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Laura van den Berg

Laura van den Berg is the author of the novels Find Me (FSG, 2016) and The Third Hotel (FSG, 2018). She is also the author of two story collections, The Isle of Youth (FSG, 2013) and I Hold a Wolf by the Ears (FSG, forthcoming, 2020). Born and raised in Florida, Laura lives in Cambridge, MA, where she is a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard. 

Author

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Hill of Hell

Spring 2019 | Fiction

I had traveled up the Hudson Line at my friend’s invitation to deliver a lecture to his literature students at the college where he taught. There had been three people in attendance and one had fallen asleep halfway through. My friend had treated me to lunch before the talk and to a drink afterward, so that by the time we hit the train back into the city, where we both lived, we had sailed through the small talk and were ready for the blood and guts. 

After we opened the second bottle of wine, which he’d been keeping in his satchel, I told him about the worst thing that had happened to me in the last three years, as this was the period of time that had elapsed since we last saw each other. We sat at a table in the café car, the panoramic windows looking out on the vast sweep of the Hudson. At first, I was surprised that we could drink openly on the train, but my friend assured me that we could eat and drink whatever we wanted because the café car was closed on this route—and besides, he had been taking this train three days a week for a decade and he knew every conductor on it and could get away with anything. 

“It was around this time last year when everything came apart,” I said, turning my plastic cup on the table. 

Last September, I was pregnant. My husband had been the one wracked with longing for a child and I had allowed myself to be carried along by the tide of his enthusiasm, but once it was underway I felt like I had been conned into a heist for which, as the plans came into focus, I was woefully unprepared. You’re talking about robbing the Louvre and I’m just a common criminal! In those early weeks, I willed my body to show up with the getaway car and then four months later, after I had forgotten all about getaway cars, I was standing in Ikea, of all the undignified places, waving a spatula and lecturing my husband about how our dairy products were teeming with opiates, when my shorts filled with blood and I fainted. While I was unconscious, I had a dream that men in white coats were elbow-deep in me and then I awoke in a hospital bed to find a doctor elbow-deep in me, working on my body with the grave air of an executioner. The baby had ten fingers and ten toes, the only thing that many a stranger had told me I should care about. Eyelids as thin as organza. 


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