The baby was normal when it came out. Daddy snipped the cord like nothing, the baby screaming silently till the nurse sucked out whatever bloodsnot was stuck in his throat, then there was no turning back, it was there, his voice, his mouth wide and wider, that baby was all mouth, his cries like a nail being driven into rotten wood. Normal.
Daddy said, let’s name him Levis, we always liked Vs in names, and I’d heard the name Levis before but couldn’t place it, and besides, that baby was a Levis, it was obvious.
We took Levis home and he sucked me dry within an hour. Daddy went to the store for some formula and Levis ate that up too. I made a pot of mashed potatoes for me and Daddy and the baby did his best to stick his face into it, his neck nothing more than a taffy pull, his big head hanging so I could see the three curls he’d already grown at the base of his neck, sweaty, looking for all the world like pubes lathered with baby oil, and I shuddered looking at them and chalked that feeling up to postpartum.
Levis wouldn’t let Daddy sleep in bed with us, he was clever that way, soon as Daddy slid under the bedcovers Levis would start screaming, that nail torturing that rotted wood, that endless nail, then when Daddy would get up for a glass of something the baby would quiet down, and Daddy and I aren’t stupid so soon we figured Daddy could get familiar with the couch for a while if it ensured Levis acted peaceful, and I gave Daddy permission to tend to himself in that way as much as he needed to since I was busy with Levis and couldn’t do my wifelies.
Levis grew at night and plenty of mornings I’d wake up to see him laying there with his diaper busted open. Other ladies I’ve known who have given birth had always chittered on about their babies’ growth spurts, but here Levis was 40 pounds within a week and 60 midway through the next, hair on his knuckles and three block teeth scattered amongst his jaws, then when he was one month old he called me Honey, his first word, fisted my breast, his nails leaving little half-moons in my flesh when I pried his hand from me, his grinning mouth showing a fourth tooth, a molar like a wad of gum wedged way back.
Daddy and I had heard of ugly babies, of unnaturally big babies, we’d seen a show once where what looked like a 12-year old boy was in a giant diaper his mother had fashioned out of her front room curtain, sitting there with his legs straight out in front of him like he was pleased to meet them, his eyes pushed into his face like dull buttons, and the mother claiming he wasn’t yet a year. But Levis wasn’t on the TV, he was right there, his eyes following Daddy across the room, those eyes like gray milk ringed with spider’s legs, and at two months Levis had chewed through a wooden bar in his crib, splinters in his gums, him crying while I plucked them with a tweezer, me feeling that nail in my gut, me feeling something less than love.
We took the baby to the doctor, Daddy explaining that there was something off about Levis, he was big, he didn’t look like other babies, he had teeth like a man, and Levis quiet and studying Daddy like he understood, twirling his finger in his nostril, around and around, pulling it out tipped with blood. The doctor weighed Levis and he was up to 75 pounds and his third month still a week away, the doctor asking what on earth we were feeding him, warning us babies his age shouldn’t be eating table food, and me and Daddy scared to say that the night before Levis had lunged for a pork chop, screamed until we let him suck on the bone, Levis making slurping noises like he was a normal baby, like the bone was his momma’s nipple, his cheeks like two halves of a blush apple. The doctor sent us home, told us to watch what Levis ate, get him a jumpy chair for exercise. The doctor reaching out to pat Levis’ head, then thinking different when Levis grabbed his wrist, the doctor blanching at the thick hair on Levis’ arms, Levis giggling like a normal baby playing, just playing.
During bath time that night Levis’ baby penis stiffened and poked out of the water, Levis saying HoneyHoneyHoneyHoney in his husky baby voice. I called Daddy to finish the bath so I could lay down but Levis screamed until I came for him, wrapped him in a towel, him freeing an arm to reach up and stroke my cheek, for all the world like I was his, like he had me, and there was that stiffy again when I was fitting him with his diaper.
At six months Levis walked into the kitchen at breakfast and tried to open the fridge himself, Daddy stunned and dropping scrambled eggs from his mouth, and Levis speaking his next word, Pickles. Pickles, Honey, he said, pounding on the fridge door with his hairy chunk fists, and I sliced some bread and butter pickles up for him and that’s what he had for breakfast, a whole jar, me noticing that he was only a foot shorter than the fridge door, could almost reach the freezer where Daddy kept his vodka.
One night Daddy turned to me and we began our special time, I let Daddy do what he would since it had been so long, but soon enough I noticed Levis standing in the doorway watching, that finger in that nostril, and when I made Daddy stop Levis climbed into bed between us and began feeding, something he hadn’t done in months, falling asleep with my breast in his mouth, like any other sweet baby, I told myself, like any other sweet baby boy, Daddy going back to his couch for the night, his shoulders hanging heavy, like the pillow he carried was a stone.
At eight months Levis opened a drawer and found a paring knife, held it to Daddy’s gut and giggled, a sheen of drool on his chin, finally pulling the knife away when he got distracted by the ladybugs printed on his t-shirt. Then Daddy left, saying Levis wasn’t right, saying he needed to get away, saying he’d be back, driving away while Levis watched him from the window, his baby man hands flat to the window, like everything he saw could be touched that way, me watching Daddy’s headlights cut the dark and then the dark crowding right back in behind them, Levis saying Honey? to whatever he saw out that window, maybe even to himself.
Levis came to bed with me, molding his body to mine, rubbing his face on Daddy’s pillow sleepily, his breath like garlic, like garlic and meat, didn’t even open my eyes when he reached for my breast in the early hours and fed himself. In the morning he woke me, whispering Honey, Honey, smearing the sheets in elaborate patterns with fingerfuls of poop from his diaper, twining his fingers in my hair, Honey.
Normal. Later I bathed Levis and dressed him and we went to the park. For a while I pushed him on the swings, waited for him at the bottom of the slide, did the seesaw with him. When Levis was playing in the sandbox another mother came and sat beside me on the bench, said Your boy is quite large, me saying Yes, me saying Thank you. The woman’s son got into the sandbox with Levis and they started building something and the woman went on, said I’m a producer for the local news and we’d love to have your boy on if you’re interested, as kind of a feature on local unnaturals, and Levis looking up and showing his teeth, his eyes slitted at the woman, like he heard her, like he understood.
Maybe, I told the woman, when Levis is a little older, the woman saying Fine, fine, smoothing her jeans like she was peeved at the color of the wash, and her son getting up to bring his fat little shoe down on Levis’ sandpile, over and over, saying Unh Unh Unh, Levis letting him for a while before grinding a fist of sand into the boy’s face, the boy just blinking for a minute like his second hand had stopped, Levis taking the opportunity to grab the boy by his ankle and bring him down to where he could pound on his abdomen with his fists, like any baby with a toy drum, like any baby figuring out how hard to pound to get just the right sound, the boy going Unh Unh Unh.
The woman said, My Lord, do something, he’s flattened my Jared, her running over like her legs were breaking out of concrete molds, her boy saying Unh a little quieter now and me more proud of Levis than I’d ever been and so getting up and walking to the car, Levis saying Honey? Levis standing up to see better, saying Honey, stepping over the boy and out of the sandbox, me getting into the car and locking the doors, key in the ignition, Levis just standing there, the late afternoon sunlight giving him a glow, just standing there with his fists at his sides, looking like a fat little man more than anybody’s baby, a little fat man beating his chest now, me pulling out onto the road, Levis wailing Honey, wailing Pickles, getting smaller and smaller in the rearview until I took a turn and he was gone, my heart like a fist to a door and my breasts empty and my nipples like lit matchheads.
Lindsay Hunter is the co-founder and co-host of Quickies!, a Chicago flash fiction reading series. Her work has been published widely online, and her collection of slim fictions, Daddy's, will be out on featherproof books in September 2010.