This is one of my earlier short stories. I’ve been revisiting some and would like some feedback. Construsctive criticism is always welcome.
The damn thing wouldn’t stop screaming. No matter what she tried, rocking it, feeding it, changing it, even a song here and there—nothing. He wailed with an unwavering precision, accosting her mental stability. She could literally feel the hairs on her head giving way and fading to a sickly gray. Like bruises from domestic abuse, she developed purple bags the size of pennies beneath her dead, drooping eyes. Her son continued to whittle away at her once prominently displayed beauty. She used to revel in her looks, dressing in revealing tops and tight pants. Nothing slutty, no, that would contradict all that she had learned and preached since middle school. But revealing, there was some class to a woman who knew exactly what she had.
Perhaps some of this confidence was what had attracted her husband. More likely, it was her looks. Their relationship had been a physical one from the start. If she was being completely honest with herself, they would not have lasted all that long without the baby. It was her son that salvaged the relationship. No, not salvaged, but strengthened! After her husband found out about the baby, he was ecstatic, completely the opposite reaction she had been expecting.
She had already resolutely promised herself that with or without him, she would raise this baby. She would drop out of school, or perhaps just take a break for a year or two, and care for her son on her own. Yes, the baby would grow inside her, slowly at first because anything precious required time and patience and hard work—and an unbendable will. All of these she had and was completely willing to give up everything else, or at least put it all on hold, while she raised her son. But he had loved the idea of being a father. He had squealed with excitement, so contrary to the usual masculine façade he used around his roommates. He kissed her tenderly and told her he loved her. Then sliding down to her belly, he kissed his future son’s imaginary head and whispered words of love and encouragement. There in his embrace, she felt safe in his arms, her head resting against his chest, listening to the rapid beating of his heart.
However, she could not help but feel skeptical. After all, he was just the father. His entire contribution thus far was really only one brief moment and then poof! He was a father. It was her, the mother who would balloon up to twice her size, who would pee fifty times a day and feel like singing one moment only to despise music the next. She was the one who would grow along with her son, feel him kicking affectionately within her, caressing her womb with a tenderness only her son could give her. And yet he acted as though he loved his son! Nonsense, he loved the idea of his son.
So she stayed wary, guarding herself from his tenderness and his perfection. But over the next few weeks, with an attentive hand and an unwillingness to fight with her on any point at all, she slowly began to trust him. He was the perfect boyfriend, and she, the mother of his child, could do no wrong. When she told him to drop out of school to get two jobs he did so without hesitation. When she demanded that he move in with her in order to take better care of the baby, he did so that week. Even when she brought up the fact that she did not want to have a baby out of wedlock, he proposed the following week. He took her to the school water fountain, tall Elm trees towering over her like guardians. Christmas lights spiraled up their trunks, creating a glow that gave the courtyard an exquisiteness few girls could ever claim to have on the night of their proposals. And when she stared into his eyes, shimmering and slightly wet with tears, she could not help but feel that this was her love story; that her life had reached that penultimate moment before everything fell into place and pure, uninhibited happiness was guaranteed.
Their wedding was small and informal, nothing compared to the night he proposed. But she was among her closest friends from college. Her parents came too. They were disappointed, miserable even, that their baby girl was pregnant at 20 and dropping out of school. They told her to leave him, to come home. They were convinced he would leave her with nothing, or at the very least mistreat her. But it was a ludicrous thing to imagine. He was nothing but the perfect angel, a Romeo that would give anything and everything to be with his Juliet. They belonged together, belonged to each other in a way that no other couple had ever belonged to one another. Every free moment he had, precious few they were, he spent with her. Between his jobs all he wanted to do was spend time with her. They spent time on campus, basking in the sun while students launched Frisbees above their heads.
Every moment with him was a happy one. She giggled so often her face would twitch with pain at the end of the day. Too much smiling could never be a bad thing though. How could it? And in the bedroom, while at first they had made love passionately, they grew warm and tender with each other as she grew bigger. With less energy and her due date approaching, his caresses became more intimate than mere sexual urges. They had transcended desire and were satisfied entirely with one another. She was more in love than she thought possible.
While her relationship with her husband could be retold as a fairytale, her relationship with her son was nothing like she had imagined. The baby was not caressing her in any sense of the word. Attack, sabotage, infuriate, these words better described their relationship. At all hours, even during—no—especially during the night her baby would beat his underdeveloped fist against the inside of her stomach. She felt like she had somehow eaten a small human being who was terrified and desperately needed to escape. When he was not pounding against her insides, she could feel his squirming and shuddering, never just sleeping.
Lying still was impossible. If she sat for any amount of time the baby within her would rouse and begin his rebellion. She often found herself pacing within the confines of their small apartment. When her husband was there, which only happened for a few hours during the week, he would massage her belly and whisper quietly to his son until the unborn child mellowed and eventually subsided completely. They would lie together, his arms reaching around her to gently massage her belly and everything was right. More often than not, she found herself alone with a baby that demanded an early release. If she tried to massage her own belly or whisper to it, maybe even sing, the baby would only grow more restless. I am your mother she thought. You should respond to me, be calmed by me! Not him! Why him? Instead of calming her child, she kept moving as often as possible. While walking, the baby seemed to be comforted, the back and forth of her belly along with the cadence of her legs switching front to back put the little monster in a trance. But take a break for even a minute and her son would rouse from his stupor only to torment her with even more vigor than before.
She reached a point, about halfway through her pregnancy, where she could no longer take it. The monster squirming within her clawed and ravaged but she was powerless to comply with its wishes. I can’t let you out! Yet how badly she wanted to. Doctors had no suggestions for her except to continue what she was doing. Her child was smaller than normal, almost dangerously so—drugs were not an option. She could do nothing but walk all day and pace around her kitchen all night until her husband finally arrived to relieve her. But he was gone before she woke up every morning and was on her own once again. This went on for the rest of her pregnancy, with little to no mother-son bonding being formed. Instead, she began to loathe the creature within her. She would sethe angry hisses at it when she was alone, whispering curses and demands that were never followed.
It will all be different once you’re born, she told herself. To hate him now was fine, what did he need her for except to nurture him in her womb. She had no choice in that matter, really, so to hate him now was perfectly acceptable. Instead of her son gently coming into being within her, she thought of herself bearing a magnificent burden that likened her to great martyrs and heroines throughout history. By keeping it a game, she did not need to concern herself with the rueful way her son treated her insides.
The due date finally arrived, though it came and went slowly; time painstakingly passing. And with each hour, she became more and more distraught. You beg to be let out and now this? She could not fathom having to retain her demon child for another day. Yet it happened. Again. And again. And again. On the fourth night after her due date, she cried into her husband’s shoulder, babbling incoherently. She spewed all her hate and at her unborn child for being so difficult and all her shame at not being able to deal with her son the way he could. She could not tell if he understood her. He just rubbed her back and whispered here and there how strong she was and how everything would be alright. At first, it had only made her cry more. He isn’t listening! But the longer she cried the better she felt. Soon she stopped her sobbing and focused on her husband’s hand. It felt good, the small tickle of his fingers, the warmth from his chest reminding her that she had someone. He was there.
By all rights, she should be in the room she grew up in as a child, crying her eyes out because her baby was evil, overdue, and she was alone. Instead, she lay with the man she loved and savored his touch. Her husband began to massage her belly with his other hand. To her amazement, his son responded, softly pushing against his father’s hand through her belly. She started crying again, this time because she was happy. Goddam these mood swings. She was in bed with her husband and her son. Why should anything else matter? How could she feel anything but pure and wholesome joy?
Childbirth was worse than anything she could have ever imagined. She remained in labor for nearly two days. Drugs helped at first but soon began to lose their potency. The pain, and God, how much pain, was all worth it. The clenching in her stomach, the tearing, sweating, bleeding, and screaming were all worth it. She held her son for the first time and cried, tears and sweat dripping down her scorching hot skin. She was surprised the water did not steam off of her body she felt so hot. But everything was better when her son wailed in her arms. His plump, squishy arms reaching towards her, she let him grip her index finger. He’s so tiny! Her husband beamed a child-like smile that she would never forget. Of all the great memories between them, the marriage, the proposal, nothing came close to recreating a smile so genuine—so complete.
Her husband still smiled like that every time he came home from work. A quick peck on the cheek and he was off to the nursery to watch his son sleep. And of course, that was the only time her son did sleep. He would wail and wail at the top of his miniature lungs for hours on end. Only in the last half hour before her husband came home did her son finally shut up. She could go nowhere, see no one, do nothing unless it had to do with her little creature. She still called him that too. At first, she had been resistant. It was her son after all. But no, she finally resigned herself to call him what he was. If it made her feel better then why the hell not? Surely as her creature grew older he would also grow easier to handle, easier to love.
But that was not true because she already loved him more than she had ever loved anything or anyone else. Perhaps it was this, her absolute and undeniable love for her son that allowed her to hate the little creature as much as she did. She would do anything for him, give up anything, endure anything, live any life as long as her son was happy. Still, he was horrible to her and she had never been adept at forgiving promptly.
She thought happiness was supposed to continue on forever, like a line disappearing into the distance. Instead, it came to a halt. Her loving, attentive, and infatuated husband was now distant. He still worked his two jobs, but it was obvious that fatigue was setting in. That must be it, she thought. How could one go from love to indifference almost overnight? They hardly talked anymore let alone have sex. And the less attention he paid to her, the more he paid to the baby. They had named him Jacob and his father could not get enough of the little saint. At least, he was a saint around his father. Perhaps she was crazy, she had to be wrong, but she could have sworn she had never seen her little creature cry in front of his father. Yes, there was the day he was born, but other than that…
Loneliness crept on her. She was so busy with her creature that she hardly had time to notice she had not spoken to anyone other than her husband in weeks. Sure, she had a car now, but where would she go with a baby. All of her friends were doing college activities, either studying or drinking. A baby would not be appropriate in either case. She had not made any new friends either. It was hard to meet people when her creature took up 99% of her day. Instead of sulking or crying like she would have done before her creature, she called her mother.
It was her mother who first planted the seeds of suspicion. Everything her mother warned of turned out to be true. He began coming home later and later, always with an excuse that made sense. After all, his night job as a custodian did not necessarily end at the same time. It was over when he finished his work. He began to smell of perfume. But that was simply his boss; she wore a disgusting amount of perfume, enough to nauseate him whenever she entered a room. He had been complaining about that since he had first taken the job. He had an excuse for everything—that was something her mother had predicted too.
Perhaps it was her loneliness or her lack of sleep or her know-it-all-mother but she began to suspect the man she loved. The man she loved would never hurt her, hadn’t he made that clear. Hadn’t he given up everything, everything! Everything from his old life was gone now, except her. He never saw his college roommates anymore, never hung out or went to parties. He had two different, much more demanding jobs. In fact, the only thing that remained of his old life was her. I am still here with him, the thought made her grin.
Then again, what if this was resentment. Yes, the man she loved now had a family, but would that be something he loved her for or something he hated her for? At first, it seemed that his wildest dreams had been coming true. He was so happy when she told him about their little creature. Wait, no, her little creature. To the man she loved, his name was Jacob. But what if he had grown to resent her for changing his life so drastically. After all, she was miserable, so why wouldn’t he be? And all of a sudden the image of him with another woman accosted her. Their bodies intertwined, sweaty, passionate expressions on both their faces. She almost threw up.
Who is she? What does she look like? Where did they meet? Thousands of questions spun through her head. Rage began to build up inside. She felt like a bomb, waiting to unleash shards of red-hot hate and vitriol at the man she loved. No. She had to remind herself that no, he was not cheating on her; he loved her. She had no proof, no reason to suspect her husband. Except her mother said that would be the case. She had said that the man she loved would have excuses for everything. Any confrontation on her part would lead to a fight where she was clearly in the wrong. The man she loved had given her all of himself in every single way possible. And this is how you repay me?
No, it was impossible, completely insane of her to suspect the man she loved of any wrongdoing. But the suspicion remained. And when he returned home late, full of explanations, she would smile her pretty, innocent smile, cock her head to the side and say: “Okay sweetie.” She did not believe him.
It took her weeks to build up the courage to track his phone. It wasn’t hard at all; she simply installed an app while he was asleep, a trick she had learned in high school from a friend who liked to keep tabs on her mother. Her husband left that morning, his eyes were blank with no discernable emotion, no passion, lust, excitement, courage, fear, anxiety, hate, loathing—anything! What she would have given to be able to read the love of her life like she used to. Anything he was feeling she would feel as well, almost through reflex rather than conscious effort. Now, now there was nothing.
Her husband had become a void she could no longer see through. And she needed to see again.
Her phone told her that he was at work for most of the day. He moved very little until he had to drive across town to begin his second job. All day she returned to her phone, staring at a blinking dot on her screen that never moved, dazing in and out of her real life. More than a few times, her creature’s shrieks snapped her back to reality. I must be going insane, she would think to herself after realizing an hour had passed where she had not looked up from her screen. The longer the day went by, the more relaxed she began to feel. With less time for him to break his vows, she began to feel bubbly and excited. Her creature hardly bothered her at all. In fact, his mood seemed to lighten as well. Perhaps he was responding to her, feeling what she was feeling. Do we have that type of bond? she wondered to herself.
Just as she was about to delete the app off her phone, her dot moved. Her husband was not supposed to be off work until at least 11:30. It was 10:00. She felt all the blood in her head suddenly rush to her stomach and sit like a molten ball threatening to make her sick. As if on cue, her creature began to scream. There was still some hope that he was simply coming home. Although it had never happened, she reasoned that there were plenty of reasons why he would want to come home early. Almost as soon as she finished calming herself, her dot missed the turn for their street. The dot kept traveling north for a couple of miles before resting finally in a neighborhood not two miles away.
She thought she’d feel terrible, but this was nothing at all. She continued to stare at her dot, wondering whose house it stopped at. She snapped from her stupor and began racing about the house, gathering supplies for her drive. Her creature would need to come so most of what she gathered was for him. With her son’s car seat in one hand and her phone in the other, she left to find the love of her life.
It took her no time at all to reach the house where her dot was blinking. It was a small, tidy looking home with lovely salmon colored curtains and smoke rising from the chimney. She kept her eyes on all the windows, hoping to see anyone but some ditsy whore who could be her husband’s mistress. Let it be an old woman who lives here, or a coworker who lives with his mom, she thought to herself. Her creature was still in the backseat. From her rearview mirror, it almost appeared that he was keeping as close a watch on the house as she was.
Her baby twitched as a shape crossed by the living room window. She whirled her head towards the movement. It was a man, a man wearing her husband’s uniform. She felt the tears struggling to swim free as she struggled to keep them at bay. I already knew he was here, she reminded herself. Now was not the time to lose it, she still needed to see whom he was with. As if she had been waiting for this precise moment, a ditsy whore came into view.
A ditsy, blonde, skinny, beautiful whore wrapped her disgustingly graceful arms around the man in uniform. The whore’s smile, complete and honest, reminded her a lot of how she used to smile, back when the man she loved used to love her too. The couple began to kiss, the whore running her fingers through her lover’s hair.
This isn’t supposed to happen, she thought to herself. She was married to a wonderful, handsome, loving husband, and they had a child together. This was supposed to be her happy ending. Her life was supposed to continue on forever with joy and family, watching her creature grow into her son. They were supposed to do that together, watch Jacob grow up into a man that would both make them so proud to have such blessing come from their relationship.
No. She began crying. Slowly, like the rain sliding down her car window, the tears trickled down her face. She began to sweat; it was nauseatingly hot in the car. Her son was crying in the back seat, alarmed at how distressed his mother had suddenly become. Without thinking, she got out of the car and retrieved her son from the back seat. Holding him in her arms, they cried with each other. Her son was wailing now, loud enough to be heard from inside the house. Neighbors poked their heads out from behind their doors to see what was making such an awful wailing noise. They saw a mother and her son, holding one another. She moved to the inside of the car, hoping that would muffle her son’s tantrum while still trying to suppress her own emotions.
Her husband came outside. He was walking towards the car. Was that embarrassment on his face? No, it was anger. He was upset with her.
“How did you find me?” he asked. She could not respond, the tears were choking her. He opened the car door. “Give him to me,” he said, “he’s upset.” He reached for his son, the sweat of his mistress still fresh on his skin. Jacob shrieked when his father reached for him.
He clung tighter to his mother, crying into her breast. His wails subsided to whimpers.