Daniel

Chris placed his arms on top of Daniel’s shoulders. Daniel had liked this a great deal when he was younger; it was like they were bridged together. “There is nothing at all wrong with crying, son. Actually I’ve always wished that I could cry more. Sometimes I feel like I’m…I don’t know. Not human enough. I know that sounds strange, I just don’t know any other way to describe it. It’s just that sometimes when your mom is on one of her fits and she’s screaming and crying and yelling and doing all of that—I wish I could do some of that myself. I’d love to be able to cry. I can’t remember the last time I did. I thought I’d cry when you were born; it was the happiest day of my life. But then you were here, and suddenly it was like we’d always had you. The first time I held you didn’t seem like the first time at all. Gosh, digression. All I mean, Daniel, is this: Cry whenever you can.” He gave Daniel an extra-hearty pat on the shoulder.

Daniel shut the door behind him, walked over to the mirror, and lit a candle, holding its flame at different angles to explore his fangs. It felt like they were growing longer; now they seemed to reach all the way down to the bottom of his jaw when his mouth was closed. He puffed his lips forward and gave a slight whisper. “I am a vampire,” he said. It felt real. For the first time, it felt even more real than it looked.

*

But Nancy had not given birth to her dog. Instead it was a baby, pink and teeming with veins, screaming just as loud as she had feared it might. As she watched Chris’s awe, his gloved fingers reaching for a knife to cut a cord, Nancy silently wished for him to take the baby to his paper-gowned chest, to walk the smeary thing to the door, and never return. She couldn’t believe the dog had seriously died. Throughout her pregnancy, a part of her mind had engaged in the hopeful fantasy that the dog would somehow raise the baby—of course not feed or dress it, but always be there, a sarcastic and comforting presence to guide Nancy. “Give it what it wants,” she could pretend the dog said to her when the baby started wailing. “Please, please, shut it up,” its eyes would say.

During her first nursing session, Nancy had the same sense of dread that she’d had just after marrying Chris, when it became clear that the various miseries she’d known before the marriage had not magically abated after the ceremony. That awful, unfulfilled feeling would not be going away because of a child either. Instead the fear was worse, heightened—when his mouth found her breast, it felt like Daniel was sucking life and energy out of her, tapping her already low reserves that couldn’t afford to be shared. She could only force herself to do it by going back to that calm moment on the floor, closing her eyes and telling herself that Daniel wasn’t there at all: she’d succeeded, she’d prevented it. Her leaking breasts were not her breasts but her wrists, the milk leaving her body was warm blood.

Alissa Nutting is author of the short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (Starcherone/Dzanc 2010). Her work can be found in The New York Times, Tin House, BOMB, Fence, and other anthologies, and will appear in the Norton Introduction to Literature (2013). She is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at John Carroll University.