Vanessa Jae -- The Smell of Afterbirth

Her first breath left her lungs when her head breached the surface of the garden drowning in moss. She used to have an existence before this breath, an existence she couldn’t remember, that left a faint aura of heaviness around her. It had been a suffocating experience. Not the kind of suffocation being buried in the ground with ancient layers of soil pressing onto her chest inflicted, but the kind of suffocation one felt when being in a place too narrow to encompass a whole being. She had been trapped in a place incapable of holding the entirety of what she was in all her might, a place that prevented her from spreading out and kept her compressed, a sea of marvel forced into a cage of flesh. Her birth was a big bang. The pressure applied to keep her small ripped an explosion out of her, transcending her beyond the artificial boundaries placed around her. She became too much for the world to chain, so she became a galaxy expanding across ceaseless universes.

She was trembling as she pushed through her motherland, mud clinging to her skin and hair. The smell of afterbirth attracted fireflies who danced about her curiously, forming a crown of light on top of her head. She didn’t feel like a queen, or a goddess. She felt like she had crawled her way out of hell and the mortal world was punishing her for it. Hell was supposed to be an endless circle of suffering, the boot on her neck shoving her face into the ground. It was supposed to ensure she couldn’t see past her torment, but she swallowed the dirt shoved into her face and imagined the taste of being on her tongue. Hell was supposed to be what came after death, but she had been burning in it her entire life. She had been born in hell and died, now her life began.

The moss felt like feathers on the tips of her fingers. Her hands had been parched for so long, she had forgotten what it was like to touch. She lifted herself out of the hole she had dug with the last bit of strength she could muster. Her arms collapsed from the effort and she lay on the surface with her cheek pressed into the greenery. Birth was a far less peaceful endeavor than death, it demanded desire where death asked for capitulation. She couldn’t find this acquired appetite for life in her while shudders of rebirth ran down her spine, flooding her nerves with euphoria. As her eyes surrendered to exhaustion, the fireflies illuminated her shivering body, revealing her to be a beacon in an abandoned Garden of Eden that hadn’t seen light in centuries.

She awoke from her own gasps for breath. Mist was clinging to her eyelashes like morning dew on blades of grass. She sat up and blinked it away, glacial tears trickled down her cheeks. Her body didn’t feel the cold, it didn’t feel anything. She could still move, ran her feet through the moss to remember its soft touch. She did remember it, but it was a memory, not a feeling. She had lost her body and regained her mind. It had been the thing she was terrified of the most before she was reborn, and now it was all that was to her. Her mind had been a rabid fox mauling her from the inside out. It had fueled her misery, had persisted hell wasn’t where she was meant to be, told her a different kind of existence was within reach. She had been tortured listening to it reciting poetry about a world she was in too much agony to believe in, but the fox didn’t need a muzzle, it needed her to embrace it, and so she did.

With a purring fox, she began walking. The moss never left her vision, guiding her past trees and patches of clover. She found calmness in this repetition of wonders and before it could turn to monotony, a cave presented itself to her. She didn’t need shelter, she could wander until the end of time, but the familiarity of the dark and the sound of silence lured her in. As soon as the last ray of sunlight was swallowed by the darkness, she knew this was the real beginning of her. The whispers started echoing around her, thoughts she had told herself before she woke up in the garden, the spell that had brought her here.

This life cannot contain me.

This life is smothering me.

This life is less than I imagine.

In this senseless blackness, the nebula she had drawn in her mind was projected onto cold, hard stone. She understood now. She could be anything in the vast void of the universe. She could destroy. She could create. She could be.