It’s a Friday during Lent, so I feed the baby jewel-toned purees—carrots and green peas, avocado, butternut squash. He’s unsatisfied. He wants meat. Chicken meat. Turkey meat. Stewed crockpot meat. Something stringy and shredded; something he could choke on. He squawks at me, mouth outstretched.
Last Lent, I was overly pregnant and iron deficient, but determined to maintain a forty-day meatless existence. My OBGYN recommended supplements; the baby’s father pushed red meat. He made jerky from the various animals he’d killed and presented me with his leathery offerings. I refused. You’re so damned pale, I can see your heartbeat, he said, flogging me with a stick of deer.
To take the baby’s mind off meat, I take him for a walk in the desert. It hasn’t rained in months; saguaros poke out their anorexic ribs. Down, the baby says, this month’s favorite word. He’s only just beginning to sense the true value of having feet, and so he quickly teeters onto his bum. Waa, he cries, the fuchsia bloom of a barrel cactus just out of reach. No baby. Ouchies, I say, once again denying him his deepest desires. The baby cries and cries. I scoop him to my chest, digest his wails.
The man who is the baby’s father accuses me of malnourishing our son.
Just because you’re a hippie, it doesn’t mean he needs to starve.
Just because you’re an animal killer, it doesn’t make my baby a hick.
The man who is the baby’s father grabs the keys to his F-150 and slams the front door.
I hate his words: hippie and starve.
I hate my words: killer and hick.
The baby’s father is a good man. He is a man who sings an amazing catalog of nursery rhymes; he is a man who tiptoes down the hallway when the baby is finally asleep; he is a man who tests the temperature of the baby’s milk on the inside of his wrist; who burps the baby to absolute splatter-patterned completion. He’s a man who stayed when we both know he would’ve been long gone by now, if not for the circumstance. I hunger for our beginnings, listen for some hint of it in his throat. When the baby’s father comes home, I know that I will eat my words.
Meanwhile, the baby sits in his highchair, preoccupied with an orgy of Cheerios™. He sees me and starts to pound his chubby fists on the plastic tray. Cheerios™ tiddlywink into the air. The baby looks like the man who is his father when he is angry.
I’m close enough to smell that his diaper needs changing. The top of his head is translucent; his skull is a river of purple-blue veins that pulse with each scream—Momma, Momma. As I wipe his tiny bum, he transforms into a songbird, cooing. I listen to his song as I unbutton my shirt, never fast enough to satisfy his thirst. He grabs at the tentacles of hair that hang in front of my face; he jibbers something that sounds like Hungry, Hungry, again and again like a refrain.
Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Booth, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, won an AWP Intro Journals Award in nonfiction, and has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and on twitter at @m_finn_johnson.