Winner: ‘A Letter to my Plastic Daughter’ by Ruth Atkins

“Plastic,” the doctor repeated sternly. “In the placenta.”

His voice was a low bass rumble, barely audible over the machines. The midwife ceased sliding her jelly over me. I lay tense, my fingers clenched beneath my buttocks, my moon-belly rising, convex and white above the bed. It was unseasonably warm, and inside me, your kicks fluttered in time with the breeze of the white desk fan.

He explained it as cycle, wide-eyed in sympathy. But to me it sounded beautiful. Those bisphenol bottles, the beads that scrubbed my skin raw, were making you all along! Flushed through the oceans, flowing back in fish guts, and I swallowed them down to your baby-bird mouth. How clearly it traced the line from you to me, from us to the world beyond – even as it frayed the edges of those ties. I thought of yellow bath ducks, floating for decades on the Pacific. I thought of the rainbow sheen of an oil slick.

“No.” The doctor shook his head. “It is not beautiful. It is the end.”

My hands flew instinctively to you, sinking into the slime on my belly. 

“Oh!” I cried, but the midwife was already eye-rolling, paper towel in hand. The doctor sucked on his pencil lead, and the air through the open window became thick with petroleum. I tore the paper gown from my neck and fled from further elaboration.

I was content, despite the look on his face. I had been preparing for you my whole life. All those stiff hollow children I carried in girlhood, changing their outfits, choking on polyester hair, pressing buttons in their necks to make them sob or squeal. I fed them plastic cherry balls, to squeeze into nylon nappies. I placed plastic teats in their mouths. A maternity before I ever imagined myself maternal. I would know what to do.

Still, I had recurring dreams in those early months, of caring for some pale creature – a kitten sometimes, sometimes a mouse. Always tiny – I could hold it in my cupped hands. I would love it, at first, its wet breath snuffling my hand. Until I grew careless. Forgot. Walking towards the room where I had left it, keys twitching in my fingers, I would know I was too late. What I was about to discover would be horrifying, and inescapable, and all my fault. I would wake, my stomach empty, my arms groping the dark.

But you never gave me fear like that. When you left me, you cut me, fingers sharp at the seams. The midwife slapped your foot soles, and a hollow twang rose from your cot and took its place among the elements. The doctor sucked in a breath through his teeth. I could tell he wanted to speak again of abominations and polyethylene.  To tell me you weren’t beautiful – you were the end.

If you were the end I welcomed you, my dear unnatural daughter. Your skin was like a shell: inflexible, inviolable. Your cry was like breath against a water bottle. I sat you up and your eyes snapped open, glacial blue and unblinking. Feather-light, your legs moved stiffly at the joints. I stroked the silicone shafts of your hair, rubbed crude oil on your skin where it cracked. My shame fell away, for I could not harm you. You had no date of disintegration. You were my legacy, to outlast the ever-approaching infinite. And you gleamed, sweet angel. You gleamed.

About the Author

RuthAtkins is from Tipperary. She works in publishing in London, and has a podcast about folk and fairy stories called Unreal Irish Folklore


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Published by sonderlit

New Irish literary magazine reflecting people, our differences and similarities.

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