by Josh Sczykutowicz
Something ugly came out of Lenora in the delivery room.
Doctors were rushing down the halls, machines spitting noise into the air. There was a TV set blasting at full volume, set to distract anyone in the waiting room. I was not in it. I was down the hall by the door. I opened my mouth to ask what was going on but all that came out of me was static, mouth open, jaw stretched wide like one of those African snakes that swallow gazelle.
Through that static I could still hear screams, hear the sound of Lenora’s throat closing and opening and doing all it could to make the sound it took to signal the pain and fear flooding her brain. I ran to the doorway, ran to the room, tried to look inside as nurses shuffled through and out and dropped equipment that kicked and rattled across the floor. There was the sound of saws and something foreign, something splintering skin and soon Lenora never screamed again.
There were no clouds outside. Bright sunshine poured in through the windows of hospital rooms. It made it all so much more real. If this were some dream, it would be raining; of course it would be raining. Lightning would strike power lines and thunder would rumble in tandem with the screams and the saws. The downpour would match the sound of something horrible happening like some dark concerto. But this was real, this was daylight, this was sun-bleached hair and pure right sunshine. If I had stood outside amidst the grass so green you’d think they painted it overnight, I’d be able to smell it.
In this daylight nightmare I needed to see Lenora’s face, needed to know what was happening. I had no justification to be there, not family, not really a friend any longer, and not the husband with the video camera strapped to the severed hand, but in another life I would have been all three.
A year had passed since the divorce was finalised and in that space she found room to re-marry. Found room to become pregnant, the thing she had always told me she would never want when we were together. They were things I was never meant to know, but word travelled as I did, too, landing back at home, back in the sleepy little town I had fled to after my life had been spent going down its streets and sitting in its rooms, breathing in its air filled with car exhaust and old perfume.
Someone other than Lenora must have sent the announcements out using an old address book she’d kept lying around, added to without subtracting from. In the old mailbox the neighbour had grown used to checking for me before piling it all on the countertop, the envelope and card rested. I almost didn’t catch it between the flyers for car dealerships and credit card application forms, the junk mail that they used to sort through and toss out before time eroded diligence and habit set in cluttering anything that might actually matter.
‘We’re Going to Have a Baby!’ the front of the thing read, so direct, no ellipsis leading one into the rest inside. It was information too excited to wait before sharing itself.
It sat in the trash can for a week and then sat on my desk for three, the card bent open, the expected delivery date listed. I called Denise and asked them to let me know when they heard anything. Being the caring girl Denise is she said, of course, ‘absolutely’.
Denise had felt bad for me from the beginning. When she helped Lenora carry the cardboard boxes out of the little house we shared, the glances she gave me as she walked past with arms stacked high were full of sympathy, my arms crossed and back against the wall, looking from a downcast face up at everything I’d never see again.
Denise showed up at the door and offered to stay a while, if I wanted, and we had drinks and ate dinner. She fell asleep on the couch to that channel where black and white movies played all day.
When she left the next morning, she told me to call if I ever wanted to have someone around, just to keep me company and in my weaker moments I found myself no longer needing the piece of paper to remember the numbers by.
I had known that God would allow for horror, even welcome it, but it was when I gazed into Lenora’s delivery room, the room in which her life was traded for this new one, that I knew it to be true: God created darkness, and darkness was God’s alone. All else stood merely in His shadow.
There were so few shadows to be had with that spring sun shining through. There were things the light washed away, cleansing, concealing, blinding and bleaching the surface of things best left faded from tired memory.
Her abdomen, the one whose skin I could still recall the taste of, the way that sweat would drip and pool across it as her stomach was sucked in, the way that the tiny hairs that line us all would catch across the very tip of my tongue, was now split open like ribbons coloured peach and red on opposite sides, twirling through fingers spreading and sprawling out into the air, branches refusing to neither bend nor break.
Her face all but empty, features rested. The eyes I used to feel looking upon me when they thought I could not see were now staring into the nothing beyond. Such stillness could be found in that face, even then, and even before, even as the mouth beneath spewed insults and grand statements, aggression and disgust, judgment and frustration coming from all the skin surrounding.
There were machines making the sounds of vacuum cleaners recorded and looped over themselves, sucking and pulsing and whirring things, saws and metal, flesh and snapping filling my ears. It was an industrial symphony of carnage, and as my face gazed through the open door, eyes wide with curiosity, not seeing my own reflection but knowing that it must have been one full of wonder, nurses were flung across the room. Blood sprayed and shed across the walls as though red ink pens had exploded. Surgeons entered, then ran, and as they ran they fell, and as they fell it became too late. Their feet scrambled to find friction to stand before being lifted in directions they were never made to go.
I watched as her perfect baby began to crawl, and then, standing on its legs – all of them, so many of them – began to walk.
I knew that her new husband had not been the one who put it inside of her. I knew that it had been growing long before she left and had grown long after. I knew that this was ours, in our own way, the thing she took from me and the thing I left her with. The ways we haunt each other, the ways we haunt ourselves, the things passed through shaking hands.
As the sun shone my eyes began to sting, tears forming. This twisted thing trying to find its space. I moved out of the way, back against the wall, hand over my mouth as it came through the doorway, gripping the arch as it swung itself out and into the hall. Its eyes, all of them, met mine and for something so new to life, it looked very tired.
When it blinked away its gaze there were tears streaming down the surface of its skin like rain across the hood of a car. Life was neither a choice, nor a promise for it, just an imposition. What was it to do with a father who would not, and a mother who could not, raise it?
It came towards me and its mouth opened wide. I was pressed against the wall, that bright sun shining in my eyes. I could see it in silhouette and then, as it blocked out the light, as my eyes adjusted, I could see it clearly. Black teeth shone and glinted, the tongue ash-grey kept tight behind them.
Clawed hands grabbed me. I let them, knowing that whatever it wanted, it deserved, that whatever it took belonged to it now. Razor-sharp scissors slit across my skin and began to peel it off, hands separating like gloves, face sliding off like a party mask with the elastic string snipped. My hair was tossed aside like a wig, discarded, not needed, this stage production reaching its conclusion. My character had been written out of the third act; costume hung up to be sold at auction or burnt away.
My eyes could no longer shut and I was finally forced to see: the blood smeared across the floor like dirty mop marks, the child in front of me, inches away, mouth still wide, the last of my skin like a diver’s suit held in shaking arms before falling to the tile below, a plopping sound. Its breath was hot, so hot, comforting.
It cast a shadow over me, my red arms dripping across the ground, tears streaming down my exposed teeth. I felt no pain. It was simply reality. All the air and dust and tiny fragments of things once standing now floating in the soft breeze of passing feet and swaying arms were no longer kept hidden from me. This skin had been my shield; this skin had been my shroud. I could no longer hide. I wouldn’t have to anymore.
When I looked at our child then I knew it was mine to hold. My arms wrapped around its neck. There was toxin and poison in the streams of DNA, that unspooled would look like coded yarn unending, collected and assembled into this sad, monstrous thing, It breathed faster, faster, faster still, then calmed, a great stillness moving through its form. It spoke no words and not for lack of language, but because there were some things words could not describe. Something deeper than sound and more truthful than noise was felt between us. I knew it would be fine in this world.
Out in the waiting room, relatives stood, all smiles. Bouquets of fresh-cut flowers and giant teddy bears, floating balloons attached by string to wrists. It walked towards them, and when they did nothing, I could feel it sigh as though its lungs were my own, and as it stretched its jaw again, I felt an ache within my teeth, down to the root of the molars, across the flesh that recedes in smiles.
Once it was all over, all that was left was the trail of blood flowing through the hall, the stains on my clothes and the constant, relentless sunlight painting the scene with its too-bright brushstrokes of light.
I stood in the room again, and looked over Lenora. I ran a hand across her face and my lips touched her forehead one last time. I knew that if one of us had died, the other must be consumed. So I went back to that house, and I sat, and I waited, because all children must, eventually, come home.
Josh Sczykutowicz is a young author from central Florida who’s probably drinking too much coffee. He has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, ExFic and Polychrome Ink, among others. You can Like him on Facebook and follow him on twitter @jsczykutowicz1 and tumblr at http://joshsczykutowicz.tumblr.com/.
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