Everyone likes that goddamn cripple.
I smile a little, but then my mother is wheeled out the door, and I have to use the eating house to hold myself up. There is a smaller bag for the baby. The second of the two morgue technicians carries that one out in his hands. He has gloves on, and he carries her, slightly extended from his body like an offering for some god who eats dead babies. It’s her, that little baby girl, who I’ll grieve for in the coming days. A child, wanted by her half-dead sibling, murdered by her already dead mother.
When they are gone, I go into the house to clean the mess the bodies left behind. The eating house is quiet. I wait for the grief, but it doesn’t come. I want to feel something so I know I’m still human. But, I don’t know how to grieve someone I didn’t know. I knew Nevaeh. I didn’t know my mother.
Delaney comes to help me, carrying buckets of hot water and Pine-Sol up the stairs. We work without talk, using my mother’s sheets as rags, sopping up the blood until they are stained, and the smell of pine pervades the house. We carry the buckets outside, dumping the pink water into the grass. I hug Delaney, an ungainly hug, to thank her for not making me do that alone. Her eyes are pink-rimmed when she steps back. Her lips trembling. They share the same plumpness as Judah’s lips, but hers are not sensual like his. They look almost clumsy now as she struggles to know what to say.
“No one should have to do that,” she whispers. Her hair is damp and sticking to her face. I can see Judah in her features—the broad forehead and graceful slope of her nose.
“You children suffer too much.”
As she walks up Wessex, I watch her, thinking about what she said. Children. Suffer. Yes, maybe more than adults. That’s where we become broken, in our youth. And then we wear it like a shroud for the rest of our lives.
I name the baby Sihn, because she bore the sins of her mother and died for it.
I drag the big, wooden ramp from Judah’s porch over to the eating house, and set it over the steps. When I push him up the makeshift ramp, it wobbles and bends in the middle like it’s going to crack in two. It’s Judah’s first time in the eating house. I leave the door open, letting the light stream across the living room, and I suddenly feel self-conscious of all the rubbish. Not literal rubbish, just the rubbish of my life—the old oldness. The damp dampness, the poor poorness.
The house hums around us, excited at the prospect of a new visitor. You can’t have him, I tell it silently. I know he’s special, but you can’t have Judah.
I fiddle with the buttons on my shirt. “I’ll drag down my mattress,” I say. “You can have the couch. I mean, if that’s okay?”
He nods. “Do you want me to heat you something to eat?” he asks. “My mom sent over shepherd’s pie.”
“I’m not really hungry.” I shrug. He offers up the casserole dish on his lap, and I carry it to the kitchen. I stand at the fridge, out of sight, wishing I hadn’t let him come here. This was what the kids called weird. Like taking a modern piece of furniture into an old crypt, weird; fried chicken in a vegetarian restaurant, weird.
Oh God, oh God.
“There’s a man at the door…”
The casserole dish clatters to the counter. I march past Judah to the front door, where Howard Delafonte stands, just over the threshold, slipping off his raincoat like he belongs here. It’s Tuesday, I think. His regular day to come. The eating house groans. It doesn’t like him.
My angle is to hurt him.
“The baby,” I say. “Yours?”
He says nothing. He doesn’t have to; I already know. Whatever she took to rid herself of the pregnancy, he brought her.
“How do you know it was yours and not one of the other men’s?” I ask. I mention the other men because I want to hurt him. Let him know he isn’t the only one paying her for sex.
“She didn’t make me use anything,” he says.
I draw back, shocked. His confession is disarming. Intimate. I shouldn’t know something that personal about my mother, but it tells me so much more about her than her words ever did. Did she want to get pregnant with his baby? Maybe she thought that she could have him all the time if she did? That he would leave his life to raise a human with her? My mother wasn’t really into raising humans. Perhaps the eating house just made her crazy, and she didn’t care if she got pregnant.
“The baby was a girl,” I say quietly.
His face blanches.
“Where is she?” he says, heading for the stairs. By her I suppose he is referring to my mother, not his bastard baby. I allow him to run up the stairs. I trace the heavy whomp whomp whomp of his shoes across the floor. When he comes back down, there is a look of terror on his face.
“Where is she? What hospital?”
“What hospital,” I repeat, laughing. I look at Judah, who is watching us cautiously, like he’s wondering how to break up a fight if it starts.
My father, by blood alone, stumbles—grabs onto the wall to support himself, and misses. It’s like the eating house moves, shies away from his hands, contracting into itself. He falls, his face contorted and red like he’s run a very long race. I watch impassively, the big hulk of a man on the floor, crying. He loved her. I am surprised. He doesn’t love me, and I am from her. She did not love me either. As I watch him, I wonder if someone like me, who has never been loved, is capable of it—would recognize it if it came along? And then I think that I would rather not be loved than to be loved by a man like Howard Delafonte.
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