Cronus Ate a Rock Baby and That’s What Killed Them
This isn’t how my mom would have told me how. She always said—take care of your outside if you want to be healthy what’s inside. I was a little Michigan boy when she told me that standing out in the cornfields and now I’m a big Michigan man loitering downtown in this city on the bluff. I tried all sorts of outside things to keep the thrall at bay—see I tried wrapping my head in a scarf the way the old actresses do in black and white. I looked myself up and down in the mirror in a woman’s dress. I found an old pair of mom’s dressup shoes in the closet leftover from when she moved out. Sometimes I even worked up my courage and wore these articles out onto the bluff for something like a promenade down Lake Street—but looking out over the water I still felt the pull toward that darkest quiet at the bottom of the Lake. I don’t think all that works for me. I’m still a chickadee in the body of a gull no matter how I dress my feathers. Now I wear my real manly clothes and pin just one loud female item somewhere to my person.
So I’ve been trying to eat better. Figure I’ve got something wrong inside then I should mind what I put away in there. That means leafgreen salads for breakfast chalky hardboiled eggs in the lunchtime and for dinner some lean white bird with steamed vegetables. A handful of nuts (unsalted!) if I go hungry during the day. No more coffee. No more beers and wine. Nothing prohibited by the surgeon general. Definitely no more smokes which are a bad habit taken back up. No more loud sounds from music I like to listen to—just stop it all. Remember how doctors used to tell the old ladies to spend weeks or months in bed because their insides weren’t going the right way. Try it like that. Spend a week in bed the phone shutoff in a drawer somewhere and just—rest. Bedrest doesn’t have to be prescribed by a doctor. It can be an overthecounter drug.
The only fixing ever worked for me is stories before bedtime. One in particular that didn’t put me to sleep but woke me up hopeful. Mom read it from a blackcloth book that smelled like our basement after a flood.
—Cronus married a woman Rhea and started having babies. Because he was scared of kings succeeding kings (and because he jealoused his woman queen) he thought the best way was to be eating each of his babies when they were born. He ate up one baby then another then three four five so that he ate all five babies from his queen Rhea. But the mother being very sad at the way her husband was eating all her babies traded her sixth baby for a rock baby which she handed over to the king. So Cronus ate a rock baby instead of little Zeus and that’s how the real actual god grew up strong and manly. He killed his father succeeding him as king of the world then he cut open the stomach. Therefore all five of his own siblings were birthed from a man his father and not a woman.
The possibilities of being alive.
Having bedrested a week or more I decide to go outside where the Lake chucks a cold wind up the bluff (almost December already? how long I been sleeping?) wrapping my neck in a scarf to find a bar where I can sit. One has blacklights and smoke machines and bands. Another has coffee and chocolate in the day and at night if you ask the barista they’ll pour a glass of liqueur. Another has cheap beer and nachos and all the older locals. Nachos—what’s on the menu that takes as much time to consume as beer but doesn’t scare the surgeon general. That’s the bar I pick a woodsy darklighted place where I drag the stone weight of my legs.
In the back of the bar a youngish man sobs the kind of drunk you can only get when you’ve got something wrong on the inside. My head turns so I can see him in my periphery. He’s got a parka and faceful of pimples. Crying to a friend across the booth. You know they’ve been there a while because the waitress keeps a wide berth from them—whenever they need something to drink the friend’s got to sidle up to the bar himself.
I sit down in the booth behind. Shoveling beef and cheese and sourcream on brittle chips I listen all about this man’s story.
—They didn’t let him in the place they took the thing out of his wife. It was some specialized clinic. She had to tell him later how all the other women wanted to hand the thing right over and that made it the most traumatic eight hours of her life. That was what he heard about it at least. The thing having been removed his wife cried for a single week and that was it. The week passed and she went back to work happyhours and he wasn’t really sure where she was at. Then she left on a work trip to Las Vegas and the man found out a couple weeks later she had met somebody on LinkedIn who rented her an apartment out west and she wasn’t coming back to the bluff.
Meanwhile he was still thinking about the thing. I’ll call this man Mister. Mister downloaded an app on his phone that told him what size a fruit it was supposed to be. Poppyseed peppercorn pomegranate seed blueberry raspberry cherry kumquat fig plum lemon peach apple avocado onion. The thing was a sweet potato now. The thing was a mango. Then everything started to get confusing. Banana. Carrot. Eggplant. Was this really how the thing was supposed to look? An ear of corn. An acorn squash. A zucchini? He couldn’t even picture it anymore.
So his wife was still paying the rent on his duplex down by the beach (one of those nicepainted numbers below the bluff that Chicagoers rent out for summer) but it was only him that was living there. But he wasn’t really alone. He was having these dreams. In these dreams the cauliflowerheaded thing toddled up to him down the carpeted hallway in their duplex and the thing loved him and he loved the thing. He picked the thing up in his arms and he swaddled it like a pineapple. The spines pricked his inner arms when he hugged it. Then he went to bed with the little watermelon and he was so tired he was so afraid of rolling over onto the thing and suffocating it. The thing became a pink mush against his nightshirt. Mister didn’t even wear nightshirts! The dreams were so stupid to him.
Dreams can be like seeds planted in the dirt of your brain—I should stop talking about the fruit or I might inherit this dream myself. Mister took to bed his arms and legs so heavy he could barely lift them up. For as many months as the springtime he was bedresting on the axblade between hungry and nauseous. No food he could keep down. The best luck he had was with a box of oyster crackers his wife used to munch on if she was hungry before bed. It was like the thing had taken up residence inside his stomach and wasn’t letting any kind of bedmates come to sleep with it.
Then the sun rose again in the morning and the neighbors’ houses filled with Chicagoers and the sickness finally passed. That summertime the smells outside came strong into Mister’s windows but they no longer bothered him to nausea. He ventured out from the duplex a little ways into the orangeish sunlight and right away a fat man without a shirt raised his drink into the air.
He could see this very place where we’re currently sharing our nachos and drink on top of the bluff. A train of hundreds of bathingsuits climbed the open stairway that went from down there on the beach to up here in the city. Lately they put a new fountain in at the bottom where a bunch of little kids with potbellies were playing in the wetness. The bleachy smell of the water the unshaken dog smell of wet towels and the slight ruddishness of their own dusty sand. His feet swole up so red and puffy he walked out barefoot to the Lake which could be seen in the space between two houses from his front door. A fence blocked the way. Thin pine posts connected by two runs of wire. But only fifteen feet from where he stood the fence had been buffeted down by wind or by Chicagoers so he could tramp over top and sift through the prickly dunegrass out to the Lake.
I want to describe the water of the beach its irresistible thrall but Mister didn’t come to love up the water. Actually he’s a man of two swole feet stuck firm to the ground—something besides his body I’ve come to jealous. That particular ruddy sand that’s been wet then dried again carried his feet out this far. He never had the sense to smell the sand before and now he couldn’t help but sink down on his knees. A little boy played with a bucket and shovel nearby. He was maybe four years old with a big fat belly. It wasn’t obvious right away where his parents were at. Mister blinked at the little boy.
You’re digging up sand Mister asked?
The little boy was too shy to sound anything out. He shoveled the sand then turned it back over. The bucket was empty.
Are you building something with it?
The little boy shook his head. He was digging a ditch.
Mister asked what’s the point in digging something up if you’re not going to build something?
The little boy scraped the sand guiltily. The color the shovel left behind was a dappling of dark wet spots. Mister wanted to reach out and take a scoop. Actually he did—his knees made a slithering pattern in the sand and he took a pinch of that shoveled sand in his fingertips.
I like digging! Finally the little boy had spoken.
Mister looked at the tawny sand pinched between his fingers. Then he brought it to his mouth to taste that particular alien ruddiness. The texture was unpleasant but the taste of earth—he only wished the stuff had come from deeper down.
The little boy watched him eat sand and giggled. Then a call came from past the fence and the little boy had to go home.
If he could hardly keep down oyster crackers that spring—he gobbled everything up now. The ash from the cracks in the coffee table dried his tongue the same way as sand but tasted faintly sour like the fizz in a pop. He sucked whatever salty moisture was left out of the hairballs. The fingernails (his wife’s—she had the habit of springing her nails off wherever she was clipping) had no flavor but how they squeaked against his teeth. Peanuthusks stuck in his gums tasting grassier than the nut itself. But spent matches were his favorite—that yellowish savor of their tips. He flared their flames to smell up the dark and crunched off the tips when he woke up.
Wasn’t till the start of fall when every cloud crawling across the sky looked like a babyhand that he heard again from his wife. By then it’d been seven months since she moved to Las Vegas. She sent him a text saying miss the duplex—can we open a dialogue?
Mister thought he was getting kicked out so his wife and her LinkedIn boyfriend could move to Michigan and live the rest of their happy days sinking into the beach running their claws through each other’s manes etc. But when he finally got on the phone giving his salutation with a fast embarrassing hi there! he was surprised to hear that that wasn’t the case at all. Something a lot more real was happening. He didn’t know what that meant but those were her words. More real.
Can I see you she said?
I don’t live in Las Vegas.
Is that so? Where do you live?
I didn’t even want to reach out. Call it necessity.
They need me back at HQ next month for annual review. Neither of us like each other very much right now but we owe it to ourselves to discuss this face to face. Do you really want me to stay in a hotel?
I don’t think Mister had much of a choice. He watched the appointed day toddle closer on the calendar while he dreamed fruitmonster dreams at night. A long time ago he uninstalled the fruit app from his phone (the thing’s loss nowadays being the furthest thing from his mind) but in specific once he went to bed he was fruit shopping at the supermarket. He filled his plastic shopping bag without paying (so you know it’s a dream) all the different fruits he once cycled through on the app. Then finally he picked the spiny pineapple from the shelf just as the produce sprinklers started up misting his hand and shirtsleeve. He dropped the pineapple into his bag and amazing to say it started thrashing against his thigh. It was so heavy he couldn’t bring it up with two hands onto the checkout belt. The cashier smiled at him. She got her face real close so that all he could see was her big lips and freakhouse smile. She lifted the bag no problem—but the pineapple was so feisty it punched a hole in the fabric as it rode the belt in to scanning.
When he woke up the next morning he looked down on his bare torso. His stomach had got bigger and bigger as he ate all the trash around the house but never had it been this big—swole even bigger than his own feet he could no longer see. His bellybutton popped inside out. With an ache of nausea he went to the shower and washed his whole body in cold.
Now the Lake has turned the color of stone. The sky has zoomed way up high. The Chicagoers have moved away so the sand on the beach looks like a dirty pillowcase. Winds have picked up and fall storms crawl across the water. White lightning—scary thunder. Storms sweep over top of our beach town but never gestate into rainbearing clouds. Smells and tastes have drained from the beach and Mister looks at the sand as barren dirt.
This is how it was this morning—the day his wife would come to meet him. He bagged up his body in a giant parka and wore his biggest pair of sweatpants. He shaved his face which had broken out worse than highschool.
He waited. He waited for the sound of keys in the front door. He waited for a car in the driveway. He waited for a call or a text or anything. Night came early. The sun barely sizzled dropping into the Lake.
What an idiot to believe she was coming back! The fact clicked for him sometime after eight. He was in the middle of writing a pissy text when he felt something he’d never felt before. First it was a fluttering not so different from the nervousness he felt all day waiting for his wife. But it grew crazier—the flutters turned to swishes turned to rolls and kicks and bucks. Lightning struck his crotch and it felt like his entire lower half was pulsing about to break. His legs went red. The room white.
Slick with sweat Mister pitched into bed. But before he could fall asleep he heard something out front. A car in the drive. Keys in the door. Finally his wife’s voice sounding exhausted honeysweet.
It hurt him to stand but he met her in the hallway. They stood on opposite ends the lights all off. Mister could make out the outline of her hair against the living room window. It was messed up standing in tangles.
He started to say I was waiting—
But she hushed him. I’m sorry she said.
I had it all figured out what I was going to say.
You don’t have to.
I think it was important that I left. It makes logical sense to me. Something toxic between us and I think that’s why it—I had to go away to do it right.
And Mister heard the way she said it and it was the truth. He hadn’t heard her speak so genuine since they had first discovered about the thing. When she told him how scared she was and how she wasn’t sure she was right. He told her of course you can do it women have been doing it for as long as there have been women. But I don’t know if I can she said. She just wanted him to touch her hand so he did. He walked toward her in the dark hallway and reached out and touched her hand.
But in her hand was something else. A warm bundle of blankets that stirred and let out a cry. A pink little baby soft and sweet.
The tiny whimpers in her arms blocked out everything his wife said. It wasn’t joy he felt at that moment or dread or anything else you might expect. What he felt was the border between his own body his wife’s disappearing. They were just copies of one single entity. A greater body containing all the ingredients from man and woman needed to further life. He looked down at his own swollen belly. Rushed by panic he realized he himself contained only sand and ash and matches and fingernails and stone.
I push the last soggy chips across my plate. Mister in the booth behind me has pretty much cried himself out. My own scarf unravels from my neck. I wipe my tears on the fabric and drape the thing over top my head. It feels kind of like a hug. Like it doesn’t matter where I’m looking so long as I keep looking and looking and never close my eyes.
Mister gets up across from his friend and now his tears are dry he’s got a flush across his face. When he walks by my table his parka falls unbuttoned—under his shirt I see the long protrusion of his bellybutton like a finger pointing straight ahead.
I look and look and don’t close my eyes. I look so long I guess Mister finally notices me looking. He glowers down at me with my scarf over my head like the actresses in black and white and he hollers down on me what are you looking at? You some kind of f——?
For a long minute we string thread between our eyes. Then his friend bumps into his back and pushes him out of the bar.
Stories like this take the heaviness in my body and form it into lumps. I go out on the bluff after paying for my nachos. All the restaurants closed now their lights off and the road only lit by moonlight. I walk a few blocks to the bluff. The moon swells over the Lake. Whatever that water once had for me (attraction or magnetism even gravity) the moon hovering there holds my eye tonight. It’s full and yellow and bloated. I stroke my own belly. After this first phase passes I will feel the tide inside my own.
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