Some people should never have kids, she thought, holding her baby’s head underwater. If God wanted them to live, he would have made them strong enough to fight back.
The little body looked like it was trying to swim as it struggled until finally becoming still. Starlene had been kneeling on the hard linoleum floor as she carried out her grim task next to the old cast iron bathtub. Her knees hurt as she sat back on her butt, out of breath. Jesus, that took longer than I thought.
After a few minutes, she managed to raise her heft and stood up, dirty wet hair stuck to her sweaty face. Glancing at the little body, now floating face up in the tub, she searched for her cigarettes. Where’d I put my Virginia Slims?
Looking around the trailer, they were on the coffee table she’d found in the alley right after moving in. Someone had put it out for trash pickup — made out of laminated particleboard, it had a cardboard tabletop embossed with a depiction of The Last Supper. Her cigarettes were sitting squarely on Judas’ face, a can of Schlitz on Philip’s. You could barely make out Jesus through the dirty glass ashtray covering his sad, knowing expression. He appeared to be disappointed with the world.
Some things never change.
Waddling over to the table, she’d no sooner reached for the pack when she heard it. A piercing cry, loud enough to wake the dead.
A baby’s cry.
She froze just long enough for her endocrine system to squirt out a bolus of adrenaline. Spinning around, her slack jaw making an “O” with her mouth, she was dumbstruck. There, on the floor next to the tub, was the baby. Quite alive, thank you. Screaming like a banshee, it’s little arms and legs thrashing, face angry and red.
What the fuck? Was the best her mind could come up with in response to this unexpected turn of events.
This can’t be happening, This can’t be happening, kept repeating in her mind like a nonsensical loop, not really a question or a statement. Kneeling down, she went to pick the thing up, but it tried to bite her, she was sure of it. It seemed unnaturally strong, not like before. The child’s screams were deafening, so loud she couldn’t think.
Panicked, she picked the baby up and threw it back in the tub, knocking the plastic box filled with rubber toys in the water with it. It’s kicking and flailing seemed to be keeping it afloat like it knew what it was doing. The little rubber cartoon characters were bouncing up and down in the turbulent water like they were caught in a storm. They seemed afraid.
Not wanting to touch it, she grabbed the plunger next to the toilet and used it to hold the thrashing thing underwater. It wasn’t easy, but eventually, she pinned it to the bottom and used all her strength to hold it down. Bubbles kept coming up as it screamed, eyes wide open, looking straight at her. It didn’t seem scared, more like enraged. Her arms were starting to burn as her muscles fatigued — but still, the goddamn thing kept moving.
Just when she thought there was no way she could keep this up, its movements began to slow, then stop. Continuing to pin it to the bottom of the tub, she was now panting. Her whole body trembling, she was afraid to release it. The baby’s eyes were still open — they appeared to be looking right at her, accusingly. Starlene felt like they were looking into her soul, threatening her.
Exhausted and unable to hold it down anymore, every cell of her muscles were on fire as she gasped for air. Slowly releasing pressure on the plunger, she slumped over, her head collapsing on the edge of the tub, spittle drooling out of her mouth as she struggled to breathe. Kneeling back on her heels, she looked down. The baby was still on the bottom of the tub, motionless, eyes open, staring.
Her panic starting to fade; she thought, What does it take to kill this fucking thing?
Glancing over at the TV, Celebrity Jeopardy was on. Thank God the volume’s up, she thought, just as Burt Reynolds missed a question about Gunsmoke.
She was the female saloonkeeper who had an unrequited relationship with James Arness. Alex sounded as if he was interrogating a witness on trial for murder.
Who is Mrs. Pussy? Burt answered after a pause, laughing nervously. The audience tittered as Trebeck said, No, that is wrong. The correct answer is, “Who is Miss Kitty?”
Jesus Christ, Starlene thought. How can you miss that — you were on the fucking show!
Her bulk collapsing onto the sofa, she lit a cigarette and took a long drag, trying to collect herself. Once this fucking baby’s gone, Tor can move back in, and everything will be alright. Two days ago, they were living together, happily, or at least that’s what she’d thought. Then yesterday, he said he couldn’t take the child’s crying — it wasn’t his, and he couldn’t stay there one more night with the thing’s incessant wailing.
They’d only lived together for two weeks, but Starlene had never been with anyone like Tor before. When sober, he worked as a strongman with whatever circus would hire him. The problem was, his alcoholism was now well-known, making it next to impossible to get jobs. When she met him, he was working as a roustabout for a carnival, sleeping on a chair in the doghouse for the Ferris Wheel. She offered him a place to stay, and everything seemed perfect until yesterday. Her plan seemed simple enough: all she had to do was get rid of the baby, Tor would come back, and everything would be okay again.
Looking at the clown face wall clock, it was almost midnight. I’ll just take a little nap and then get rid of the body, she thought, stubbing the cigarette out on Jesus’ face. But then, just as her eyes closed, it happened. A scream so loud she knocked Tor’s 38 Special from between the cushions where he kept it onto the floor. Then another even louder. Blinking her eyes in disbelief, she saw the baby was now halfway between her and the tub — crawling towards her with what looked like murderous intent. Starlene began to feel panic-stricken; for a second, she wondered who was in more danger — her or the child?
Standing up, heart beating so fast she thought it might explode, she backed away, afraid. The creature’s screams were deafening, so loud it didn’t seem possible something so small could make that much noise. They didn’t seem like screams of pain or fear, though. They sounded threatening, malicious even.
Knocking over an end table next to the sofa, she spotted a plastic laundry basket filled with dirty clothes. The baby was inexorably getting closer; it’s little hands looked like tiny fists as it pulled itself across the dirty linoleum. With each wail, its lips pulled back, exposing small bared incisors that it seemed to be snapping together with surprising force.
Desperate, she grabbed the laundry basket, emptied it on the floor, and turned it upside down over the infant, trapping it. The creature became more frantic as it tried to break free; she struggled to hold it. Just within reach was a case of Schlitz; putting her full weight on the basket, she pulled the beer over and placed it on top. Wanting to be sure it couldn’t escape, she duct-taped the whole thing to the floor.
Having contained it, Starlene stood there, her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath, her whole body shaking. Still, the thing screamed. It didn’t seem to breathe between shrieks, unleashing its cries like a weapon.
Suddenly it hit her — Crib death! Why didn’t I think of that before?
Throwing a comforter over the trap to muffle the caterwauling, she sat down, lit another cigarette to calm her nerves, and poured a shot of Jack. I’ll show this fucking thing who’s boss!
Looking over at the sleeping area, there was a white plastic crib she’d bought at a yard sale for $5.00, its side rails blackened with the dirt of God knows how many kids. I’ll just put it in there and smother it with a pillow — no muss, no fuss! Glancing at the clock, it was now almost 2:00 am. One more shot, and it’s showtime, she thought, starting to get her courage back. Looking over at the makeshift cage still emanating muffled screams, she said, Time for Mommy to put you to fucking bed once and for all.
Slamming down a second shot, she went to her mattress and took a pillow, setting it on the floor next to the crib. Turning to the basket holding the still howling child, she started to pull off the duct tape. Removing each strip, the thing got even louder — it sounded like some kind of wild animal caught in a trap. Once it was all off, her hands shaking, she removed the comforter and, in one fell swoop, threw the basket across the room while throwing the bedding over it like a net. She wrapped it tight like a papoose, but it writhed with inhuman force, now making guttural, growling noises. It sounded dangerous.
Struggling to keep it contained, Starlene became overcome with fear. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard to kill a baby, she thought, realizing she was losing control. Somewhere, deep in her subconscious, it felt like the tables were turning.
Her body was exhausted; the only thing powering her now was sheer terror. Forcing the swaddled monster into the crib, she grabbed her pillow and pinned it down, trying to concentrate the pressure on where she thought its face was. The power of its movements as it fought to break free was overwhelming — it was like trying to smother a pit bull. Starlene was afraid the whole cheap crib would collapse; she was putting all of her considerable weight on the pillow, and still, the thing was screaming as it fought her.
Starlene began to cry — not out of remorse, but out of fear. Fear for her life, fear of whatever ungodly power she had unleashed, fear of retribution. This was supposed to be easy, but now she felt like the one in danger. What if the thing couldn’t be killed?
After what seemed like hours, its movements became weaker, then stopped. Terrified, Starlene kept the pressure on as long as she could after it stopped moving. Her body wobbly; it was hard to stand. Lifting the pillow, she watched goggle-eyed for any sign of movement. Pupils dilated with fear, her face wet with tears, she stood waiting, but nothing happened.
It was dead.
Somehow she made it to the sofa. Now the silence was unnerving. Leaning over to pick Tor’s pistol up off the floor, she laid it on the cushion next to her. The clown on the wall clock now said it was 4:52; its leering face seemed to be laughing at her. Her body drained of adrenaline; she was crashing hard. Pouring another shot of Jack, she lit a cigarette and tried to collect herself, but it was impossible. Downing the bourbon, she poured another and waited.
Dozing off, her last thought was, What have I done?.
If anyone was awake, they would have heard a blood-curdling scream, but it wasn’t the child this time. It was Starlene, woken from her drunken sleep by what felt like something biting her left nipple. The baby had latched onto her tit like a leach and was glaring at her with unblinking eyes. Screaming as she woke to a living nightmare of her own creation, her last thought was, It can’t be killed, as she put Tor’s 38 in her mouth like a lethal cock and pulled the trigger.
Her neighbors in the trailer next door heard the scream followed by a gunshot and immediately called 911. Within minutes, the police were there. Breaking down the door, the officers cautiously entered, guns drawn, rubber-neckers now gawking safely behind.
The scene before them showed a baby nursing the corpse of what must have been its mother, her brains now splattered across the clown face on the wall clock behind her; a fine bloody mist had settled on the last supper. The infant looked peaceful.
She looks like an angel! A neighbor exclaimed, peering over the officers. Poor child. What a precious thing!
The Home Shopping Network was blaring on the TV, selling trinkets for Mother’s Day. What better way to say Happy Mother’s Day than to give a gift acknowledging all the things mothers do for their children.
Amen to that, replied the perky, coiffed host. No one knows the sacrifices mothers make.