Laura was on the phone with her boyfriend when the baby let out a sharp wail. She rushed down the hall, picked up her crying daughter from the crib, cooed “There, sweetie, it’s okay.” Then she saw blood dripping from the baby’s thumb. The cut was on the side of the nail, through the cuticle, a smooth cut. Not huge, but deep enough to keep bleeding.
What had cut her? The baby couldn’t roll over yet. Laura’s three-year-old son came into the room. “The crib hurt our baby,” Laura said. “We’re lucky it never hurt you.” She soothed the baby. Her son stood there, quiet.
When the bleeding stopped, Laura put the baby in her swing. She went back to the nursery, ran her hands carefully along the crib rails, gingerly between the mattress and sides to find the thing that cut the baby. Nothing. She stripped the crib of its sheet and blankets. Nothing.
In the living room, her son stood next to the swing, watching the baby. Laura asked him, “Were you in the nursery when Mama was on the phone? Do you know how the baby got hurt?” He nodded. “How?” He said nothing. She picked him up and held him, her beautiful son.
“Tell Mommy what cut her… Please?”
He hesitated, then looked at her with his deep-set eyes, “angel eyes,” she called them, so blue, such luminous eyelids. “I cutted her.”
“You cut your sister?!” He nodded. “With what? Tell Mama how the accident happened.” With the safety scissors in his art box. It was not an accident.
“Why? Why would you cut your baby sister?”
“Because… um… I wanted to see if she had the red stuff in her.” Laura felt a tremor of panic, then reminded herself he was three and curious.
“Everyone has the red stuff in them, honey. You have to ask me when you have a question. Okay? Don’t try to find out by yourself.” She smoothed his hair from his cool forehead, kissed him there. “Mama knows everything.”
That morning was the first sign of what would come — but Laura missed it as she would miss other things. Mama didn’t know everything back then. But in time, she came to know more than she could bear. She could stand interrogation about her son, but through tears asked police not to tell her the gory details he confessed to — how he ended other people’s lives, how many people, how long he’d been doing it. She stopped reading the newspaper, watching the news. She didn’t want to know, resisted believing it.
Laura moved to another town, changed her last name. Her daughter changed her name, too, went to college out of state.
The therapy, the palliative drugs barely eased her anguish, guilt, disgust. Even with the drugs, she didn’t think she had the courage to visit an institution where they kept the dangerous, criminally mentally ill. Still, he was her son. She felt a certain duty. The high doses she took on those dreaded days made her dizzy. A different dizziness overcame her when she said “I love you” at the end of visiting time. He’d look at her with those devil eyes, never say it back.
Suzannah Gilman, author of the poetry chapbook I Will Meet You at the River, writes essays and non-fiction for The Gloria Sirens, an online magazine. She has won three flash fiction slams and Literary Death Match Orlando. Her work has appeared in anthologies and in such journals as The Florida Review, Calyx, Pearl, The Café Review and Prick of the Spindle, and was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A licensed attorney, she represented victims of domestic violence under a grant from the U.S. DOJ Office on Violence Against Women.