Beastly Soup

My son:

Your name — the same now. . . how many years? Your mummy and I decided to name and feed you as we pleased. Little did we know. Now you have become as you are, and I have decided to write, so as to let you know a little bit about yourself.

You were born:

Beastly Soup, we wanted a refund. A nickel, boy. That is what we would have taken — a nickel for your carcass. You were worth no more than that of what makes babies cute and astonishing. For you slept with your eyes open, they would not focus but only floated around in a blank apathy. Your mouth was dry, your lips chapped. You coughed incessantly, hacked like an old man who has smoked his whole life. One day your mummy and I looked in and found the cat sitting on your chest. The demon Purr was bent over, its mouth close to yours. Here was superstition in the flesh, and we prayed it would suck the breath from your body. We swayed to the enchanted scene, sung silently: “Asphyxiate! Suffocate!” But Purr jumped off, having seen us and become offended. I rushed forward, pillow in hand, to finish the job. It was mummy who stopped me. “No, sweetie,” she said. “Not like that.” As if we were going to discuss it. Come up with a better way. That’s what I thought. But maybe we forgot. Because we never got around to it, and you continued to grow, as inexplicably as a mushroom.

For days, sometimes for weeks, we forgot to feed or even water you. Then suddenly we would remember, “Beastly Soup!” It was like a game. Off we went, to search the house until we found you, found the place you had crawled into — once behind the water heater, where you stayed, still, like a turtle. We had to reach in to wrench you out from behind the pipes. We didn’t think you were alive. Put you down, cold and stiff as marble. It was only when the second commercial came around that we looked down to see the little puddle of urine you had made. “It’s peeing!” your mummy cried. “When does it drink?” I wondered. “We never see it drink.” In a way, we were pleased. Your survival instincts were accurate.

The years wore on:

Your mummy grew a mustache. The hair on her head grew thin and gray. I grew a belly, large and taut as a drum. Life was good. One day, we decided to let you out. Into the garden. To forage! There you must have prospered, for the bushes wiggled with your presence. “He’s in that one,” I whispered from the porch. “Is he?” mummy whispered back with a wink. We threw stones — none too big, we were just having fun — to see you panic and bolt from one bush to another. You grew like a snake in the garden. At times, you startled us.

One year, the rain came in great volume, more than in the ten years preceding. The ground was flattened by mud, all vegetable matter was depressed and anemic. The garden became a dripping and leafless place. One morning, I chased your mummy, both of us naked and screaming with limitless joy, through the copious mud. She tripped, and I was instantly on top of her. Through her insane fucking laughter and spitting of mud she was trying to say something. “I can’t hear you,” I said. “What?”

“Beastly Soup!”

We looked around. It was in that very moment that we grasped the somewhat shocking truth. You were no longer in the garden. You were no longer in our lives. That field of mud was devoid of you, it was clear. During one of our long periods of forgetfulness you must have gone out of the garden and down the driveway and along the long road that leads to town and farther even, thank God, because you were never seen again.

Until the second decade of the following century:

When we found out that you had circumnavigated the world. And though you walked in a straight line, it never took you anywhere either. Which is kind of funny when you think about it. Mummy covers her mouth now when she laughs, on account of no teeth. She laughs often. Her mind is gone. She sits in the chair all day long, looking at the garden. She has no idea it’s you there, trembling under the porch. I tell her it’s just the skunks in the crawl space under the house and that I’ll hose them out. This serves to animate her. The old self comes alive again. “Yes,” she cries, clapping, then holding her hand over her mouth and laughing. “Hose them out!”

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