Martha Clarkson

Martha Clarkson

After a year, the fertility experiments are over. Unsuccessful. Shots, pills, immobilizing mood swings, and a cyst on the base of your scalp. When the cyst grew to the size of a shooter marble, it had to be removed. The nurse’s aid cleared a small square of hair from your scalp with an electric razor.

Now it’s the long-awaited three day weekend where you and Dave are going to get what the marriage counselor calls genuine time. When you first heard this, it sounded like a Swiss watch, like precise synchronization. But then you understood it meant paying attention to each other. You’re ready to do it, to concentrate on Dave at this cabin for the weekend, even if he expounds on subjects you know nothing about (you’re going to really listen, you promised the counselor).

After the hormone injections failed, you agreed to splurge on one in-vitro chance, cashing in his anemic stock options to pay for it. Outside the doctor’s office that day, Dave placed his hands on your shoulders and said, “You can do it,” as if you were running a marathon and it was just a matter of stamina.

You’ve been bloated, fatigued, distracted, and tearful – all things you’d never experienced. You cry during Gerber commercials. You gave an inordinate amount of money to the March of Dimes, that pleading little boy in leg braces on the home page. Dave’s been busy traveling on business to India and China, where labor is cheap and children work in factories and the company he works for thinks, “what a deal, what a great deal.”

Dave won’t adopt. Won’t even consider a child not made from his sperm – the little widgies swimming around under a microscope, of which the doctor has told Dave he has plenty. He was the one who brought home the fertility brochures, tossed them on the bathroom counter with the Target circular. All you want to do is be a mother – orphan, foster, refugee, you don’t care.

Along Highway 10, the rain starts. On the dash are the directions to the cabin from the anonymous internet landlord you sent a hundred dollars to. This is your life now, just you and Dave – a pair, a couple, a trike-less garage. You’ll probably get dogs within the year.
This road-time is a chance to talk about how the fertility miracles didn’t work, the grander meaning. The counselor said talking was healthy. An invigorate, he called it.

“What a year,” you say. “My body feels like it’s been turned inside out and back again. And now here we are, just us.”

But Dave is surveying the landscape, leaning his head forward to see up further out the front window. He chews on his thumb, then gestures with his hand, speaks with a charged voice. “How are they allowed to clear-cut on that hillside and not replant?” he says, like you’re in forestry and an energetic land debate can ensue.

You are not interested in discussing reforestation, the plight of the spotted owl, or the displaced timber worker, of whom you know many. You click the radio on to that magic volume that keeps you from having to answer.


Martha Clarkson manages corporate workplace design in Seattle. Her poetry and fiction can be found in Monkeybicycle6, Clackamas Literary Review, descant, Seattle Review, Portland Review, elimae, and Nimrod. She is a recipient of a Washington State Poets William Stafford prize 2005, a Pushcart Nomination, and is listed under “Notable Stories,” Best American Non-Required Reading for 2007 and 2009. She is the poetry editor for Word Riot.


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