Carmen Amber’s Turn

The following is taken from the chapter entitled “This Will Never Stop.” Carmen Amber’s narrative is the longest and perhaps the spiritual heart of the book. Carmen Amber wants so badly to be a good mother to her newborn, but right from the start her instincts are thwarted. Her breasts have been bound, and replaced by sterilized Gerber bottles. She’s also been given a shot that will gradually stop milk production. It’s a cleaner, better way to live, and recommend by her mother.

Silver Bottle

This Will Never Stop

Lorraine: 1 ) a place in NE France. 2) a woman’s given name.

            I didn’t know about the first definition when I named you. I just loved the sound and the making of it. First a curl of the tongue around the upper palate, a “lour” sound, pushed though pursed lips, then another curl, lower this time, closing off, teeth against tongue. Such a lot of motion in a two-syllable word. A slyly sensual sound at a time when sex wasn’t talked about, except by married women on front porches in the summer twilight, or, wildly exaggerated, by teenage girls, also in whispers but with a throatiness, a raw edge which might cause the speaker to break off, red-faced, while the rest of us looked at our feet. An edge frayed with swollen, half-formed desires, furtive satisfactions, domination, a bit of violence perhaps—anything that would stop the ache, the pooling that had begun in our private parts around the age of thirteen. That’s how it was with us. I don’t know what the boys in the locker room said.

            The day I brought you home from the hospital, I sat by the window in a shaft of June sun and rocked you for hours. With each motion of the chair, I said your name, though I’d practiced it hundreds of times, aloud and in print, trying to find the best way to make it heard and seen. That day I spoke, sometimes whispering, sometimes chirping a high note, knowing that it might disturb you because I wanted you to open your eyes. You were such a solemn baby. When you opened them, you seemed to say, “Yes, I know you’re my mother and I approve. Can we move on?” Which only made me laugh and rock more, singing your name.

Nursing was out of fashion, then: everyone was using a glass bottle kit manufactured by the Gerber Company. The kit was complicated and unnecessary—I thought so then and I think so now—when my breasts were just inches away yet unattainable. They were bound, you see, with Ace bandages, though the doctor had given me a shot to stop production before I left the hospital, in hopes the binding would dry me out quicker. Still, my breasts were full and ached, and the bandages, for the first week, had to be changed twice in the day and once before I went to bed, they were so sore and swollen.

            As for that Gerber contraption, it seemed huge to me then, but actually came in a box about the size a crock pot would today. The whole thing looked cold-blooded, not meant for a baby at all. The bottles had to be continually sterilized, held in place by a wire bottle holder with a handle as flexible as that of a grocery cart, and placed in a deep soup kettle, three-fourths full of water. The rubber nipples were parboiled and left to dry on a clean linen cloth (no lint), but the rings could only be hand washed in hot tap water so the threads on the inside wouldn’t warp. Your grandmother put those on another linen cloth, both ironed beforehand, and to this day I don’t know why, except that was the way she was, and I’ve never met anyone, male or female, who had to stay so busy.

            Yes, I would have nursed you, but your grandmother said, “Only that trash on Second Street does that now. Those Haymitch women unbutton their blouses and plop it out right on the front porch, craning their necks every time a car goes by. No, I won’t have you put in with them.”

            I did what she said, but not only because of the immodest Haymitch women. Andrea Ellis nee Veach had had a baby girl a couple of years before, and her mother, Pearl, who seldom spoke to your grandmother except to disagree, had told her about the Gerber kit that Andrea had used, which of course meant I had to do the same thing. And I did, but I pressed you as close as I could against my bandaged breasts and thought of your innocence and my sins; how I’d always resented your grandmother growing up and sometimes still did, my tendency toward laziness, the spats I’d started with Samy because I liked to make up, and the way I’d snubbed, yet envied Andrea Veach over the years. Even when her husband, John, caught hemorrhagic fever at the tail end of the Korean war and had to be shipped home in a box marked “contaminated,” I’d stood at the grave site and studied her swollen belly and hoped that the child would turn out to be a dead ringer for her crazy sister, Lena. It was an unstoppable, sinful rush of pleasure. 

            Yes, I’d been a bad person, but holding you, I wanted to be as pure as the Sunbeam girl on the paper fans at church. (I know you remember the Sunbeam girl because I once caught you drawing a moustache on her.) Then I reasoned, there must be something good in me because I’d been blessed with a perfect child, who already had intelligence in her eyes and would probably grow up to be a match for my mother. I remember leaning down and whispering the only other words I’d say to you that day: Lorraine, I will never hurt you.

            I’d barely finished speaking before your grandmother came into the room, hands on her hips, and said, “Put that baby back in her crib, Carmen. You’re going to have her so spoiled we won’t be able to put her down.”

            And, fool that I was, I did. I wouldn’t be that fool again. 

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Excerpt from Silver Bottle, currently available on Amazon and Kindle. Hope you enjoyed this section!

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