song from the tap, I shall finger the water, warm and soft. I’ll splash bath-time games with the gurgling infant and cover her in kisses. When I have my wrists once more, I shall wash and nurse my baby again.

 

 

Liesl Jobson works in Johannesburg for the South African Police Service. She also teaches music and writes stories. Her work has appeared in Lit Pot, Exquisite Corpse, Gator Springs Gazette, and other fine e-zines.


This piece is a fictionalised account of my own postpartum depression. It attempts to explore the puzzling loss of physical sensation that occurred despite my relatively functional behaviour, the progressive bewilderment and dissociation as my cognitive ability deteriorated, and the blessed return to wellness.


 

 

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