It was hard to think about anything pleasant beneath the mango trees. Sonya didn’t blame the trees. They were producing lovely fruit. They made the entire grove smell too sweet.
Grandma Dina wouldn’t let her in the house, claiming Sonya needed sunshine and a hammock in her life. Especially with a new baby.
Sonya didn’t care much for the baby.
“It’s all normal, something to do with the tides, or the planet’s alignment, I think,” Dina said that morning.
Sonya liked it when Dina blamed the universe, and she liked it even better when Dina gave her a back rub while she philosophized. She’d done it a lot when Sonya was pregnant. Less so now. The touch of those calloused gardener’s hands were surprisingly gentle. They dug into the spot beneath her shoulder blades that was always impossible for her reach herself. It seemed like those long, thin fingers would push further, going under the skin, kneading and preparing to plant something in her bones and chest. Dina liked to say that she could plant something in you that could take root and flower.
Instead of a plant, Sonya had a baby. She was reluctant to speak the baby’s name aloud, as if it were a game in front of a mirror, and her ex would be summoned the second Erika was verbalized. Erika wasn’t even a name they had chosen together; Jason had been convinced that the child would be a boy. He had only spoken of boy’s names.
The motion of the swinging hammock combined with the memory of Jason made her nauseous. Disgust slid like a mucous up her throat and down her nasal cavity, congealing in the middle. She almost choked. That disgust went all the way to the roots of her hair.
Sonya hadn’t mentioned him since the delivery.
Her grandmother’s face was as red as her bottled hair dye that day as she entered the delivery room to tell Sonya that Jason wasn’t coming. He’d gone to the Keys with another woman, his roommate said. Jason being a minor league hockey player living with a roommate—a babysitter, really—should’ve been the first sign that he was not a man of stability.
“That man is a bum,” Dina said. She said it during the birth and again later as she was coaxing Sonya into her home like she was a skittish animal. “If he didn’t like your peaches, he shouldn’ta shaken your tree,” she’d added then.
When Sonya came back in from the yard, she was confronted by her grandmother.
“Why aren’t you resting?” Dina demanded, watching Sonya unstick her bare feet from the vinyl tile one step at a time.
She saw that Dina was holding the baby. It was unmoving and unnaturally quiet, made even smaller by Dina’s large brown hands.
“I’m not feeling well,” Sonya said. She sniffed. She scratched her itchy arms again.
“Don’t scratch,” Dina said.. “The doctor said you’re stressed and need to relax, that’s all. You are literally giving yourself hives, acting this way. Being outside’ll help.”
Outside, everything was overly bright outside and sweet. She would rather stay in her old room, taking refuge under inherited quilts that smelled like cigarettes. There was a pink and green one her mother had made, and the brown and orange one from Dina. They covered her old twin bed easily, and always seemed to swamp her. They were good to hide under, even though she wasn’t sixteen and running from her mother anymore.
Sonya was twenty-five and Dina had sheltered her from her mother for years now. Sonya imagined Alicia was chain smoking cigarettes in a trailer somewhere upstate, in a part of Florida where there were more gators than people. At news of Sonya’s pregnancy, Dina had spruced up the old room, installing porcelain figurines like the ones Sonya had collected as a child. The pictures—all emptied of Alicia —were held in new frames.
Now her grandmother said, “I’ll take care of everything,” bringing Sonya out of her train of thought. “If Erika needs to nurse, I’ll heat up some of the pumped milk, okay?” She rocked the tiny baby back and forth, as if to display her gentleness.
Sonya nodded. Sonya trusted Erika with Dina more than she did herself, anyway. She felt too young for this, and she didn’t want to stay as a secretary for a trucking company forever to afford a squalling infant. Not that Erika really cried. The child was always so still, like she was dead. Sometimes Sonya wished she were.
“I just feel itchy and tired,” Sonya said finally. She wasn’t thinking about Jason or his pale, perfect skin, or the dusting of freckles that always struck her like hot coals.
“Take a nap in the hammock,” Dina told her. “The fresh air is good for you. And the mangoes will do wonders when they’re ripe. Can you check them for me?” Her voice was as firm as the mangoes outside, inviting no debate whatsoever.
Sonya gave her an affirmative grunt and unstuck her feet from the vinyl, backpedaling towards the grove. None of the fruit looked ripe—they were still a pale green, almost glowing—and none had acquired the vicious red that meant they could be consumed. Too tired to argue with Dina again about being inside, Sonya resigned herself to the hammock and tried not to scratch herself. At least she had a floppy paperback resting near the hammock. It would give her something to do.
The itching got worse. Sonya could barely breathe by the next morning.
The hives all over her face, arms, and chest got so large and puffy that it felt like she was moving in slow motion. Everything felt heavy and stiff. Dina watched Erika while Sonya drove to the doctor’s office. Her feet were so swollen she could barely do more than stomp on the pedals on the way over.
The office aide took one look at her and brought her into an examination room. Dr. Cao’s office was usually a pain to visit because there were always several elderly patients with a variety of ailments that needed seeing to, a kid or two with a sports-related injury, and middle-aged ladies complaining and huffing their way through the outdated magazines on the coffee tables. This time, though, she was seen immediately.
“Have you been near any mangoes or mango trees?” Doctor Cao asked almost immediately, gently prodding some of the hives.
“Yes, why?” Sonya asked, blinking. Dina had assured her again it was stress, but there were too many hives.
“Because it looks like you’re allergic,” he said sympathetically. “You can’t touch the skin or the sap of the tree. It’s part of the poison ivy family, actually.”
“I grew up near a mango grove, and this has never happened to me before,” Sonya told him.
“Sometimes these kinds of allergies develop. It’s rare but it does happen. I can give you something for the hives, but the easiest thing is to just stay away from them from now on.”
The first thing Sonya thought was that she would never convince her grandmother that it was the mango trees. If Dina was tending to the mango grove, then that meant Sonya would have to spend more time watching the baby. She already disliked the amount of time she had to spend pumping breastmilk for the child, but that felt manageable. It was just another task she needed to do, she told herself over and over, something separate from the baby herself.
“This is very easy to work around, there’s no need to cry,” Dr. Cao said. He held out a box of tissues.
Startled, Sonya reached out and grabbed one, and dabbed it on her unfeeling face. The hives numbed everything. She hadn’t even realized she was crying.
Haley Fedor is a queer author from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Section 8 Magazine, Guide to Kulchur Magazine, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, and the anthology Dispatches From Lesbian America. She was also nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize.