Teething

by Rachel Richardson

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, April 2019: “Magic & Myths”
Fiction


 

 

Daddy taught me how to hunt hog. Now it’s not hog we’re after, though the wild ones grow hideous big out in the trees. One dead boar and the whole three of us could be fed for weeks, Daddy and me and Baby. But that much pig-meat goes sour fast, and shooting’s not worth the bullet.

I trap rabbits and squirrels and possums. We eat anything unsick. Most cook up same, different only in chew, and Baby’s got no teeth for that. I’d give her milk if I made any, but Baby’s not mine.

Daddy asked what the good goddamn we’d do with a baby. I don’t know, but I’d found her and I couldn’t leave her. She squalled but she was shushable. I carried her, dandled her, quieted her as we toured that house gone still: fridge warm, stove cold, oven dead. I found Baby, and Daddy found cans in the pantry and a meatgrinder in the shed.

That was a day ago.

Daddy’s been gone since duskfall. Now it’s near noon. I’m out on the porch, watching, while Baby plays with a cup and spoon inside.

Branches snap and leaves rustle. Midst the bark and boughs I see Daddy’s plaid in the trees. His mouth’s not foaming. He walks with no stagger. He’s just late, just been gone, and me awake and alone all night with my eyes so open the dark made shapes. The shadows grew tall, became women, a crowd of mothers sick and dead like mine and Baby’s.

I sat all night in the rocking chair and rocked with Baby cradled hard against me. She slept and dreamt, deaf to my heart drubbing thunder-hard under my ribs.

With the sun singing high overhead, hunger gets up and grows in me. I hear again what Daddy said when we came, when I showed him Baby, limp and lovely in my arms.

You name it, and it’s yours. You bury it when it dies. You give it a name, you give it a grave.

Inside, Baby pats her playthings together, a pop and smack. Outside, I raise the rifle.

I aim at Daddy how he showed me. I squint and pull, a pop and smack.

I crank the meatgrinder and our dinner drops down. My daughter laughs and laughs. In her gums is a glimmer of white, an edge of bone. Soon she will have her first tooth.

 

 


Judge’s Comments:
Like Oracle, here is another piece that does so much work in establishing voice and tone in just the first line! I was given a recognizable character that instantly grounded me in an otherwise cryptic, dangerous, undefined world, which meant the teasing details were able to drive up the suspense rather than mire it. Are their monsters lurking in the dark? Zombies? I’m not sure, but I don’t mind a little mystery. The magic in this piece is in the spell of fear and motherhood that falls upon the narrator, and how those dark forces push her into performing the taboo. Teething is well-crafted, very chilling, and very cool.

 
Rachel Richardson was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She attended the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop in 2017 and tweets @pintojamesbean.

 

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