The Book and the Baby
The baby and the book were born at the same time but got mixed up inside their mother — the book was the baby, and the baby, the book. No one knew, but the woman should’ve recognized her book. It was a literary novel full of sturm und drung. The baby squawked a misery fest while people admired the book, cooed over it. Invitations poured in for literary festivals where the woman answered questions and signed autographs. It was a relief, finally, to be a writer. She exhaled as she crept away from the baby and out of the house. Don’t worry, the relatives said, the baby will grow out of it. But the baby was a living repository of the things that the woman didn’t want to face. The woman sent it to the psychologist, thinking talking might help, but the more it grew, the more it tormented her until the sight of it twisted something inside her. In later life, they became estranged. The woman said, “That is not my child.” And the baby, now grown, said, “I sprang from my mother fully formed as a thought; thus, I have no mother.”
Would the woman rather they were reversed — been the unsuccessful writer with no bestseller — none of that, but a lovely baby? It seems obvious, but I know writers. All the failure — the crippling self-doubt, inflated ego on the outside, crying child on the inside — that’s normal. Success, well, that can be novel.
My mother used to tell me a Japanese ghost story. That’s what she said it was but she could’ve made it up. A couple adopted a cat while the wife was pregnant. They didn’t know that the cat could catch the baby’s soul. Then, same thing: the baby was the cat, and the cat was the baby. It used to terrify me, the thought of being imprisoned inside our cat, never able to tell anyone. Though perhaps the story was an explanation: a couple didn’t really like their baby but loved their cat.
Maybe it would be better to be the cat. Being human hurts, and after twenty-five, life will level us all. Or maybe my mother knows more than I do and she was trying to tell me that I was a cat once but forgot a long time ago when I got too used to being a baby.
Emi Benn lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Her fiction has appeared in apt, Broken Pencil, Day One, and Joyland, among other publications, as well as in translation.
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Image: Josh Willink