Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

Lucy Palmer

Friendly Fire

It took a gruff-looking surgeon with forceps to urge my baby into the world. When he finally arrived, quiet as a stone, he was dropped like a grenade onto the end of the bed before the surgeon passed out cold on the cool white tile of the delivery room floor.

I was as surprised as anyone that I'd given birth to a gun, specifically a Kalashnikov (a detail I didn't find out until later—one I found very surprising as, as far as I know, there is no Russian blood in the family). Everyone had passed out by this point: the homely nurse in the corner holding the clipboard, the anesthetist who kept getting my name wrong, and the ne'er-do-well excuse for a dad who had finally made an appearance. Everyone except me, that is. This was my baby, and I didn't care that where there should be a spine there was a gas piston, where there should be ten tiny fingers there was a trigger.

Guided by instinct, I gently lifted my sprawling newborn from the end of the bed and placed his stiff, rangy body on my chest. He was still attached to me, of course, the umbilical pulling tight as he lay there, covering me with blood. His eyes were squeezed shut. Yes, of course there were eyes, one on each side of his tender barrel, plus a small rosebud mouth that puckered soft at the tip of his muzzle. His rosewood accents dazzled and his handguard was small and perfectly formed. Despite everything, he was beautiful. I hoped the smell of the first milk that gathered thick on the end of my nipple would rouse him, but he was fast asleep.

Those early weeks were tricky, to say the least. Breastfeeding didn't come easy and felt like a constant risk—I could never manage more than a few minutes on each side. And I was lonely; lonelier than angels. My friends and neighbors kept their distance, but I heard their whispers as I pushed Kal in his Bugaboo to the park, to the market, to his first checkup.

Doctor Faith had obviously been forewarned about Kal's condition and did her best to stay professional, though when she lifted Kal, when she checked his height and weight, she looked like a rookie at a shooting range. A shiver of fear rippled her skin like silk. Kal was a good boy and didn't make a sound. Doctor Faith assured me he'd gained weight and, despite everything, I was thrilled. My breast milk was obviously doing some good.

During the second week, we received a visit from Mrs. Arborian, a social worker. She was overly tall and plump and smelled of lavender and cotton and talc. She refused my offer of tea and instead marched straight to Kal's crib, cast aside his patchwork quilt, and just stared at him. Kal's tiny eyes filled with tears at the sight of this stranger, but she just kept on staring. Then she thrust her chubby, capable hands into his crib and picked him up, holding him at arm's length the whole time. I didn't think my heart could bear it.

What do you think you're doing? He's not a freak show, he's a baby. My baby. You need to put him down.

Mrs. Arborian looked at me as if she'd just been woken from a long dream.

I'm sorry, but a complaint has been filed. More than one, in fact. I'm here to see if there's cause for complaint.

Complaint? He's a baby. You can't barge in here and manhandle him like this. Please, hand him to me.

Kal's cries were getting louder now. His tiny mouth quivered and the air shifted.

Please! Give him to me now!

She wouldn't listen. She just kept staring at him, mesmerized by the tears that snailtrailed down his sleek black surface and gathered soft on his night scope rail.

Please, you need to…

I heard it before I realized what had happened. A loud crack that broke the air in two. A large hole in the living room wall. Everything stilled for a while—it felt like forever—then the social worker dropped Kal in his crib and ran screaming from the house.

The next day we moved to a new city in a new country, one where the streets were filled with dust and cinnamon and the mountains loomed like stone lions on the horizon.

As Kal grew, there were a few more incidents where his nature would get the best of him, despite our many talks. One day in the village school library where I worked as an assistant, a girl who'd bullied Kal incessantly for two years pinched his muzzle or called him a name and he retaliated the only way he knew how. Her arm was only grazed—luckily, most of the damage was done to the library window—but blood misted from her flesh like rain and I grabbed Kal and ran and ran and ran.

Now, he's strictly homeschooled. I don't answer the door to anyone. I haven't dated in four years—Kal doesn't like it when I see men, which I understand. It's just him and me, and, yes, sometimes I feel like I can't breathe and sometimes I dream of running away. But Kal came from me and he needs me. And despite the holes that gape like sighs in the walls and the shadows that loom behind each corner, we get by. Most days, I read to Kal, adventure stories or thrillers or poems I memorized like prayers when I was small, and we watch the world pass by our living room window, my finger furled tight around his trigger like a comma.

Lucy Palmer is an English writer and poet living in California. Her poetry has appeared in By&By Poetry, The Pickled Body, Unbroken, and others. Her flash fiction has appeared in The Radvocate and is forthcoming in Cherry Tree. She was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2017. Lucy can be found @LucyPRich.