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How to Take My Baby Apart || by Samuel Berman


No. 

Let me start over. 

For better or worse: on the side of town where the driveways were long and the trees were mostly straight, I’d loved him. He was Leopold, but by the bike racks that spring he’d corrected me, “It’s just Lepo.” 

Now, you’re wondering how we killed them? The toys we took home from third period?

Easy. It was easy. Pepsi and a knife.                    

But why?

That’s tougher. (I’m no dope. I know it must’ve had something to do with how much love I had for him, and hoped he’d had for me.) (His face always tilted like a Golden Age actor.) (Those stretch marks on his shoulders, the birthrights of a boy who grew too fast) (And, also, probably the look he’d given me when he tripped on the track earlier that day, and how that look had shook me open.) (It had me feeling like a man as I helped him up.) (Maybe his man.) (I’d hoped.) (Prayed.) (That willingness to do whatever he asked of me even if he didn’t ask it of me.) (It all probably contributed to the killing.) 

But we didn’t start out with bad intentions. 

No.   

When the night started: we were good Michigan boys who’d smoked enough hash that our language had fallen off. Lepo and I were in a dismal state of inhalations, exhalations, and throat coughs so loud they split the room (for the coughs: think of zoo animals mourning one of their own, or, if easier, your silverware drawer being flung across the floor). I’d stood up and walked across the living room in search of provisions. I was wobbly, so I braced myself against the fridge. In my Mother’s kitchen I could see that night hadn’t taken over the entire sky, because coming through blinds was this little light. It made the room full, you know? How heavy a room gets as daylight falls away from it? It was that. Old-timey. Orange. It felt good to be in the kitchen: correct, in my state. (My correct state: hopeful. Why? Because: Mom was at Wednesday Drinks and Lepo was the living room, waiting on me, and it was us, together, both still in our track shorts, both out of our minds on this honey-tasting stuff we’d scored from a friend’s brother.)  

I started pilfering for snacks.

“Want Water?” I yelled across the kitchen island.

Lepo must’ve gotten a second wind because he started talking again, “This mighty shit,” he coughed. “Godzilla-esque.” 

“Want water?”

“Yessir.”

“What else?”

“Got baby food in there?”

“We’re not supposed to feed them,” I said, walking into the living room with my bad balance. I was held two glasses of water, a cheese stick between my teeth. I dropped back into the sofa. “If we feed them, it’ll jack the circuits.” I watched Lepo examine the particulates settling into the bottom of his cup. He spun it in his hand, staring at my Mother’s old-school bodega glass like it was going to tell him a secret.

On the table in front of the magazines and yellow candle, the babies slept.  

Lepo had named his Slicky Ricky.

I’d named mine Ben. 

“Slicky looks hungry,” said Lepo, nodding.

“Bottom lip,” I said. “Hold it or tap twice for a milking session.” I hated so much right then that I’d said milking session. But It was what it was with Lepo. I felt excitable around him, which often led to me saying prosaic, silly things. 

Why? 

Well, because…maybe young people are made to lose their grace, yes? 

That’s right. Right and correct.  

A moment passed: five high-flying seconds. 

Then, I was standing over him.  

The ground fading beneath me; I clenched my fists for the balance.

I could smell the outside of my neighborhood inside. (That earthen smell: dank, rising from the clot of woods at the end of the block.) 

“Someone’s outside,” I lied. 

Lepo laughed while he cleaned the one-hitter, “Bullshit.” Our babies’ sirens began. Another diaper change. Lepo looked up at me from beneath his curls and I blinked, feigning panic. The babies continued with their low-level coos. “What guy?” Lepo asked, testing me. In unison our babies’ legs and arms began spinning in tiny, automated circles, the susurration of their wired joints, pulling, twining, growing only louder; their little motors were doing everything they could to get our attention.  

“A guy in a mask with a knife.” 

If you’re lying… I’ll kill the kids,” he said, standing from the sofa, his scraped knees touching the edge of my shorts. 

“I’m not.”

*

I watched Lepo run across the yard, his body all give, all spring: a trapeze artist. The sky was round and cloudless as he passed the flattened soccer ball, then jumped over the nettle bush and gabion wall, landing somewhere in the dark of Alturas Street. I could hear him against the loose gravel. But before I could get around the wall he’d begun spinning in circles, his black shirt dovetailing flawlessly into the muscled shadows of the Hemlocks. “Who’s there?” Lepo’s eyes were wide, lit up like a drive-in. “Who wants it? Bring the motherfuckery!”

Weak porchlight began to fill in. 

I stood at the wall’s edge, grass warming beneath my feet.   

“There’s someone out there” I said, bending to pick a stick from between my toes. My cheeks bloomed. “There has to be. It’s more fun that way.”

*

We stood over my Mother’s sink. Lepo had his hand against my chest, pushing on me. He was playing. We both were. It was strange in that moment (the moment: we decided to really kill our babies), this… softness fell over everything we touched, everything we did. 

“Mine dies with yours.” Lepo dropped his hand, letting me in close. 

I could smell the salt of his skin, the night in his hair.  

A storm had gathered outside the kitchen window.

That seemed right. Right and Correct.   

(For the storm: imagine thunderheads stacking themselves at the edge of your town.)

Lepo smiled.

I smiled too, because: we love who we love.

Then: he (we) killed them.  

(For the killing: imagine two boys; one pink, one tough; think of them standing over a porcelain sink; see the tough one with his veiny arms lifting a Pepsi two-liter high overhead; then, see the pink one, the paucity of his breathes, the worry he’s not doing everything in the just right order it must be done to make the tough boy fall in love; see him squirm; sweat; even break; but he doesn’t; no; he cheers the tough boy; see it?; the babies; russet-colored fizz settling over their almost-real eyes; their cries—“Waah-waaah-whaauuuugghhhhhnnnn”—slowing into distorted alarms; their rattle; their sparks; their bodies in revolt; then imagine the tough boy grabs a kitchen knife to pry them open; and the microchips where the hearts would be; and skin removed piece by piece; the tough boy laughing; the pink boy trying to match him; until the babies are not babies anymore; just bundles of wire; failed homework; a mess; a grounding; and two boys still laughing; one meaning it, the other wanting to; and just; just them; them; them and their broken machines.) 

*

Get it? 

Understand? Maybe? No. 

I’ll go again.  

   


      

Image Credit: ©Pinterest


MEET THE AUTHOR:

SAMUEL BERMAN is a short story writer who lives in Boise, Idaho and works in a poorly ventilated warehouse with Bill & Whitney. They are terrific coworkers. He has had his work published in Six Sentences and Illuminations, he also has forthcoming work in Uproot Magazine and The Fourth River

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