FATHER OF THE HEAD
by DF Lewis
Her belly was a ripe pumpkin, stitched by a map of stretch-marks. She encouraged me to lay my hand where the baby’s head should be. Swallowing my repulsion, I was strangely thrilled by the odd kick my hand was given.
“That can’t be his head, dear,” I said.
Our bedroom was glazed with light – the brilliant white sky that had been prevalent for the last few months turned the net curtains into pleats of waterfall ice. The weather man on the television had explained the phenomenon as temporary, but I had wondered what lay behind it all. Even my literal-minded colleagues at the office were seen walking around with bemused expressions on their faces, almost (but not quite) questioning the nature of reality and of accepted behaviour in a middle class world.
The sun shafted its blinding searchlight of snow-fire, as if it were God’s one good eye now suffering a particularly virulent form of Bright’s disease. But I knew I was no doctor…
“Do you think my waters have broken?”
I looked at my wife as if for the first time. Abruptly withdrawing from my revery, I continued to feel all over her belly, much against my better nature. As I placed my ear to the tiny pursed lips of the navel, I could barely hear two separate bloodbeats, in irregular synchronisation and counterpoint.
The whole process of confinement was drawing to its final curtain. I knew we were both worried, she particularly, because of the climate’s seeming randomness. For years now, we had grown accustomed to news reports relating to the thinning ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, the fly-tipping of nuclear waste, the erosion of natural processes, together with all the political fall-out these entailed. Dictatorships in turn and turn about. Coalitions masquerading as single-minded governments. Even benign anarchy in complete control. Was this a fit world to deliver to a child?
As I removed my ear from her belly, I was tempted to tickle her lower floss with my tongue. I could not fathom this desire. I had never felt such shame before. Sex had flown out of the window yonks ago, but I still felt odd stirrings in the long meat. Inevitably, my wife was the only one I could trust, the only clean whistle…
I took my weight from the bed and tracked the gaps in the floorboards to the window. I gazed at the empty cinemascope of the sky, which was now more grey than white, with the sun having suddenly dipped behind the comb-teeth of the city’s horizon. I could not recall the last time I had seen birds testing the thermals. Their swarms were now knot-packed into one prehensile creature, its single heart sluggishly beating within some forgotten nuclear shelter under the city…
That was too fanciful by half, for what were those black lumps in the gutters, if not the birds’ remains? Our chimney flue was choked with them.
“I think it’s coming…” I turned my back on the window, casting a fading shadow across her nudity. The coal-tipped “mammy-sucks”, as I first called them on our honeymoon, glistened with sweat, despite the lowering temperature. They rode her slightly bucking frame like two corrupt surf-waves that could never break. She placed her hands under the wide buttocks to raise herself into an arch. This seemed to ease the pain for her.
“What can I do?” I was helpless. Not only was I a man, I was one who could not bear natural processes. Excreting, for me, was tantamount to childbirth. I often wished there was a wooden lid, tightly fitting the walls of the toilet with a hole in the middle for my waist. I could even countenance the idea of boys, like chimney sweeps of old, being hired just for the purpose of cleaning me “down below”. The rest of the day they could spend crawling along the sewer tunnel to ensure its smooth running.
I could not bear it.
“You will have to help. As soon as you see it, gently pull…”
I was impressed by her fixity of purpose. Between the now violent involuntary traumas of her body, she managed to give me instructions. I mopped her brow with my own old handkerchief. I wondered why she had earlier kicked off the bed covers. It was so very cold.
Then at the whiskered opening, there appeared the tousled nob. Gradually wheedling out.
“Push, push, push!”
Needless to say, I was too scared to speak. All the fitful sex that had once reared its head between us had happened well down below the bed covers. I had even dreamed of constructing a chastity board like a pair of stocks, for our waists. Now I was face to face with it. Eye to eye.
The bodiless head plopped out upon the mattress and stared at the ceiling. Then it blinked, its eyeballs slowly turning towards me…
The night was no different than the old nights. But starless, moonless … except for the faint yellow stains in the areas of the sky where they would otherwise be.
My wife lay dead. I could feel no terror or grief, for these emotions were expunged by disgust at the sight of her body decomposing faster than nature intended.
Like Hamlet, I took the throbbing bowl of bone in my hands and smiled: “At least, my son, you will not need to concern yourself with what goes on below YOUR waist.”
I shuddered, as I heard shuffling, shambling, scuttling, rattling, scratching, whining, even boyish laughter … in the chimney, below the floorboards, at the brightening window, in the very bowels of the building.
Printed previously in the 1990s