Ana is a doll. Not a very pretty one. If you stood the little thing on a table it would reach about as high as a paring knife and look just as thin. Did I say it? That's not the right word for Ana, but neither is she.
Ana is a girl's name.
Girls. You can almost hear disappointment in the downward slant of that word. Girls. Rhymes with curls. Eat the oyster, save the pearl. Watch your mouth, don't talk smut, girls are born with a pit in their gut. A pit—
An empty space, which as she grows, will fill and empty, fill and empty. A space to build more Anas.
I sat in a dark theatre next to my husband when my middle started bulging. We had bought tickets for a comedy, something slapstick and reckless. With each pratfall I doubled over. I laughed and laughed until tears streamed down my cheeks. I laughed until I thought I would be sick. From out of nowhere, the Angel of Death came and sat on my head. He whispered something in my ear. His breath was cold and the actors were suddenly cripples. I had to fight all night with chills. I couldn't erase the words he had chiseled in my blood.
I was full and growing. Ana is always shrinking.
In Florence there is a simple painting of the Annunciation, tempura on wood. The Angel's words come at Mary on a stream of holy breath and encircle her like a simple snare, the kind you could set for a rabbit if you were hungry enough. As you stand in the Uffizi, unaware of passing tourists, you think to yourself, "This woman will be the Mother of God. The Mother of God! What euphoria she must feel." But when you set yourself square with the world, the details of her face come clear. Her young features are not radiating a peaceful warmth. Rather, her eyes are drawn back into slits and seem to confide that a tarantula has crawled up inside the folds of her blue velvet cloak and is carefully making its nest in the curve of her knee. Her mouth, like an overturned bowl, could be found on the face of any young suffragette, zealous in her hunger strike, staunch in her refusal to be force-fed.
Ana was hiding under that bowl.
Once I was in a car with Ana. The ride took hours and hours like we were stuck in a nightmare and our destination, the sun, hid behind the covers of our eyes like a child when she runs home from school and locks the door behind her. Ana was in the front seat, a speck. She was shrinking away like the road I couldn't see beneath my feet. I called her "she," didn't I?
It was her car and there were no brakes and—
By then she was too small to be in control. Maybe the Devil had hold of the wheel. I wanted to hold my little doll and stretch her stiff shriveled skin out into something real. I had grabbed a popsicle as we rushed out of the house. I thought, "My dolly will love this. It's bright red and sweet." She lay on the front seat, out of sight, making no sound, her mouth turned down like Mary's. I watched as the popsicle dripped away burning my clothes like acid.
O, that evil Devil, he's to blame.
They took her, but a triage nurse and a clipboard of forms held me back. Spaces were opening up and from the backseat of my mind I could still see her if I leaned far enough over the headrest. How did she get so small? Children don't shrink, they grow. I held onto my breath as if it were a railing separating Hell from Heaven. A doctor in a long gown with a reflector encircling his forehead, burst through the swinging doors, and my lungs burst out for air, "No one is evil." He shook his sober head and all the while his eyes, the kind that feel sorry for you and damn you all in one look, glared at me through miles of clouds.
This man had taken the Hippocratic Oath. Why didn't he take a gun and shoot?
They wouldn't let me see her. She didn't want to see me. I don't know who watched as I hung onto the spikes of the entrance gate. My brain was a compression of official photographs and my heart swung kicking from a rope. I grabbed a nurse, and by the way my putrid words came up and splattered her white uniform with green, she must have understood that I needed some hope. "We've got her blood pressure stabilized," she said.
Her blood pressure stabilized!
That's like saying you've got a broken twig from a winter tree up and walking around like a fat Polish sausage. What blood can there be in that frozen colorless brittleness?
Her blood pressure stabilized!
Are you going to tell me that Ana can just start over again, no osteoporosis, no infertility, that I can go back to that dark movie house and slap Gabriel in the face this time when he has the gall to whisper words I don't want to hear?
You've got her blood pressure stabilized? Does that mean she has a chance? Can you glue back her arms and head one more time?
My calf muscle screamed and I stamped my foot into the sanitized floor of the waiting room. The TV went black, the air conditioner clunked off, the tired bodies sitting in chairs and on the floor became a silent audience. Some were relatives like me, healthy, guilty. The others were patients, either scared to death or beyond hope. That's what it's like on a battlefield.
One woman looked at me, simply looked at me, looked at me longer than I could stand, and I couldn't tell what she saw. I grabbed a hunk of my hair and dared her to look deeper. "Come on, dig it out, force your arm up there and rip my grief and guilt apart." They offered to shoot me with something. They needed to strap me down. I saw a nurse with a needle and a doctor with a cell phone. I was the enemy. I was evil, pitiful. She was not a doll. The doll was the one digging the pit that I couldn't fill. How wild do I need to get?
Ana doesn't go for such histrionics. Ana lies there quiet, controlled, shrinking. She's lighter than air. She glides through life without restraint. She is restraint. Ana's a real doll.