“They’ve got one for us!”
Jo calls her husband, organises the house, and waits.
She opens the sliding door to the patio, lights up a ciggie and exhales into the sky until the nervousness in her stomach has no oxygen.
The doorbell rings.
Jo tosses the smoke over her shoulder, shooing remaining swirls outside before scurrying down the hallway to the shadow behind the door. The latch opens effortlessly, a woman stands on the doorstep with her phone and file. The baby is in a capsule on the porch, her eyelashes printed against her brow bones. Wide eyed and silent. This is baby Amelia.
Jo carries Amelia inside. The baby unblinking, eyes fanning. She lifts her out of the capsule, gently unwrapping the swaddles, releasing the smell of Amelia into her home. Jo can tell from the weight of the baby; this one has an Open Back. She turns her over, and there it is. Her back is cold to touch and open from her neck to her iliac crests. Her organs are grey and cracked. The handles of her spine are spinning to keep the bats out. The draught around Amelia’s back is bitter and brittle.
Amelia drinks some warm milk and Jo cautiously wraps her up. She huddles behind the baby in her bed, her own chest freezing.
10 days. 10 days is all she has.
Each day she cradles Amelia to protect her Open Back. When Amelia’s cries, it’s in drones and whimpers, her spine spins and spins but the bats claw and tear at her organs, stringing out her ligaments, her tissues, until they are tattered flags of flesh. Organs cold and orphan grey.
By day 4, Amelia’s organ cracks seal. They begin to turn the colour of pale flesh. They begin to moisten and shine. Her spine slows, swinging back and forth on its hinges.
Then day 5 – parental access. Amelia returns, wide eyed and still. Her back freezing and open, again. Organs embossed in a dull top coat. Matte crack-pipe-grey. This time Amelia doesn’t cry, yet bats tangle in the threads of her tissues like a pornographic cat’s cradle.
Night 6, Amelia wines all night, Jo swaddles her with her bare chest, bat wings protruding and elbowing the baby’s skin, stretching it until it’s translucent.
Back almost sealed, self-zipping from cervical and lumbar spine. Thoracic still gaping. Heart still not pink enough, but bats have migrated to find another Open Back.
The lady with the file shadows the door again, Amelia’s back is closed and warm, she coos and babbles, eyes blink, and she cries without her back unzipping. Jo hands her over tenderly, a chill swirling around her own neck. A tiny hole opens just above the collar of her cardigan. She shuts the door, shudders, and pulls her cardigan up to cover the hole. She glances at the photo of her with her own mother; the only photo she has.
Image via Pixabay