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A Mother's Love by Eric Beetner (Halloween in The Gutter 2019 )


Too many finicky kids like this one? And Gerber Products Company would soon go belly up.

A Mother's Love by Eric Beetner

“Open up, here comes the airplane.”

Marnie swirled the spoon around in circles as she approached her daughter’s mouth, but it was no use. Molly continued to wail. Eighteen months old and only 17.6 pounds, well underweight. Molly had been a fussy eater since birth, but things had gotten worse over the last two months. Her daughter looked emaciated, like a doll missing the stuffing.

Marnie tried to keep it together when all she wanted was to join her daughter in crying out to the heavens for relief. For Marnie that meant her daughter taking in precious calories.

“Okay, here it comes,” she said, fighting back tears. She pushed the spoon closer to Molly’s mouth but the toddler thrashed her head side-to-side like her mom was coming at her with a blow-torch. Frustrated and desperate, Marnie put her free hand on top of Molly’s head and stopped the twisting. She jammed the spoon forward, pushing against closed lips. Molly let loose a rage-filled scream that started Marnie’s ears ringing. When the tiny mouth opened the spoon slipped sideways and one of Marnie’s fingers slid inside instead. Molly clamped down with her newly cut teeth, tiny daggers like a baby shark, and dug gashes in Marnie’s flesh.


“Ow, dammit!”

When Marnie tried to pull away, her finger caught on those tiny razor teeth. Suddenly Molly was quiet, her cheeks suctioning in and out the way she used to suckle during breastfeeding. Sucking down her mother’s blood, Molly’s eyes were oddly content.

Her little girl was … drinking. Pulling needed nutrition from the open wounds. And Marnie felt something she also hadn’t felt since breast-feeding—a subconscious connection—a bond.

She let her daughter suckle until her eyes drooped, and she fell asleep in the highchair.

Two days later and Molly, once again, hadn’t eaten a thing. Her eyes looked sunken, her arms and legs like twigs that would snap in a stiff breeze. Marnie peeled off her Band-Aid, offered the finger to Molly—who opened her mouth like a baby bird. The wound reopened and Molly drank, her tiny teeth tearing away bits of flesh that she also swallowed down.

***

Marnie removed the ice pack and pressed a finger into her thigh. The flesh went white, though she felt nothing but pressure. She set the edge of the knife against her skin and closed her eyes … but still couldn’t find the resolve. Opening her eyes again she caught Molly staring with curious anticipation.


Marnie dug the knife into her thigh and made a quick slashing motion, like whittling a piece of wood. She pressed a towel against the open wound—and sucked air through her teeth. Confident the bleeding had stopped, she sliced the flesh into tiny bite-sized pieces and let her daughter pick them up in her tiny fists the way she’d seen other toddlers do with Cheerios. When Molly was done with the fresh meat Marnie let her suck on the towel and draw out the blood.

Two months later Molly had gained weight at last. Marnie hobbled to the freezer on her artificial leg. She hadn’t gotten used to the prosthetic yet, but took out the last baggie of meat. She could tell by the blue lines of her tattoo that it was from her calf, just above the ankle. She thawed the piece in the microwave and brought the chunk to Molly, who waved her arms in anticipation.

Marnie sat down and removed her plastic leg, rubbing the stump where the doctors had removed the bare bone. Sure, they’d asked questions. But Marnie claimed she didn’t know what happened to rip nearly all the flesh from her right leg. A “degloving” injury the stunned doctors called it. All she knew was that her daughter was healthy again and she’d do anything for Molly.

Meanwhile Molly finished the small portion of meat and cried out for more. Gesturing wildly, her highchair shook the floor and rattled the plastic tray.

Marnie sighed and pressed the icepack to her left leg and waited for the muscles to go numb. Molly’s thrashing became so violent it threatened to overturn the highchair. Marnie scooted her own chair closer, wedging the bulky ice pack tighter to her thigh. She pressed the tip of the knife into her finger, using the whorls of her fingerprint like a bulls-eye. A bead of blood oozed from the puncture—and Molly’s eyes went wide—same as the first time she’d seen a real-life cat.

Marnie held out her finger. Molly eagerly accepted and contently suckled. Whatever chemicals bonded a mother and child coursed through Marnie’s veins. She marveled at the peace and joy on her daughter’s face as the child drank deep.

If Marnie could get used to one fake leg, she could also get used to two. And she would do anything for her little girl. Anything.

After that, well, the lady next door was old and slow. No family that Marnie knew of. Nobody to miss her. She didn’t relish the thought—

But if it came to that … a kid’s gotta eat.

Eric Beetner is that writer you've heard about but maybe never read. Then when you finally do you wonder why you waited. There are a lot of books like Rumrunners, All The Way Down, and The Devil Doesn’t Want Me so you'd better get started. He co-hosts the podcast Writer Types and Noir at the Bar L.A.. He’s also been nominated for three Anthony’s, a Shamus, a Derringer, an ITW award, and 5 Emmys. Seriously, what’re you waiting for? You can also vist him on his website: www.ericbeetner.com