Little Failures

by Talya Jankovits

She was birthing failures at an alarming rate. First, they were little, small ones—the kind of failure that could almost be overlooked if she hadn't pushed it through her, felt it slide out from inside her, announcing its bellicose presence with the quiet shock of defeat. Her doctor caught the first one right in his hands, and for a moment a smirk spread like butter on his face, like a man with the proper winning catch. She grabbed that smirk and held it close to her pumping heart, moistened against her, so full of beads of sweat she could have just as well been covered in strands of bright, plastic ones, catching the light and hovering over like a crescent rainbow. She was catching her breath, waiting for the announcement; what kind of accomplishment she might have just achieved—something great, she had imagined, something she could write home about, be proud of. But her doctor said not a word.

What is it? she asked, trying to peer over her knees, catch a glimpse, not registering the intense burning between her legs; raw flesh split open, nerves pulsating, the whole of it like some foreign enemy. She was a vessel, nothing more, and now more than ever, it was just her pride, her innate need to indulge in an emotional high that blocked out physical sensory.

Nothing, he said blandly, absolutely nothing. Just a little failure. A completely unremarkable, little failure.

Her head collapsed, a bit of feather escaping the pillow and floating gently beside her. She watched it, waiting for it to fall, but it stayed afloat, as if suspended and swinging by invisible string. She struck her hand at it, and it escaped her, floating off in the room, towards the doctor, who still had it in his hands—the failure. Not even a big one, just a little one. All that growing she did, all that careful planning, all that effort and it only bore her a little failure.

Bury it. The doctor's voice was abrupt, cold, freezing the moisture on her skin into tiny little bits of ice that prickled her. And don't name it, no, too small a fail too name. Bury it out back in your home, its small enough that you can hide it deep in the dirt.

She knew nothing else to do, so she just nodded. The nurses wrapped the little failure in blankets. It was just a little bloody, nothing too messy. Then they put it in a small brown bag with handles, the kind where it's poorly attached, the kind that milk cartons could weigh down and one might find themselves only holding onto bits of semi-circular paper, a puddle of milk and soggy bag at their feet. She was nervous this would happen to her, that on her way home the bag would break and everyone would see it, her little failure a big stain on the sidewalk. She imagined having to bend down, scoop it all up in the broken bits of soggy brown paper, everyone watching, everyone shaking their heads, she could almost hear them say, what a little failure.

She made it back without the bag ripping. Pain killers carrying her high and fast towards home. As soon as she arrived, she went straight out back to dig. She dug the hole with her bare hands, dirt crawling beneath her fingernails, filling the creases between skin and nail bed. She dug with fervor, her brown paper bag beside her. As she dug deeper her uterus quivered and quaked, retreating back into its normal size, trying to erase any evidence that it had once encapsulated something of no value. When the hole was deep enough that she could have inserted her leg into it up to her knee, she picked up the bag and dropped it inside. It hardly made a sound as it hit the bottom, so little it was, so insignificant that the mass of it hardly weighed a thing. Don't name it! he said. But she wanted to, to somehow mark its entry into the world, even if it hadn't amounted to anything at all. So right above it, she planted a small seed. Something to mark it, something to force growth, because it was against her nature not to create

Nine months later, she was at it again.

It wasn't little this time. The same doctor, squatted and ready to catch, let out a great big sigh the second time around. Another failure! he called out, but to no one, no one but her. The nurses hadn't been needed, just one person could deliver a failure, a regular sized one, nothing special, nothing to write home about. She was so exhausted from the pushing that she realized that this time she hadn't asked, he had just announced it, all on his own. Call it! he said, again to no one at all. A regular sized failure, 2:15. His voice hung thick in the air, like a humid cloud, the pressure of it filling her lungs. She swallowed hard. Can I name it? she asked, this time never having tried to glimpse it. Best not to, want to avoid naming the failures. One day, when you birth an accomplishment, even if it's just a teeny tiny one, that's when you can pick out a name. She nodded. She wanted to cry, but she didn't want him to see her cry over an average sized failure. She bit her lip hard as he stitched her up, as he gently advised her on how to best avoid getting pregnant with a failure, how to best birth an accomplishment, something people would talk about. She nodded, said mhm, here and there but mostly she wanted to look over at the average fail, but he had already ordered it to be wrapped and bagged.

She indulged this time, let herself take a taxi home—an average sized failure may very well rip the flimsy bag. She took it home and buried it right next to the last failure, which should have been green and budding, but was still a mound of dirt. As she sprinkled the seeds atop the fresh mound, she thought of her hopes and dreams and before she could stop it, she was bent over the new pile of dirt, watering the seeds with her weeping.

The third failure was her hardest delivery. A long and grueling labor, her back on fire, her abdomen crunching, the pressure against her vaginal wall searing and causing her to shout out in pain. She had a nurse this time, holding her hand tight, all through the pushing, the nurse cheered her on. I know it, this time, I just know it, it's going to be a great thing, you are doing a good job, keep pushing, keep pushing! It felt explosive, then immediate relief, a rush of it cascading over her, melting the pain, the anticipation. She indulged in a smile, because something inside her was assuring her, that kind of labor could only mean something great. The doctor brazenly wore the shock on his face. She sensed it before she saw it, tense at first, unsure, but then he paged a few colleagues to join him in the delivery room. She laughed aloud, just a little, no one had heard her, but she was so happy because it had to be it, it had to be a great big giant one—an accomplishment that rendered her doctor speechless, had him call in for a background quartette of oohs and ahhs. She was already geared up for the praise, but she hadn't even been properly cleaned up before a team of them were marveling over what her doctor proclaimed as the largest failure he had yet to deliver. It's her third failure, but I assure you it's an astoundingly larger fail than her last. It may be the largest failure our hospital has ever seen. Right there before her, as she struggled to pull her hospital robe over her exposed parts, they discussed the proper title for her recently birthed failure, the word epic was used repeatedly.

Some of the doctors took pictures, sending it out to friends in masses. The reception desk posted a picture of it on the hospital social media pages. Luckily, in no way was the epic fail linked to her own name, but the shame was too great to bare. I'll never try again, she said. Chin up, plenty of fails out there, don't let it get you down, her doctor patted her shoulder, gave her a tough smile and then left her alone with it, with the epic fail. She waited, dressed and ready to leave, for her brown bag. No one came. She roamed out in the hallway, looking for a nurse to assist her. Excuse me, but nobody brought me a brown bag, you know, to transfer. The nurse shook her head. Don't give paper anymore, you need to come with your own recyclable bags now. She stared as the nurse continued down the hall. But I don't have my own bag! she called out, her voice echoing off linoleum, trapped between white plastered walls. Carry it then!

If she had ever thought being caught with her little failure would have been humiliating, she couldn't have possibly counted on the burning eyes of passersby as she struggled with her epic fail, exposed for all to see, staining her blouse and leaving a messy trail as she slowly made her way home.

She had to buy a shovel, there was no way she could dig a hole large enough to bury an epic fail. She would need to dig deep, dig wide, every muscle aching as the tip of that shovel ate at the dirt, the pile of it growing large beside her, and before her a hole deepening, enough even for herself to crawl in, close it up and hide. She had to push it with both her hands, her whole body sticky with dirt and sweat, roll it across the yard until it fell inside its hole with a loud, giant, thumping, thud.

She had hoped it was over, that she could rest, slip into an oblivion of inconspicuousness. She continued to bare failures. She saw doctor after doctor, medical experts in the field, no one could understand what was happening. They cautioned her on diet and exercise, they told her to get more sun and less sun, they gave her herbs and oils, they counseled on meditation and then medication. She had long given up on ever birthing an accomplishment but she couldn't stop becoming impregnated with failures. No matter how she tried, she kept waking to feel them grown inside her, kicking, squirming, and demanding attention. One day, when she was feeling particularly lost and desperate, she had even tried to lodge one out of her using a kitchen knife. She couldn't bear the idea of returning to that delivery room, to have her doctor determine yet again, how epically she has failed, how utterly unremarkable anything she had produced out of her had been. When she landed in the ER, he scolded her like a child and she told him to get it out of her. The fail? he asked. It's already been done, I had no choice. She shook her head, No, my uterus, take it out! Tie me up, neuter me, sterilize me, whatever you have to do, but I will not birth out one more failure. The doctor nodded, Are you sure this is what you want? She thought of the weeds in the yard, it had started slowly at first, a weed here, a weed there, and then she noticed its full and complete take over, everything a weed, not a flower, not a plant surviving, they grew with ferocity, sucking up the nutrients from the soil, filling her yard with wild, untamed and unwarranted growth, they grew faster than she could pull them out, growing thick and tall and at night, they waved their shadows on her windows so that she never felt alone, never felt solitary. Yes, she said, her voice unwavering, do it, take out every feminine part. The doctor nodded, his agreement frightening her.

When she realized she was pregnant again, no uterus inside her, no eggs, nothing fertile at all about her, as dead and rotting as the soil in her yard, she knew this was it. Her destiny, her purpose, her body's will to produce and create even without a single proper utensil. There was simply no stopping her. She did not inform her doctor, no she did not want an intercom page around the hall, to be hooked up to machines, to have legs spread open, to be their marvel of a medical enigma. To be poked, prodded and questioned. She refused to have to explain herself. Instead, she let it grow quietly and steadily inside her. She ate well, exercised regularly and even rubbed her swollen belly, talked kindly to it, and one evening, as the shadows danced on her windows, she decided to name it. She whispered the name at first, low and soft and then with more authority, louder and then louder yet still until she was shouting it, until she felt that name pumping through her, coursing rapidly from her pulsating head to the flexed tips of her toes. She felt sudden, as if she had just arrived here, just inhabited this body, this physical space and she felt a longing to go outside, to walk among her garden of weeds, to fertilize her buried losses with her announcement, her songful repetition of a name, of a presence. It filled her with frenzy to hear it so, to think of its possibility of being something else, something of achievement. She was filled with vigorous fervor, opportunity elating her, lifting her. She could almost feel it, see it, taste it, every sense aroused and wakened to senseless sentiment. But around her, the tall weeds stood firm, their thick stalks stiff and solid in the ground, their thin branches tangled her hair, scratched at her arms, and her legs, tearing at her, ripping her, and with startling realization, she discovered her place among them. Harboring disappointment, growing round and full of miscarriage, she stayed there, joined in darkness, a passing shadow against a window pane.

BIO: Talya Jankovits' work has appeared in The Citron Review, Recovering the Self Magazine: A Journal of Hope and Healing, Lunch Ticket, The Jewish Literary Journal, Mutha Magazine, and Bleed, A Literary Blog. Her short story "Undone" in Lunch Ticket was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart prize. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University.