by Rachel Watts
CW: child birth
It creeps inside her. It flutters. It is small but she feels it growing stronger. Daphne swallows down her feelings. But you can’t run from the thing that is inside you. She feels sick. She wants to vomit it up. She was told she would grow, that she would learn how to love from it, but she is repulsed. She accepts beaming smiles from people who know her. Confused, she clings to their approval.
It is big now. It shows clearly through her skin, a bulge that sometimes shows the angular protrusions of its body. It is heavy. The thing has gorged itself on her, has eaten her heart and spleen, it crushes her bladder and carves a niche into her spine. Strangers in the street smile at her, glancing at the hideous shape of the thing in her abdomen. It is a special smile; part patronising, part sorrowful. She wants to scream. But she knows somehow, from those sad smiles of strangers, that to scream would be wrong. They will not help her. No-one will.
It is cut out of her, in the end. She is carved open, on a table with a sheet screening her eyes from the open cavity that is her body. Daphne feels the movement around her, inside her, the physicality of the creature being wrenched free. She sees it for the first time, the thing that grew within her. It is slimy and writhes like the alien creature she knew it was. Skin a murky grey colour, head misshapen, eyes just tiny slits. But when it howls it grows pink.
She is lighter without the creature. But the thing is in the room with her. She can see it in its perspex box. She watches it with narrowed eyes, lying in her bed, hands gripping sheets in tight fists under her chin. She feels it watches her too. She is afraid of it. The tiny thing that has already hollowed her out.
A woman comes in and fusses over it. Eventually she places it in Daphne’s unwilling arms, smiling that false, patronising smile. She is sad, Daphne senses. Sad for the creature or sad for Daphne, she cannot tell. She talks about feeding it. She strips the blankets back, exposes her, the fluorescent lights bleach her skin. The creature latches on. Draws more from her. How could it need so much?
She takes it home with her, the parasite. People she knows visit, offer smiling praise. But when they leave she is alone with it. When it screams it is a violent thing, reddening to purple, fists clenched, entire body stiff with rage. She is scared of the aggression, so huge the creature cannot contain it.
The creature stops her from sleeping. It waits for her to nod off and then wails, a sharp demanding scream that pierces her scattered dreams. Soon, exhausted, she starts to dream when awake. Her mind escapes from the reality of the creature, latched on to her chest, sucking the energy out of her with an insistence that might kill her. Her waking dreams are short and vivid. In them she loses the creature while out in public, swaddled blankets suddenly empty in her arms. Sometimes the creature gets up and walks away, out the door, menacing eyes fixed on her as its head rotates on a tiny boneless neck. In one dream she destroys it. It would be so easy.
She has strict instructions to care for it. She feeds it every day. In time it no longer scares her. She has tamed the creature. It is light, but grows heavy in her arms over time. So she puts it down, on its back the way she was told. She watches it carefully.
The dream returns with insistence. In it the weight of the thing becomes intolerable then disappears. She feels light. She looks down at the thing in her arms, the creature that grew parasitic inside her, bony limbs showing through her stretched out skin. She could do it. But she mustn’t. But perhaps she will. She feels sick again.
The sun casts long shadows in the school car park, ornamental trees reach across manicured lawn in sinister arcs. Daphne is waiting. Her phone buzzes periodically; she always shares a bright smile with the parents who walk past the idling car. The after school traffic is dense and rhythmic, moving in waves.
Eventually, from around the corner, the swing of a guitar case, a familiar turn of brunette bobbed head. Her girl, Daphne’s little creature. A miracle of survival, even now. How they made it through Daphne still doesn’t know.
She flicks the boot release key for the girl to deposit her burdens of the day. She always makes sure the air conditioning is on high after school. The girls’ uniforms are so hot, their days so long. She lets the girl rest in the passenger seat, only making the most cursory conversation. She is tired, Daphne can tell. Every afternoon she seeks peace behind her phone screen in the car, only emerging from her solitude in the driveway at home. Then Daphne reaches out across the gulf between them. Growing ever larger, the gap between her and the creature she grew from her very marrow, her child growing ever more distant.
“There’s some fresh scones for afternoon tea,” Daphne says. “I thought you might like that.”
Rachel Watts is a writer from Perth, Western Australia. She reviews books and writes commentary at www.leatherboundpounds.com.