Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 54
worm moon, 2024

Featured artwork, Capitol Reef Wash, by Kathleen Frank

new works

Tara Van De Mark

Anatomically Arbitrary

A psychic read my belly button in high school. While waiting for Grandpa outside the barber I watched her put out a sidewalk sign that said, “Navel Gazing: Holds Lint and the Future!” Grandma said I never sucked my thumb as a baby, instead, after my cord stump fell off, I would rub my belly button.

“This was how you and your Momma had skin-to-skin. Your middle was the last place you connected.” Grandma would tickle me there and wipe away my tears almost every night.

The psychic’s room was above the dry cleaners and smelled like steam and starch. She sat on the only furniture in the room, a short collapsible stool, and motioned for me to stand in front of her. I did, instinctively pulling up my shirt. In first grade the girls met behind the azalea bush and we all lifted up our shirts to make sure the doctors had tied us up right. Delphine, a third grader on my bus, said bowtie belly buttons can come undone and all your guts spill out. To our relief no one had little flesh bows, just innies and outies.

It felt almost sexual, the psychic’s nose was so close to my naked belly that my skin became moist with her warm breath. When she finally spoke she told me things she couldn’t have known about the past, things about Momma, and without me asking she told me things I wanted to know about my future. Then, she stood up abruptly and waved me out the door. That seemed like a bad sign.

In medical school the umbilicus found me, I was selected for a study examining belly button biodiversity, sat in on dozens of laparoscopy surgeries, and cut umbilical cords for the midwives. I specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, wanting to do better for my patients than the doctors had for Momma. As a resident, during an emergency c-section, the attending doctor made a vertical incision and accidentally cut through the mothers belly button. It made no difference in the success of the c-section and the baby was placed into the mother’s arms a minute later. But at her postpartum visit she had lost her balance, tripping in the waiting room, stumbling in the hall, her core had been severed and her gravitational pull was misaligned.

When I got pregnant I dug out Momma’s medical file and carried it around the hospital, looking for answers whenever I had a free moment. My navel went from a lightbulb shape into a Giotto circle but it wasn’t until it popped, the mangled star skin now out in the universe, that I asked the head of obstetrics for her thoughts on the file. She looked it over and said, “My best guess, placenta abruption with undetected internal bleeding. This was your mom huh?” I nodded. “We still don’t know why it happens but there is talk about a genetic link.” She looked at my stomach.

That night I drove home to Grandma and Grandpa’s. They had moved into a retirement community five years ago but kept the house so I could visit. The air was stale as I lay in my childhood bed, which was also Momma’s, rubbing my belly button as the baby did flips in my pool. I woke up in the morning and ate some leftover rest-stop sandwich before heading to the strip mall to find the psychic from fifteen years ago. As I parked Grandpa’s barber, Mr. Ken, spotted me and came out waving.

“Wow, you look just like your Momma sitting there!” He shook his head in amazement, “And look there, you’re gonna be a Mom soon. Congrats young lady. So what brings you home?” Knowing things is Mr. Ken’s speciality.

“Hi Mr. Ken. I’m hoping to see the psychic that worked above the dry cleaners when I was a kid.” I replied.

“What silliness are you talking about? There was never a psychic here!” He started shaking his head, “Look up, this complex is only one story.” Then adds with a chuckle, “Plus, what does a big shot doctor like you need with a psychic?”

Rubbing my belly, I couldn’t tell him my fear, that like Momma, this moment of her inside of me is the closest I ever will be to my daughter.

Tara Van De Mark is a recovering attorney now writer based in Washington, DC. Her work has been nominated for The Best Small Fictions, shortlisted in the SmokeLong Summer Competition, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Citron Review, Bandit Fiction, Tiny Molecules, On The Seawall and The Mark Literary Review. She can be found at www.taravandemark.com and lurks around X/twitter and bluesky @TaraVanDeMark