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Stupid Baby

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Stupid Baby

by Marlene Leach

It lay there, fat and sluglike. It’s skin was flushed red and overheated. The arms and legs were nothing but cylindrical rolls of fat with no defining muscle or shape. Its face was twisted now, screaming with mindless fury, the mouth open in a wet gaping red maw.

Louise’s father nudged her with an elbow. She glanced up at his cheerful face.

“What do you think of your little sister?”

He stared at the baby proudly. Louise looked at him, then back at the baby, and frowned, considering her answer. She had a thin serious face, brown hair cut in a page boy, and horn rimmed glasses.

“I think we ought to take it to the river and drown it,” she said finally.

“Louise!”

She ignored his shock, staring at the baby. She scratched her nose and held out a hand to her father.

“I’m hungry. Give me a dollar for the vending machine.”

He gave her the dollar and she walked away.

#

“It’s not normal.”

“Of course it’s normal. Good grief, it would be abnormal if she didn’t feel some jealously.”

Marie sighed and went and lay down on the bed. Home at last. If she didn’t move for the next hundred years, that would be just fine.

John had begun unpacking her clothes, still pacing around with nervous energy.

“It doesn’t seem like jealousy,” he insisted. “Anyway, she’s too cold about it.”

Marie closed her eyes, placing her hands on her belly. It was going to take at least six months to get rid of this excess weight. Maybe more. She debated the pros and cons of being fat and decided it wouldn’t be so bad. It wasn’t as if she had made a living out of being a fashion model or anything. Besides, once you had a child you weren’t considered fat; you were matronly.

“It’s just her way,” she said finally. “You know that. Louise is a real child not a Disney character. Good for her. Personally, clingy kids annoy me to no end. They remind me of Rhesus monkeys.”

“I’m not worried because she’s not affectionate,” John said, though privately he had worried about that. “I’m worried because she’s not just jealous of the baby: she hates the baby. With no reservations.”

“Well....” Marie rolled over on her side and curled up to get more comfortable. “She’ll get used to her. One way or the other.”

John shrugged, not knowing how to answer. The discussion seemed to be over. He glanced at his wife.

“Do you want an extra blanket?” he asked solicitously.

“No thanks, hon. Would you mind, though...sleeping in the guest room? I’m exhausted.”

“No problem.”

#

“I hate you. I hope you die. You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool me.”

Louise paused, staring at the baby. The sun had gone down earlier, but there was still enough twilight slipping in around the sides of the venetian blinds for her to be able to make out most of the baby’s features. It was awake, simply watching her with that flat strange gaze. Babies were supposed to be innocent, but there was nothing innocent in this baby’s eyes. It wasn’t necessarily evil, just...alien.

Whatever it was, Louise hated it. She wanted to put it under her shoe and crush it.

She glanced quickly towards the door to make sure neither of her parents were coming. The house was perfectly still. She and the baby were the only two creatures in existence.

She leaned over the crib, peering in, and smiled maliciously.

“I’m going to step on your head,” she whispered. “I’m going to crush your skull an’ pull out your intestines. I’m going to jump rope with them. Then I’m gonna throw you in front of a truck an’ let it run over you again and again. Then I’ll...I’ll throw you in boiling water. Then I’m going to cut you up in little pieces--”

“Louise!”

“Aaagh!”

She jumped, whirling around with a guilty expression. Her father was standing in the doorway, staring at her suspiciously.

“Spy!” she blurted before she could stop it.

“I wasn’t spying,” he said. He walked a few steps into the room. “What were you doing?”

Louise smiled. Her startled reaction had been unusual. People didn’t usually catch her by surprise. And even when they did, she recovered quickly.

And best of all...father hadn’t heard what she had been saying.

“I was tellin’ baby a story,” she said, putting her hands behind her back and teetering forward on her toes. She cocked her head to the side and smiled at the same time. She had seen Shirley Temple do it in a movie. Her mother said it made little girls look ‘winsome.’ Louise didn’t know exactly what ‘winsome’ was, but she knew it was good.

Her father didn’t smile. He frowned even more suspiciously, and walked a little closer, peering into the crib as he did.

“What story?”

“Three bears,” Louise said, sidling away from him, towards the door.

He didn’t say anything, just readjusted the baby’s blanket, still looking distracted. Louise continued moving slowly toward the door.

“Louise?”

She stopped in the doorway and looked back. Her father was still bending over the crib, adjusting the baby’s blankets, not looking at her.

“What?”

“I think it would be best if you stayed away from the baby for awhile.”

“What!”

She flushed, clenching her fists. He knew...somehow he knew what she had been up to even if he hadn’t heard her. She stared at him, hating him. He still didn’t meet her eyes. He was on the baby’s side. He hated her.

She glared at him for another moment.

“I hope you fall in front of a truck,” she said finally. “Squish your head an’ die.”

“Louise!” He glanced up finally, but she had already left.

#

She woke up early the next morning before either of her parents, the way she usually did. It had just started getting light out. Her first thoughts went to the baby, the invader. She could sense its presence in the house. It was an intruder here. This was her house, not the baby’s. It didn’t even do anything. It just lay there, making everyone else wait on it. She wondered why her mother had been stupid enough to want it.

She got up, not getting dressed and padded down to the baby’s room, wearing flannel pajamas with yellow baby rabbits on them. Baby rabbits were cute. All baby animals were. She wondered why only human babies were ugly. Maybe because they were hairless and pink like baby varmints.

The baby’s door was closed. Louise opened it, careful not to make any noise. Her parents’ room was farther down the hall, but they had the door open.

Stupid baby,” Louise whispered once she was in the room.

The blinds were open, and the early morning sun streamed in. The baby lay in its crib, staring up at the mobile hanging from the ceiling just above it. There was a wooden toy chest in the corner, full of toys the baby was still too young to use.

“Stupid baby,” Louise whispered again. She went over to the toy chest, knelt down, opened it and began rifling through it. Most of the stuff was too young for her. She was eight, and this stuff was for toddlers. There was a Teddy Bear she liked, though. She took it, shut the chest, and walked over to the crib, still holding the bear in the crook of her arm.

The baby was watching her.

“You’re a stupid baby,” Louise whispered. “And I’m takin’ your bear. What do you think of that, dumb baby?”

The baby didn’t answer, just stared at her. Louise stared at it, suddenly feeling a surge of rage. The baby was...wrong. Its rubbery fat little body; it looked like a giant ugly pink rodent.

“You’re the most ugly baby I ever seen,” Louise whispered fiercely. “I hope you die, baby.”

She leaned down suddenly and pinched the baby’s leg as hard as she could, digging her little fingernails into its skin. The baby began to scream.

Louise smirked and quickly stepped away from the crib.

A few moments later her father hurried in, still in his pajamas, his face creased from sleep, eyes bleary, hair tousled.

“What’s going on?” he asked, glancing at the baby then at Louise.

She shrugged, giving him her most wide-eyed innocent look.

“I dunno. I came in to get Teddy and the baby woke up an’ started crying.”

He looked at her; she looked back, her gaze clear and even. Her over-size pajamas made her look even smaller than she was. Without her glasses, her face looked young and guileless.

“I thought I told you to stay away from the baby,” he said carefully.

She shrugged again.

“I wasn’t near the baby. I just wanted to get Teddy.”

She was lying. He knew it, but he didn’t want to admit it even to himself. She was only eight, a little girl.

“Fine. You have Teddy. Now go back to your room.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

She hurried out. He watched her go, feeling a chill. She only called him Daddy when she was very pleased with him.

‘What was she pleased about,’ he wondered. A vague thought began forming. Did she know that he knew she was lying, and she was happy because he’d decided to accept it? He cut the thought off without pursuing it further. There was something almost too duplicitous about that.

‘She’s only eight,’ he thought again, but the thought seemed somehow inane.

He went and tucked the baby’s blanket around it protectively. It had stopped crying when Louise left.

“It’s all right, baby,” he whispered gently. “Daddy’s here. Go on back to sleep.”

The baby didn’t sleep, however, just continued staring towards the door where Louise had exited.

#

It was mid-afternoon, and John had gone to town. Marie was inside, working on the computer.

Louise lay out in the sandbox, getting her gingham dress dirty, not caring, and barefoot. The day was perfect, the weather almost too warm, but not quite.

She watched a fuzzy caterpillar crawl along the edge of the sandbox.

‘Gypsy moth,’ she recalled.

She liked insects. Her mother had a whole collection, all pinned in a box, that she’d had ever since she was a little girl. Each one had the name of the insect beneath it, written in careful black ink, with the date of capture beneath that.

Louise imagined herself as a tiny insect inquisitor. The insects were prisoners who had been executed for crimes against the state.

She giggled at the thought as she reached out, gently stroking the soft fuzz on the caterpillar’s back.

She fished around with one hand in the sandbox until she found a tiny

sharp-edged rock.

“Gypsy moth,” she whispered. “I do hereby sentence you to death for the crime of trespassing. Do you wish to appeal?”

She paused, then squeaked, ‘yes, yes!’

“Appeal denied,” she said in her regular voice. “Execution to be carried out immediately.”

She raised the rock above her head, and slammed it down, slicing the gypsy moth in half, crying in a squeaky voice as she did, ‘no, no, your honor, please! Aaagggh!’

She dropped the rock and got up, dusting herself off, and looked around the yard.

She spotted the rose bush over by the house. There were always Japanese beetles on it. She wandered over and managed to catch three, summarily executing them for destruction of public property.

Out near the streets, she found a large black ant in the road. She arrested it for the crime of jaywalking, and sentenced it to death. Subsequent appeals were denied, and swift justice followed.

After the ant’s trial, she was hungry. She wandered inside and found her mother.

“What’s for lunch?”

“Peanut butter and jelly. You’ll have to make it yourself.”

Her mother was still at the computer and didn’t look up as she answered.

Louise nodded, but didn’t leave. She lingered, leaning against the desk.

“What are you doing?”

“Studying a report on the process of evolution.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Will you play ‘Chutes and Ladders’ with me later?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She picked up a pen and began fiddling with it. “Why’d you want another baby?”

Her mother still didn’t look up from the computer.

“I didn’t. Your father did.”

Surprised, ‘oh!’ She thought for a moment.

“We could get rid of the baby, you and me, and tell father it ran away.”

“The baby’s too young to run away.”

“Oh.” Louise thought for awhile, then glanced at her mother sideways. “We could shoot the baby.”

Her mother continued reading the report.

“We don’t own a gun. Anyway you’d spend the rest of your life in jail.”

“Oh.” Louise slumped against the desk, feeling disappointed. Her mother suddenly glanced at her, quick and sharp.

“If I were going to kill a baby,” she said in a careful, deliberate voice. “I would smother it with a pillow. That way no one would ever know what had happened.”

Louise glanced at her mother with a great deal more interest.

“Really?”

Her mother nodded, eyes back on the computer screen.

“Mm-hmm. They usually say it was Sudden Infant Death syndrome, but I think a lot of those cases are smothering.”

Louise was quiet, thinking. For once, she had nothing to say. Her mother did, though.

“As a matter of fact...that’s how my little sister died. Sudden Infant Death syndrome.”

“Really?”

Louise stared at her mother, fascinated.

“Mm-hmm.”

“Were you sad?”

“Of course,” her mother said automatically.

Louise stared at her for a moment, feeling disappointed.

“Really?” she asked.

Her mother looked at her suddenly. She wore contacts, not glasses and her face was fuller, the lively intelligent planes making her prettier, but she and Louise had the same light hazel, almost golden eyes. Her mother gave one of her rare mischievous smiles which lit up her whole face.

“Not really,” she admitted. “She was a pest. And anyway,” she added logically, “we already had six kids. That was plenty.”

The two smiled at each other. Louise felt almost like a co-conspirator, though she didn’t know what they were conspiring about.

#

That night Louise dreamed of the baby. She dreamed she was sleeping and the baby crept into her room. She woke up, feeling a tug on the sheets and it was the baby, climbing onto her bed. For some reason, she couldn’t move. The baby sat on her chest. It was heavier than a baby should be, and it continued to grow heavier and heavier.

Louise tried to open her mouth, to beg it to get off her, to scream, but she couldn’t. Her chest felt as if it were being crushed. The baby watched her, and Louise could see the glint of triumph in its eyes.

She felt the dampness of its diapers through her pajama top, and knew that even that was somehow deliberate, a way for the baby to mock her.

Her ribs began to crack. Tears streamed down her face, but she could still make no sound. She couldn’t breathe, and her face was red.

Her chest collapsed, the impossibly heavy baby still perched like a Buddha. She felt the blood flowing up from her throat, choking her, but that didn’t even matter since she couldn’t breathe anyway.

It took a long time to die.

She woke up and tried to scream, but couldn’t. It was almost exactly like the dream. She stared around wildly, expecting to see the baby in the room, even climbing up onto her bed. There was no sign of it.

She breathed a little easier, still shaking. After a few minutes, she calmed down, and felt the first wave of anger.

The baby! The stupid baby. It had caused this dream. She knew it, just knew it.

“You’ll pay, you little brat. You’ll pay.”

She got out of bed, slipping on her house shoes in the dark.  That baby. That stupid baby. She heard her mother’s words in her mind: ‘If I were going to kill a baby, I would smother it with a pillow.’

She glanced at her Mickey Mouse clock with the glow-in-the-dark hands.

Two-thirty a.m.

She tiptoed down the hall, opening the baby’s door without a sound. She walked over and stared at the crib. It was too dark for her to see if the baby was awake, but she suspected that it was. Now that she thought about it, she’d never seen it sleep.

‘It will now,’ she thought angrily.

She picked up one of the throw pillows off the window sill and tiptoed over to the crib. She tried to be very quiet, afraid that the baby would begin screaming, but it didn’t.

She shoved the pillow in its face, pushing down, abruptly feeling satisfaction surge through her body.

‘Take that, stupid baby!’

The baby began struggling then went still. Louise smirked.

Her arm suddenly shot back, pushing the pillow into her own face. The baby’s eyes flickered with intelligence, the cold intelligence of its mother, and something else, something cold and new that would help it survive even when physically weak.

“Wha--”

The word was muffled by the pillow slamming into her face. She felt a sharp pain as the tips of her front teeth broke off. She swallowed them. Her nose cracked, and she felt the warmth of blood suddenly gushing into the pillow.

All that was secondary. She couldn’t breathe. And her arm. She couldn’t control her arm! Tears streamed from her eyes, being absorbed by the pillow.

She struggled, but there was nothing she could do.

The baby! It was all the baby’s fault, she knew it! The stupid--

Then her thoughts vanished into darkness.

The baby gurgled happily. It couldn’t wait to grow up.

And it wasn’t stupid.

©2010

 

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