When she began to understand the medical jargon, Marina felt overwhelmed by the whiteness of the walls. Her son was sick and the longest life expectancy they gave her was, at most, three years. She was still a young woman and there were no family precedents, no reason that could explain it. Maybe if she had carried out regular checks the situation could have been resolved before the delivery, but such inspections did not exist and Marina only arrived at the hospital to give birth.
The cold rose up her spine and her body filled with silence.
After they discharged the boy, she went back with him to their apartment.
The first nights she hardly slept. She stayed awake, listening to her son’s breathing. The two of them were alone, sleeping in the same bed, a deep inhalation, that of Marina, harmonised by another one, practical inexistent. The light from the street lamp entered through the window and Marina took the opportunity to look for a distinguishing feature, a gesture.
Once again she saw a face that was flat and inexpressive.
With the passing of the weeks she discovered several things about her son’s behaviour. First of all, he didn’t sleep. Every time she looked at him, whether it was during the night or day, she found those small eyes very wide open, observing her. She also noted that unlike other boys, he never burst into tears or looked to breastfeed or, even less, clutched her fingers looking for maternal contact.
Everything that they had mentioned or she had read would happen did not appear in his case. It would seem the boy was incapable of feeling his surroundings or was simply indifferent to the world. Marina thought it was an illness, a symptom they had omitted in the hospital that was now manifesting itself in a sudden form. To test her hypothesis, she began to perform small experiments. Sometimes she pinched his arms and legs or buried needles of surgical steel to stimulate crying, denied him food for hours or opened the windows and left him naked on the bed on the coldest days, everything in the hope of some reaction.
Nothing. The boy remained silent, with his eyes wide open.
This filled Marina with rage. If she had been certain that her son would be capable of feeling, she would have forgotten about his not living long enough, and could have grown attached to him, generating a link despite it all. But no. She was the mother of a sack of flesh and hair incapable of perceiving his environment.
Another aspect, perhaps conditioned by his illness, was that his size increased in a disproportionate way. When Marina had to start working again, her son by far exceeded the average weight. Now his clothes no longer fit him, and there was no way she could carry him in her arms. The boy clumsily moved his enormous bulk around from one place to another in the apartment, completely naked and knocking over everything that he found in his path. The floor was covered in glass shards, splinters and dishes smashed to pieces.
In time she returned to work and hired a woman to watch over the boy. The woman mentioned to her on several occasions that he was no different with her. He ate out of inertia and stayed there watching her from time to time, later he crawled through the rest of the rooms.
A routine was established. Marina left early in the morning and stayed out a large part of the day, when she could be far from the boy and his eyes that never closed. Now they had almost no contact, and this did not matter to either of them. The boy watched her pass when she arrived, sitting in some strategic place in the living room, not making a sound.
When she came back, the woman gave her an inventory of the things that had been broken, and to relieve herself of responsibility, she always blamed the size of the boy. She was not lying in this respect. The boy kept growing disproportionately. After a year, when he should have measured little over sixty centimetres and weigh seven kilos, Marina’s son was taller than the measuring tape and weighed more than fifteen kilos.
His dimensions could only keep increasing.
At that point, Marina had already lost all illusion of maintaining an emotional link with her son. He did not need her and she could not feel herself linked to him. But one afternoon when she returned to the apartment, Marina noted something new in her home, something heard from the door at the entrance. At the start she thought it was a hallucination or that it came from another place and had filtered in through the open window, but the laughter was coming from there, very nearby, in her bedroom.
She pricked up her ears.
Yes, it was a boy’s laughter. She was filled with hope and fear.
Could it be that her son was just now beginning to feel? Nearly two years had passed since he had been born and the boy had at last awoken from his lethargy. He was laughing. He was a human being and, though little time remained to them, a series of possibilities opened up. Would their relationship begin to define itself from that moment?
But when she arrived running to the room, her face distorted when she saw the red puddle on the ground. All the hopes she had harboured vanished. A strong smell of iron. A stain of clotted jelly that wound a path towards the corner, where her son occupied the whole available space from floor to the ceiling, leaning his back against the entire wall. He was truly immense, as if he had tripled in size in her absence. His mouth was stained with blood and it broke at the extremes into a smile. On the ground was the dismembered body of the woman who looked after him. The boy was pulling out bits of flesh and tossing them into his mouth. It seemed that he was swallowing them without even chewing. Then he laughed.
He swallowed and laughed.
He swallowed and laughed.
Marina’s stomach turned.
When he saw her, the boy looked at her as he always did, as if it were the first time she had appeared. Marina took a step back and slipped on the blood. She fell on her back against the floor and stayed there, paralysed by fear. Her son, who was hardly able to control his body, crawled with difficulty towards her.
Marina moved backwards on the ground. The blood soaked through her clothes and she felt it, warm and thick, touch her skin. In front of her was the giant that had come from her stomach. She was disgusted by what she saw, by what she felt, of having brought him into the world. The boy cornered her against a wall. First he smelled her, then he passed his tongue over her hair. It was ragged and moist. The hand of the boy grabbed Marina’s leg and lifted it into the air. She had a déjà vu sensation, the same as when they had told her that her son would live only a few years; cold, silence, whiteness.
A pressure on her leg. The boy lifted her up and from an inverted position, Marina heard his laugh. She thought that with each bite, each piece of flesh that would be removed, his reaction would only go about increasing, that everything contained by that boy during the short time he had on earth had to be liberated.
Then came first battering of her head against the wall.
The boy waited.
By the second, Marina had ceased to feel pain, and when she headed in a trajectory towards the third, she had already stopped breathing. Cold, silence, whiteness. It didn’t matter. The boy kept pounding over and over until the body of his mother became a puddle of jelly on the ground. Then he turned his attention to whatever limb was left. He crawled toward it and picked it up. The heat descended down his throat and he swallowed a satisfying piece.
Cold, silence, whiteness.
And the boy laughed.
Fe Orellana (Santiago de Chile, 1991) has received the Roberto Bolaño Novel Prize and the Gabriela Mistral Story Prize. Since 2012 he has been the coordinator of LEA (Laboratory of Writing from the Americas), an international literary project that occurs simultaneously in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and different cities in Chile. In 2017 he published his first novel Mujer colgando de una cuerda [Woman Hanging From a Rope] (Pornos Ediciones).