Immigrant Rooms by Jefferson Navicky

They gave us a talking room. It was a blank room filled only with a man who we’d come to know as Pelag. He sat there and told us to shush, not so loud, bitches, all you do is talk.

But this is the talking room, we’d say, and Pelag would F us with his lips, and then grow rich.

We were under no pretensions that our talk wasn’t recorded. It had to be. But still we talked with gusto. I found myself telling the story, over and over again, of my grandmother sunbathing on the beach when a seagull shat in her mouth and I asked her, what’s wrong, grandma? She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Nothing, darling.” We all loved that one. Nothing, darling.

They also gave us a breathing room. Only for breath. It was full of trees. After all the talking, I gravitated to this room. Maybe because it was the only room without a guard. Maybe because I liked the silent indifference of trees. I asked my breath, what kind of tree is this, but my breath never knew. The breathing room reminded me the most of home. I sometimes waved to the trees. I counted backwards. I took the light for walks on my eyelids.

Soon they gave us a fucking room. Only for fucking, they said. Nothing else, go to the other rooms for everything else. There were two guards in the fucking room. We were all leery at first, but then some of us started taking advantage. It was athletic. Others wouldn’t go near it. But the fucking room introduced a whole other set of problems that they’d have to deal with and I didn’t know why they’d want to deal with them, and so I never participated. Soon some of the women disappeared for a while, then come back shrunken. There were enough of us that noticed. We started talking about it in the talking room.

Then they declared, no more talking in groups larger than two. Pelag became too busy and they brought in two more guards who enforced hard. We wanted to know where the babies went. It all came down to that question. We started asking Pelag, and when he wouldn’t answer, we asked the other two. They wouldn’t answer either, but we kept asking. We chanted it, we sang, we spat it. Where are the babies? Where are the babies?

At first the fucking room remained popular with the rest of us, but after a while, the chanting got to everybody, and nobody used the fucking room anymore. We boycotted it, and only then did we get a response.

The fucking room then became the running room. We were free to use it to get in shape, run some laps on its newly installed track. Cardiovascular health is very important for…and all that shit.

Did they think we were stupid? That we could be redirected like two-year-olds with the limp allure of running? We all walked into the running room and we all wore our running pants and sneakers, but then we started the chants all over again—where are the babies? Where are the babies?

Then, inexplicably, they dumped the babies on us, a torment torrent of babies, all creations from the fucking room. I had never seen such chaos in my life. The babies were crying and shitting and looking for breasts in a maddened horde. No one knew whose baby was whose. Amidst the rising panic, we came up with a plan. All of us who were willing would take a baby, and that baby would be ours. There was no time to think about it. I picked up a baby. He seemed fine enough, quite cute, quite monstrous. All rules were broken for the babies, and for once, it seemed like no one cared. The guards in the individual rooms disappeared, they couldn’t stand the ruckus and the constant need, and thus we could go into whatever room we wanted. I took my baby into the breathing room and named him Punch. I didn’t know what he would grow up to be, but it didn’t take long to hope hard. I cradled him, walked him beneath the trees, and soon enough he began to run with the other children in the running room and we all forgot about everything for a short time that felt like a long time, but was only a childhood.

I knew what would eventually happen. I could feel it building in my bones with a quiet certainty. Then it happened one morning. They took the babies, who’d now grown to adolescence. There was nothing we could do. I said goodbye to Punch and felt a horrible lightness that kept asking, did I do good enough? Did I do good enough? I knew I couldn’t answer the question, but as Punch left for what would be his life, I felt as though a rib had jumped my chest and was walking away from me for good.

Most of us took to the talking room, but not me. I went to the breathing room and found myself alone. I breathed for a long time beneath the trees and I kept breathing and breathing, breath after small breath, breath upon itself until I stopped.

 

 

 

Jefferson Navicky was born in Chicago, and grew up in Southeastern Ohio. He earned degrees from Denison University and Naropa University. He works as the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, teaches English at Southern Maine Community College, and lives in Freeport, Maine with his wife, Sarah, and their dog, Olive. His work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, Birkensnake, and Fairy Tale Review. He is a recipient of a Maine Arts Commission grant and a Maine Literary Award for Drama.

 

 

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