When Mama loses another baby, Papa goes to the Folder in town, and has me made.
Papa’s not a rich man, so I don’t get a mouth, because that costs more, and Mama needs quiet anyway. Papa also provides his own newspaper, to get the price down even further.
Papa says I am a glorious origami triumph. He calls me daughter.
Mama says I am an abomination, but she agrees to keep me as long as I’m useful.
I must be useful.
Try as I might, I’m not so good around the house. Too much movement causes me to tear, and I seem to catch fire so easily whenever I get close to the stove. Water turns me to pulp.
Papa has to keep patching me up with more newspaper. He says I have to find a way to be useful.
Mama says my ink is fading and I’m old news.
That night, when I can’t sleep for worrying, I creep around the house. I find myself in Mama’s work room, stroking all the piles of material, and looking through the pattern magazines. I pin myself into new shapes, trying to be like the pretty people in the pages.
Then something comes to me.
I take up Mama’s big dressmaking shears and cut pieces of material. I cut my leg off at the same time, by accident, but it’s easy enough to balance on my remaining leg. I thread the needle, as I’ve seen Mama do so many times, and by the time, sunrise smiles at the window, I’ve made myself a dress.
Papa says I have found my talent, as he folds me a new leg.
Mama smiles at me, says I look pretty, and that I can help her with her work.
I am useful.
A few weeks later, Papa says, because of me, things are better between him and mama.
Mama tells us that she’ll be having a new baby soon and that it will be different this time.
I will be useful.
While the baby is coming, Mama screams and screams. Then, when the baby arrives, it screams. Mama and Papa both cry, a lot.
Papa says mama needs rest and quiet, if she is to recover from the baby.
Mama says nothing. She is still crying.
At night, I tiptoe into the nursery. At the cradle, I lift the tiny blanket and suddenly I understand why mama and papa are so upset. There is something wrong with this baby. It has huge, fleshy pink lips, and even as I’m looking at it, a whimper slips out of its mouth and erupts into an unprovoked wail. This is not a baby that will let mama rest, or be useful to her.
I shove my hand deep down into the flesh hole. The saliva scalds me and my fingers start dissolving, but I hold fast until the baby is quiet.
I must be useful.
Once I’m sure it won’t make another sound, I collect my needle and thread and set to work. It’s hard to hold the baby’s floppy head while I sew, but, as I tie off the last stitch in the corner of its mouth, I think about how pleased Mama and Papa will be with me.
Papa will use pretty paper to repair me.
Mama will call me daughter.
Tabbie Hunt is a children’s book-packager turned freelance writer. Author of a bucket load of short stories (some published and some ignored) she is currently nearing completion of her first YA novel.In between writing and family, Tabbie devours fairy tales and MG/YA fantasy fiction; runs storytelling workshops; plays way too much piano, and rescues dogs and cats, who in turn rescue her.
Artwork: Brooke Shaden