Fiction by Jessy Randall
by Jessy Randall
The first time Hazel noticed the lump was when she got up in the night to use the bathroom. Half asleep, she lurched down the hallway, trailing her hand along the wall to keep her balance. Her equilibrium wasn’t what it used to be, not since she’d turned 45 and everything had gone to fuck-all.
Under her bare feet the wood floor seemed a little uneven. There was a little raised place in the flooring, probably just a warped board. The house was old. She and Russ were always having to do little odd jobs to maintain it. Flattening out the board probably wouldn’t be too difficult.
In the morning, she’d forgotten about it. She went to work, Russ went to work, the kids went to school, everything was normal.
Her period was late. She didn’t want any more kids. Two was enough. Maybe two was too many, maybe one was too many. No, she didn’t really think that. She was just kidding. She loved her kids. She loved Russ. But there was no need for the family to grow. They were good as they were.
She took a pregnancy test, without telling Russ. It was negative.
The lump quietly grew.
A few months later, she had a second pregnancy scare, and then a third. Each time the test came back negative. She made an appointment with her doctor. The doctor said it was normal for women her age to have unpredictable periods. The word perimenopause was used. Hormones were offered, then an herbal remedy called black cohosh. Hazel refused both politely. Whatever her body was doing, it was going to do, and there was no point prolonging it, she felt.
She called her mother and asked what she remembered about The Change. Her mother told her it was no big deal and implied that there was probably something wrong with Hazel, morally, for even bringing it up as a problem. Neither Hazel nor her mother were supposed to have physical problems. If they did, they certainly weren’t supposed to talk about them.
That night when Hazel got up at 2 a.m., she felt the lump in the hallway again, in the same place. She sort of tripped on it, to be honest. She was getting so clumsy. She was a galumphing whale, almost falling on her face in the dark hallway. She really should pound the lump down in the daylight.
But in the daylight she couldn’t find it.
The lump continued growing.
After another couple of years, Hazel was getting up most nights for the bathroom, or for a drink of water, or to shake off a nightmare, or to dry off her head-to-toe flop sweat. This perimenopause bullshit was … well, it was total bullshit. She was too hot, too cold, so anxious, racing thoughts, fat. All the moodiness she’d never experienced in high school, coming back a hundredfold to pay her back for not totally believing it when the other girls talked about PMS or craving chocolate. Why hadn’t anyone warned her about this? The lump in the hallway was not worth the time it would take to talk to Russ about it. It was nothing. It was probably in her imagination anyway. It didn’t make any sense that it would be getting bigger at night but disappearing during the day.
She went to work. Russ went to work. Their older child was off to college this summer. It was exciting. She wasn’t sad about it. She was looking forward to less nagging about piano practice or homework. Fifty percent less. Soon none. How long was this perimenopause thing going to last, anyway? She’d thought it was supposed to take about a year to go through The Change. It had been at least five years already.
She was so ridiculously overheated at night, drenched in sweat, wiping herself down with the sheet. If Russ rolled toward her in his sleep and his skin touched hers, it felt like a burn. Like the hot handle of a casserole dish. She threw off all the blankets in a huff. She got up and ran cold water over her wrists. As she made her way back to her bedroom, the lump in the floor also seemed to be emanating heat, like a tiny campfire was lit under there. There was no way she was going to be able to get back to sleep in that oven of a bed next to her volcanic rock husband.
She sat down on the floor next to the lump and touched it. Why couldn’t she find it in the day? It was at least an inch high, as if a little creature were under the wood. It felt alive. It was as awake as she was, as uncomfortable, as wrong and unfixable and yet still worthy of love. She wanted to put her face against it, but the heat was too much.
She padded downstairs to the kitchen, the stairs creaking and bending, but Russ wouldn’t wake up, he never noticed when she got up in the night. He always slept a solid eight hours and woke up cheerful and refreshed. She got a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and a dish towel from the dish towel drawer. She could cool them both down, herself and the lump. Maybe she could get back to sleep with the lump as her pillow, the frozen peas defrosting between them.
She and Russ attended the college graduations of both children, traveling by plane to the first and by car to the second. She was still having hot flashes and night sweats and she’d gained thirty pounds and she hadn’t been skinny to start with. She stood in the back in photographs. She tried to put the kids in front of her to hide her bulk. Russ still said “oo la la” when she got out of the shower but it was more habit than anything.
Work was okay. She couldn’t keep track of the new people being hired. She thought there was a Matt but he might be a Mark.
It was time to leave the house. The kids were grown. The stairs were becoming a problem. Russ had taken early retirement. Hazel didn’t want to retire and she definitely didn’t want to move. All her memories were here. She’d never lived anywhere longer than she’d lived in this house. And she couldn’t leave the lump. The lump needed her! Russ kept talking about the finances and their various accounts and compound interest and being able to leave something, maybe a lot, to the kids and eventually the grandkids. Hazel hadn’t had a period in eight months, and before that six months, and before that ten months, and before that six months again. She kept a chart. She had started perimenopause earlier than average and she was going to finish much later than average. That was her, special. Extraordinary, really. She laughed ruefully into the ice pack between her and the lump and whispered that they were both extraordinary.
Eventually, the lump burst, like a pimple. It happened in the night, as Hazel slept beside it, breathing on it. It was about the size of a shoebox at this point. Not during the day, of course. But at night it was as big as a baby.
It made a sound like a bubble of bubble wrap popping. Hazel opened her eyes as it happened.
Inside the lump was a little house, a replica of the house Hazel had lived in for thirty years. It pulsed, ever so gently. Hazel lay on the floor next to it, staring at the little windows, the little shutters, the little porch. She felt a little bit afraid of it, the way it was expanding and contracting, but she also felt a tenderness toward it.
She raised herself up on one arm and gazed down at the house from above. Then she picked it up in her hand. She petted it like it was an oversize rodent.
She wondered what she should do with it. Should she take it to the new condo? They were supposed to move in just a few weeks. Should she plant it in the garden, before they left?
She wanted to look inside the house, but she hesitated. Should she open the tiny door and peer inside, like a monster? What if there was a replica of her family in there, teeny-weeny?
Or what if it was only Hazel herself in there, a tiny version of her? She had a sudden vision of putting her miniature self down the garbage disposal. No. She would get a terrarium. She would take care of the tiny family, or whatever was in there.
No. That wasn’t good enough. She would make an outdoor habitat for them, put up a fence, no, a sort of a cage with a roof, to protect from raccoons and foxes. That way the family could enjoy the open air but still be safe.
No. She would put the house in the trunk of her car and drive the little family to the forest and set them free.
Or maybe she could talk to them. Find out what they wanted, why they had come.
She opened the door.
Jessy Randall‘s poems, comics, and other things have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, McSweeney’s, and Scientific American. Her most recent book is How to Tell If You Are Human: Diagram Poems (Pleiades, 2018). She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is here.