The penumbral shadow, so subtle as to appear a smudge on the telescope lens, casts its sackcloth texture over the celestial pie plate tonight. A phantom possessing the silver sea appears over the boy’s birth, and what a bloody birth it is.
January 31st, 1999. 4:23 in the morning, Covenant General Hospital.
A doctor and two nurses busy at work. The smell of desperation hangs in the air, an observant spectre. There’s a strange discordant hum, two pitches growling in opposition to one another, and the doctor nearly sticks her finger in one ear to unplug the illusory obstruction but remembers the blood coating her gloves.
Screams like the ones heard in the hollows and dens of 16th century covens, cries of the tortured and the damned. The mother. How she screams.
This is not her first delivery. So why do coals descend from womb to world like the forked tongues of hell delivered to earth through the machine pulse of uterine contractions?
The nurses tell her to breathe. The doctor wipes her forehead with an arm, scans the digital read outs, eyes the sorry shape of the ruin within the patient. Mother won’t die - modern medicine will make sure of that - but she won’t have another child again. Nothing short of unconsciousness will hide mother from the excruciating ordeal, but she’s lucid, more or less, for every inch of the natural disaster. The father is standing there, but he’s silent save the incoherent whispers of encouragement or curses trailing from his hairy maw.
They tell her to breathe, just breathe. Might as well tell the stars to fall, command the particles and planets to stop streaking tears of dust through the void. They tell her to push, just push. Tell time to retract into itself like the oyster closing its exposed jaws against a cold and brackish world of madness.
The mother already knows the nearly born boy will do what he wants to. Arrive when he aims to. Inflict pain however he can. The unending tide of contractions and agony spell this lesson in blood.
A geiser of fluid coincides with the cry, tendrils of steam dying in the cool air. A prune’s face, an old decaying face, a face scarred over with the etchings of innumerable primordial generations. The neonate, an old man the day he’s born. Mummified features caulked in organic embalming fluids. Head already cradled in a nurse’s blanket, halfway born into a cerement sheet. Then there appears two grasping hands, waving about like the tentacles of some deep sea invertebrate fending off predators from every angle. Mother and son, one unsustainable creature lying supine in a contradictory inversion of itself. Both cry one cry, chimeric in its hallucinatory interpretation of biology. One or the other must separate, or both must die a nightmare’s death. For the first time since training to obtain her medical license, the doctor is overcome with nausea, and she can’t fathom why - other than a vague sense of witnessing something both everyday and horrifyingly surreal.
At last, torso, legs. Nothing but a stretch of flesh hemp tethering the two entities to one another. And soon enough, that too will be ripped away as the father steps forward and takes the scissors from the doctor. The father inserts himself into the ritual, though his participation is optional. His penis was there at the beginning; he’s here at the end. That’s about as much as one can expect of a father.
The nurse hands babe to mom.
One breathless word, “Boy.”
The placenta dribbles out without fanfare, an ejected canister that falls to the floor like the crumpled receipt to a dud transaction. No one expects it to appear so quickly, so no one, not even the mother lost in the half-dream of semi-consciousness, notices.
As the father walks to the bedside, his shoe slips on the lump of discolored flesh on the floor, and he careens forward. The scissors plunge straight for the baby in a two pronged descent.
Dad twists the blades away and barely manages to miss mom and baby, save for a nick on the infant’s left arm. The baby freezes at this stimulus - pain outside the womb is so fresh and stark - then roars anew as a thin streak of crimson, moreso mother’s blood than his own, appears across his pink skin. Nurses scramble to grab the scissors embedded in the pillow beside mother’s ear like the sword in the stone, attend to the baby’s wound, kick the protesting father out of the room. Baby and mom are inconsolable.
The doctor collapses into a chair in the corner, lights a cigarette and expels the sickly-sweet fumes with a “holy shit.”
The six-year-old brother is brought to the hospital and shown the newborn later that morning after the panic subsides.
The bite-sized raisin-faced infant is handed off to his brother. The brother smiles down at the swaddled and silent prune and chirps something akin to “hey there.” The love in the brother’s heart goes largely unnoticed by the baby, but his parents smile at the warm display. Mom is in bed; dad stands slightly apart. Though the baby’s tenderly bandaged arm is hidden beneath the blankets, the fuck up is still fresh in the air.
“What’s his name?” big brother asks.
“What do you think?” mom asks.
Big brother shrugs.
But dad’s dark and cavernous eyes urge an answer, any answer, so big brother says the first word that comes to mind, “Bub.”
Bub snaps awake from his neonate nightmare and screams. His brother can see the twin sets of natal fangs gaping up at him, raw and half-developed stalagmite-stalactites embedded in the maw like moist photographs hung to dry in a red room. A full set of chompers.
Big brother feels as though he’s gazing down the throat of a screeching baby bird or, more accurately, the hollow pit of a puppet’s rubber intestines. Suddenly love intertwines with syrupy nausea in his chest and refuses to come undone.