By: Chantal Beaulne
There was a stranger leaning over the cradle. I should have been frightened. I should have cried out for John to phone the police, or flown at him myself with the first blunt object at hand. If I’d had a baby in the cradle, I would have. But there was no baby. There was just my deflating belly, a blankly staring array of unloved toys and a stranger. He spun the crib’s mobile. The wooden fish swam in clockwork motion on his puff of breath.
“It would have kept me out.” His lips twinned about the words as a snake twines through fingers. “Not forever, but even the inference of running water has its powers.”
Gingerly, he plucked the mobile from the ceiling and threw it out the open window. The stranger wandered about the dark room, picking up the toys and arranging them in mock battle, tearing out buttons and stuffing for realism. He turned the Mickey Mouse clock back by three and a half days and had a whispered conversation with an elephant on the wallpaper before rearranging the bookshelf chronologically by the authors’ death. As he worked, he sang, the only break in the silence apart from John’s erratic snores. The tune was familiar, but the lyrics jarred against those known to me.
“Good morning to you,
Good morning to you
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.”
Horrible long fingers snatched a photo of a sunset down from the wall. When he replaced it, the colour had leeched out, leaving a giant blind eye glaring above a burnt world.
He faced me. I recognized him at once as my husband, as my estranged uncle, as the sister I hadn’t known I’d had until I found the grave in the garden, as the old man in the park who talked about Death like she was an old lover. But there was also something of an ugly painting I’d hated, a crookedness to nose that recalled a boorish chemistry professor. The ears were those of a monster made up to keep my secrets, and his teeth were the knives my best friend and I had used to make us siblings. But it was still a stranger’s face, made up of familiar things I’d never seen before, or hadn’t wanted to see. He had dark pits where his eyes should have been, deep as the graves of stars; lightless, cold and so very very old.
He clambered into the cradle, flexing his too-long fingers about the bars and scraping the backboard with his horns. I looked at him one last time, an ugly thing with writhing lips and too much of my father about his cheekbones.
“Sing me a lullaby,” he commanded in a voice I kept for my thoughts. As I sung, his teeth softened and and his eyelids drooped, concealing the black pits beneath.
“ Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.
Good morning the sun
Good morning the light
Good morning to you-oo
Good bye to the night.”
Sunshine glinted in the spirals of mist spilling from the window. A ray of light struck the cradle. A wail went up and small pink hands swatted the air, as if hoping to knock the blaze away. Standing, I let my shadow fall over the crib.
The creature had vanished. The stranger remained, but would not speak again for several years. Shielded from the brightness, eyes of a blue I’d only seen in mirrors blinked up at me.
The light in the sky grew stronger, and as I watched dawn become day I realized I had my sun back.
- - -
Chantal Beaulne was exposed to high levels of fiction in her youth, causing severe abnormalities in her reality preceptors. She can pass as normal until she sees a blinking cursor or an unattended pen. Vancouver, Canada grudgingly lets her live there while she attends Emily Carr University of Art and Design.
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