portion of the artwork for Rachel McKibbens's story

Rachel McKibbens

A man hears a loud ka-thunk on his porch. He arms himself with a butcher knife, tiptoes down the hall, and opens his front door. Hee yah! screams the man, chopping at the hard vacant air. The night is a dark jar of hungry mosquitoes. He slaps himself on the neck, then notices a large Moses basket on the welcome mat. It is filled with an anonymous baby sporting a thick gold curl on top of its head. Hello, baby, says, the man, what is your name? But the baby is a mean son of a bitch and gives the man the old silent treatment. Because he is a well-mannered Christian who never leaves home without kissing the headshot of Jesus perched on the mantel, the man finds it in his heart to give the cruel and quiet baby a chance. OK, baby. I’m going to take you into my house. For the next eighteen years, I will raise you. Feed you, bring you up as my own. I will work hard for you, baby. Until my hair turns to chalk. Until the palms of my hands grow tiny steeples of tough skin. The child blinks at the man and shits its little baby jeans.

Seventeen years go by. On the day before its eighteenth birthday the baby packs a suitcase and sets it by the door. The man, feeble in his old age, watches from his wheelchair and lets out a deep, dusty sigh: I suppose you are leaving me now. The baby crawls over to the wheelchair. Promise you will write? pleads the old man, a wet pearl rolling from his eye. The baby continues its eighteen-year-long silent treatment. The old man frowns and nods knowingly. The next morning, the baby is gone, off to gather its own glittering triumphs and exceptional grief. The old man surveys his newly emptied home: the tattered sofa, covered in bed sheets. Faded Jesus in his crumbling frame. The canary, sunny side up in its rusty cage.

The man spends the final years of his life wheeling from room to room. Hello? Anybody in here? He pulls his chair up to the wall and eats his meals alongside the filthy scuttle of mice. When he dreams, he dreams of discovering a new door and behind it, a grateful daughter huddled over a school book, or an obedient wife, bent over, shaving her legs in the sink. He dreams of the baby, far away in a tank, blowing up insurgents. Medals of valor pinned to its diaper, a “dad” tattoo on its chubby & god-like arm.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 28 | Spring 2010