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ABOUT THE NURSE IN OB-GYN/Monica Berlin The lobby is packed with expecting women, fidgeting husbands who puU toddlers up onto their laps, whUe I wait, empty. When my name is caUed, she walks me down the long corridor framed with pictures of babies' birthdays, diagrams of each trimester's developing, weary photographed mothers, scrawled notes of thanks pinned to the walls. Later, this same woman pumps my arm, fingers my wrist, asks how old I am now, as if the question itself will edge forward the hands of my body's need. I swear she mumbles old enough, leaning all of herself toward me—her child-bearing hips, her healthy stoic frame, her earrings that scrape along her clavicle—across the desk to where I perch. Before I can answer she wonders aloud whether Tm going to fUl that prescription again. She doesn't know I rehearsed this part with my dose of morning coffee. Even thought to pour a shot of whiskey deep in the cup. Some proof of my resolve. She doesn't know something keeps collapsing. Hasn't she ever had nightmares of children she's never conceived: hands scrubbed to bone, reaching through an incubator's latex mouth, past feeding tubes The Missouri Review · 35 and pulsing monitors to touch the one-Inch feet, the neonatal glow? She turns her back while I slip into the paper gown, while I guide my feet into the stirrups, tells me about those women who leave mugs on the roofs of their cars and drive away. Never notice. Would leave a baby seat too, she says, facing me with the accusation— the thousand mistakes I've never made. 36 · The Missouri Review Monica Berlin UPDIKE ARRIVES IN PEORIA, THE CITY OF VOWELS/ Monica Berlin Just as Tm telling my students how, Ui 1939, a speech pathologist Ui Iowa trained twenty-two orphans to stutter. My own mouth cannot utter the words those children were never untaught. That our tongues naturally miscalculate fricatives, or the spaces between, seems wretched enough, to all of us. For the luncheon with Updike, I send that shy boy from my morning class. Hand over a first edition to have signed in case, overcome by his own twitching, he isn't brave enough to speak. When he returns what filled his arms, he sputters out that every wall was a door Ui the sterile room where he waited. He thought Updike would appear from behind one of them. I haven't the heart to tell him no writer is that kind of magician. Especially not after this day of talk upturns Updike's shirt collar. Creases his throat. Swallows all those years of practiced consonants that do not repeat. But this boy already knows what I cannot seem to teach, even myself: if behind every door, Ui any room, the perfect shape of language were placed on a shelfjust above our heads, always In reach, how each word would stammer its way out Ulto the night, weighted and sweet. The Missouri Review · 37 THE ALPHABET/Monica Berlin Even that boy knew what she didn't: sometimes we write Ui the dark, on the loose leaf flaps of ourselves, and when the heated shower sloughs our story off, we have to start again. But this is about her—a girl who can't keep herself from scribbling, who rids her apartment and purse of all paper and, like an addict, Ughts every last wood product on fire In someone else's backyard metal drum. Without, she has no choice and begins to cover herself with a sort of watermark pressed into her body's parchment. Takes a job at a library as a shelver, a mere page, because more than anything she Ukes to eye the stone Uons that flank the entrance steps. There, the only books she touches are the ones people check out or the even lonelier ones that never check out. When she has no skin left to write on, she paints a love story with something Ui a water-based can onto the lions' bellies. When rain washes the animals' tattoos away, I half-pray 38 · The Missouri Review she...


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