What Grew

Before I knew I was pregnant
I would stand before the mirror and wonder
why I was different why I was growing
what was wrong
with my too-small skin.

“Probably,”
(they said, with certainty in their voices,
as if they had ever felt anything like what I
was feeling)
“Probably you do not have
a mushroom growing
in your lung.”

They did not feel the fist clenching in my chest
the way my heart didn’t have
quite enough room to beat
the way everything fit too tight
the way my skin was too small to accommodate
the growth
of the fungus.

“It is impossible,”
(they said, in white coats and stethoscopes
that could not hear even a single heartbeat
in my increasingly overfull thorax)
“for a mushroom to grow in the space
between your liver
and your diaphragm.
You can breathe if
you only
try.”

They did not feel the trumpet blooming—
narrow at the base and wide at the top,
bright and yellow
(yellow enough to taste)
filling the hollow place in my stomach,
cushioning every bit of food that would otherwise
smash
hard
into the wall of my belly,
pushing the food back up into my throat
I had to hunch over the toilet.
Morning sickness
Afternoon sickness
Evening sickness
Every change of the light
a clarion call.

When he was born,
They thought at first that his hands (closed
tight like eyes pretending to sleep)
were clenched into his own flesh.
Fistfuls of belly,
like what I held for
the first two months
while they told me what was impossible
and before
I pissed onto white plastic
and learned that a mushroom was growing
in my womb.

“Not a mushroom,”
they said
smearing warm jelly onto my taut skin as though they could see
—better than I could see—
the inside of my own skin,
the thing I was feeding.
“A baby,” they told me.
But I could feel the tendrils spreading through my hips
loosening my joints
making my breasts tender:
Little hyphae, too small to see.
“Not a mushroom,” they said, and I
I smiled
because they did not know
because they could not know.

When he was born, his arms were folded tight
like he’d lost an argument
and his hair was wet with the ocean
I had brewed inside me
to house him
and his eyes were as closed as anyone’s eyes.
They thought it was a growth
they spoke to me gently
but I knew.

The soft brown thing my boy held tight
was not made of the stuff of him
(not of me either
something else).
I recognized it before the doctor did

And I said the name of it
(I had been doing research)
(A good mother does research):
Hen of the Woods, my hatchling
holding it close
his fists gripping tight two of the lobes
like lungs like gills
like blooming petals
like long-missed friends
familiar
precious
a comfort.

They will not take it from him, my screaming boy
they will not pry it from his dimple-knuckled fingers
they will not slice it and fry it in butter and serve it
in a peppered cream sauce
over a finely seared circle of
pink-centered meat
They will not separate the creatures I have made
(although they want to)
(they want so badly)
They are afraid of what will happen
if they untangle the dendritic filaments of his nerves
from the tender fungal hyphae
that weave through his spine:
a sweetheart’s hand, fingers interlaced.

I am not afraid
because I have looked into the eyes of my boy
(my perfect boy, he looks just like the father
he does not have)
and I have seen the hungry thing growing there.
He is mine
(he is ours)
and he will never be as alone
as a person
without a mushroom.

He will never be alone
at all.

(Editors’ Note: “What Grew” is read by Stephanie Malia Morris on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 22B.)

Sarah Gailey

Hugo Award winner and Campbell Award finalist Sarah Gailey is an internationally published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and they are a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. Their most recent fiction credits include Mothership Zeta, Fireside Fiction, and the Speculative Bookshop Anthology. Their debut novella duology, River of Teeth, was published in 2017 via Tor.com. They have a novel forthcoming from Tor Books in Spring 2019. Gailey lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with their two scrappy dogs. You can find links to their work at sarahgailey.com; find them on social media @gaileyfrey.

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