And when all things were taken from her, when all joys diminished until they died altogether, love sustained her.
She was Love.
*Light through the lampshade was twilight rose, and it made that place such cosy safe, and by the bed she sat and told him of The Cat with Envelopes for Eyes.
“And what did the Cat say?” she asked.
“Mhugh... Mmmhugh...” came the reply; slurred, laboured.
“That’s right— the Cat said ‘Meow! Meow! I’ve got a delivery for you!’ And the Cat jumped into her lap—boing!” –she nipped him playfully in the belly- “and the old lady reached down and slowly, carefully opened one of its eyes... and what was waiting for her inside?”
He crowed with delight: “Hweeeheeees!”
Wishing she could hug him harder she said “Yes! That’s right, she found sweeties and the old lady ate them and they were the most delicious sweeties anyone had ever tasted and she never, ever knew worry or sadness ever again. And the Cat with the Envelopes for Eyes went home—”
“Mmmhugh! Mmmhugh! Mmmhugh!”
“Yes— Meow! Meow! Meow! Home to the Upside-Down Kettle! And he got into bed, so pleased with all his deliveries, and he said: ‘Though I’m different to other cats, still I’ve found my place in the world.’ And all the villagers loved him; their kind deliverer of needful things.”
She looked at him and smiled. “That’s the story for tonight.”
“Moh!” he said, “Moh!”
But she waved her finger. “Ah-ah-ah! Time for sleep! Night, love.”
“Nhugh,” he replied. “Luh... hyoo.”
And she laid him on the plastic sheeting, kissed him goodnight and went downstairs to wash the blood off her hands.
His name was Jeremy Hale, but all the other children called him... Clot.
And she could see it hurt—a light dying in his eyes, silently he’d hide himself away, only to emerge an hour later, bloody and torn where he tried to claw the stuff away.
He was three days old when first she saw it; an angry red spot between his shoulder blades that mushroomed into a flat plate of bloody-coloured flesh, extending from neck to ribs and risen, slightly, from the skin.
Holding him in her arms she watched that fleshy redness creep like frost on glass.
“Benign,” the doctors said, and they cut it away—a quick slice severing and no harm done. “That’s the end of that,” the doctors said, grinning, nodding, showing her the door.
It returned three days later, a coating of raw flesh growing faster than before and though the doctors frowned and cut and pared with scalpels and knives, wore down the nerveless stuff with emery boards and pumice stones and astringents and solvents, by stages it stole across her child’s back, torso, arms, legs, and face.
“He’s in no pain,” the doctors said, “Life limiting, perhaps. Life threatening... no, certainly not.”
By the age of six every part of him was covered in a thin but thickening layer of bloody, clotted skin.
And that was the name the children gave him.
Growing, thickening, it chafed; he could not freely move his arms or legs— always there was fresh blood where his thighs rubbed, crescents of it under his arms. It restricted how far he could turn his head, how wide his mouth could open.
“Scared, Mammy,” he’d mumble. “Scared.”
“It’s okay, love, Mammy’s here.” She rocked him through that long night when the Clot first covered
his eyes, first crept over the sides of his mouth, first began to fill that space.
Don’t fight it,” she whispered, “Don’t fight it.”
(“Porous,” the doctors said, unwarmly. “Discomfort, yes; injury... unlikely. Physical, at least.”)
She held him as he laboured for breath, shuddering, retching upon the mass rising like dough upon his gums and tongue. At dawn exhaustion softly took him and left her a cracked and hollow thing. She sat, head drooping, filled with nothing but love.
“Mammy’s here... Mammy’s here...”
Steadily, the Clot thickened, layer by layer.
And painlessly it bled; with such constancy that he slept upon plastic.
Softly she’d tap his collarbone to get his attention and she’d find herself shouting, clipping each word:
“Don’t move, love. We’ve to do your eyeholes today,” and with the point of a knife she’d carefully cut deep, sloping holes in the Clot and so give sight back to her son.
And the stuff over his mouth stretched in such a way she knew he was smiling.
She knew he was smiling
*His hair had never been thick and when the Clot rose from his scalp it swallowed that scattering of rust. Running her fingers over his head she could see hair suspended in layers of pink wax.
“Can you feel this?” Fingernails traced the area where eyebrows should have been.
Stroking the blurred patch over his ear she whispered “Tell Mammy, Jeremy—” but he just looked through those deep eyeholes and slowly, slowly ground his head from one side to the other.Knowledge was a hollowing thing: the Clot was growing thickest over his skull.
Over his face.
*And the night she read him The Cat with Envelopes for Eyes, that was the night when, in the small hours, she woke, and rising saw him in the doorway, a rose of red in dawnlight, his hands reaching out to her.
And deep within, dull under layers of Clot, came a rolling, wordless rumble that lay her heart on ice.
She took him by the shoulders, whispering “What’s wrong—Jeremy, answer Mammy—”and the warm Clot slid under her hands—
His lips were pink shadows: “Mhummm... mhummm...” he said, “Fheeeee... whroannnnnnnnnnng...”
The last words she ever heard him speak.
Dull that gurgling deep again, and sleepwalking, he slipped away, stumbling sluggishly back to his room. She watched as he slowly lay down upon the plastic sheeting.
And the smear of blood he left upon her palm was a growing cold.
So, is it going to keep growing? Click here to read more!