Posted on: September 18th, 2011 Down by the River
by Lydia S Gray
I go down to the river, to that spot where it bends around the big rock and the current undercuts the bank. I cast my net into the deepest part and catch two small fish and a baby. I eat the fish straight away, but I save the baby for later. It stares at me as I tie it in the bag, and I carry it back over my shoulder so I don’t have to look at it.
Back at the camp I put it in the pen. It kicks its fat legs and screams, so I put my hands over my ears and try not to listen. I hate the noise they make.
“Keep it as a pet,” someone said, but they always say that. They want everything as a pet, even a dog. I don’t know why they’d want that. Just one more mouth to feed, and a useless one too.
It screams all evening. I hoped that we’d eat it that night, but someone caught a cat and it’s already gone into the pot. It smells good, but I’d rather have the baby.
I can’t sleep. Someone’s snoring and the baby keeps on screaming. I hope someone will go out and knock it on the head, but no one does and I don’t want to do it myself.
After a while I fall into a doze, but even there the baby carries on. Only it isn’t that baby any more, it’s the other one. The one that came out of me after I got huge. I got so big I thought that they would eat me, I seemed so full of food. But the river called it and the baby came out in a rush of water. I saw its face as it screamed and swam away. I got a cat in exchange, an old one.
The fat moon stares at me through the holes in the roof. The baby’s still making its noise. I’m not going to put up with it.
“Make it shut up,” I say, kicking someone, but they just turn over and go back to snoring. I’ll have to do it myself.
I stamp out of the hut, banging the door behind me. I can smell the baby as I get close. It’s shit in the pen. Someone will have to clean that up, I’m not going to do it.
It waves its arms at me, making fists with its hands like it wants to hit me. Maybe its brave. It looks like the baby in the dream, but they all look the same really. They all sound the same.
I pick it up, slinging it over my shoulder and holding it by its fat hands. I run back to the river, jogging quickly before someone sees me.
At the rock I crouch down and dangle the baby over the water. “Give me a fish instead,” I say, but I’d take anything, a puppy or a kitten. Maybe just a different baby. I let it go and it falls with a little plop, vanishing into the dark water. It doesn’t scream when it goes in. Perhaps I should have waited, maybe it was done with the noise.
I wait a little while for it to go, and then I reach down and plunge my arms in. I should have brought the net if I wanted something in exchange, but I forgot. The water surrounds me, cold but not dark, silent and sparkling with light. I wonder if this is what the baby saw. I wonder where they go.
There’s something between my hands, large and furry. I pull out a dog, a big one. It sets up a whimper as I sling it over my shoulder. Maybe it will eat the baby shit. Dogs sometimes do that.
For a while I crouch by the pen and it whimpers at me, everything makes noise. I wish it was quiet. I don’t want to go back to sleep, someone will be snoring again, and the moon is so big, it throws strange shadows. I walk back to the river, to the spot where it bends around the rock and the water runs deep.
I plunge my hands in, and then my arms, my head. I let myself go, sliding into the water. I kick my feet. They are a fish’s tail, a baby’s legs. The lights sparkle around me.