Five Blessings

by dschapman

In my life I’ve been blessed with five children…

The first one was a surprise. It was boneless and meatless, a puggish fold of molten skin, and it sickened me. I threw it on the ground in disgust; it puddled up, gurgling little gusps of flatulence, and it mistook me for its mother. It was almost cute; I tried to love it; but it smelled like rank cabbage, it spread across the floor like sewage… Within a few days, having accidentally left it lying in the sun, it shrivelled up into a husk, and a feral dog found it, lapping it up. That was the last I’ve ever seen of it.

The next baby was even less fortunate than the first, dissolving within minutes of birth. I held it in my hands and named it Charlemagne; it was perfect, full-bodied, happy, real. Moments later it sifted between my fingers like ash and left them feeling very, very dry. It left behind a cloud of skin and dust and I inhaled it, and I sneezed. I washed the residue from my hands and searched the ground for any trace of my child – but I could find nothing.

The third and fourth children were Congolese twins, and they came tightly wrapped in soft, white cocoons. I left them hanging like chrysali under my dining room table where I could admire them from a distance, but at dinner time they would swing against my legs while I ate and I would quickly lose my appetite. People began to notice them and they would make underhanded remarks about me and my progeny over cocktails, they would look at me sideways, they would threaten to call the exterminator. The situation grew… weird. I moved my children to my writing desk, out of public view. Now and then spiders make intricate webs in between them and gnaw on the silky cocoons when nobody is looking. Sometimes in my less proud moments I imagine peeling back the cocoons, layer by layer with my finger and thumbnail, and spoon-feeding the innards to my cat for a treat after dinner; but I do not do it, because I am secretly terrified of what I may find deep inside them..

The last one, the youngest, was born no bigger than a fruit bat, with skeletal limbs; I held it, after birth, in the palm of one hand, and it stared at me. Its arms are too long and too thin and they swivel lifelessly, uselessly, before its sunken chest, and it startles me, it gives me bad dreams. It sleeps and eats like any normal baby would but it remains dead silent, and its eyes never close; it stares at me. His limbs were too grotesque for my sense of decency so I locked him in my closet, where he sits with vacant eyes and says nothing, dead silent. Sometimes, just when I have managed to forget about it, to forget about all of them, when I am pacing in meditative reflection about the room, when the windows are growing dim around the sill, just before dawn in the umbra of morning, or late at night when I’m growing worried, feeling paranoid, when I’m leaning motionless against my piano and catching my breath, when the canary in her gilded cage is bristling – at times like this the closet door will creak open, and I will see my child, huddled there, shivering, with its arms stretching limply at its sides, swinging emptily left and right; and just before I slam the door shut in fright I’ll hear the little creature say, “Come hither, love – come here.”