‘You’ll never understand,’ said the big-voiced woman. ‘Until you’re a mother, the way I am.’
Lajos should not have been eavesdropping but the subject was too compelling and the walls too thin. He sat in his lonesome bunk and listened to the dangling end of the conversation. Its basis was worry and care and dependence and, most importantly, ceaseless love. Its specifics were not what mattered to him. He suddenly became aware of a cumbersome sadness that had been passenger on his shoulders for too long; hitching a ride on his own wretched misery. He wept and the thought ricocheted in his head.
You’ll never understand until you’re a mother, the way I am.
He stiffened suddenly and resigned himself to becoming a parent; the creator of a thing that was interminably his own. He knew, though, that he’d never be able to couple off, for his appearance was enough to turn stomachs strange and milk rancid. He decided to create an infant from his dreams.
Lajos settled down for the night, excited at the prospect of what tomorrow would bring; what the night would give birth to. But earlier that same evening, Lajos had eaten a rotten apple. And as he slept and dreamed it crept up from his belly where it festered. It turned his gestating mind all acrid. The dawn brought a horror too wild and grotesque to record.
Yet, when he awoke, Lajos looked on the terrible thing with beaming pride. He saw it waddle in filth and croak its language. He held it up to the light and sang songs to pacify its vile moods. He fed it pitch to gobble and stole mercury to calm its unslakable thirst. He watched it grow and taught it, as best he could, the whys of the world. It struggled violently and became itself: autonomous and fearsome.
And whenever, as became frequent, his neighbours came to beat down his door, complaining of the unimaginable death of yet another dog, the blooded absence of one more cat, the poison-poaching of whole farms of fish, Lajos would turn to them, coolly, and deliver his case. And he would spit it like a pedagogue coughing up its wisdom, holding the wizened babe in his weary arms:
‘You’ll never understand,’ he would say. ‘Until you’re a mother, the way I am.’