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  • The Mother,

    an excerpt from the pending novel “She and He”


    (sometime early in the first century)


    In the beginning was the Mother.

    In the womb, Tamar took mental notes. The heavens trembled — at least it felt like the heavens. Maybe it was just gas. The Mother shifted. At first, it was too dark to see. But Tamar could feel. At first it felt like chaos — like everything was unconnected. But then she felt something holding her. A curved wall. She was leaning into it. It was soft and warm. She felt her backbone curve behind her. She was half of a circle. Was she floating? There was a chord attached to her belly. She relaxed once she realized that she wouldn’t float away.

    There were appendages coming out from her shoulders. She looked down below the chord. On the lower part of her body there was a small bump and on either side of that were two more appendages. There was liquid all around her. She felt warm and safe. She didn’t have to worry yet about breathing.

    Whoosh. She flinched. Slosh. Gurgles whizzed by. There was an abbreviated bubbling. After it repeated three times, she identified the sound as a hiccup. After a few moments, there was silence. Then there was a contented hum coming from the distance. Tamar knew it was the Mother, and it calmed her.

    The darkness lifted. She saw a distant light glowing through the pink barrier. She looked down and noticed tiny extremities with red lines moving through them. They were attached to the ends of two appendages, on each side of her. She found that she could move them, as if she were trying to grasp something. She knew that these movements would come in handy later. The light went out. Darkness. Tamar felt herself in her body.

    She was perfect.

    When she woke again, she blinked for the first time. It felt good so she did it again. The pinkish yellow glow came back. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. She rubbed the short one across the tips of several of the others, and felt a roughness. She felt a nourishment rushing from the chord through her body. And it was good. She went back to sleep for a long while.

    When she woke, she stretched and yawned. She saw a pinkish yellow glow. It was faint and came from the other side. She looked toward the light and saw the sack next to her. There was someone inside who looked like her. It even had a light glowing around its edges — just like she did — down its extremities and around its fingers and toes. She remembered now that she had entered one body of two. Her twin was beside her. There was a large, round dome attached to a small body like hers. The big round dome faced her. The eyes looked at her. One blinked and the other stayed open. The two corners of the lips went up. Somehow she knew that this was a smile. Her twin was welcoming her. She wanted to welcome him back, but something stopped her. She didn’t know who her twin was. Was her twin part of her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of someone else. She definitely didn’t want to share her Mother.

    There were appendages on both sides of his body. There were five fingers attached to the end of each appendage. The fingers clenched and unclenched. They seemed to wave at her. Tamar thought about waving back, but she didn’t. She wasn’t sure if the thing next to her in the translucent sack could see her. So she pretended that she didn’t see it. Then she looked down and saw something protruding. At first she thought that she was seeing a shadow. She moved her head slightly. The shadow was still there. She looked down at her own body and saw that she also had a third appendage on the lower part of her body. It was much shorter than the two other limbs. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. They were all there — five on each side, including the shorter ones at the ends. None of them had fallen off. She looked down again. Somehow she knew that this protrusion made her a boy and knowing this made her angry.

    She knew her name was Tamar, but she had forgotten where it came from. She knew that Tamar was a girl’s name, and that she was a girl. She had a vague memory in her cells that she had come from a single egg, fertilized by a trail of light that had come just for her. And she remembered that another egg, fertilized with its own stream of light, was next to her and that the two eggs had merged. They crossed over and into each other, exchanging some vital information. Tamar’s egg knew that it was female. But it absorbed a sequence of information that told it that its genetic material that it would be male and female. The secret language of the cells said that each of the eggs would be XX and XY.

    The thing next to her had a longer protrusion than her. She took comfort in that. Perhaps this meant that she was really a girl after all. But the thing next to her — gradually, she came to think of him as her twin — would most likely be lording his superiority over her forever.

    On the sides of the protrusion were two lower appendages. She found that she could use her mind to stretch them. And once she stretched them, she realized that these were her legs and that her feet were attached to the ends of them. She kicked at the inside of the pink cushion that surrounded her.

    “Ow,” said a woman’s voice. It was the voice of the Mother. Tamar knew that she had to get the Mother’s attention first. She kicked again.

    This time she felt a gentle hand push down on the other side of the pink cushion. Her twin nudged the Mother back.

    “What are you trying to tell me, my son?” asked Mother.

    I’m a girl — a girl just like you Mother, Tamar tried to say. But speech eluded her. She had yet to utter her first cry. But she had to get Mothers attention — to tell her that there was something wrong.

    Tamar looked over and saw the imprint of a large hand pressing against the pink cushion on the side of her twin.

    “There, there,” said the gentle voice in the distance that Tamar had come to identify as belonging to the Mother. Her Mother. The pink cushion pushed in slightly. It had the indentation of a hand on it. The hand was comforting her twin.

    Tamar was speechless.

    I’m over here, she wanted to say, but she couldn’t.

    Tamar kicked again on her side of the fleshy pink cushion.

    Again, the hand pushed against the pink cushion on her twin’s side. The pink cushion moved in and out. The voice of the Mother said, “There, there.”

    Tamar was furious. The Mother should be comforting her, not her twin.

    She looked over at her twin. He was staring back at her. He seemed to be happy. His lips were turned up at the edges. He was smiling. His mouth opened slightly. His eyes widened. He was mocking her.

    It looked to Tamar that if he could speak, he would be saying, Mother loves me better.

    Tamar had no words for her fury. She drew back on of her arms, clenched her fingers into a ball and threw a right punch as far as she could from her sack into his.

    He turned the other cheek.

    For some reason, this just made Tamar more furious. Her knuckles were sore, but she didn’t care. She curled up the fingers on her right hand again and socked him on the other cheek.

    He shifted his face until her was staring straight at her. The corners of his mouth were drawn up again. His mouth was open. He was definitely mocking her. Even his eyes were laughing. It was as if he thought that he was better than her — as if nothing she did could hurt him.

    She would show him. She felt her muscles tense and coil. She thrust her right leg out, curled back her toes and kicked. She aimed her kick at her twin, right into the center of the sack, into his protrusion.

    Ha, she thought as she watched his open mouth contort into a silent howl. He shifted around, until his nubby spine was facing her. This seemed like an invitation for her to kick him again. But she had shown him, and that was enough.

    Instead of feeling triumphant, she was a little disappointed. It wasn’t as much fun hurting him as she thought it would be. She almost missed his superior smile and his mocking eyes. But she didn’t want to admit this. So she turned around, with the circular curve of her spine facing toward her twin. And she slept.

    When she woke, she had grown so large that she was uncomfortable. Her head was pressed against something bony. She was wedged against her twin who was upside down. She was glad she had decided not to hurt him. She would need his help in getting out of this place.

    It had been warm and wet and secure for a long time — forever it seemed. But now she was cramped. The pink fleshy pillow was still around her, but it felt strained.

    She was ready to exit feet first, literally on the heels of her brother, and to take her first breath.

    At first, Tamar just felt some tightening of the pink pillow that was pressing into her. Then it stopped. Just when she thought that it was over, it started again.

    “It’s time,” said the distant voice of the Mother. Considering that she was about to push them out into the world, she sounded very calm.

    The tightness came again and again. The loud steady sound, that she now identified as coming from the Mother, slowed down. Thump … thump … thump….

    Tamar willed her own rhythm to match that of the Mother.

    But as the pink cushion constricted again and again, Tamar’s own heart started to beat faster.

    She could hear the Mother breathing loudly as she pushed.

    Something slid out from beneath her and she realized that she was alone. Her twin had left her in the wet dark all alone!

    Somehow Tamar had to let the Mother know that she was still in here. She tensed her right leg and then sent it forth in a good solid kick into the pink cushion in front of her.

    “Ouch! Something is still in there,” said the distant voice of the mother. “Unless it’s just a placenta pain.”

    Tamar cocked her right leg and kicked. She kicked so hard that her toes stung.


    Tamar felt a not so gentle hand come down on top of the pink pillow and push into her.

    “There’s still a baby in there. I feel him.”

    “Him?!” Tamar kicked again.

    “Hurry. Get him out of there.”

    Tamar felt a slender hand come up and turn her around so that she was upside down, like her twin had been.

    So that was the secret of sliding out easily, she thought.

    She heard a few grunts from the Mother and another woman saying, “Push. Push.”

    She exited quickly into the woman’s hands.

    The woman went to hand her to the Mother.

    Finally, thought Tamar. I get to meet my maker, the Mother.

    But the woman who held her looked at her like she was a stranger and Tamar knew she was the midwife’s helper. With a rag, she washed off Tamar and then oiled her.

    As the woman held her and oiled her, Tamar tilted her head back and looked behind her. The Mother was gone.

    The woman oiled Tamar everywhere — even on the short appendage that protruded from between Tamar’s legs.

    “Hmm,” she said, when she looked underneath of it.

    Tamar could feel her fingers probing inside of her. It felt like there was a small hole down there. Tamar couldn’t see it, but she could feel it. She knew this meant that she really was female just like her Mother.

    Tamar smiled. She was so happy that she didn’t even mind being slapped on the bottom and startled into taking her first breath. She hardly noticed that the midwife was cutting her umbilical cord with a sharp stone.

    The woman laid her down on some swaddling and wrapped her up. Then she took her over and handed her to Mother who was now kneeling next to a cradle.

    Tamar looked down while the midwife was holding her. Her twin was sleeping peacefully. There was a beatific smile on his face, and there seemed to be a yellow circular light around his head. In fact, there seemed to be a golden glow surrounding him that was emanated from the Mother. She smiled down at him. The glow could have been the light reflecting off the straw. There was straw everywhere.

    The Mother and her twin looked so content together. Tamar howled as loud as she could.

    She could have kicked herself for not coming out first. How was she to know that her twin was onto something when he angled himself so that he was upside down?

    “You have another son, your Holiness,” said the midwife as she walked toward the Mother.

    Tamar stopped crying. She sniffed and contorted her face. The Mother and her twin looked so content together. Animal dung and damp straw. It smelled like a manger.

    “That will never do. The people are expecting A messiah — as in one, not two,” said the Mother. She was still basking in the glow of her first born.

    “There’s an empty stall in the back. Put the child in there and make sure that he’s safe. That way when the wise men come, they will just see one messiah. Everything depends on this.”

    “Ok, Ma’am,” said the midwife as she turned around.

    “Wait,” said the Mother.

    “Let me see him.”

    Tamar felt the Mother caress her face. She closed her eyes. She couldn’t tell if there was a glow around them, but she felt like there was. It felt like her Mother’s touch was all that she needed.

    “He, too, is a beautiful baby. Still, the people are just expecting one messiah. I will keep this one for myself — since I will have to share his brother with the world.”

    All Tamar heard was, “He.”

    I’m a she, Tamar thought, and I have the hole to prove it.

    Tamar began to cry.

    “Sshhh. Sshhh.” — Her Mother reached out to sooth her brow. “For my sake and yours, please be quiet. I don’t what will happen if they find a second child. And I will need you to stay by my side.”

    The Mother was touching her. The Mother was talking to her. Tamar stopped crying. She’d tell her mother later that she really was a she, not a he.

    About The Author

    Janet Mason

    Janet’s book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters was published by Bella Books in 2012. She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post and records commentary for “This Way Out,” the international LGBT radio syndicate. Her short fiction has been published in many places, including the Brooklyn Review, Apiary Magazine and Magnolia. She lives in Philadelphia and teaches creative writing at Temple University Center City. Learn more about Janet in publisher, bill berry’s interview: http://aaduna.org/summerfall2015/conversations/conversation-with-janet-mason/