By JACLYN DESFORGES
Quail wakes up the morning of her best friend Tulsie’s wedding and her Diva Cup has leaked all over her sleeping bag. To her right in the tent is an acquaintance and to her left in the tent is a different acquaintance. Quail’s hands are ruddy and red in the sink. Quail hides in the tent and doesn’t speak. Quail lugs herself and her sleeping bag to the outdoor shower. She stands there in the early morning heat under the water, which is hot too, and the blood sets in.
Quail is secretly in love with Tulsie. Quail is secretly in love with Tulsie’s fiancé. Quail is secretly in love with no one, but masturbates frequently to the thought that she is.
Tulsie is 26 and is marrying Jay and is newly pregnant, blossoming. Quail spends the afternoon mashing avocados for guac and collecting flowers for a bouquet, but it’s so hot and dry the only thing is yellow grass and she picks some and ties it with ribbon. Quail’s wrapping toilet paper around the crotch of her panties. Coming back from the clearing, Quail sees Jay cleaning dishes in a washtub. Jay looks up at her and stares. They don’t meet eyes. They don’t even see each other.
In the beginning, Quail runs to the backyard at the perfect moment of tomato plant ripeness and the grass doesn’t grow up but down, into a different place. In the middle of Quail’s backyard there is no swirling black hole and she never hides in her sandbox as the Nothing consumes her lawn, her pretend lawnmower, her Care Bears chair. She wants to hold her mother’s camera. She wants to hold her mother’s hand. Quail’s mother isn’t anything, isn’t anything good or bad, and she hatches baby caterpillars on purpose and throws seed bombs and teaches Quail what it means to gestate a dark secret. What people say is purple isn’t really purple, isn’t the same as the purple inside her, and their words always always end up meaning something else.
When Quail is born, the world is too bright and too strong so she curls up and latches like an aphid.
Tulsie’s wearing a veil she got at Value Village and weaves silk flowers into the headband, she uses a real needle and thread. She and Jay sing a sunrise duet while Tulsie plays her ukulele and she looks so peaceful, always, that’s what Quail doesn’t understand, how Tulsie can look so relaxed while Quail is collapsing under the boundless weight of lack.
An hour before the ceremony, Quail blows Jay on a stand-up paddleboard. Nobody falls into the lake.
The first time Quail holds a baby she’s seven and sitting in the park and the baby is so squishy and warm. She looks down into his eyes and wills him to not cry, not ever, because she knows that if the baby cries the mother will come and take the baby away, and Quail never wants to be away from this baby, not for a second. She feels the absence of whatever it is that makes a human a woman. At first she thinks it’s breasts, but then she gets breasts and still feels it. She doesn’t understand why people talk at such length about objects. She wonders why the universe is this profoundly somethinged, how everything isn’t just energy, but form. Once the thought has been thought, the action feels unnecessary. Secondary. Quail has never held a baby but has looked in heaven’s eyes many times before.
Quail’s mother is at the kitchen table eating the biggest bowl of applesauce you’ve ever seen. She’s smoking a cigarette and the ashes fall into Quail’s breakfast mashed potatoes. Quail walks to school along a long stretch of highway. She picks oatstraw to chew, like an exiled princess, and in grade eight she goes to Tulsie’s house after school and eats anything she wants out of the refrigerator. Quail likes all of Tulsie’s boyfriends and she embroiders their initials into her training bras. When Tulsie sees, she laughs. LS comes over and he and Tulsie kiss until the streetlights come on and Quail sits there reading, pretending not to notice. When she has to go home, she goes home.
Quail studies Tulsie’s facial expressions. Tulsie rolls her eyes and Quail rolls hers too. Then Tulsie moves away in grade 10 and Quail feels like there’s a spotlight on her in the hallway, but the spotlight is her own mind, her own attention, and over and over her friendships flower and swell and die on the vine.
The ceremony happens on the beach against the light of the waxing moon and after the ceremony Quail pulls Tulsie aside and kisses her hard against the oak tree where the tissue paper flowers are hanging and Tulsie kisses her back and also doesn’t, and Quail’s heart wasn’t made for this, it’s too complicated, and the day after the wedding she drives back to Toronto and grounds herself underneath a series of athletes. She signs her letters to Tulsie with a Chapstick kiss.
One night while Quail is swiping through Tinder in the dark she finds Tulsie and Jay’s joint profile. They describe themselves as Quail’s true home, her north star. They describe themselves as experienced with non-monogamy, but an unbreakable force and Quail thinks it was Tulsie’s idea to write that, or it was Tulsie’s idea that Jay would like her to write that, or maybe Jay is wondering if this will keep her happy, finally, or Jay is wondering if this will make him happy, finally, or Jay can imagine nobody’s outline but Quail’s.
It’s a Tuesday when Quail begins to ignore her mother’s calls. When she gets the text that Tulsie has finally gone into labour, it’s at the exact moment of early spring in which milky oats appear. Later, when Tulsie’s nursing, teardrops of milk will appear at the tips of her nipples and it will or won’t remind her of Quail. Quail arrives at the hospital with too many flowers and goes to buy flowers and forgets to buy flowers. The room is a garden, all the cheery faces of yellow chrysanthemums, and the baby’s airway is exactly the right size and shape to breathe. That’s something everyone can agree on in every universe – that this baby is perfect and okay.
They take the baby home to Tulsie and Jay’s apartment. Quail doesn’t ask to hold him because the part inside of her that holds babies is gone and only the Nothing remains. Quail holds the baby for four and a half hours while Tulsie, her best friend, sleeps. When Tulsie wakes up from a dream in which nobody needs her, she and Quail lock eyes and don’t lock eyes and Quail puts the baby in his bassinet and climbs into bed beside Tulsie. She snuggles up behind her and rests her hand against Tulsie’s squishy new belly and it’s the only good feeling Tulsie’s had in a real long time. Jay comes in, puts his comfortable pants on. Turns the game on while the three of them sleep.
JACLYN DESFORGES is the author of Danger Flower (Palimpsest Press/Anstruther Books), winner of the 2022 Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry and one of CBC's picks for the best Canadian poetry of 2021. She's also the author of Why Are You So Quiet? (Annick Press, 2020), which was shortlisted for a Chocolate Lily Award and selected for the 2023 TD Summer Reading Club. Jaclyn is a Pushcart-nominated writer and the winner of a 2022 City of Hamilton Creator Award, a 2020 Hamilton Emerging Artist Award for Writing, two 2019 Short Works Prizes, and the 2018 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award. Jaclyn’s writing has been featured in literary magazines across Canada. She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia’s School of Creative Writing and lives in Hamilton with her partner and daughter.