The first time Kate’s uterus slipped out of her was in the middle of the night. She thought it was blood; the final death rattle of her most recent miscarriage. She’d been sleeping on her back, and when her eyes opened, she was staring right at the ceiling. But when she felt her way to the bathroom, her underwear was stainless. White as printer paper.
“Okay?” Alexander asked when she settled back into bed.
“Yeah,” Kate whispered.
Something was wrong. But she’d checked, hadn’t she? No blood in her underwear, and none on the toilet paper.
She sat up when the sensation woke her the next night. The milky light of the moon through their window made their comforter look like a bloated cloud.
And something moved underneath it.
Kate gave a sharp gasp and pulled her feet away, holding her thighs to her chest. Something was under the blankets with them! She watched as the thing bobbled and hopped under the blanket.
“Alexander,” she whispered.
Its movements were erratic, unpredictable as it moved down the mattress. There was a wet smacking sound when it fell on the ground at the foot of their bed, then nothing. A motionless comforter once more, as God intended.
Kate crawled on hands and knees to the edge of the bed. It must be a mouse, or something. She’d heard a few neighbors mention the rats that showed up indoors when the weather cooled. Part of her didn’t want to know what the thing was at all; part of her wanted to curl back under the sheets and let sleep absolve her of the responsibility. But she swung her feet out and stepped onto the ground, just in time to see a small dark shape move around the corner.
A mouse, then. She began to follow it, and immediately stepped in something warm. Wet. She’d stepped in a spotted trail of dark liquid led out of the room. The mouse was bleeding! Worse and worse by the minute.
The dark trail of liquid faded in the hallway, eventually disappearing completely. Maybe the mouse hadn’t been bleeding after all? Kitchen, dining room, office, bathroom: it was nowhere to be seen. Maybe it was gone, back out the way it came in. May the germy little monster never come back.
Kate was wiping up the bloody trail of spots when she heard a soft, low thump from the living room. Maybe the mouse had flung itself against the glass in a gallant final act of suicide. It’s too late to deal with this, she thought.
The squat outline at the window wasn’t a mouse, but it wasn’t too much bigger than one. Kate took a silent step closer. What was it? Her eyes had fully adjusted to the dark, but she still couldn’t make out what she was looking at. It moved slow. And what were those at its side? They certainly didn’t seem like arms, or limbs of any kind. Whatever they were, it leaned one of them against the window as if yearning to be outside.
Kate heard a crisp click. The thing was, inexplicably, holding a lighter. A flame flared up in front of it.
“Hey,” Kate said, stepping fully into the room.
The thing turned to her, glowing like bubblegum by the light of the small fire. It stared at Kate. She stared back at it.
“You…” Kate began.
The fire danced, made the shadows quiver. The pile of mail, the letter opener on the cabinet, the single bookshelf: all creeping in at the edges of the darkness.
The thing didn’t move. Didn’t say a word.
“I…” Kate couldn’t swallow. She saw the unlit cigarette in the thing’s other hand. But it wasn’t a hand, though, was it? She knew that. She could see it, now.
“You can’t smoke in here,” she breathed finally.
The flame went out. The thing stayed silent. Could it even speak?
The emptiness she’d felt—was still feeling. Now it all made sense.
“What are you doing?” she asked it.
“You know what I am,” the thing interrupted. A question and statement both.
At the sound of its voice, Kate let out a small cry of alarm. The thing had her voice.
“You know what I am,” it said again.
“Yes,” Kate whispered.
She knew what it was. She knew, the same way one might recognize a picture of the back of their own head, or a cardiogram tracking the heart’s easy steadiness. That had been her experience two years ago, the instant they’d strapped her to all manner of devices after she was admitted to the hospital. Cardiovascular consistency, in a sea of so much unknown. She’d been bleeding so much she’d run through two, three, four pairs of underwear in an hour. She and Alexander had to ride to the emergency room in an ambulance.
“What are you doing?” Kate asked again. Her voice was so thin a light breeze could have blown it away.
“It’s nice to have a change of scenery,” it said. “I’m surprised you noticed I was gone. You never do.”
How to proceed? “Get—can—can you get back inside of me?” Was this the proper way to do it? “Please?”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve left you.”
“So you also know that I always come back.”
“I won’t be able to sleep if I know you’re not there.”
The thing gave a short laugh. It was the same one-pitch hum Kate employed at work when she wanted to shut down conversations with coworkers: patient, condescending. “You always do, Kate.”
Maybe it was the fact that it used her name. Kate’s nostrils flared. “Get back inside me.”
Now the thing laughed in earnest. A real Kate-at-brunch laugh. A Kate-tickling-her-nieces laugh. “Not right now.”
“I’m not asking you.” It didn’t respond. “I’m in control here,” Kate continued. A surprising wave of rage swept over her so suddenly that it made her voice shake.
“Are you?” it asked. Grating. It was so grating, the way it was speaking to Kate like she was a child.
“I could force you.”
“No, you couldn’t. The way I get in and out of you…” It eyed the apex of Kate’s legs. “It requires my full cooperation. Besides, I don’t think it’s wise to threaten me. Do you?”
The question made Kate stop short.
The thing looked out the window, waved one of its tubes. “My friends are here.”
It jumped off the window ledge and squelched to the door, leaving that same thin trail of blood in its wake. Kate had a sudden urge to kick it, a desire that came and went as quick as a sneeze.
She took a step forward, tripped over her words at first. “But—stop! Why are you doing this? You’re—” Her breath shuddered. “You’re my uterus. You belong in me.”
Her uterus turned and studied her. “You’re right. I am your uterus. I am you.” Kate still couldn’t handle its voice. Her voice. It opened the door. “So go to sleep. I’ll be back before you wake up.”
What other choice was there? As Kate climbed into bed, she heard her uterus inviting her friends—the uteruses of her neighbors?—inside. When the thing talked, it sounded so like Kate that it was as though she had ripped out her voice and thrown it to another part of the house.
Kate’s uterus started slipping out more frequently, at least a couple nights a week. When this happened, Kate would do one of three things.
Sometimes Kate would follow it, peeking around the corner of the living room to watch it with its friends who were, as Kate suspected, also uteruses. Some had a purple tint to them, almost mauve; others were as pink as a candy heart. Many, like Kate’s, were the red of a two-day-old blister. Whenever the one from around the corner came—Kate couldn’t put into words why, but she suspected it belonged to her neighbor with the graying hair who listened to Nina Simone as she gardened—it brought a stack of playing cards. Kate’s uterus, she discovered, had a knack for poker. Kate did, too, back when she’d play with her boyfriend Sean and his roommates. That was before she met Alexander, of course.
A weird warmth bloomed in Kate when she watched her uterus clean up at cards. It was like she was watching her own child at their first piano recital. She didn’t want to spend a single moment longer reflecting on that feeling.
The group would bet with small white landscaping rocks. Kate’s uterus would always have a healthy pile of winnings, a true king’s ransom that looked like a hill of teeth. Kate could never find the pile the morning, but she’d still find remnants of their mess: dirt and water stains, droplets of blood, pretzel crumbs.
One time Kate’s uterus lit up a cigarette as it played. Kate was convinced that it knew she was watching, too. It lit up because she was watching. When she stormed into the room and demanded that her uterus put the cigarette out, they all threw their little white rocks at her until she ran back to bed.
Other nights, Kate pretended to be asleep. Sometimes it was better to avoid what would happen when Kate employed the third option, which was to follow her uterus as it left a bloody trail out of her bedroom, and demand that it climb back inside her.
That’s when they’d fight.
“Why can’t you just stay put?” she’d ask. “Just stay inside me. Is that so hard?”
“Have you ever stayed put?” her uterus shot back.
It had a point. Kate had dropped out of college twice at her boyfriend Sean’s behest, following him as he toured with his C-list band in Berlin, Amsterdam, dives on the outskirts of Paris.
“Of course I’ve stayed put,” Kate said. “Here, with Alexander.”
“That boring lay?”
“I don’t like it when you’re gone,” Kate said, choosing to ignore this comment. “I don’t know where you are, I don’t know if you’re coming back, and I—”
I need you, she was about to say, before she stopped herself. She would never dare reveal that cold little seed of truth.
Her uterus opened the front door and squelched out onto the porch. “When will you realize, Kate? I always come back.”
Kate didn’t have time to reply before it shut the door.
A few weeks later, a visit to the OBGYN gave Kate and Alexander the green light to start trying again. Her period had resumed its normal humming of productivity and her hCG levels were squared away. They celebrated the news with renewed efforts that very night.
Kate couldn’t help but think of her uterus as Alexander moved on top of her. What she wouldn’t give to see its face right now. Feel that? she wanted to ask it. You call that boring?
So when it slipped out of her just moments after Alexander fell asleep, Kate’s mouth dropped open. She sprang out of bed and followed it down the hallway.
“You’re leaving?” Kate shouted as it opened the front door. “We just finished.”
It snickered. “And Alexander fell asleep right away. Predictable.”
“Whose side are you on? You can’t stay in one night?”
“It either works or it doesn’t,” her uterus said. The breeziness of its voice—her voice—made Kate want to scream. “I have somewhere to be. I’ll be back later.”
Sometimes their arguments would leave Kate exhausted. She’d often end up cross-legged on the couch, sitting next to her uterus as they looked out the window.
It asked about her ex-boyfriend Sean one night. “I miss him,” it said. It offered its cigarette to Kate. She hesitated. It made a movement like it was rolling its eyes. “I know you light up whenever Alexander goes to Tampa for work.”
Kate waited a moment longer, then reached for the cigarette. She made sure not to touch her uterus as she took it.
“Sean,” it repeated. “What happened to him?”
Kate hollowed her cheeks as she let the cigarette fill her lungs. “I deleted his number the day I met Alexander.”
“Why? Alexander has nothing on Sean.”
“Sean is an addict who wouldn’t stop cheating on me,” she said.
The thing smirked, taking the cigarette back from Kate. “Maybe, but he gave it to us good.”
“Admit it, being with Alexander is not nearly as exciting as—”
“I love Alexander. We—” She gestured a hand between herself and her uterus “—love Alexander. He’s reliable, and sweet, and he—”
“Makes fertilizer look interesting. Sean made me sing.” It passed the cigarette back to Kate.
“Alexander will be a fantastic father. Sean couldn’t put two sentences together.”
“Maybe Alexander’s the reason you can’t keep a baby inside you,” her uterus said.
Kate froze. It was the first time either of them had—had ever talked about—
“Get back inside me. She heard the way her voice was as rigid as a flatline. “I mean it this time.”
“You’re burning the couch,” it said.
Kate looked down. In her anger she’d dropped the cigarette, which was now burning a small black hole in the leather upholstery.
She snatched the cigarette and set wild eyes upon her uterus. She wanted nothing more than to jam the hot end of the cigarette into its raw, fleshy front.
From the way Kate held the cigarette, her uterus seemed to know.
“I told you it was unwise to threaten me,” it said.
“Maybe things have changed,” Kate said, though she knew there wasn’t any juice to it. She had realized the truth of the situation many weeks earlier. All it took now was her uterus to put words to it:
“You need me more than I need you,” it told her quietly. “I can do anything I want. And you’ll let me.”
Kate was still awake when her uterus slipped back inside her several hours later. Her uterus was wrong, she tried to tell herself. It certainly needed Kate more than Kate needed it. It could not function more than a few hours without her, this had to be true. She was the outlet, and her uterus had to recharge. Always.
She gave a savage grin into the darkness, imagining the way her uterus would beg Kate to let it back in if she ever decided to keep it out. But she relaxed her muscles just like she did every other night, letting herself become loose enough for her uterus to crawl inside and situate itself just before the sun rose.
Kate went to bed that night feeling anticipation. She was three days late. She’d buy a new packet of tests in the morning, tell Alexander in a week or so. He always warned her not to get excited this early on, but she couldn’t help it. Growing in her chest was the familiar tentative bubbling of hope. Resolve. Resolve that this time would be different. She’d be careful; she wouldn’t even walk fast. She’d stay in bed for days, weeks if that’s what it took. Not even her uterus could take this away from her. They’d work on this together, she was sure of it.
She was woken up in the middle of the night. Her uterus was slipping away again, squeezing out from between her legs and leaving her empty.
No, she thought to herself. It can’t be. Not this time.
Her uterus was reclining on the leather couch only a few inches away from the burn mark. Alex had seen the small scorch spot the other day; he’d commented on it.
Kate approached it without a word. She could feel its eyes on her. No cigarettes, no friends in sight. She dropped to her knees, her face crumpling like a piece of paper crushed into a tight ball.
“Give me a baby,” she said. She lowered her chin and the tears fall hot and fat down her cheeks. “I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll give you anything you need.”
Her uterus didn’t respond. Kate stretched her arms forward on the couch and dropped her forehead onto them.
“You win,” she said. She wore nothing but underwear and one of Alexander’s big t-shirts. “Alright? You win. Please let me have a baby. I’m begging you. Please.”
There was silence in the room for a long time. Kate thought—she thought she might’ve gotten it. She thought, at any moment, that it would relent. That it would agree.
The sound of Kate’s laughter pierced the silence. Her head jerked up. The thing was laughing, a Kate-beat-Sean-and-his-friends-at-poker-again laugh. A laugh of satisfaction. Of vengeance.
“What?” Kate could feel her anger rising, the uncontrollable jet that always shot up to the skies around her uterus. “What’s so funny?”
The thing gasped for gleeful breath. “You don’t get it, do you?” it finally said, wiping away tears.
Kate envisioned squeezing it so tightly that it exploded in pink-red jelly on either side of her fists. “Get what.”
“You don’t want a baby”
“Of course I do.”
“No, you don’t. Not really.”
Kate stood up, took a step back. “You have no idea what I want.”
“Yes, I do. When are you going to realize, Kate? I’m you. And you’re me. I know you don’t want a baby.”
“I want a baby more than anything. It’s all I’ve wanted for years. Why else do you think I keep trying, even with all the—” She gestured out the window in the direction she presumed the hospital lay “—the hospital trips, and the bleeding, and the doctor visits?”
“You have no idea how I work, do you?” The thing sat up and scooched to the edge of the couch. “I don’t do anything without you. You and I, we’re connected. I can tell what you want, or,” it gave a dark laugh, “don’t want, as the case may be. I know even before you know it yourself.”
Kate’s hands began to quiver. “You’re wrong.”
“I’m not, Kate. And if I ever have any question about what you want?” It shrugged. “I take some creative liberties.”
“Creative liberties?” Kate sputtered. “You admit it. You betray me. You do what you want, even if it’s not what I want.”
It huffed. “Alright, so maybe you really do want a baby. What difference does it make?”
“A hell of a lot of difference.”
“If I were to let you stay pregnant, it’d be agony for us both. Is that what you want?” It leaned back on the couch. “I already work hard enough as it is. You don’t even know half the things I do for you. Think of it as me sparing you even more inconvenience.”
“You’re—you—” Kate’s hands acted on their own, reaching behind her blindly, desperate for something to anchor her. “You can’t make that decision for me.”
“Yes I can,” her uterus cooed. “And I do. Every month.”
Kate felt her hand close around something sharp. She looked down. It was the letter opener. She picked it up and rushed at her uterus.
Now it was the thing’s turn to screech. “You need me—!”
It made a gurgling sound as Kate stabbed its pink-red flesh with the letter opener. She felt like she was stabbing a ball of soft clay.
Blood spurted onto the couch, splashed onto Kate’s face. The rage blinded her, filled her senses with blasts and pops of fizzle and sound. Later, she would hardly even remember what she’d done.
Again and again Kate stabbed, only letting up when blood splashed directly into her eye. She sat back on her heels, her breath escaping from her in rapid bursts. The leather couch was riddled with holes. Her uterus lay completely still.
The pile of mail, the bloody letter opener now in Kate’s hand, the single bookshelf. The moon through the window. The timpani sounding in Kate’s ears. It all seemed to wait with baited breath, witnesses to the scene.
“Hey,” Kate finally whispered.
“Alright. Come back now.”
It was sprawled motionless, its broad, punctured flesh facing the ceiling.
Kate took deep gulps of air, attempting to slow her breath, her heartbeat. She wiped a drop of blood from her face.
“Stop playing,” she whispered. “Back inside where it’s safe.”
No twitch, no movement, no sound from it. Kate sat kneeling by the couch for the rest of the night, watching as her uterus’s blood continued its relentless spread across the carpet.
Shayla Frandsen is an MFA student at Brigham Young University. She enjoys writing about the intersections of femininity, subversion, speculation, and stubborn women fighting back against a patriarchal culture. When she's not reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband, three children, and soft cheeses.