The Talisman

Dylan Brie Ducey

The monastery in Veliky Novgorod: A white stone building with three domes and narrow windows. Hushed. Frescoes of the saints, high ceiling, gold paint. A torrential summer rain. The medieval village with its neat row of wooden houses, conical roofs, domes, pitched roofs. The ikon in the corner, the broom, the spindle, the rough-hewn table, the bench, the masonry stove. The little shoes lined up. The wooden cradle. Artisans sit outside, each with his wares. Painted wooden bells, blue and red. A small woven box made from reeds and hung on a string. A talisman, I am told, for a baby. I get it for a few rubles, I hang it around my neck. As if that will help.

The Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg: Neoclassical, with a curved stone colonnade and statues of the saints and apostles. Normally I linger outside, taking pictures, or I get drunk in the 3:00 a.m. twilight at the beer garden on the corner. Today is different. I cover my hair with a scarf and go inside. It is dark, the only light coming from dozens of tall candles. The talisman around my neck. The heavy, sweet smell of incense, the unearthly sound of a choir. I feel unhinged. I want to sleep with the man standing next to me but I can’t because he is married and so am I. I burn a candle for the baby I lost. The baby is not real. None of this is real.

My house in north Oakland: A two-bedroom bungalow. I’m bleeding. My doctor is on vacation. It is four thirty on Friday. There’s a risk of infection. “We’ll take care of it,” the receptionist says. “But hurry. And pick up the prescription.” She says something about a “D & C.” What is that, I ask. Dilation and curettage. It doesn’t sound good. My husband goes into the pharmacy and comes out with a Valium and a bottle of water. I am trembling, I take the Valium but my heart beats just as hard. I am ushered into an exam room and told to undress. A huge machine is wheeled in. I see a metal object that looks like a speculum. I want a Valium drip, I want a general anesthetic. I want to wake up afterwards and not know what happened. I lay naked on the table, with only a paper gown to protect me. My husband sits next to me. The doctor comes in, I close my eyes. My husband holds my hand, there is a searing pain and I hear screaming. My husband is still sitting on the chair but with his head between his knees. Someone tells him to breathe. Someone else gets him a glass of water. Someone hands me an envelope containing Vicodin. “We’re about to close,” she says. “You can get dressed now. But no rush.”

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 Dylan Brie Ducey work appears, or is forthcoming, in Whiskeypaper, Cheap Pop, Jellyfish Review, Gargoyle, Sou’wester, The Pinch, and other places. She received the Carlisle Family Scholarship to the 2015 Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, and her MFA from San Francisco State University.