ITERATION 9 • by Stephen Buoro

He was a perfect baby. He never cried. He rarely pooped. He told me everything with his eyes: hunger, lovesickness, cold. His eyes: large grey irises, watery, luminous, like the eyes of the cat my ma had put to sleep when I was nine; and when I began to miss those eyes, I cried nonstop for two days until my eyes became so swollen that I couldn’t see light for the rest of the week. My ma said I used to cry, not cry, shriek, shriek every minute when I was a baby like him. That I only stopped shrieking the day I became nine months old when she locked me in the house and went to work. I wasn’t perfect. He was perfect. I didn’t deserve him.

And when he became nine months old, I found a pea-shaped lump in my left breast. Since then I’ve been staring at the number 9 as much as I can, as much as I stare out of windows at flowers, trying to levitate withering sepals and scrappy petals.

The lump in my breast was the biggest plot twist any babe or ma will ever hear. Of course it wasn’t cancer. It was him, his pitiful history, where he’d come from, where he was going to.

I love him like I love ripples of water chasing each other, like I love ants marching to holes or climbing anthills, carrying white food. His babbles are the hymns of birds in the mornings and his tiny holy arms and legs are my stamens and stalks. The saliva he dribbles is a clear stream of bubbly water, and in each bubble I see my face ever so clearly and see my own eyes, and in these eyes, I see how much I love him.

“We found the impossible in your breast,” the doctor said. “Even the most wasted futurologist hasn’t dreamt this one.” This was weeks after the surgery, the surgery that stole my nipples from his teeth. Of course I didn’t visit the doctor with perfect baby; hospitals aren’t for babies. “That growth in your breast is in fact a chip, a biochip. It contains a message to you. From your baby.”

In the chip, he instructed me to take him to Number 9, 333 Arroyo Lane. I’d find a Hawking-Einstein there. The H-E would send him to another dimension, where he wanted to be instead. And if I didn’t place him in the H-E soon, we’d both be dead. And I’d be reincarnated and have him again. Over again. Over again till I obeyed.

“How soon, he didn’t say,” the doctor sighed. “Why your son wants you to do all this is the problem here. Is he fleeing from something in the future? Obviously. Something he doesn’t want to do?”

The doctor stared at me for a long moment, gauging my reaction. And I turned to him and smiled, a sweet hot broad smile. I smiled because his eyes were so baggy and fake, and far, far from the eyes of perfect baby.

“No,” I said. “No.”

“No? Listen,” he said, leaning forward. “You haven’t been listening all your life. Your baby says he’s tired. That he wants to free you. And he wants you to free him. The Hawking-Einstein would help him travel super fast, faster than light, faster than everything, on an infinite loop. So your baby will forever remain a baby. He’d avoid that thing in his future. And you’ll be free to have other babies, to grow old and… and…”

I spent the next few weeks crying and laughing and flinging picture frames of my soulless perfect baby. He’d be sitting on a coffee table staring at me. He wouldn’t even blink when I crashed to the floor and kissed his feet and bit his toe.

His irises were now darker, his eyes less watery. What the hell was he saying with those eyes? For his eye speeches were now puns and oxymorons to me. Time is a mirror that ripples? It doesn’t leave us behind, never leaves us behind?

You are soulless and stronger than me, perfect baby. But why did you easily give up?

I knew what I was supposed to do. But I was so weak, as weak and dead as the flowers I’d been trying to levitate.

I had been weak and dead eight times. But I wouldn’t be weak forever.

So I travelled far to the desert. Harsh sun and dust in my eyes and sand dunes. Sand dunes! The beauty! Are deserts truly beautiful with all the mad heat, the flaming sands, the tsunamis of dust? But in the sands in the distance I thought I could see the first pre-human plodding about inelegantly, trying hard to walk, falling and rising, like a baby. Soon afterwards I thought I could see the star child, full of all beauty, full of all knowledge, sailing gaily in the air, telling me I could do it, that I could really do it.

Nine days later I parked the car outside Number 9, 333 Arroyo Lane. The neighbourhood was strewn with pigeons and pheasants and thrushes, some flying onto the bonnet while I unbelted him. He could walk perfectly now, so I unlocked the door to the passenger seat and set him down. I took his hand and walked him to the door of the house, a house that didn’t demand a second glance, like ours. It unlocked of its own accord. We stepped in. The living room smelled of nothing. Was quiet except for a TV whistling white noise, perfect baby’s fanfare.

He broke from me and ran to a cot with the Hawking-Einstein tag. I went to him and we stood staring at the cot, at its sheets patterned with flowers each with nine spots. His pulse throbbed in my hand. A tear welled in his eye, rolled down his little cheek, and fell to the ground, splashing dust.

When Stephen Buoro is not writing his unending novel, he researches permutations. Born in 1993, his work has previously appeared in Word Riot and Evergreen Review.

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