The baby was born with facial hair. Not just hair on its chin, like a grown man, but hair on its cheeks and forehead and on the tiny baby whorls of its perfect ears. She held the little creature to her breast and it’s fur tickled at her. If she closed her eyes it was unsettling, like she was cradling a small animal. She nursed it with her eyes open, watching its pink baby legs fatly kicking against her suddenly flaccid stomach.
At first she couldn’t be certain that it was a boy. The full face of hair seemed masculine to her but the genitals were inconclusive. Intersexed, the doctor suggested uncertainly, of indeterminate gender, as if the facial hair was not enough. She called it Jason after the man she suspected might be the father.
She had had other lovers since him. The days were long and it was easy enough to pick someone up at the bar down the road to alleviate some of the boredom. And each time she had closed her eyes and imagined his soft curled locks in her fingers, his muscled shoulders straining above her naked body. When she opened her eyes, though, it was just man-sweat and soft fat shoulders and beer-breath and she would sigh at the memory of that one particular lover on that one very particular night.
As if the magic of a name had conjured it, the baby’s little penis began to grow. By the time he was a year old it was definitely a he. She kept his face shaved, but there was always a dark halo of regrowth on the infant’s forehead to remind her of his dubious beginnings and now when she suckled him her bosom would become chafed as if she had let her breasts be ravaged by a grown and poorly shaven man.
He was an odd baby, quick as a whip, climbing up furniture and perching there, teetering at the very summit of his high chair or a bookcase, peering at the ceiling as if watching a bird. Sometimes he unsettled her with his sheer concentration. She sat and watched him stare and felt a liquid shiver run down her spine, like that old game her brother used to play with her, cracking an imaginary egg over her head, letting his fingers trickle down her shoulders.
He’s my baby, she would tell herself. He’s my baby and I love him to death.
One day she found him balancing on the cistern of the toilet, peering up at towards the mirror, barely able to glimpse a snatch of his dark curls from this precarious angle. She lifted him up and held him to the glass but shrank back, startled. For a moment she thought his eyes, in reflection had flared with a bright flame, like the eyes of his father, the first Jason, on that night, the first night, the beginning of things.
She remembered that night, went back to it again when Jason was safely tucked up in his bed. She remembered the boy’s father as she touched herself under the sheets, closing her eyes just as she had on that night, imagining the soft fur along that his jaw, the way he bit into her shoulder so hard that she could see the line of bruises in her flesh in the morning when she woke and turned towards an empty pillow beside her.
In the heat of passion he had bit her. She felt it again now. Teeth biting down on her shoulder. She gasped in pain, and at this moment the wave of pleasure overcame her. She arched her back and thrust her fingers inside herself feeling the insistent pulse of her own skin. Her blood her pulse her life. She felt the weight of him on her chest. She opened her eyes, certain that the man had returned to her like a phantom, formed from the weight of her passion.
‘Jason!’ she shrieked in horror, not pleasure this time as she struggled to pull him off her, but the child had bitten down into her shoulder with his new teeth, so little and perfect and white, and his eyes were lit with a glow that she recognised and his fingers clutched at the diaphanous fabric of her nightgown, his fist finding her breast and clamping down on it. She screamed now with pain, one of her hands on his, the other holding his face, trying to slip a finger between his teeth, her fingers smelled of her own pleasure and she felt suddenly mortified, embarrassed, disgusted, she struggled with the chubby weight of the child.
‘Jason, let go!’
His nails were long too. They grew as quickly as the facial hair. A daily ritual of cutting them with the tiny baby clippers. She finally wrestled him free of her. Blood flowing sudden and warm at her shoulder, wetting down the fabric of her nightgown. She pulled at the little figure and his clawed fingers slipped free. She heard the thud of him landing, somewhere on the darkened carpet, the scrabble of his little legs clambering over her shoes and discarded clothing.
‘Oh darling, I’m so sorry.’ Her voice was filled with remorse. She snapped on the light, expecting to see her son lying bruised and battered on the carpet, but he was not there. He was hiding. She had frightened him. It was abuse. She knew it. She would be charged for hurting her son and they would take him from her and she was surprised to find that this thought brought a little wave of relief rather than regret.
‘Jason, Darling?’ she peered over the edge of the bed, imagined him, hurt and cowering just under the covers. She was about to lift the sheet when she heard it, a voice. Words. The voice of a much older boy, a man, a deep thundering of syllables, only whispered from somewhere under the bed.
‘Where is my father?’
She leaped back. Her heart pounded. Blood. Pulse. Sweat.
‘Bring back my father.’
She held her hand to her mouth, the smell of her, her sex, her fear.
‘Where is my father?’
She could run. She could leap off the bed. She could make a dash towards the door. Her shoulder throbbed. There was blood. She smelt the acid of her own fear leaking out of her pores.
‘Where is my father?’
Then louder, closer, ‘Where is my father?’
A scuffle like a possum, and with it a rank feral smell, a wild animal smell.
‘Where is my father.’
The lamp scraped across the bedside table, tugged by some unseen hand, she heard the crash, the clink of glass breaking. There was a flare, a flash, and then.
There was darkness.
Krissy Kneen is the author of three books including Triptych, a trio of linked novellas.