AN INCH TOO TIGHT

by Mary McMyne

As I extract myself—muscle by muscle, inch by inch—from my husband’s embrace, my breath catches in my throat. I’m afraid each small sound will wake him. The scratch of the straw-mattress beneath my knee. The thud of my feet on the floor. His eyes stay closed, as I slip from our cot. Through the open window-flap, the moon shines over our babe in his reed-basket, setting the dust in the air around him aglow. There was a time when I thought this hut on the banks of the Yare would be a haven, when I gazed at it and foresaw a rugged but heavenly family life. Now I know the truth: those daydreams were foolish sacrilege. This hut is no haven, our son no cherub. The babe won’t stop crying. He wails so loudly, you can’t help but fear he’s possessed.

My husband snores, the dark circles under his eyes betraying his weariness. I know my own eyes must have those circles too. Our son, blessedly asleep for once, blows a bubble in his basket. I pull him to my breast to nurse, to plug his mouth.

Mother said things would get better with each new moon. She’s a midwife, perhaps the wisest woman in all the parish, aside from the anchoress who lives at St. Julian’s. But what my mother doesn’t know, what she can’t know, is how hard it is to raise a child outside the city walls. Raising us children in Norwich, she never had to worry about the she-wolf who harries these pastures. They say she is the wiliest beast in all of England, clever enough to avoid the wolf-hunters’ traps, rumored to carry away small children and sheep from pens. Mother also hasn’t seen the dark way my husband looks at me, his bitter brows when he watches me nurse. He wants me to want him again, to enjoy his nightly attentions. But all day while he fishes, all night while he sleeps, our son needs my care. He won’t sleep, he’s always hungry, he won’t stop crying. Nothing soothes him. I keep having dark thoughts about the lullaby my mother sang when I was little, the one about babes left to rock in treetops.

Past the fire ring I creep, sneaking through the dark like a cutpurse, grabbing the knapsack I packed earlier with swaddling clothes, a crust of bread, a water skin. The last three coins my husband didn’t spend at the tavern. He’ll be angry when he sees I’ve taken them, but I’ll need them for the offering at St. Julian’s.

Outside, the harvest moon shines bright, a perfect circle over the river. So bright, I blink, as I carry our son from the hut. The night is damp and chill. I wrap my cloak tight around us. On the lowest branch of the oak on my right-hand side, a massive raven sits, its talons wrapped around a branch. It moves its sooty head, cocking it slightly to watch me with one black eye. Then it lets out three great kraks—a good omen—and takes off, its ghost rippling east over the Yare.

***

You will have heard this story before. You will have heard about the girl who thought she would live happily ever after. You will have heard about the fisherman’s son who led her into the orchard. How she knew him from the fish-market, how he told jokes to set her at ease, how he pressed her into an apple tree. You will have heard how his kiss made her head swim, how he smelled of salt and something else, something earthy and new and raw.

I was that girl. Mother sent me to market one evening to buy wheat to make bread. The fisherman’s son had always been pretty –flashing eyes, dark hair—but during the last year, he had become full handsome. Simund was his name. His shoulders had grown wide, his jaw strong. We had stolen kisses before when no one was looking: in the narrow alley behind the market, in the field behind the church. That evening, as we stood next to the gleaming fish in his father’s cart, Simund told me he wanted to show me a flower that grew in the orchard. A night-blooming flower, he said, so rare it had no name. I knew, as I followed him into the orchard, that there was no such plant.

His kiss caught me off guard. It was different from the other kisses we’d shared, more solemn, filled with want. My eyes fluttered closed. I forgot the whole world around me, the evening song of thrushes and nightjars, the apple bark rough against my back, my mother’s lectures on midwifery, my father’s lessons in choosing a mate. Simund was fifteen, an apprentice fisherman, old enough to leave his father’s hut, I thought, old enough to give me this taste of the world. His desire was like a plague, spreading over my body, my heart, my thoughts. Every time he stopped kissing me to meet my eyes, I looked back at him in enchantment. The sadness, the loneliness in his gray eyes reflected my own. I fell deeper into the kiss, until everything I ever wanted for myself faded. I wanted only to give him what he wanted. When he lifted my petticoat, I made a sound so heavy, it dropped from my lips like lead, the weightiest of syllables: oh.

***

The first change I noticed was the change in my appetite. At breakfast, as autumn turned to winter, my stomach grumbled. I slathered the largest slice of bread with butter. At dinner, I took second helpings of stew. At night, I grew ravenous, sneaking downstairs from the bedroom I shared with my sisters. I crouched in the pantry, shoving my mouth full of apples and my father’s cheese. After my parents were asleep, I put on my cloak and walked out to meet Simund in the orchard as I had been doing for weeks.

One night, I got home so late, I forgot to take off my cloak before I slipped into bed. My sisters woke up before me, saw my outside-clothes damp with snowflakes, and whispered. That night, my mother and father sat me down. “Where are you going, so late at night?” they asked.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I answered, as children do.

When my petticoat began to grow tight around my waist—an inch too tight—my mother knew what had happened. My belly was swollen. My skin glowed. My cycle had stopped. My mother was no fool. She told my father, and the two of them devised a plan to find out who was responsible for my condition. The moon was waning, that night, ideal conditions for spying. They kept far enough back that I didn’t see them behind me.

Simund was waiting for me, like he did every night, at the base of an apple tree. I giggled and sat on his lap, not knowing that my parents were watching. They waited until long past the point of denial before they burst from the shadows to confront us. Simund scrambled away from me, pulling up his breeches. I got to my feet, straightening my dress and cloak, my cheeks burning with embarrassment. Mother told Simund that I was carrying his child, that he had to wed me. Father told him he would be a coward to walk away. Simund drooped, for a moment, in the moonlight. And then, with the apple trees as his witness, he agreed to make things official, his face bright with shame.

***

Mother sewed my wedding dress herself from a single bolt of silken fabric. She dyed the cloth my favorite color, a pale blue, with woad leaves. She made the dress with a high waist to hide my condition, though everyone already knew. The dress had swooping sleeves that whispered and sighed. I felt like a noblewoman when we spoke our vows on the steps of the church, though Simund’s clothes weren’t as fine.

At the wedding feast my parents arranged, I met my mother-in-law for the first time, a fisherman’s wife who resented my parents’ position in the city. “You think you’re so fine, the daughter of a cheese-maker and midwife,” she whispered in my ear, her smile bright and fixed, her voice low enough that no one else would hear. “The truth is, you’re a tramp, like all his other girls.”

Her words made me dizzy. I clutched my swollen belly, the walls of my parents’ house folding in around me.

“Oh, no,” she said, her voice mocking. “You didn’t think you were his first?”

***

On the day I went into labor, the women of both families descended on the crooked hut my husband had built near his father’s on the banks of the Yare. The women’s voices filled the air like birdsong—chattering and chattering—as my mother guided me through the birth. Mother plugged the window and door with cloth like you’re supposed to do to keep out demons, but one of Simund’s aunts opened the window. Perhaps the air was stale. Perhaps the room was hot. They say the next world drifts close during a birth, so the infant’s soul can slip from that world into this one. But there are other dangers in this closeness: in the otherworld live helle gaestes and other demons. For this reason, my mother always cleansed and blessed her charges with oils immediately after birth.

I’d attended dozens of labors with my mother, so I knew what was coming. I would have to rock my hips and move, walk through the pangs, and push when my mother told me to push. But it is one thing to give directions and another to take them. When the pangs came, knife-sharp, they filled my whole being.

I howled and screamed like generations of women before me.

I don’t remember pushing the child out of my body, but I do remember watching my mother anoint him. A boy, ten fingers, ten toes, healthy lungs. A harmless little thing with a harmless little worm between his legs. Holding him for the first time, clutching him to my breast, I felt a vast sense of love and purpose. I looked up at his father, a tear in my eye, but his expression was dark. “Simund,” I said, reaching out. “Do you want to hold him?”

My husband glared down at the child.

“Simund?”

My husband wouldn’t answer. As the boy clamped down on my breast, I thought I heard the buzzing of a fly.

***

I thought what came next would be easier. I’d helped Mother lead many women into motherhood, showing them how to nurse, how to swaddle an infant. But there were complications I hadn’t expected in adding a child to our home. That first night after our mothers and aunts left, when I took the babe into our cot to nurse, Simund complained, “I cannot have you with him in the bed.”

Truth be told, I didn’t want him to have me that night—my loins were sore—but Mother had warned me that young men his age have an insatiable appetite. I didn’t want him to look elsewhere. He’d taken me every night during the pregnancy, and I felt more like myself than I had in months. I nursed the child quickly and swaddled him in the reed-basket, so Simund could have his way with me. When he was finished, I thought I heard something buzzing in the air above our bodies. I suspected it was the fly that had stolen into the hut during the birth, but I couldn’t see it anywhere. I swore I could hear it, however, zooming in the air above our heads, in the air above our son’s basket. I watched the air for a long time, looking for the insect, frustrated that I couldn’t find it. The buzzing came and went all night, keeping me awake. When the sound was joined by the howls of the she-wolf outside, my thoughts turned dark. There are stories of demons that fly into the mouths of infants, possessing them, so that they cry without ceasing and grow up to take joy in others’ pain. As soon as it occurred to me that the source of the sound might not be an insect, I pulled our son into our bed. Every time he opened his mouth to cry, I offered him my breast. I tossed and turned, restless, afraid the thing would enter his mouth while I slept.

The next morning, when I told Simund my fears, he called the stories wives’ tales. He said I coddled the boy, that I should stop taking him to bed. Mother says everyone gets more rest when the child sleeps beside his parents, but I didn’t know how to tell Simund. It was clear he resented me, that he thought my parents and I had entrapped him into this arrangement. Instead of arguing, I promised to obey his wishes. The next night, I swaddled the child and tucked him in his basket. I moved it close to the bed, getting up every time he cried to feed him. I sleepwalked through the next night and the next. I fell asleep nursing him in a chair. When he began to cry without ceasing, his face red, his tiny hands balled into fists, his body rigid, I panicked.

I could no longer hear the buzzing in the house.

I tried to soothe him by walking and rocking my hips. I tried to soothe him by breastfeeding. I ignored the pain when he bit my nipple, when blood mixed with milk in his mouth.

Mother said there was an adjustment period, that some babies were more difficult than others. I couldn’t be sure if I was imagining it, but she seemed ill at ease when her tiny angry grandson visited, relieved when we gathered up our things to go. On the morning I asked her if she’d heard anything after the birth, something buzzing in the air, her expression was downright fearful. She shook her head, wide-eyed, pressed her lips together tight, and shooed my brothers and sisters from the house.

***

On the night our son turned three weeks old, Simund came home late, his breath smelling of spirits. He wasn’t dealing well with fatherhood. Earlier, he’d snapped at me in the middle of supper and left to go to the tavern in town. Our son cried for hours after he left. I’d just put him to bed when Simund came home. As soon as he walked in, he began to tease me loudly, like he sometimes did before he took me to bed. Our son woke and started crying. As I rose to retrieve him, I thought I heard something buzzing again in the hut. Panicked, I picked up the child and tried to comfort him. “There, there,” I murmured, as something flew into my mouth, a puff of preternaturally cold air.

My hand went to my lips. I was overcome by a choking sensation. A tightness in my throat, a strange feeling in my chest like the quickening I’d felt months before in my womb. A cold rage fluttered where my heart should’ve been. My throat closed like a trap. “Don’t tease me like that!” I heard myself hiss. “I don’t want your attentions. He cries the whole time you’re gone. By the time you get home, I have nothing left!”

Simund stared at me in shock. I stared back at him, surprised at the harshness of my words. I knew better than to voice such thoughts. He slapped my face, his palm stinging my cheek. My mind went blank. I pressed my lips tight, focusing my gaze on the floor, the fly buzzing angrily in my breast. I willed myself to stay silent. But the longer I kept quiet, the angrier I felt. A temper filled my heart, so cold, so bright, there wasn’t room for anything else. I glared at Simund, trembling with the intensity of feeling that possessed me. Simund stared back for a long moment, waiting for me to apologize. When I didn’t, he went to bed without another word. I sat up in my chair, keeping watch over our child in his basket, pondering the terrible thing in my chest.

Simund snored beside me without a care.

For three days, the thing lived inside me. For three days, our boy was quiet and good, but a rage filled my heart. I snapped at my husband, who berated and slapped me. Then one night I woke, the tightness in my chest replaced by a buzzing in the room. I stilled myself on the bed, scanning the air for the demon. When I caught a glimpse of something—a shimmering, a shadow in the corner—I knew I had to ask someone for help. Mother Julian, the anchoress who lives at St. Julian’s in Norwich, was my only hope. Folks say she is a widow, the mother of seven children, who watched them all die of plague. They say she’s had holy visions, that the miracles she performs are real. If anyone could help me, it was she. I stared into the dark for a long time, listening to the thing buzz in the shadows, wondering what Simund would say if I asked for his permission to see Mother Julian. He might forbid me from taking the child. He might refuse to give me coins for the offering. He might call me mad.

***

The raven’s calls, as I leave the hut, embolden me. I am no bird-diviner, but Mother taught me to read simple omens. Nothing unnatural, mind you. The sort everyone knows, like when thunder rolls during conversation, it should be taken as judgment, or when a raven calls on your right-hand side, your last choice was good.

When our hut is only a blotch on the river behind us, I hear a buzzing over my shoulder. I whirl on it, panicked, searching the air for its source.

I can see nothing there. No insect. No shadow. Only the current washing over the rocks, the harvest moon rippling in the river, the shattered reflections of stars. My son ends his meal. I murmur soothing words and offer my breast again, afraid that the demon has followed me, that it will take advantage of his unsealed mouth. When he starts to cry, a shape manifests in the night air above him, causing the air to blur and waver like heat rising from flames. Except instead of heat, the thing seems somehow to give off cold. It buzzes faintly as it ripples, barely visible, even in the brightness of the harvest moon. The shape hovers over my son’s body, vague and indistinct, an absence more than a presence. My heart beats in my throat.

For a moment I don’t know what to do. And then I am opening my lips in the shape of an o, thinking impure thoughts, cursing aloud, speaking foul words. I’m cursing the demon, asking the abomination why it ever left my throat. After a moment the night air ceases its rippling. The buzzing stops. I feel a thousand caterpillar legs, a chill in my throat. This is followed by a tightness in my chest, a fluttering where my heart should be. And then I feel it perching in my ribcage, filling me with the cold familiar ire.

My son is alert, fascinated by the rippling in the air above him. He does not cry. The moon bathes us in brightness, cold and bright and purifying. It fuels the anger inside me. How dare Simund? How dare his mother? I mutter about the aunt who opened the window, condemn Simund for his failure to believe me. The moon ripples in the water. My anger is nearly all-consuming. I forget to be afraid, as we near the pastures where the she-wolf is known to roam. I forget to be afraid, as we pass the farmhouses that have reported recent losses of sheep. Then I see the shadow in the field behind me, the dark shape parting the grain.

I hug my son to my chest, wondering if she can smell his scent. I quicken my pace. The wolf follows us from a distance at first, ghost-like, slowly closing the gap between us. I am afraid to move too quickly. I wonder if she has seen other mothers leave their children in the woods, if she has feasted on helpless infants beneath trees. I wonder if she can smell my rage. When she draws near enough for me to see her red eyes, her great shoulders, I wonder how old she is. She looks ancient. There are silvery white streaks around her muzzle, down the dark fur of her limbs.

She shadows me all the way to the city wall, but stays back. She never tries to overtake me. Approaching the clearing, I hear a lupine grumbling and whirl around to see her red eyes fast upon me. She stands there for a long moment, close, the rest of her great bulk perfectly still, before she lifts her muzzle to sniff the air.

***

By the time I approach St. Julian’s, it is dawn. The sun’s rays redden the sky behind the stone bell-tower, which is making an angelic music. I wait for the ringing to stop before I take the steps and rap the knocker against the door. The iron sounds loud against the wood.

The priest who opens the door is a fat man. His chin doubles as he cranes his neck to see the face of the babe asleep in my sling. “And what have we here?” he whispers, amusement dancing at the edges of his voice.

As I open my mouth to answer, the shadow flutters in my chest and rises up. The answer I usually give, my son, dies in my throat. “The source of all my woe,” the demon says in a choked voice not my own.

The merry look on the priest’s face is replaced by one of fear. He pulls me inside, dipping his hand into the holy water bin. The water is cold on my forehead, as he makes the sign of the cross and says something in the language of priests. As he finishes the prayer, a thousand caterpillar legs tickle my throat. The thing inside me shudders and rises, unwilling, into my mouth. It hooks itself into my throat, causing me to cough and sputter. The priest calls out for help.

Three men in robes come running, and in a moment, they are holding me in place. My son wakes, frightened by all the activity, and begins to cry.

“How long have you been beset?” one of the monks asks.

All I can do is hold up three fingers.

The priest looks at the wailing child. “Three weeks?”

I nod, attempting to resettle my son inside my tunic.

“Have you brought an offering?”

I nod again, fishing my coins out of my bag. As one of the priests take the coins, my son latches on and starts suckling. The church goes quiet. Then the thing takes over and speaks for me. “There is nothing the church can do,” it growls.

The priests look at one another warily.

They lead me to the southeast side of the church where an anchorite’s cell has been built into the bell tower. An elderly woman peers through its shuttered window, as if she has heard the commotion. Her face is backlit by the sun shining through the east window. She looks like an angel in her white wimple and pale robes. As we draw near, the look on her face is so open that I find myself feeling hopeful. “Mother Julian,” I rasp, lunging from the priests’ grip toward her slot. The priests hang back. As I meet her eyes, my voice twists, becoming strangled, monstrous. “Take this child from me!”

A look of horror crosses her face.

I shake my head, fighting the cold thing inside me, the many feet that have hooked themselves into my throat. “It speaks for me,” I manage to rasp in my own voice.

She nods, slowly, understanding. Her eyes narrow with resolve.

“Please,” I mouth without sound. “Help—”

She holds out her hand through the slot. I rearrange my son so I can take it. Her skin is thin and smooth. “Tell me how this happened,” she says.

In fits and starts, I tell her the story of how I came to be a mother, how I came to be a wife. It takes me the better part of an hour, mouthing the words, overcome at turns by the thing hooking itself into my mouth. She listens without judgment, her gray eyes filled with compassion. When I tell her about the buzzing I heard in my hut after the birth, she opens her mouth.

“Listen to me,” she says, squeezing my hand. “Once I was the mother of seven children. When I was thirty years old, I watched them all sicken and die with plague. I was the last in my family to catch it. When the curate came to give me last rites, I saw Christ bleed on the cross. It was only then that I understood the true meaning of sacrifice.”

I stare at her without understanding.

The anchoress sighs. “You swallowed the fly?”

Goosebumps prickle my arms. “How did you know?”

“I’ve swallowed it myself,” she says, her eyes watering. “Seven times.”

The thing buzzes inside me. “How did you rid yourself of it?” I whisper. Then the thing rears itself up inside me. I hear myself say in the other voice, the monstrous voice, “You will never be rid of me.

Mother Julian looks me in the eye. “Careful. It feeds on your anger.”

No sooner do I hear these words than I know they are true. Each time the thing has appeared, each time it has buzzed around the hut, I have been filled with a wrath cold and bright. The thing buzzes in my throat. It is angry. I clutch the child at my breast, too tight.

“You must give it up, that anger. You must accept your purpose. A good mother must be Christ-like. Open your mouth.”

I do as she says.

“Hold her still,” she calls out, her voice loud for the first time since we have been talking. “Take the child into the infirmary.”

The priests come closer to do as she bids. One of them takes the child. My son starts crying, as the priest carries him into another room. The other priests each take one of my limbs. Their fingers grip my legs, my arms. The thing grips my throat, its thousand feet pricking me, making me bleed. The breath in my lungs, having passed through it, is freezing cold. My body tenses. I am angry at the priest who took my son, despite Mother Julian’s command.

“Now close your eyes,” Mother Julian says, “and think of your son. Remember how much you love him. How much he needs you.”

I try to do as she says. Closing my eyes, I think of all the times he has cried for me in his basket. The endless stream of feedings and cleanings. All the times that I have sat up and nursed him. All the times that Simund has refused to help.

“He will only need you like that until he is four or five,” Mother Julian says, her voice hard. “Four or five years, if you are blessed and he lives that long. You must accept that you should be grateful to care for him. He is only alive by the grace of God.”

Her words are like a blow, a shock to the thing hanging on for dear life in my throat. Tears sting my eyes. I remember the way my son looks at me sometimes, the gratitude and helpless love in his eyes. All the times he has slept, his small body warm against me, milk-drunk in my arms. I feel something I haven’t felt in a while, a sense of motherlove and purpose. My mouth falls open. I can feel the thing moving behind my tongue.

The sound it makes is like a flurry of wings. The priests take a step backwards, letting go of my limbs, as the unholy shape leaves my lips. Its cold makes the air blur and waver like the heat of flames, its form faintly outlined in silver, a shadow-shape trembling with rage.

Mother Julian watches it go with narrowed eyes. It clicks and buzzes as it flies from the church. The fat priest is the first to speak. “A miracle,” he murmurs.

Another priest agrees with him.

“Catch her,” Mother Julian tells them.

It is only after she says the words that I realize I feel faint.

***

Mother Julian begs me not to journey home until evening, when my son and I both will have had a chance to rest. The priests set us up with a nest of blankets near the back of the church, not too far from her cell. The pews are echoing and chill. For the remainder of the day, my son and I rest, his nursing interrupted only by the sound of the bells, the sound of Mother Julian’s songs. Her voice is clear and high and solemn. The first time I hear it, eyes closed, I imagine it is the color of relief. From time to time, a priest brings me a broth of soup. I nurse my son in the pew. There is no buzzing inside me. The thing truly seems to be gone from my chest.

The goodbye I say to Mother Julian is tearful.

Twilight falls, as I make the long walk home. The wolf doesn’t follow me. The raven doesn’t return. Our only company is the rush of the Yare through its hollow beside us, the scattered songs of thrushes and nightjars in their nests. My son makes contented sounds, nursing, lulled to sleep by the rhythm of my footsteps. I am filled with a sense of well-being, a peace, a feeling that all is well and all will be well.

As I approach our hut, I see the small figure of Simund, pacing beside the bank. I call to him, my voice kind, and he hurries to meet me. He greets me with bitter brows.

“Where the devil did you go with my son and my coin?” he yells, slapping my face.

My cheek burns. My temper flares. I’m more afraid of my anger than I am of Simund. “It’s gone,” I say quietly, trying to stay calm. “Mother Julian sent it away.”

“What the hell are you jabbering about?”

“Three pennies is a small enough price,” I murmur. “Whatever it takes.”

***

I am careful, for the next few moons, not to lose my temper. Careful, for the next few moons, not to make Simund angry. I become better at appeasing him, at fulfilling his expectations. In this way I become better at staying calm.

The buzzing does not return.

After a while, the three of us settle into the pattern of daily life. We become something approaching a family. One night, Simund brings me an actual night-blooming flower he found in the pasture, and I begin to enjoy his attentions again. I remember the feelings that drew me to him in the orchard. The swimming sensation when we kiss, the weight of our shared desire. Yuletide comes and goes. Snowflakes fall from the sky like angels. I watch them through the crooked doorway of our hut, glittering in the pale midwinter light, floating down to the thin ice that has begun to coat the riverbank. When it grows too cold for fishing, Simund stays home, laughing and singing, playing with our son, pretending to toss him into the air. Our hut seems, for a time, like the haven I imagined it would be.

In springtime, our son begins to crawl. We take him to my mother’s. He doesn’t cry. His grandmother bounces him on her knee, laughing, in no hurry to be rid of us.

In summer, our son begins reaching for our food. He devours the soup-soaked bread crusts we give him. It is only a matter of weeks before my milk dries up.

I am proud when our son begins to pull himself up on the legs of the table, when he begins to toddle around our hut. By the time my belly begins to swell again, the next winter, I am so removed from the troubles which led me to see Mother Julian that I do not think, at first, to be afraid. I am only filled with joy at the thought of the child growing inside me, at the thought of the little brother or sister our son will soon meet. But as the end of my pregnancy draws near and my belly becomes so big, I cannot chase our son around, the old resentment fills me. Why doesn’t Simund get up with the child at night? Why must I be the one, in this state, to soothe him to sleep when he wakes up? By the day of my confinement, I have remembered what Mother Julian said about swallowing the fly seven times, and I am afraid.

Even though I try to keep my heart filled with gratitude, even though I try to focus on the love that flows through me when I nurse, the very first night after my mother and the aunts have gone, my anger gets the better of me. Our second son starts crying and wakes our eldest, but Simund does not rise. While I’m nursing the babe in a chair, our eldest son tries to climb into the bed. When Simund yells at him and slaps him, it happens. I hear a buzzing in the hut. Scanning the room, I see a telltale shimmer in the corner, a silvery shadow-shape, rippling the air.

I look down at the newborn boy at my breast—the toddler sobbing at my feet—and panic. The thing trembles, silvery, drawing closer.

Crossing myself, I open my mouth.

Mary McMyne‘s stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Gulf Coast, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Southern Humanities Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other venues. She is the recipient of the Faulkner-Wisdom Prize for a novel-in-progress, a grant from the SustainableArts Foundation, and a fellowship to Vermont Studio Center, among other honors. Her debut poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), won the Elgin Chapbook Award. Visit her online at marymcmyne.com.