She wakes. Her husband is moving her hand to where his penis lies curled like a mouse against his thighs. She gives it a squeeze and strokes it in that way he likes and soon it begins to push back. She runs her finger around the head until it becomes something and then he moves on top of her. He will want to be inside her, where she hasn’t wanted anything since Abby came out. Where everything still feels like a dried up old orange.
“Perimenopausal,” the midwife had said at her six-week postpartum checkup. She’d warned her that sex would be different. She was still bleeding then, still filling the squeegee bottle they gave her at the hospital with warm water and bathing her swollen tissues every time she went to the bathroom. Even the midwife’s glove-clad finger had made her cry out. “It’ll go back to normal when you’re done nursing.” The midwife smiled. “Do you have a lubricant you like?” She didn’t say whether she would go back to normal. But maybe that was too obvious or not medical.
He presses against her and the spot where the stitches were burns. Five months later and definitely not back to normal. “Slow,” she says. “Gentle.” What she says to Abby when she grabs her hair, swings her razor fingernails near her eyes. She runs her hands down his waist, up over the mound of his ass. He still looks the same, long and lean, with muscles she never knew existed standing out in sharp relief. Sculpted by years on a bike, the commute up the big hill, the long weekend rides, the summer races. Time spent with Abby now. She used to run her hands over him in the dark, trying to guess which part of him she was touching. Now his ass flattens under her fingertips, soft and pillowy. He is different, too.
They rock back and forth, and with each movement she feels herself open another millimeter. She prays for moisture. He kisses her neck, breathes hot into her ear and a little moan comes out of her. “Not my breasts,” she says. He finds her mouth and pushes his tongue into it and they kiss fast and hard and her body like her hands starts remembering. Wanting. Taking.
The crown of his head is just inside her when Abby rolls over. They freeze. There is a shuffling of body and blanket and a single cry. They don’t breathe. There is another cry and he groans and rolls off of her and she gets up.
She pulls on her underpants and takes the three steps to the crib. Abby reaches up her arms and she picks her up and brings her back to the bed. Lays her down between herself and her husband and before she can get into a better position or even pull the blanket back up Abby has latched on. Her tongue is dry and rough like a cat’s. It curls around her nipple, pulls her flaccid breast. Pain shoots in a thin line all the way to her armpit; the crack has opened again. She tries to take her mind off of it, think happy thoughts: Abby’s gummy smile. Tries to think of water, rivers and waterfalls and waves breaking, of release. Tries to remember where she left the jar of nipple butter, thinks if she could just get an arm under Abby she could roll back a little bit and reach her nightstand and then maybe, and then maybe—and then her breasts swell and harden and there is that delicious ache and then the milk begins to flow.
Abby sinks into her, her sucking punctuated now by a short pause, like an intake of breath, when she swallows. Her small warm hand makes circles on her breast. It works its way up over her collarbone, along her neck, into the space behind her ear. Tracing the curve of her desire. Little fingers opening and closing in her hair. Moving in time with her sucking. She finds the other nipple and pinches. She pinches and sucks. Her new top teeth graze the nipple. Her feet pedal into her mother’s crotch.
She curls around her daughter, presses her nose into all that thick black hair that had been there when she came out and never fell out. She holds her baby behind the heart. Feels the rise and fall of her hunger. Breathes milk and olive oil and that body smell that is part her and part her husband. Moves her lips down to her temple, her earlobe, wherever they can reach, and kisses and kisses.
After a few minutes, Abby comes off, turns over, arches her back and is asleep. Her husband farts softly. Their breathing alternates and then falls together. She rolls onto her back and lies in the dark, listening.
AMBER KRIEGER‘s short fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, cream city review, The Adirondack Review, elimae and elsewhere. She writes in Portland, Oregon.