I notice it now that the house is oddly quiet. Pop songs no longer beam inside my daughter’s room, and the living room is enveloped by silence instead of my son’s familiar basketball dribbles. I notice it now that there is nothing else to notice, nothing else to look after, nothing else to hear but the thud of raindrops hitting the windowpane. I lie down eyes open, staring straight into that dirty fabric lump on one corner of the ceiling. As I do, I feel my navel pulsate. I feel them inside me, as if I take both of them back to fill my womb.
Only the size of a fist, the lump are my children’s preserved umbilical cords I bound and covered with lampin, then tied carefully to that corner of the house. Twenty-two years after, the folds of the white lampin have blackened. It’s covered with dusts and cobwebs.
Preserving umbilical cords and tying them on our ceiling is our family’s long-standing tradition. I used to see it in our home back in Davao del Sur – all our umbilical cords disguised as balls of white fabric. I saw it in my grandmother’s house, too. My mother told me once that by keeping together my children’s umbilical cord, our family would never fall apart. Two years after the birth of my younger son, my husband left me. Now, both of my children have to stay away from home for college. But I still cling to that piece of preserved flesh.
I roll to my side in an effort to ignore it, but I just can’t keep my eyes away from it. For the past few days, it has been drawing my attention, and tonight I could go sleepless examining it. As I stare at the lump longer, I start to notice how it pulsates. It seems like an organ coming back to life – like the chest of a new born baby heaving as it tastes air for the first time.
I shake my head and tell myself to stop my silly imagination. Even after turning the lights off, even amid the dim room, I could see with my peripheral vision the movement of that piece of fabric until my own temples start to pulsate. I close my eyes, trying to sleep with the rain tapping on my windowpane like a visitor desperately asking for help.
I awake the day after, hearing a dripping, thinking it’s just the last drops of last night’s rain. I pull the curtains apart to let the light in, only to reveal the mess on the floor and how one corner of my draping blanket is stained red. I immediately pull it away. My gaze roams over the meandering streaks of red fluid creeping toward my bed. Tracing its origin, I am led to that lump on the ceiling where the dripping starts. The lump is now covered with gooey blood and continues to twitch like a muscle. As I stand up and walk toward it, my toes avoid the trails of blood with effort.
I look above me to examine my children’s preserved umbilical cord. The lampin that covers it is ripping off as its contents seem to grow. The rhythmic dripping persists. Using the soft broom I grab from one corner of the room, I try to poke it. Nothing happens. When I poke harder, the lampin finally rips and blood gushes through the slit. Blood pours into my arm that I have to let go of what I am holding. The floor is now red all over and the gushing blood spatters all over the wall. I hurry towards the bathroom to get a couple of rugs and a mop. Throwing the rugs on the floor, I start mopping. When the gushing continues, I decide to grab a pail to catch it.
Already, as I sprint towards the bathroom, I am catching my breath and wiping the blood all over my arms and my cheeks. I think of all the possible response. Shall I call the neighbors? Shall I remove the lump from the ceiling? Throw it away? Call my kids? What would they say?
When I arrive at my room carrying the pail, the gushing has reduced to dripping. There’s no use trying to catch drops from the ceiling. They’re all over my room now. The shredded lampin have fallen and now rests on my toes. Above it hangs my children’s umbilical cords – still flesh with all the gore, the way they were when I gave birth to them – their ends secured to the ceiling where veins now creep like they have lives of their own.
I try to scamper towards the door but fear restricts all possible movements. The hanging flesh is too familiar, too real, that even if I close my eyes I could see them in the darkness. I manage to grab the doorknob and go out of the room, slamming the door shut behind me and trying to calm myself, hoping that when I open the door again, I would awake from my delusion.
I spent the rest of the morning beside the telephone, trying to decide if I shall call my children. I hesitate. I always hesitate. Telling myself I should get used to living alone is what makes me miss them more that every night I am tempted to call them for no reason. Sometimes, I always find a reason. I tell them about a pregnant dog in the neighborhood. I ask them if they need allowance. All I want is to talk to them when there is no one else to talk to. Every day, I feel alarmed. I think about them commuting to school and I would start to get anxious of all the possible things that could happen to them in that five minute ride. When I hear news reports about a raped lady or a boy hit by a car, I always prepare myself for the worst. If only I could run to them every time and look after them every minute. But their response makes it apparent that they have lives of their own now, and they, too, wants to get used to not being nagged constantly by their mother.
I just need to hear their voice. I will tell them I have this weird dream of blood all over my room, call it a dream even though I could see my own red footsteps drying the floor. My hands are trembling, both in fright and confusion. After I finally pick the phone and make the call, I listen to the ringing from the other side. My thoughts meander around what they could be doing at this time of the morning. Have they had their breakfast? Are they studying? Is my son still practicing his basketball games? Is my daughter still playing his loud pop songs? The ringing persists and it is all that I could hear. No one is picking up. I dial again and hear the same ringing until it lulls me to sleep and I end up falling on the couch, exhausted after what has just happened, tired of waiting for them to notice me.
The sound of wailing pierces through my ears to shake me from my sleep. I haven’t noticed that several minutes have already passed since I’ve slept on my couch. The receiver I’ve left hanging swings like a pendulum, rubbing its curled wire against the table’s edge. Wondering where the wailing came from, I stand up and look around me. It was sudden and sharp – the crying of a new born – which stopped as soon as my eyes were opened. As I walk around the living room, trying to figure out if the voice was just my imagination, I hear a ball dribbling inside my room. The dribble continues and my daughter’s favorite pop songs play. Then comes the wailing again. The voices are too many I could not ascertain if they are inside or outside of my head. And suddenly, everything feels so tight, like the walls around me are closing in and I gasp for air from the shrinking space.
Something touches my toe and when I look down, I see blood creeping from my room, slithering through that slit on the door. I follow it, as if I know it would lead me to some answers.
I open the door and the sight of blood welcomes me. The umbilical cords still hang on the ceiling but they now hold large sacs stuffed with flesh and fluid. They’re beating, and as I step closer, they pulsate faster and faster. The wailings turn louder and as I am a step close to the umbilical cords, the sac breaks and the fluid from it washes a portion of blood on the floor. To my surprise, it reveals two blood-covered fetuses, fully formed, hanging and swinging back and forth like a pendulum, the way the telephone outside hangs. They wail and wail and turn their heads to me to reveal their small mouths opening and gasping, their bulging eyelids desperately trying to open, their faces wrinkling.
Falling on the floor, I force myself to move, crawling as I reach for the door. My trembling hinders all my attempts to move. Then, I hear a snapping and I look back at the umbilical cord to see how the fetuses are detached from their umbilical cords. They are on the floor, rolling to their sides until they are in all fours and start dragging themselves towards me. This time, I successfully let out a shout, hoping that someone will hear me.
I scamper to the door fast but they’re also gaining speed until I have my back pressed against the wall and I see them before me, still crawling, yearning. I close my eyes and feel their touch as they hold my legs, hear their wailing as their tiny hands roamed around my skin. They crawl between my thighs and I shout in pain as they force themselves in. I shout the way I shouted when I let them out. I shout as I feel my bones breaking and my own flesh ripping.
Then the phone rings to break my shouting, to drown all the noise around me. Everything is still and quiet. There is only the ringing of the phone. It must have been them. They have finally noticed.
I open my eyes to the sight of my room. It’s empty and clean like how I like to maintain it, except for the blanket I haven’t folded yet. I look at that part of the ceiling and the lump is no longer there. As I try to figure out the reason for their absence, inside me, I feel heavy. I feel so, so heavy.