I wish I could say that no one will blame you for what happens next, but the truth is, most people will. You are tired and distracted, running late for your first meeting of the day. You’re agonizing over how to tell your boss about your latest project, which has grown a mouth and swallowed you. At red lights, you pluck tiny eggs from your hair and drop them into Ziploc bags, so that the eggs will suffocate instead of hatching.
Your eight-month-old daughter is in the backseat, rear-facing. She coos a little, but within minutes she goes quiet. You have made sure the car seat buckle is positioned high on her chest, the straps pulled tight, so that she can’t slither out of the harness. Not again. You have dressed her in a pink fleece onesie. No puffy winter coat, because according to baby experts, puffy coats are dangerous. They remind babies of the womb. Coddle them too much, wrap them in softness, and soon their eyes fuse shut, they shrink and curl, they dissolve into jelly, and then you can’t even pick them up anymore without needing to wash your hands after. The sky is gray and white, white and gray. You wonder if it will snow.
At work, your presentation goes terribly. You hardly remember it.
“You need to work harder to show up on time,” your boss tells you, during your lunch break. “I understand that you’re a mother now. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been a mother for eighty years, and look at me.”
She smiles, her cheeks stretching, and shows you the children clinging to her incisors.
You’re eating unripe raspberries in chia seed pudding. The chia seeds squirm and wriggle through coconut cream, tiny and black, like wood ticks.
“You’re too distracted,” your boss says. “The cleaning staff complained that you’re leaving tiny eggshells everywhere. No one’s going to give you a cookie, just because you’re juggling daycare and work and breastfeeding and whatever else.”
“No,” you agree, chia seeds crawling over your tongue. One of the children is stuck between her teeth. You try not to look at it. And this is the moment when you realize that you never dropped your daughter off at daycare this morning. That she is still strapped in somewhere in your car in the parking lot, the buckle positioned right over her heart.
“If you walk out that door,” your boss warns, but you don’t walk, you run, shivering in your red wool cardigan, out into the parking lot, everything vast and swirling and blanketed. The snow comes up to your ankles, fills your boots. All the parked cars look the same, humps of white huddled side by side. She creates her own heat, you comfort yourself, she is always too warm, rosy-cheeked and sweating, you are always having to peel off more layers.
You used to judge the mothers in all the tragic news stories. How could they forget, you wondered. Their own child!
You reach your usual parking spot and wrench open the car door, but it’s not your car. There are two naked, beautiful people inside, fucking. They look up at you, pissed off. Their breath becomes steam. You apologize and shut the door and keep running. Your car: gray, or is it black? An SUV or a minivan? You can’t remember. The next car is silver and there is a baby inside, but it’s not your baby, it’s a dollop of a boy with a gummy red mouth and a Thomas the Train onesie and he opens his mouth wide, drools on you, until you give him half of a teething biscuit from in your pocket, and his mother slaps your hand away. You keep running.
Your boss is looking for you.
She’s out there somewhere! shouts your boss, who is also your doctor.
The search party is armed with spotlights and sleds and wild dogs, but they won’t find you. They won’t last five minutes out here. The office is miles away, and the snow has erased your footprints—you couldn’t retrace your steps even if you wanted to, which you do, more than anything. The baby will be just fine, you tell yourself. She is resilient. She is ectothermic. She knows when to cry and when to hibernate. She can slow her heart down to four beats a minute.
The next car contains a baby seat full of empty soup cans, all of them connected with string. The one after that is full of bees, which die instantly. You scoop up their honey in your bare hands and bring it with you for sustenance. The next car contains a baby, and the next car, and the car after that. The babies are all hungry, searching for their mothers. Your breasts swell with milk, but these are not your babies. Hundreds of them, not yours, crying.
How could their mothers forget them, you think. Their own children!
You latch the first baby to your first breast, the second to your second breast, and so on. The babies drink and drink. They shed their skins like the papery husks of onions, revealing pearly, translucent layers. Somewhere far away, your lonely, frostbitten daughter is shedding her skin, too, becoming brand new. The next time you see her, she might look like a seal pup, or a lamppost, or a hydrangea bush. You will both laugh about this whole thing. She will reassure you that she doesn’t hate you, that she didn’t need her fingers, anyway, that mothers do worse things to their daughters every day.
On your scalp, the eggs have begun to hatch. Snakes twine through your hair, hissing and
undulating, forked tongues darting out. They transfigure the babies, not into stone like Medusa,
but solid ice. So at least the babies are safe now. Their hearts are frozen mid-beat. They won’t
thaw out until spring, and by then you’ll have figured all this shit out.
Lindy Biller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her fiction has recently appeared at Fractured Literary, Milk Candy Review, Cheap Pop, and Reservoir Road. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @lindymbiller