by Noah Lemelson
I lived my life, alone, among men and rats in that filth-bearing nest they called a city. My father, a fool, had found his cold place in the earth when I was a child, and my mother, mind gone, soon followed. My sister took work driving the plains, and I found myself toiling in dim rooms for men I had never met, for days and years, until my face grew saggy, my bones tired, my ears began to ring, and my eyes blurred.
The only woman to ever touch me with warmth had demanded more than I could give. Children’s cries had brought smiles to her face, and to me, a knowing look, yet I discovered that my loins could provide for her only dust. Soon she faded, leaving me with nothing, and with that nothing I sat amid the decayed farmhouse of my childhood years, waiting to rot alone among forgotten rye.
That is, until the night the heavens gave me my daughter.
Her birth was from a storm, there was none like it; the night sky a lavender glow, the air rushing with the scent of rotting flowers. She came from the stars, of that I am sure, the ground burst at her birth. Yet she lay unscratched, warm, round, and wet.
I held close the child, a gift of life far beyond my worth. I took my daughter in, I made her a bed, I fed her, I bathed her. I loved her.
She grew as fast as my delight. Her arms were strong, her hair long and flowing, her stride wide as she danced ripples among the fields. She jumped and ducked in a playground I had built, dashed and swerved among the poles and stones. When she sang dogs howled to meet her.
When night fell, I would take her head upon my lap, her skin azure and cool, her arms engulfing me. I stared up above at the sparkling black and told stories I had long forgotten, of my past and things before it, of people and places I had never seen. At times I did not know the words that left my mouth, but my daughter understood, shimmering all the while.
My sister came to visit and I hid my daughter. I spoke nothing of her new niece, and only groaned out to the intruder my old complaints. I feared this woman, who would not understand, could not understand.
I froze when she asked about what I had created outside, of the poles and ropes, titled steel slopes and patterns of smoothed stones. Creations whose form had been gifted to me in dreams. For this I laughed my only lie:
“Art,” I said, “Just a lonely old man and his art.”
First I fed my daughter with meat from a store down the road. When my funds withered, I fed her the remains of the farm. I gave to her my parent’s old cows and senile pigs, one by one, as my daughter grew and grew.
When none were left, my daughter would leave to hunt for hours, then days. I would sit by the window, mad with worry, until I heard her crawl through the door, covered in the browns of dirt, the greens of crushed leafs, and reds.
The stories in the paper lay first in the back pages, of missing dogs, then sheep, then cattle. Soon they traveled to the front, of a missing child, of a man stripped to bone, of a house wiped clean of every living thing. I held my daughter and wept, but I could not allow her to starve, and soon her feet, stepping in threes, would be out the door and into the dark, her long stomach rippling from hunger.
I went to town to hear the stories for myself. The people spoke with fear, with hate, talk of fleeing or fighting. Some thought it a bear, but a bear could not break down a door. Some thought it a madman, but who could climb to such high windows, or slip through cellar cracks?
I fled when they began to speak of the police, and then, of the National Guard.
I slept that night with my head nestled in my daughter’s back-spines. She stroked me, our roles reversed. I whispered for her to leave, to run. To flee to the mountains where they she could get lost among the trees, or into the darkness of some sewer. My daughter could fit into surprising places.
She rumbled and cooed, and spoke images of far-off places, of cities that floated, of rivers of metal, of spheres that danced in forests of gems; of horizons of purples, of towers of skin, of a world so beautiful that it made me scream.
Then it was I heard a shout from outside, fear in the voice of my sister. Perhaps she had heard the stories, perhaps her visit was only curiosity, but my pleas could not keep her hand from my door.
Her face was pale, her voice cracked as she glimpsed my daughter. Her hand went to her holster and I dashed, but my daughter was faster still. She no longer needed me to protect her.
I wept at the feet of my sister’s skin, ripped in clean lines, flesh scooped away. My daughter cooed, and lifted me up in her dozen hands. She held me close to her back, and carried me from that sepulcher.
Out we went, through fields of rye, past abandoned towns, through forests where the trees bore her mark, into a hole, deep through the earth.
There I blinked in the shadows, hands pushing blindly through mucus and dirt, voice silent, until I saw movement.
I fell to my knees, neither laughing nor crying but both. My daughter was not of my flesh, she did not inherit my dust. For there, resting a sublime peace in cots of skin, lay my granddaughters, warm, round and wet.