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Drama Fantasy Kids

1:03am

Mara never expected to give birth to an alien. No one does. Well some people maybe, she mused in the little halo of light that engulfed the soft white recliner. But Mara had no memories of being beamed up to a flying saucer, prodded, or injected. She had not even used any questionable public toilets. And yet, here he was. Mara traced the shape of his perfectly bald, cone-shaped head with her fingertips, following the network of light blue veins and tentatively smoothing its apex.

When she’d first seen him in the hospital, her instinct had been to laugh. Those enormous black eyes staring straight into hers, unblinking! She imagined newborns with big cheeks, their eyes scrunched shut in that first howl. This one had not howled; he only stared as if he were as shocked to be there as she was to see him.

And her husband? Mara wondered if Brandon would be angry, if he would question her, or blame her. This baby looked nothing like either of them! But Brandon had smiled, albeit with his head cocked to one side. For a moment he quietly observed the baby before saying, “You know, my Aunt Gladys always had a bulbous forehead…”

If it weren’t for the IV and pulse oximeter tying her to the bed and the nurse still pressing forcefully on her aching abdomen, she would have kissed him for that.

Besides his unusual appearance, there was nothing medically wrong with the baby. So there was nothing to do but take him home and call him Clark, just like they’d planned.

Mara had wondered, did alien babies wake the same as Earth babies? Yes, it turned out. She stuck a pinky finger into the corner of his tiny mouth to break the suction around her breast and her nose wrinkled with pain. She took a deep breath. 

Regular Earth babies opened their mouths to feed. She’d seen them on YouTube, docile and compliant as their serene mothers lifted those patient, open mouths to their chests. Alien Baby Clark thrashed and chomped so it was impossible to aim him properly toward a decent latch. Before re-wrapping his swaddle, Mara dipped her finger in the already half-empty jar of ointment waiting on the table beside her and smeared a glob on each cracked nipple, reveling in the moment of relief.

3:12 am

She felt herself surfacing from deep underwater. She was coming into light and sound and consciousness so fast it hurt. Such a long journey. God, when was the last time she’d slept this deeply? 

And when she became mostly conscious, it was of the baby, grunting and thrashing in his bassinet next to the bed. She sat up and, in the dim light, saw that two long, thin tentacles had broken out of their swaddle. Scooping him up, she touched his fingertips. She’d read that the optimal sleeping temperature for babies was actually 68 degrees. For Earth babies. Perhaps none of the rules applied to Clark. His pale, thin fingers were cold. She’d forgotten to ask the doctor what his optimal body temperature should be. Panic made cold ribbons that ran from her elbows to her fingertips. She had no idea what she was doing.

She settled into the recliner as Clark’s grunts turned into shrill bleats. “It’s coming,” she whispered to him. “Let me get these pillows…”

With her free hand, Mara felt over the edge of the recliner and pulled up a crescent-shaped pillow, which she tucked around her waist. The next she shoved under her elbow as Clark’s cry trembled in an almost-soundless vibrato. She imagined those vibrations breaking the windows, the same way it had shattered something inside of her. She sat there, broken inside a pile of pillows, took a deep breath, and unhooked one side of her nursing tank.

4:07 am

Clark was hungry. He pulled forcefully from Mara. As she sat in the warm yellow nightlight halo, willing herself to stay awake and not drop the baby, Mara’s thoughts blurred and spun. She was bobbing atop the waves of that deep ocean from which she had surfaced, but currents threatened to pull her down. Images of Clark’s wailing mouth, fierce and toothless, blended with things past—a baby bird that had lived on her grandma’s back porch one summer long ago. It was big, covered in patchy black fuzz that stuck out at sharp angles. It grew and grew, eventually crowding its emaciated siblings out of the nest. Within weeks the baby, now fledged a mottled gray/brown, was bigger than its mother. Her grandma explained how another bird had laid its egg in that nest. But the poor mother never seemed to notice. She flitted through the yard, bringing back morsels that she tucked into the demanding mouth of that fat, frowning bullfrog of a baby that had murdered her actual babies. She was completely devoted to it. Maybe she loved it for being so big and powerful and different.

“I’m one step ahead of you, though,” she whispered to Clark, whose thin lips now trembled limply around her breast. Those big, dark eyes were closed, transparent lashes laying like spider webs over his cheeks. For a moment he looked almost human. Mara reached into the corner of his mouth to separate him from her body. His mouth searched the air and she willed him to stay asleep.

9:48 am

At night, she was alone with Clark, just the two of them in their dim circle of lamp light that separated them from the dark world outside. In the daytime their world was bigger. Mara shared the baby—with Brandon or the eager grandparents. There was always someone waiting to coo and cuddle him. They were unconcerned about his strange features. In fact they seemed to admire them. 

“Don’t worry. The way he eats, he’ll plump up fast,” her mom once said when Mara marveled at his long, thin arms. Or when she caught Mara running the palm of her hand over his smooth head, “You’ll barely recognize him when his hair comes in.”

Then her mom would shoo her off to “go rest,” as if it were possible to just shut off with an alien baby out there and a humming houseful of guests. She would lie in bed thinking about sleeping and how she should be sleeping and why wasn’t she sleeping until there was nothing to do but pull out her phone. This morning, as her finger wandered the smooth keyboard, it typed out a question that had been plaguing Mara for hours. What kind of bird lays its eggs in someone else’s nest?

What was left of her analytical mind took over as Mara traced link after link and drank in information. It was a cowbird she’d seen that summer long ago. Cowbirds, she found, laid their eggs in the nests of more than 100 different species. Sometimes the babies would fail to thrive because they’re placed with an incompatible host—a finch who serves nothing but seeds, the omnivore languishing. Mara thought of the cold fingers, the thermostat.

Finally, she felt like she was learning something about her baby! More than she’d ever learned from The Nursing Mother’s Companion or The Happiest Baby on the Block. Those were books for Earth babies. Here—this was the primer for alien babies.

And then there was this: How does a cowbird learn it’s a cowbird? A creature apart from the warbler or wren or robin who raised it? Instinct, a certain itch in its wings, drove most of the young fledglings on nighttime trysts with other cowbirds—a conclave of teen-aged parasites giving voice to the new sounds that suddenly sprang from their tingling throats (the thrill of hearing a sympathetic reply!) then tottering home, shaky wings against a purple sky, to snuggle down in the nest before their parents ever discovered them missing.

Mara imagined a young Clark, black eyes and bald head shining in the light of their very same lamp two years hence, toddling toward the window to commune with his kind, to learn their language and customs, shedding the last of his humanity as he reached those two tentacles up to a smiling moon, or maybe his home planet, buried deep somewhere in Orion’s Belt. Would his kind call him back someday? How long would they leave him in her care?

Those eyelashes, resting on his sunken cheeks. Hers but not hers. Mara’s feet began to sweat under the blankets and she kicked them aside as she continued to scroll through the article, leaning greedily into the light of the phone. There was one hope. Cowbirds that spent too much time with their foster families were not able to develop these separate identities. They grew up singing warbler songs, or trying to mate with thrushes. Mara put down her phone.

11:11 am

In the living room, Clark was sleeping in his rocker swing while Mara’s mother read a book on the couch nearby. Mara scooped him up, savoring the soft skin at the nape of his neck. 

“Honey, you’ll wake him up!” her mom hoarse-whispered. “Go take another few minutes for yourself.”

Mara ignored her. She needed Clark right now. The hunger for him was an earthquake deep inside of her. She pressed that bundle of swaddled limbs into her chest and held it as tightly as she dared. She could feel the rise and fall of his tiny abdomen and mirrored her own breaths after it.

Reliably, the smell of her sent Clark rooting. His eyes came to life and his tiny mouth started chomping. Mara went wordlessly to the recliner and began erecting the cathedral of pillows that would bridge their bodies. He could sleep the rest of the day, once he’d heard her out. One good latch and he would be a captive audience. 

Mara wrapped her thumb and middle finger around the two hard points at the base of his skull, watched those little lips for an opening, and quickly guided that cone head toward her body. One try, pain, the pinky, once more. There it was, in only two attempts!

But once he was still, once everything was quiet, Mara wasn’t sure what to say. Words wound their way through her head:

Hello, Baby Clark. It’s me, your mom. I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. Anyway, this has been a big adjustment for me and I’m doing it on very little sleep, wounded in some very sensitive areas. It’s not that I hold that against you. Really, my choice. You just… haven’t been what I expected. But I’ve decided I want you to stay anyway.

But who talks to a baby like that? These words failed to capture it all, so instead Mara found herself singing. Deep down in her chest voice, making soft vibrations that he would feel in his lips and sternum.

Hear the lonesome whippoorwill, he sounds too blue to fly…” 

This ancient cowboy ballad—something that sprang unbidden from deep in that teeming ocean of her consciousness, seemed the perfect lullaby for this alien baby. The sound of her own voice shocked Mara, the gentle rise and fall as she seesawed between high and low notes, expressing in the drawn out syllables so many things she couldn’t capture with just words. The loneliness, yes, and the uncertainty, but also the growing certainty. You are here; you are mine, and I love you.

Her voice caught, exhausted by the final verse. “The silence of a falling star lights up the purple sky, and as I wonder where you are I’m so lonesome I could cry.” She pictured the purple sky, the returning bird. 

Mara could cry, but her tears were not lonesome. She sat, stroking that vast forehead, translucent eyebrows, the flat nose with her fingertips, memorizing his features. Not-her, but hers. She felt his body relax and melt into her arms. 

As she unhooked the corner of his mouth and his head rolled back with a haphazard milk-drunkness to rest on the pillow, his lips turned upward into a slight smile. Mara caught it for the two seconds it lasted. That smile transformed his face. Suddenly she could see Brandon in his chin, and in the arch of his eyebrows and the way his cheeks rose to meet his eyes she saw something even more familiar. His cries had broken her into pieces. Now his smile reassembled those pieces into something new—better, more resilient. 

Brandon and her mom would say it was gas. At four days old, Clark was too young for smiles. They would, of course, be describing an Earth baby.

August 28, 2020 04:37

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9 comments

Anika G
03:14 Aug 29, 2020

Oh, my goodness!! What a creative way to interpret this prompt! I love it so much!!!!!! The metaphors were amazing, and it was a super fun read :)

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A.Dot Ram
05:11 Aug 29, 2020

Thank you!

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00:26 Sep 03, 2020

Amazing! Such a good read, I love how creative it is

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A.Dot Ram
07:07 Sep 03, 2020

Thanks for reading! I appreciate your encouragement.

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07:11 Sep 03, 2020

Np!

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:24 Aug 31, 2020

INCREDIBLE 😮 Super creative, amazing descriptions, quirky and touching in all the right ways with that perfect comedic dose. First line hooked me in like a fish. I love how even though this was an absurd tale it really captured just how unbreakable the bond between mother and child is. The parallels to nature were also nicely done. I always thought the bird that grows up in the nest of others was called a cuckoo, but I guess you learn something every day 😅 Good stuff, I hope this gets shortlisted!

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A.Dot Ram
02:54 Sep 01, 2020

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. You are not wrong about the cuckoo. There are several species of birds that are brood parasites and the cuckoo is one. The cowbird is another. I chose a cowbird because I think it's more common in my region.

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:03 Sep 01, 2020

I see. It’s so cool how a little biology knowledge can come a long way in enhancing a story!

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Arwen Dove
05:12 May 02, 2021

This is such a great story! I love your creativity!

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