I have never seen a mole. I know they exist because people say so and I see no reason not to believe them. I have seen pictures. And why shouldn’t I believe that small blind creatures swim under the earth, their claw-fins scooping away solid ground? Who else will believe in animals that have prepollex thumbs and can recycle oxygen, but still aren’t interesting enough to draw the zoo crowd? Why can’t I champion the smiling blindness, the careful burrowing, the meals of worms? I see no reason not to believe, even if I don’t understand what purpose a pre-buried animal could possibly have. What I’d really like to know is why don’t they live in Ireland.
I believe the mole’s story. In my little green picture book, worn and faded from use, Mole has trimmed the tree with Troll too many times, with his supposed friend Troll knocking it over as he flings fistfuls of tinsel over the tippy evergreen. Troll is larger than Mole. Troll can see. Troll is a bully, but that’s not the point. The point is that only by changing a truth can we see it clearly. Mole lives underground, among the roots, not in the daylight among the Christmas tree branches. He would marvel at the feel of the brown tentacles against his snouty nose, not the sight of the needles in the cold, December air. Yet I lie with my head in the basket of my grandmother’s lap, watching her upside down mouth form the words of a story I believe only because I want to, because believing it will keep me lying in her lap a little longer, watching her teeth barely peeking out from beneath her lips with each scoop of sound. Still, I know Troll is mean. She wouldn’t say that we should feel sad for poor Mole, but I do anyway.
The mole is complicated and the textbook heavy, a stubborn concept explained to me by a man wearing a tweed jacket with a pickle pin on the lapel. The pin is from a ketchup factory, not a chemistry lab, and it is intended to be funny—funnier than the half empty beakers in tippy metal stands, or the uniformed girls in plastic safety goggles that don’t quite hide the pity in their eyes. I measure and measure again, following instructions like a recipe, stirring the numbers on the page until they dissolve into dull grey clouds. No matter how hard I try, the mole will not appear, either in fact or philosophy. I get a D and hide it, doubting that moles matter. Later, the textbook tossed on the rumpled sheets of my bed becomes my photography project, closed and shadowed. I believe that it is the best work I can do. It will be years before I consider the subtext of a male teacher wearing a pickle pin at a girls’ school.
I laugh about the tragedy of high school with a girl in an orange sweater. She thinks my stories are funny and invites me to a party at her apartment in Adams Morgan. I want her to like me; I am in a new city and she knows where the bars and dark places are hidden. Her apartment is a studio, but she has strung a tapestry across the space like a diaphanous veil that makes her seem mysterious even as she stands in front of it giving me a hug, thanking me for coming. I want to see what’s on the other side, but I am afraid to breech the space that is clearly not intended for me. Where I stand, the assembled group sips wine from mismatched teacups, trying not to disturb the tapestry or touch one another, but the half-room is small, which makes it more obvious that I am the only one who doesn’t know that the mole sauce is the centerpiece of the meal. It is a family recipe, meaning I am to assume that it is good. When she says the word—mo-LE!—it sounds exotic, as if the little blind creature has been given a sombrero and begun to dance. I learn that mo-LE! sauce has chocolate in it and takes all day to cook. She puts a hot pink bowl of mo-LE! in the center of the table, and I am slightly afraid of its brown thickness, this edible swamp to be spooned over things. One of the men she has invited compliments her cooking in Spanish. I don’t speak a word of Spanish and I don’t think the mo-LE! tastes like chocolate, but I eat it, trying to be polite. When I leave, the man who speaks Spanish smiles and says goodbye. I think I may not have understood why I was there.
The man who becomes my husband can’t speak a word of Spanish, although he has the smallest of moles on his right temple and has been to Ireland. I believe him when he tells me stories. Together we make a mole, a fuzzy glow whose appearance makes the ultrasound technician stop conjuring things inside me with her wand. As if afraid of her own magic, she leaves me alone in the room, watching the mole flickering on a dark screen. I can’t see it, this creature they identify in the sonar of my underground, my underbelly, the dark space inside me where our mole is rooted, swimming, blind. When the doctor tells me the mole isn’t a baby, I believe her. When the doctor tells me my a mole has a name, hydatidiform
, I believe her. When the doctor tells me that the mole won’t come out on its own, it will keep burrowing and growing, I don’t believe her and I go home. I wait for the mole to emerge, but she is right. The mole stays underground. When I come back to her office, she gives me a form that says, “Abortion Consent,” and I think it’s a mistake. I picture a dagger slipped up a bell-shaped sleeve. I picture a black mask and dark gloves. I am advised to believe in the danger of the mole, the cancer it could become. I am told that although the mole is not human, it must be rooted out in a human way, and the danger is such that even after they’ve dug him out, they will worry that he will return. They will test for signs of burrowing. My body, its earth. Moles can’t live in the light. I believe this, even as I close my eyes and visualize my womb as a metallic thing, the toolbox we once used to bury the family cat. When it is over, I abandon the mole, closing the door quietly behind me. I bury my hands in my pockets and wade out into the pallid winter sky, where I am embarrassed by the chronic cough of my boot heels echoing on the long stretch of concrete ahead.
When my husband and I do make a baby, she will emerge from her darkness with unfocused eyes and small, pale hands waving frantically in the loose air and I will forget about the mole. They will move us from the delivery room, tying a sheet around my arms, which will be wrapped around my child, straightjacketing me into motherhood. They will say it is for our safety in transit, but the baby and I will like this tightness. We will never want them to untie the knot. We will like sitting in the dark together, swapping body fluids like cards, showing off to one another. We will be kindred creatures, blind and groping, nosing our way through the long tunnel of days and weeks. Eventually, when are brave enough to venture out, my husband and I will go to Hoppin’ Jalapeño, where we will see mo-LE! sauce on the menu. My husband will be impressed that I know it should be pronounced “mo-LE!” because he knows I don’t like Mexican food. I’ll order a chicken sandwich with an extra side of mayonnaise to dip my French fries in because I will be twenty pounds overweight from the baby even though nobody cares to dig in there anymore. After we eat we will go home, put the baby in her bassinet, and watch a show called “The Mole” on TV, and I’ll like that, too, even though we will guess who the mole is by the third episode. While we will assume that eventually there will be a final episode where the mole’s true identity will be revealed, we will always remember that we didn’t bother to see it; we will have preferred to believe what we believe.
Christina Kapp’s short fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications including Poetry Quarterly, Barn Owl Review, Gargoyle, Storyscape Journal, [PANK], Anderbo.com, and apt. She teaches at The Writers Circle in Summit, New Jersey, and Rutgers University—Newark.