The steady beat of the breast pump is like a metronome, measuring the moments. Each day feels longer and more fleeting. Baby is now seven weeks old. You’ll see, at six weeks there’s a jump, and suddenly they can latch. It’s like a reboot, said the lactation consultant . Yet here she is, still pumping. Maybe her baby is slow. Maybe eight weeks will bring the miracle.
Air whistles in and out. It’s become her most hated sound. Worse even than the baby crying if the milk isn’t pumped on time. She hates the pump’s shape as well: a half sphere, with a big red button on top. How obvious can it get? Only the fact that it’s blue saves it from outright vulgarity. Press on the nipple. Ha ha. For distraction, she thinks of everything in the house that needs fixing. The parquet in the living room, sinking and rising. Anything is better than thinking of her irredeemable breasts, with their missing nipples. Not missing, inverted, the LC said. Besides, it’s called breastfeeding, not nipplefeeding. Another platitude. The carpet has started to feel like a ship, rolling gently beneath her feet. The paint chipping above the kitchen table, the ribbon of tape running down the edge of the bathroom door, flapping. Her baby screams at the sight of her nippleless globes. The long wet tear trailing down the air conditioner. The hairline cracks that have spread all along the bedroom wall. The cloud of tiny moths fluttering through the rooms, the tiny holes in her clothes. The shower door, hanging by a thread. And of course, the ants. They come out from behind the sink, beneath the window, in the cupboard, around the toilet. Every time she pumps, she repeats her lists. Like the force of her concentration can hold the apartment together.
When she gets back from putting the milk in the fridge, the pump is black and heaving with ants—a long trail leading from the window, up the plastic body, swarming in the flanges, beneath and around the white plastic tongue, lapping at the remnants of milk.
She disconnects the pieces and rushes to the sink, turns the water on full force. Pours soap into all the pieces over and over again. The ants fight the spray, struggle up the side of the sink. She squirts the faucet in their direction. Islands of floating brown bodies begin to form between the scum of the piled dishes.
In the shower, she washes and washes, but can’t feel clean. There’s an ant caught under her bra. Dead ants under her fingernails.
When she takes out the bottled milk to warm it up, she sees three ants, each approaching from different sides of the counter. They’re reconnoitering. Like the baby, this is what they want, the fat yellow-white milk. Hunting it. She crushes one. Then the other. Sloshes the milk back and forth, terrified she’ll see brown specks floating inside it.
After feeding, she tries to fall sleep. The ants come up from beneath the floorboards, bursting out of the cracks in the wall. She is blanketed. They are burrowing into the cracks of her inverted nipples, to drink drink drink.
Batnadiv HaKarmi is an American born writer and painter living in Jerusalem. A graduate of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University, her work has been published in Poet Lore, Ilanot Review, Poetry International, MomEgg Review and Partial Answers. She is the recipient of the Andrea Moria Prize for Poetry, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction.
She teaches Creative Writing in Emunah College, Jerusalem, and is on the faculty of the Brandeis Institute of Music and Art, Waltham MA.