In the womb, you already know she is different. You feel her first kicks earlier than should be possible. Later, when your belly is stretched taut, you can see and feel the edges of appendages that should not be.
You can’t muster the courage to ask the doctor–but your ultrasounds last longer than most as you study and study the gray-black image twisting on screen: two arms, two legs, head.
Normal, the technician says, but you know better.
* * *
Her father didn’t stay; he left as soon as he saw the second line on the stick. You’d thought better of him. The disappointment is almost worse than his absence–it colors all your memories of him, robs them of their sweetness.
You hope you won’t see much of him in her.
Already, you know she’s all you and more than you and your only fear is that she’ll grow past you, beyond you one day.
* * *
Before the baby is born, your best friend Mari moves in, fills many of the father’s absences. She holds back your hair when you vomit; she holds you when you weep with fear about the coming changes.
You’re dependent on her. Emotionally, financially, physically. You try not to hate her for that, but sometimes you do.
And she holds you even then.
One night, she tentatively slides her hand over your rounded belly. Her fingers are cool, smooth. You don’t push her away.
Your baby kicks with what feels like six or seven feet. Mari’s eyes widen, face slightly pale, but she doesn’t question, and she doesn’t run away–and you love her for that.
* * *
Ani is difficult to hold. She squirms and writhes. She feels heavy and sharp-edged, though to your eyes she looks exactly like what they called her–normal.
Not normal, you whisper hoarsely, hardly able to utter such blasphemy. You begin to sob, thinking of all the ways in which your lives will be more difficult, thinking of all the things–the sleepovers and soccer games–she will likely be excluded from.
Perfect, Mari says, embracing you both. She’s perfectly not normal.
You can’t cradle Ani to your chest without her stabbing you with numerous invisible spikes, or lashing you with what feels like a heavy, corded tail. Still, you let her hurt you as she shifts her edges, both of you helpless to the uncontrollable muscle spasms of infancy.
* * *
You and Mari stretch your lives to fit around Ani.
You stretch your strength and your patience and your hearts.
Both of you take turns: feeding her, working outside the house, big spoon/little spoon, falling apart, being strong.
It’s hard but, looking into Ani’s face, it’s worth it. You touch the tiny curve of her ears, the little button nose, those lips so perfectly formed. Mari, passed out beside you, doesn’t see the sleeping smiles, doesn’t feel the tightening grip of what seem to be tentacles wrapping around your wrist, possessively.
It’s hard, but you hope Ani holds onto you this way forever.
* * *
Ani’s appendages grow bigger with her. No one else can see them, not even Mari, but sometimes you catch a glimpse of them, waving around the child’s head or bobbing near her feet, more and more as she gets older–ghosting images with slowly darkening lines.
At six months old, Ani doesn’t fit in the car-seat.
At three years old, she doesn’t fit in the car–you accidentally slammed one of her unseen arms in the door, and she screamed.
Such cries, they ripped you apart. Not another car ride after that.
It’s cheaper to walk anyway, Mari said, mustering a smile.
You think in a few more years she won’t fit in the house. What then?
* * *
You are afraid. You’ve always been afraid.
Ani is more than you, more than Mari–do you dare to whisper, more than human?
She’s six years old now, and she watches the stars often, captivated. It’s the only time her appendages are still, her lines constant. She tilts her little head to the side as if listening.
You take her hand in yours, sitting beside her on the apartment steps. Her fingers are chill and unresponsive; you squeeze, and a slight, distracted smile flits on her lips.
You are not afraid of her being Other or being More.
You’re afraid of her leaving to search for others who are also More.
But how can you stop her? How can you make a permanent home for someone whose edges and shapes are constantly changing?
You can’t, Mari whispers.
She pulls you into her arms, giving Ani space and time to be alone. You fight Mari’s grasp, but she presses your head to her chest. You can’t, she says again.
I’m not ready, you cry into her shirt.
You will be, Mari says. We both will. We still have time.
You look to Ani, so small and casting such large, strange-shaped shadows, silhouetted by the moon. She is perfectly not normal, and she will break you, shatter you, before it’s all over, but you can’t find it in you to be angry.
Only, somehow, grateful.
© 2016 Alexis A. Hunter