To Be A Mother - Paul White
Amanda heard him before she saw him. His pitched cries echoed through the cold night and led her to a dumpster near her work. Amongst food scraps and garbage, a newborn cried out to be saved.
Her heart broke at the sight of him. So vulnerable, so discarded. He was such a beautiful, healthy boy that Amanda couldn’t imagine someone abandoning him so callously. But she couldn’t imagine calling the cops either. Once he was in her arms, laying his head next to her bleeding heart, she knew she couldn’t give him up. She would take him home and nurse him to health. She was a nurse, after all, and she’d always wanted to be more than that. To be a mother.
“But this isn’t about that,” she told herself in the rearview mirror as she drove to her apartment.
“I’m doing this cuz it’s the right thing to do,” she said as she laid him down in a makeshift crib of pillows.
Amanda set about fixing the baby some milk. He cried out in hunger, and it ached at her bosom as he did, but she was dismayed when he refused to drink. His little arms and legs flailed in pathetically cute rebellion as she tried to feed him. Desperate for the baby’s sake, she placed a finger against his cherub lips, and the very moment the child began gumming her finger, Amanda experienced the world in a different light. At that moment, it didn’t matter that she was 32 and single. It no longer bothered her that she was a second-rate nurse without any future or free time. She wasn’t ashamed to look in the mirror anymore because it didn’t matter that she was fat or ugly. Everything in the world was perfect, as was she, because she was loved and needed now. Without her, this little angel would have perished, and because of her, he would live.
The euphoria was so intense it didn’t startle Amanda when she removed her finger from the sleeping babe’s mouth to find it stripped of flesh. Perhaps she was in shock, but it didn’t even hurt. She regarded it with fascinated curiosity before she tended to the baby’s comfort. Then she bandaged herself up and cuddled up next to him for the most perfect sleep she’d ever had.
And so life for the new mother and the saved son went on as such. The baby’s dietary habits didn’t change, but Amanda didn’t mind. Whenever he called out, night or day, Amanda came running with fresh fingers. She’d stare into the icy blues of his grateful little eyes until tears of euphoria fell from her own. Her flesh was greedily stripped away without her feeling anything except the soothing waters of love envelope her, and the little angel would go back to a satisfied sleep.
Before she knew it, most of her fingers were gone, sucked down to bleach-white bone, so she moved on to her toes. Toes soon turned into a foot and then a calf, but Amanda had been through worse. She’d had her heart broken, been fired, humiliated, and stripped bare of hope and pride. What was a little flesh to feel love as tender as this?
No matter how much of her the boy took, she never missed whatever part of her was sucked away. She lived in a perpetual cycle of bloodletting beauty. Her gray, lonely world transformed into one cool and blue like the color of her son’s loving eyes. She stopped going to work, and after a certain point, she physically couldn’t. But she had no need to pay the bills or cook food for herself. The heroin high of being needed provided her with sustenance. It was enough to see the baby grow, a seed planted of love and sacrifice.
That seed grew quickly, too. In the few days it took to devour Amanda’s legs, the baby became a toddler. But that seemed normal for such an abnormal child. By the time Amanda’s left arm was sucked down to shivering, frail bones, the toddler was a boy and then a teenager.
But no pimples for this young man. His skin was a beautiful gold that radiated warmth. His body grew strong and muscular as Amanda’s body shrank into dinner scrapes. And his eyes remained the sparkling blue of arctic waters.
Amanda beamed with pride as a fully-grown man stared up at her, sucking the intestines out of her belly like spaghetti noodles. She smiled when she thought of how handsome her baby was, how strong he’d become. Her sacrifices were not in vain; of this, she was sure. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever done with her life, no matter how ugly it had made her.
The day came that Amanda was nothing more than a skeleton with a proud, smiling head, sitting on the couch as her son took his final meal. He found some clothes in her closet, packed a duffle bag, and walked to the living room where his mother sat, a pile of bones still dripping with saliva. She smiled as he opened the apartment door.
“You look perfect, son,” she told him with tears in her eyes. He looked back and smiled. “Thanks for everything, Mom.”
Then he shut the door and left. The horror of reality hit her with a powerful wave of pain. She screamed when she saw the scraps of her earthly body and only stopped to choke on the realization that she’d die soon. Betrayal begot loneliness begot a bottomless pit of desperation. Her blue world turned into a color far darker than gray.
The high of love had left the room, taken everything from her, and vanished.
In her final seconds, Amanda felt an even greater pain than bodily dismemberment. The isolating pain of love unreturned, of sacrifice in vain. The pain of having no one there to hear her scream.