Skinned Knees

October 2013

I had always wanted a child.

From a distance I have always watched them. Children are the culmination of somebody else’s hopes and dreams, kept warm under heat lamps of love and expectations. Day in and day out, they run, they laugh, they play, with lives full of nothing but possibility and lived entirely in the moment. At home there would be family dinners, discussions, and hugs before sleeping warm and safe under a shared roof. Who wouldn’t want a tiny piece of that in their life?

There had never been any hope for me, but eventually I accepted this as the better path. Even on the outside, I had access and opportunity. More than a clipboard and a whistle, I was their confidant and haven for every playground grievance. Every fall from the slide, utterance of a tattle, or excuse for a wrong came to me, through me, and became my duty and my weight to bear. The vilest of offenders was the asphalt. Such a long expanse of rough, unwelcoming blacktop was sure to extract a price at least once a day. It seemed as if the ground itself would stick to their shoes and pull them down, tearing flesh from knees and palms, deftly burying tiny rocks under skin, and bringing forth tears of pain and surprise.

And to me did they come, seeking condolences, gauze, and ointment. That’s how I started building him. Bloodied cotton balls were stashed in pockets to rub against discarded band-aids. With only the faintest of marks, I’d save where they’d fallen, precisely, and return at night. Piece by tiny piece, I collected their skin, their little bits of life they’d left pressed into the asphalt.

It took years for me to complete my precious boy, my Luke. Fifteen years of dedication and watching. Fifteen years of collecting and saving. I gave up countless hours to mold and press flakes of skin into form, to fill the shape with strands of cotton, stained brown with blood. It never would have been enough, so I held him and sang. We watched movies, had dinners, and read stories together. The skin and blood made him; the love made him work.

And when he was ready, I bundled him up and took him to school.

In my joy, I missed the truth at first. The elation of having him, of having a child of my own, blinded me to anything that may have been wrong with my precious boy. But after the first teacher talked to me, I began to see.

I had made a child out of parts that make up children. His life had been brought about through passion and dedication, a fifteen-year toil of love. Who would have thought that it wouldn’t be enough?

But I missed the truth; love cannot un-sour milk. It hadn’t mattered what fuel I’d used to power him, I had built him out of bad parts. He was made out of bits of pain and failure, of defeat, ridicule, and embarrassment. Everything that made him had come at a price to another child, and it defined who he was. I had created my baby from unhappiness and tears.

What could at first be excused as adapting to life soon became a permanent personality. The other students started avoiding him almost immediately. He was quiet, but he had an aura of malevolence that poisoned rooms like a slow gas leak.

Darkness surrounded him, and it drove people away; all of the children could feel it. And there were the accidents.

It didn’t matter if the other children played with him or not. Wherever he traveled on that cursed asphalt, they fell. All he had to do was glance at a game of tag or a group of kids playing basketball and within minutes, it would happen. Knees and pavement would meet, stones digging into tender flesh and drawing blood from deep within. Even from my edge of the playground I could see him smile slightly at the commotion and carnage. I swear, in those moments, he was more here, more solid and more real, than any time since he’d come to be.

I was able to pass it off as paranoia until the accidents got worse. Within a month at our little school, I had cleaned up after a broken nose and a compound fracture, and had called the ambulance when a basketball backboard fell on a student, slicing his head and spilling a lot of blood, too much blood, on the asphalt.

That Friday, we went shopping. Luke had outgrown all his clothes.

At home, I slowly grew more frightened of him. Never was he cruel or violent but he had no need to be. His very presence terrified teachers and students, and I slept alone at night under the same roof he did. We were all afraid of him but without Luke acting out, without any actual issues at home or in class, nobody could help me.

I witnessed his transformation, watching him grow solid and strong with every drop of blood. That oppressive air of danger around him strengthened, souring everyone it touched. Nothing could tell me exactly what I had created, but the facts added up to one conclusion: Luke was a monster. Something had to be done before somebody got killed.

Saturday night I made his favorite dish, seasoned with horse tranquilizer. I took him to the edge of the basketball court, that terrible surface that had been his womb, and dug. Throughout the night I dug until I was satisfied it could fit even a coffin. I cried as I shoveled in dirt. I had lost my son, but he was never meant to be. With that relief, I went home.

Sunday, I awoke to Luke standing over me, smiling at the edge of my bed.

“I want to go play basketball at the school, mom. Come play with me.”

About the Author

R.D. Sullivan is the author of multiple good-for-nothing novels and short stories that do nothing but lay about and mooch off of her. “Skinned Knees” is the first of her stories to venture out in to the world and make something of itself and R.D.’s grandmother couldn’t be prouder, even if she thinks R.D. looks funny. She lives in Northern California with her husband where they raise their toddler, wrangle their pack of dogs, and run a business together. She can be found on twitter as @_TheRussian or on her blog. She is also the founder of the Cement Shoe Broadcast Network and hosts its flagship show, Talking Shit with Dave and Earl.