Camilla had been trying to get the baby to eat since she pulled it from the ground.
She’d been digging up worms for Daddy’s next fishing trip when she found it, its littlest stub stuck up glistening and sticky between two rocks. When Camilla unearthed it, she saw that it was deceptively starfish-shaped, flabby arms of unequal sizes around a fat middle. In the center of the baby’s largest spike was a dimple, edges creased around a lippy hole that could have been made by a pin. It had a substantial warmth, though its skin was hairless and rubbery. It did not have eyes. When lifted, it squelched.
Camilla had brought it and the bucket inside, walked past the padlocked fridge, and took a sluggish earthworm up to her room. Daddy wouldn’t miss just one: There was enough bait to catch larger bait and smaller fish; the bucket was nearly full. Camilla had probably earned her dinner.
Crushing the worm between her fingernails, she tried to push its mush into the baby’s mouth, finger tracing encouraging circles around the recession until it opened. The paste stayed smeared in place.
After the worm failed, she’d tried bugs scraped from the flypaper, tears she forced to come through, her own fingernail clippings, lint, and toothpaste, remembering how many times she’d stood in the bathroom and stared at the Crest tube to make sure she’d rolled it to Daddy’s satisfaction, begging its contents to be ice cream, begging milk to mistakenly replace fluoride in the formula just this once. Fat girls like Camilla had no control, so there was no room for ice cream in the freezer, even locked. Daddy kept it stocked with vodka and grocery-brand cauliflower.
She tried feeding from her breast, holding it against her newly-defined sternum under her rolled-up bra. She was back in juniors’ sizes. A brief burn from the mint woke her skin.
Nothing came. The mouth-dimple latched around her and pinched; something inside it pierced the skin. Tongue flush against her throat, Camilla ripped the baby from her tender breast to avoid hurting it.
If milk wouldn’t work, then maybe blood would do. Camilla ran her finger through the rivulet of blood squeezed from her nipple instead of milk. Stupid, she thought. This wasn’t really her baby, so she couldn’t feed it with love. The blood from her nipple was thin; carmine dripped from her finger into the baby’s mouth as if from an eyedropper.
The baby did not move on its own, but for the first time, Camilla heard it cry, just audible above the sympathetic gurgles of her own stomach.
“I know how you feel,” she said, pulling her shirt down again. Blood pooled in her armpit, and when she licked her finger clean, it tasted good.
She’d tried everything. The baby’s song ascended and chafed against the stucco ceiling. Helpless, Camilla began to lullaby it in her nested arms, rocking its limpness from side to side. Its little mouth produced a monster of a sound that frustrated her because she could not love it quiet.
She squeezed the baby until its song was blubbering out. Squeezed harder, wondering if the baby was explosive, a flamethrower, if she could squeeze fire or acid from its body and melt the padlock on the fridge, the chain that bound her bedroom door closed every night, Daddy’s face. The old truck sat rusting in the front yard. She knew how to siphon gasoline from trying once, trying to get enough gas to start a big fire. The first suck of petrol had been so candy-sweet, Camilla had thought she might drink it all. Then the chemical sear set in and she vomited all the evidence needed to ground her that night. Feed the baby gas, and she could start that fire.
She didn’t have the chance. The baby was still crying when Daddy came home. It kept farting melodies even as the weakest board in the living room floor creaked. Daddy walked up to the bathroom; Camilla remembered it hadn’t been cleaned. Her arms were full of contraband. It was going to get her into trouble.
Her baby, her trouble.
She thought these things simultaneously and then stopped thinking: She threw her baby out the window to save it.
It sailed out and hit the hard autumn ground by the truck. Camilla looked down at the mush that remained on the grass; she could see its mouth still intact and motionless.
Camilla followed it down while Daddy was still pissing in the bathroom. She grabbed onto the trellis that he hadn’t taken down; she wasn’t strong enough to climb out, but she did it. Her shins shrieked and turned to wobbly attachments; she slipped to her knees by the carnage. With a mother’s tenderness, she reached out to the pulsating mess and touched it, cooing in sympathy.
What came from the baby was not mashed potatoes, but looked enough like them, felt buttery and chive-spiced all over her fingers. The fragrant weight of the baby’s insides coated Camilla’s hand and the crevices between her fingers.
Then she licked her palm and tasted decadence, licked it clean, grabbed another handful. Finally, she slammed her face into what remained of her potato baby and sucked it away until only skin and a peaceful mouth were left behind.
Camilla crawled behind the truck, slurping creamy guts from her teeth. Crawled one-handed, sucking in that sweetness until both bloated and hungry. Her jeans sagged at her hips and slid slowly down her waist as she ambled away from her house. Howling with atonal laughter, Camilla loped down the property to the field where she’d harvested worms for her father.
In the field, they were coming to life. They were all protruding slowly. A crop of rubbery, singing sacks ballooned from the torn-up field, waiting to feed her.
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