Those We Feed
by Layla Al-Bedawi
Edited by Julia Rios
I knew you were an impostor long before I ever had little enough to lose to ask. I never expected you would admit to it, your small face unblinking and unsurprised. You sound just like a six-year-old child when you tell me. I feel like I’m meant to ask what I did to deserve this. Whether a real child ever grew inside me. Whether you are a curse, and how I can lift it. But my mouth spits out a different question, one that has been waiting inside my gut for years to finally burn its way up through my throat like a mournful, wailing acid.
You answer without hesitation.
“Of course I will kill you,“ you say, and your little face looks sad. My turn to be unsurprised: I think I’ve always known you’ll be the death of me.
“When?“ I ask.
“Not for a long time.“
I think of the malleability of time, of how it engulfs you like a warm bath when you’re small, how it falls away from you as you age and the days start crumbling inevitably under the strained weight of their sameness. I think of the eight hours of labor I was conscious for, and before that the three minutes of waiting for a faint phantom of a line to appear, and before that the five and a half years of visiting doctors then later churches, of praying and lighting candles then later whispering strange words and cooking bitter greens collected by the creek, and of how they all equally felt like a lifetime.
I know your body isn’t strong. I could smother you, and feel you might let me. I’ve thought of it many times, and I think of it now. I might live longer with you gone. But what would a longer life be worth? For six years it has been only me and you, and before that, it has always only ever been me.
Maybe this will be enough.
“What will happen to you after?“ I say. I don’t say: Who will take care of you? I don’t say: I think I’ve come to love you.
“I don’t know. Maybe I will disappear.“
Your little six-year-old hand takes my larger one, and I feel like I finally know you. Your little six-year-old eyes, dearer to me now than ever before, look into my older ones. I don’t know if you grew within me for those eight months and seven days, but I grew you for these past six years. You were cold, but you were here. You may not be like me, but you are mine.
“Shall we make the best of this world while we are in it together?“
You nod your little six-year-old head, relieved, and I wonder whether tomorrow I will pretend to have forgotten all you told.
You guide my hand to your little six-year-old mouth then and bite into my thumb. I let you chew, gently, until the first joint separates and you swallow it, smiling and cooing like you never did even once when you were a baby. Biting my tongue to silence my pain, blood filling my mouth and yours, I smile back.
“Thank you,“ you say.
I know then that it will be gradual. I will disappear, slowly, into you, bit by bit.
But not for a long time.