“Lullaby and good night, thy mother’s delight”
That angelic song, like Mother’s milk, filtering through rock and dirt, summoning me from the down below. I want to drink it like nectar.
“Bright angels beside my darling abide”
The crust breaks like an open wound. I’m expelled from bedrock in a birth ritual of rock and flesh. The light stings my sensitive eyes more than the grit and stone. Second eyelids drop milky white.
I lie curled in my new nest beneath the singing, naked and pulsing in this harsh climate of expansiveness.
“They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast.”
The fading song laps at me like an underground lake – soft and black. The woman with the tender voice closes the door behind her. I uncoil from under the bed like a skein of rope.
“Momma?” Unfortunately, there is no second membrane to protect my exposed ears from the grating sound. Over the edge of the bed and I see its eyes staring back. Not opalescent and round, but small, crystallized blue. I climb over the rails, nails click-clicking. I pour around my new nest mate like twisting mercury.
My reflection in her eyes. Saw-like teeth chattering, scales iridescent in the moonlight. The world – so bright! She is enchanted with my eyes, lost in them, and she is unafraid.
She tells me her name. Susan. I don’t tell her mine.
She touches me, fingers playing along my corded muscles. I let her explore my scales and the chinks in my armor. And I too, drink her in. Her skin, the contours of her spine, the strange shape of her skull. Remember her. Susan giggles as my body surrounds her, convulses, changes, erupts.
Susan doesn’t giggle anymore.
I do not slither. I pad into the room, unsteady, a foal freshly ejected. My altered eyes do not sting from the moonlight.
The woman senses me and she raises her head. I hope she will sing. She does not. She lifts the blanket to welcome me and I climb into her nest.
We are not alone in this haven. I watch the man next to us, wary that he may rise up, attempt to chase me away as his kind are apt to do. But he doesn’t. He slumbers, noisy and foul.
“Shhhh,” she whispers into my ear to soothe the rumbles of discontent coming from my throat. As she strokes my new hair, my sound becomes a purr. I am no longer mercury but she is not rock. We are now the same and fit together.
She sleeps and my fingers trace circles around her body. Play with the jut of the hipbone. My tongue laps at it in patterns of love. She squirms when my teeth nip into the flesh — perhaps subconsciously she already knows.
When she awakens, I tell her to go back to sleep. She does.
Finally satiated, I break my hold and she embraces me tightly while the night unfolds.
She plays with me during the days. I smile and laugh and make a mess just like Susan would’ve done. And, like Susan, I hug her tightly and tell her that I love her.
The man is wary, untrusting. He asks why I seem different. I smile, but worry that my real teeth are showing so I don’t do that anymore.
At nights, I climb into her bed. I suck open a new wound, tasting her, leaving the skin furrowed and white.
She grows too weak to leave the bed most days. So I stay with her under the blankets, suckling.
The man grows jealous.
“There’s something wrong with her,” he says.
“No,” Mother replies from her sweat-stained pillow.
“There’s something wrong with you. She’s killing you.”
“She’s my baby.”
“No, she’s not.”
He leaves and doesn’t come back.
She looks at herself in the mirror. She twists and contorts, pulling up her nightgown, as if seeing for the first time my teeth marks in her creamy skin. When she turns to me, something has changed.
“Are you even real?” she asks.
An intensity in her eyes. She knows. She knows what I am. A fraud. The rejection burns me.
“Momma?” I reach out to touch her and she smacks me away. My world glimmers.
She’s past me and into Susan’s room. My room. I watch from the doorway.
I think about asking what she’s looking for but I already know the answer. She begins rifling through Seuss and Munsch. “Are you even real?” Knocks trinkets from shelves. Frantic. Mattress feathers fly. The bed is overturned and the broken earth is revealed – a puckered kiss.
I want to say ‘don’t go in there’ but my lips will not move.
She falls to her knees, begins to dig into the burrow. She digs until her fingers bleed. When she finds the real Susan, she stops and sits back on her haunches. What is her expression? Shock? Horror? Relief?
I cannot stand to see her this way so I close the door, lay back against the wall.
We sit that way, parted, until the sky turns dark and gritty tears harden on my skin.
The door opens and she floats past me, not even sparing me a glance. She goes to her room. The act seems so final, and yet the door is left open.
Like our first night, I am unsure. She lifts the covers and I climb into the nest. Her fingers are in my hair.
“My sweet baby. My baby girl.”
Her fingers undo her buttons. She parts the fabric, exposing devoured flesh. My head is pushed onto a wound. Tentatively, I suckle. A shiver like a spray of citrus on my tongue. I am overcome with desire and begin to feed.
And she sings:
“They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast.
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast.”