5.12 / December 2010

Birth Defect

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My baby is born with six fingers on each hand. They’re just little nubs of skin next to the pinkies, but no hay duda they’re fingers. The doctor says the birth defect is very common, and besides the extra fingers, Ernesto is totally normal. I’m not so sure but I don’t say nothing. The doctor smiles and cuts off the extra fingers and sends us home.

Back at our apartamento, Ernesto’s red and pequeño and sleeping in my arms, wrapped in a yellow blanket like a little enchilada. I look at him and know I should feel happiness and love, but I feel only fear. Something’s wrong with him. I knew something was wrong when I was pregnant, but nobody would listen. Everybody says first time moms always worry, even Hector, as if he knew. It’s his first baby too, but ever since the doctors said the baby was OK, all he worries about is money.

Hector es mi esposo. We met late one night in an office building we were both cleaning. Hector’s a good man. He fought in Afghanistan. IEDs everywhere. Every car, every truck, every person a bomb. Can’t trust nada. Hector was in the Tora Bora mountains, smoking out caves, hunting for the Taliban. Once he saw in the smoke and fire a big angry demon. Now Hector has scars on his chin and cheeks and nightmares and ringing in his ear always. Not like a church but like an alarm.

At night, Ernesto wakes up crying. I offer him my breast. He feeds on me hungrily.

Hector says Ernesto will get a good education and will someday be an astronaut. Hector no esta loco. He was evaluated when he was discharged from the army, then again before getting his new job at Sunny Gardens. The therapist said his bad memories are his mind’s way of dealing with his child abuse. Before we married Hector told me his secreto about his Uncle Jorge y el anal probe. I told him it’s OK, I have tio feo tambien. But Hector says his tio wasn’t evil, he was doing his duty, spreading the seeds of his race from one generation to the next. Like me and him, our blood from Ecuador y Honduras, mixing together to make an American citizen. But his Uncle Jorge told him he was an alien, and that his babies would be aliens too. That’s why Hector was so freaked out when I got pregnant. He was worried I’d give birth to an alien baby.

I never worried about that. I worried about the Z I did before I was pregnant. I did Z only once, by accident. It was mixed in with some marijuana at a party and I smoked it to relax. Everyone was laughing, saying I would like it, it was good shit, Hector and his two army buddies in town for the weekend, Zeke with the missing tooth and Felix with the missing arm. Then it hit me. Not like weed at all. Not like nothing. Or just like nothing. Like feeling nothing inside me. Death inside me. The rest of the night was a gray blur. Me and Hector woke up the next morning in our apartamento and tried to piece it back together, like a puzzle. Hector called his friend Felix with the missing arm and said, “What the fuck? You poison me and Maria with Z and not even tell us?” His friend just laughed. Said he couldn’t remember what happened either. Said he woke up in his car, parked in a ditch. Lucky he was alive. Hector hung up. His other friend, Zeke, with the missing tooth, not so lucky. He was found in a dumpster a week later. Dead. We never did Z again. But that was the night I got pregnant. I told the doctor and the doctor said nobody knows about the effect of Z on fetuses. Months later, the tests didn’t show any damage, and even after Ernesto was born with extra finger nubs, he said there was no reason to believe it was from the Z, or from Hector’s uncle.

In the morning, Ernesto cries. I pat and sniff his diaper. Not wet. So I try to feed him, offer him my tired breast. Not hungry. So I rock my baby, coo to him, try to help him sleep. Not tired. Won’t sleep. Won’t stop crying. His face red and screaming.

Back to diaper. Take it off. Diaper clean, dry. But what’s this? An extra penis? It is! Tiny, poking out from between Ernesto’s legs. Thin and red and barbed-looking, like a spike, or an arrow, or a hook, but no doubt about it. It’s an extra dick.

I call Hector, tell him to meet me at the ER. He don’t answer. He’s at work, spraying down wheelchairs with disinfectants. I’m on my own. Stuck with a freak niño, a screaming demon baby, a monster. I take the bus to the hospital. Everybody on the bus frowning at me. Ernesto screaming. And I’m scared, terrified. But at the hospital the extra penis is gone. Disappeared. Sleepy eyed doctor looks at me like maybe I’m loca. “Doctor, I swear! Mi niño tiene un extra pinga!” Doctor shakes his head. “Your baby’s fine,” he says. “This little piece of skin is called the perineum.” “No, it was bigger before! Much bigger!” The doctor nods and smiles weakly. The baby laughs. He’s laughing at me.

Back at home, Hector is no help, useless, stinking of chemicals, concerned only with his long day spent cleaning the basement of Sunny Gardens, which is full of bugs and dust and rusty wheelchairs. I don’t like Hector working there, but I can’t say nothing, because Hector makes all the money for us now.

Over the weekend, Ernesto is normal, healthy. He cries a little and sleeps a lot. Hector says I need to sleep too, I look tired. I tell him I know what I saw. He says maybe I’m so tired I’m seeing things. The baby giggles in his sleep.

That night, Ernesto is five feet tall. He smiles at me, his mouth full of fangs, his eyes red like fire. His extra pinga is a penis and also a snake, a snake with no eyes and many sharp tiny teeth. I try to wake Hector but he took an Ambien so he’s knocked out. Ernesto stares at me hungrily. I offer him my breast. He feeds from me, sucking and slurping milk from my sore nipple. Then he burps a giant burp and I slump back to bed and crawl under the covers next to Hector, who is snoring loudly. In the morning Hector’s gone to work and the baby’s normal-sized again and I wonder if his man-size was just a dream but then I feel my boob which is purple and sore, like it was forced into a vice grip and twisted around in circles.

I go to see my doctor. Again, Ernesto looks normal, healthy. I say he turns all red when he cries and sharp teeth pop out of his gums and he grows an extra penis the size of a snake under his normal baby penis. The doctor frowns and says maybe I suffer from postpartum depression and he prescribes me some antidepressants. I get out of there and throw that prescription away. I don’t want no pills. I have a baby to feed.

I take my baby to my priest. The priest asks, “Was your baby baptized?” “Yes,” I say. “Claro que si.” The priest says, “Then you have nothing to worry about. Your baby is a child of God.” Ernesto giggles. I take communion. I eat the flesh of my savior and drink his blood from a gold cup. I pray. Then I take my demon baby home.

In our apartamento, Ernesto grows twenty feet tall. I turn my back for one second when the phone rings and when I turn back around the baby’s the size of the room, sitting on the floor, his giant head up against the ceiling, his extra pinga like an anaconda, thumping the carpet, his huge baby fists pounding on the walls, then reaching for me. I scream and scream and scream, and the neighbors call the police, and the police come with the social services people, and they ask me, “What happened? What did you do?” and I tell them, “Nothing, no pasa nada,” and they check Ernesto for bruises and find nothing and they say if this happens again they’ll take my baby away. Then they leave. Ernesto, normal-sized now, of course, Ernesto laughs at me. He laughs and laughs.

Finally I call my mom long distance in Honduras. With tears in my eyes, I tell my mom her grandson is a demon. I tell her he has an extra pinga. My mom is quiet at first, then she starts laughing. She tells me, “No te preocupes!” She says she thought I was a demon, and my brothers, and my sisters too. She says, “Todos los niños son demonios.” All babies are demons. Then she tells me she’s got to go, her telenovela is starting, and she hangs up.

The baby’s extra penis grows big, bigger than himself, and it twists and turns its way towards me, opening it’s hideous penis mouth and showing me its rows and rows of jagged teeth and flicking my cheek with its dark purple tongue.

I cry the whole time, saying, “Please don’t hurt me, baby, please don’t hurt me!” Ernesto laughs, giggling like a monster, and his eyes glow red like fire, and his extra penis goes under my shirt and inserts itself into mi ombligo, piercing through my bellybutton straight into my belly, where it flicks its head around and nibbles on my insides and licks at my guts with its long nasty lengua. At first it hurts and I scream, but then it gets better, and actually feels kind of good, and I give up fighting and just let it do what it wants. I let it eat me. Then it pulls out and Ernesto starts babbling, “Mama? Mama?” and I cry and take my baby boy in my arms and let him feed on my breast. He spits out my nipple and goes straight for my heart, gorging his way through my ribcage with his vicious teeth. I’m not even surprised. I just let it happen. I feel like I’m on Z again, like I’m already dead, and I watch my little baby eat mi corazón. When he’s done my chest miraculously heals and my heart goes on beating like nothing’s even happened, and I catch my reflection in the mirror and see that my eyes are glowing red now too, and Ernesto smiles at me with my blood on his cheeks and I stroke his soft bald head and rub his back until he burps up all over my shoulder and I cry and whisper to him that he’s beautiful. That he’s my one and only little baby. That he’s perfect.