Monsters

Carla E. Dash

“Your children are monsters,” the dying woman said. “How can you stand it?”

But what did she know? She didn’t feel the fatherless progeny swirling in her belly, the last sparks of a husband who had been murdered in the street and left there, unfurled and oozing. She couldn’t understand the way they churned and fizzed inside of me, promising that he would not be forgotten.

Or how they burst from me, ruining my womb for any children that might have come after. Or how they coiled tightly around my breasts like a cuirass, comforting and constricting. This she also didn’t and couldn’t know.

Mother, they whispered, sibilant and in unison, undulating against my ribcage, whom should we kill?

Those were their first words, these creatures so dark and iridescent. I had taken the last, beautiful starlight of my husband’s life, nurtured it inside the caverns of my body, and these were the babes my prune-shrunk heart had birthed.

Now? I said. No one.

Why? they hissed.

Wait, I said.

And so they did. I sold my apples in the usual stall, on the street where my love had died. I stood shoulder to shoulder with neighbors on the train, letting their skin touch mine. I even smiled at their untroubled faces, though now I knew my body was nothing to them, just meat, unworthy of even a moment’s passing empathy.

My children lashed their tails against my ribs.

When can we kill? they asked.

Later, I said.

I attended community picnics and town hall meetings and fireworks displays. My neighbors’ children ran down the street, carefree and joyous. And when they fell, I brushed the dirt off their knees, swept the tears from their cheeks.

My children squeezed my sternum, but soon all in the neighborhood considered me a friend.

“How unlike the rest of your kind you are,” they said.

Meanwhile, others like my husband were killed by the tens, by the hundreds, by the thousands, in my neighborhood and out of it, while my neighbors carried on with their baseball games and their skiing and the mundanities of their undisturbed lives.

Now? pressed my children.

Wait.

It happened when I was walking home. A man knocked me into the street. I landed hard, scraping my palms red. I pressed them against the concrete, letting my blood dribble onto the ground where once my husband’s had flowed.

The man told me to watch where I was going. The man called me a name that his people have flung at mine in hate for hundreds of years. The man laughed the superior, amused chuckle of someone who knew he was beyond the reach of my puny retribution.

You see? My children’s forked tongues flicked against my skin. He thinks you belong on your knees. This is what lurks in all their hearts.

Yes. I took a deep, unfettered breath, relieved and bereft, as my children launched from my breast, howling.

They latched onto the man’s eyeballs and twirled, burrowing straight through his head and out the other side. The man hit the ground, already dead.

My children corkscrewed on, toward the passersby who were just beginning to run.

No, I croaked. I reached for my children’s tails, but they swung them viciously, whipping the air and my forearms. I pulled back, welted and stung.

They tumbled through the sky, roaring my name and my husband’s, reaping their promised vengeance.

I stood. I walked away. Around me, my neighbors wailed. I heard the most sickening sounds, but I did not look to the left or the right or down; I just stepped high when I needed to.

A woman grabbed my shoulders and shook me.

“Your children are monsters,” she said, breath rattling in her peek-a-boo chest. “How can you stand it?”

But she would never know for a great wind ripped her away before I could answer. A warm liquid misted my face. I kept walking.

My neighbors spared no thought for the seed of hate they planted in me as they let my love whither on the pavement, but I could imagine well the holes my children were ripping in families. I could feel, as if they were my own, the lives that would stop and not restart, the hearts that would never heal nor trust again, and the corrosive, self-consuming anger that would under no circumstances abate but just burn and burn under their breasts, poisoning every breath, corroding every interaction for the rest of their lives.

And so, at home, I prepared the things I needed—the chair, the rope—and stepped, just as they had stepped over the body of my beloved, just as I had stepped over them, for the last time.

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