In the Beginning | Peg Alford Pursell


Breath came to me as it comes to us all, unsolicited but grasped at. Something in us, animals, wants it, evidently.



In the beginning there was a man and a woman. In the beginning there is always a man and a woman. Some say one day a woman will be able to conceive a child without a man, and men will be entirely unnecessary. Some say this is fantasy, a pipe dream. Consider the pipe dream. A pipe requires inhalation. Let the man puff his pipe, contemplating parthenogenesis, reproduction without fertilization, virgin birth. The man is okay with Jesus, but he doesn’t really believe in Mary. Parthenogenesis occurs naturally in certain plant and insect species (aphids, bees, and ants), and like many other procedures, can now occur with the assistance of scientists. Captive domestic chickens, pythons, sharks, komodo dragons, lizards, and certain birds can reproduce parthenogenetically. Women will produce females only. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, some women might say.



Her father likes to tell the story of her beginning, as a blue baby. She has heard it two times before, a memorable magnitude when it comes to her taciturn father. In the latest telling she discovers that when he heard the doctor say it was a girl while handing over the blue body with the umbilical cord wrapped round and round her neck, her father thought she had died. But then she began to squawk. Squawk, her father repeats, relishing that word. A kind of debasement of the whole human enterprise. Her mother gives a sidelong smile and says he doesn’t like to show his feelings. But that’s not quite right. He doesn’t like to show certain kinds of feelings. He isn’t one for sentiment. He isn’t convinced he’s necessary, but he would like her to believe so. He has given up smoking and his breath is even and slow.

Peg Alford Pursell is the author of Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow, the 2017 Indies Book of the Year for Literary Fiction, a collection of fiction and hybrid prose selected by Poets & Writers magazine for its second annual “5 over 50” feature. Her second collection of fiction and hybrid prose, A Girl Goes into the Forest, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in July 2019. She directs Why There Are Words, a national literary reading series she founded in Sausalito in 2010, and is the director and founder of WTAW Press, an independent publisher of exceptional literary books.

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