SmokeLong Quarterly

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Portrait of a Mother, Beforehand

Story by J. M. Patrick (Read author interview) June 15, 2007

Art by Vincent Van Gogh

In New England that year, summer yawned and tossed a lazy arm fall-ward, stretching deep into November. Halloween and Thanksgiving were warm enough to wear sweaters without jackets. The leaves fell just the same, leaving the landscape gaping and naked with nothing to fill it but the smoke from my cigarettes.

“I’m not tired.” Andrew said.

We were married seven years that fall, but it felt like one long ribbon of time, peppered with Christmases, Easters, and birthdays. A therapist friend of mine once asked us to describe our relationship in one word. I chose easy, he chose simple. We’d been trying to get pregnant for three of those years. This time, we thought, it will happen.

And so we stayed up late to make love on a torn blanket on the back porch, sucking whatever we could from the last of the warm days. I watched over his shoulder as two airplanes floated like blown bubbles, silent and graceful, through a cloudless sky. He collapsed into me, a tumble of tired bones, inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, until the sweat dried from our skin, and the chill dragged its sinewy fingers up our spines.

Afterward, he sketched me. He sketched me reaching for a juice glass, smoking a cigarette, sleeping. He sketched me waiting for the bath to fill, sitting on the edge of the tub, two fingers testing the water. He filled a whole book of me doing nothing, smiling, living. When I grew tired of being drawn, we laid back down on the blanket.

“Do you know yet?” he asked.

“We’ll know in a few weeks.”

“What’s does your gut say?”

He rested his hands on my stomach. I shivered.

Two months later, we would lose that baby. I would find a blossom of blood, rose-red in my underwear, and Andrew would come home to the smell of bleach and find me soaking them in the bathroom sink. He would stand in the doorway, his mouth a perfect “o” and say “Oh honey, oh honey” over and over until it sounded like heavy breathing.

I would say “Fuck. Fuck,” because it felt good. He would go into the kitchen to call the doctor, and I would sit on the edge of the bed to cry. There are no sketches of me then.

But this was before.

Before, when he had his hand on my stomach and it was black with ink, and I stared up at a cloudless sky, pregnant with stars, buzzing with life.

About the Author

J. M. Patrick lives in Connecticut where she spends weekdays secretly checking her email and at a desk in a cubicle decorated with a Marilyn Monroe calendar. She spends weekends with her fiancé and his daughter, drawing beaches on the sidewalk and collecting Micah in a big red party cup. She is told she speaks French in her sleep. She writes to find out who she is speaking to. Her work has appeared in Gorlan, Edifice Wrecked, Amarillo Bay, and Long Story Short. She can be found online at www.jmpatrick.org

About the Artist

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art.

This story appeared in Issue Seventeen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventeen

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