I Knew By the Tail by Maureen O’Leary

Punk Noir Magazine

​I had a miscarriage at school when I was in seventh grade. Stop if I told you this one before. What dropped out of me wasn’t correct. The little curl peep from the toilet bowl as red as a devil, wide eyes blinking in the water. She was a little of me and a little of Cody Hunter from second period. He and I had a thing, that is, we talked a little at Megan’s party in her parent’s bedroom closet and so I couldn’t just flush her, could I? A her, yes, I knew by the tail. I knew by the red. I knew by the scraping ache inside of me that her leaving was causing. So I scooped her up in some toilet paper, tucked her into the front pocket of my flannel, went to the office, and got a pad for the blood and ibuprofen for the pain.

​It turned out she hated school as much as I did and I was afraid she was starting to die after I went back to math class so I walked out of the school past Pete the security guy who never cared who came and went as long as they looked like they knew where they were going. Her needle sharp teeth poked through my shirt fabric, as she searched for my breast but she couldn’t have it. I was only thirteen and that not what I was for yet.

​The beach was a short walk from school. Nobody was there in front of the Boardwalk at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday in April except for homeless people and one family on vacation shivering under blankets on the sand. She wiggled in my pocket as if she were made of pure sleek muscle and I told her to be careful or else she would fall out. I guess she could smell the salty water. I guess she could hear the barking seals under the pier because she gnashed her tiny teeth and almost fell out of the hole she bit through my pocket. I knelt by the edge of foam from the sea and lifted her to my face with both hands to press her against my cheek. She licked the salty tears from my skin, mixing with blood from where she bit me by mistake.

​“I love you,” I said, my mouth humming against her back. “I love you.”

​The water was icy cold but I kicked off my boots and waded in. I would not let my daughter go in the shallows where she could get picked off by one of the grimy seagulls fussing above our heads. I would not throw her, either, as if she were garbage. As if I didn’t want her.  I cupped her close to my heart and walked into the waves until they were deep enough that they hit me on my soft belly. I gasped with the cold and almost fell down but two strong hands braced my calves, keeping me upright despite the sucking tide. 

​I looked down at the water pulling out toward the wide-open sea and there were women there, swirling around my thighs, their long green hair streaming behind them, their beautiful tails curling and flexing. They bared their needle sharp teeth and caressed my feet and held me steady. So steady as I bent to dip my daughter in the foam, my daughter who was already singing in happiness as one of the women reached for her, gathered the baby to her breast, and swam away.

Maureen O’Leary lives in California. Her work appears recently and upcoming in Train Poetry Journal, Live Nude Poems, Hush Lit, Coffin Bell Journal, Penumbric Speculative Magazine, Black Spot Books’ Under Her Skin, The Esopus Reader, Passengers Journal, Bourbon Penn, and Sycamore Review. She is a graduate of Ashland MFA.