Because I had not heard from him in so many seasons, his call had come as a surprise. Clara? He said when I answered the phone, because hed gotten to the point where physical distance wasnt enough. I used restraint in my tone,

denied myself what I felt as a mothers joy of the impromptu phone call from a far away child. Say no more, Im on my way, I said much too loudly to affect the cool capability I wanted to convey. He did not thank me. Ill meet you at the gate, he muttered, as if he already had regrets about needing me.

Hed been an aloof boy, taken with his friends and their parents, ashamed of my many limitations. Still, Id managed to birth the boy that became the man. I held him under my brittle twisted ribcage, my diseased heart, and caressed him with my misshapen hands. Once, Id overheard a group of his friends in the backyard mention his luck at not being born a freak. I waited for my own flesh and blood to defend me. The only thing Id ever asked of my son was the thing he couldnt bring himself to do. When I heard his laughter, such an infrequent sound, meld with the others, it sounded carnivalesque: grotesque and nauseating. It was then I knew what Id always feared: I had lost him, too.

The apartment that he and his girlfriend rented was overheated and cramped. The girl he introduced me to had a rather pedestrian name, but wasted no time telling me the spelling of it would surprise me. Its quite unusual you know. This insignificant fact amused me and I thought the girl foolish. I wasnt in the mood for small talk. It was not easy for me to get around and as of yet I wasnt sure what awaited me, but my son had hinted at some trouble, a word that will make a mother crawl the ends of the earth if she has to.

In the room which they slept, the bedclothes were disheveled and dirty, a familiar yet unpleasant smell hung in the air like a net. My son pointed to a small, salmon-colored mound, wriggling on the bed. I closed my bad eye to strengthen my good one and moved slowly toward it. My sons girlfriend hung back in the doorway, chewing a fingernail, her bangs in her eyes. It was then that I noticed her right foot, like a block of wood, turned inward, toward the other, as if introducing itself.

Its a fetus, I said more in amazement and wonder than anything else, feeling the smile break over my face. The small thing had large wise eyes, definitely undercooked. I could see the outline of its heart through the scaffold, the delicate membrane of its chest. I could sense the limitations of what it would become. It turned its head toward me, opening its small crusted mouth, and a soft puff of breath, like stagnant powder hit me in the face. Its newt-like hands gently held the umbilical cord it was still attached to.

It was the first time in a long time that Id had a purpose. I noticed the dark rings under my sons once handsome face. I saw how he called to the girl in harsh tones, ordering her here and there to fetch this or that. She moved fast for someone in her condition. I knew why Id been called. Like attracts like. This one was for me. I knew that I could raise this one up, could keep it alive and it would need me as no other ever has, or, given my age, ever will. I opened my blouse and held my own to my breast. The milk would flow. The child would thrive, to a degree. I imagined the reports I would give to the parents, in time. But it would remain only that: words I would imagine. I heard the click of the apartment door. By the time I could feed the little thing, and maneuver myself out of the chair I gratefully had dropped myself in, those two, the girl with the twisted foot and my son, the love of my life, would be long, long gone.

Michelle Reales fiction has appeared in Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Pank, Eyeshot, Drunk and Lonely Men, Gloom Cupboard, Apt, Pequin, JMWW, Blood Orange Review, Dogzplot, Dogmatika and others.

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