Summer 2016 — THE POTOMAC

The Baby

  Richard K. Weems

The soldiers marched the entire family into the woods, but the baby was all they brought back. They nailed her to the front door of the family's shack and pissed on the walls. One lit up a cigarette and shared it with the others. Another told a story about a faggot who could cram a pepper mill all the way up his ass. The tallest soldier looked over his shoulder as though to make sure the baby hadn't moved. When they finished the cigarette and drove off in their jeep, two boys dared come out from their hiding place behind the chicken coop.

It could have been any baby, the skull sagged like rotten melon, but it was just the right size, and the red scrap of fabric around its neck reminded the boys of the little thing whose smile the mother showed off in the village while the father pushed forbidden pamphlets that called for resistance and the removal of Garang. The boys crept to the shack at least a twice a week, always out to catch the mother coming out of the bathtub or breastfeeding. This time, they had found her under one of the soldiers while the tall one stood over them, rubbing himself the way the boys rubbed themselves during their other visits. The father sat in the corner, his shoulders bowed over the baby, his ear a bloody mush. Hard to tell if the baby was already dead. The father kept her wrapped in a blanket, even when the soldiers zipped up and marched the family out. That was when the boys left the window and hid behind the chickens. How could two boys have helped? They both expected to get their ears pulled, their hair yanked by their own parents for being witnesses. They would be sworn to secrecy, forbidden to think anything but that the family got what they deserved, every one of them.

But what the boys couldn't blame was this fleshy doorknocker. They gawked and sneered, but all they felt was a deep, nauseating pity. The crinkled edge of a pamphlet blossomed from the baby's throat, as though even in this state she had every intention of continuing her parents' work.

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