The Kid is Killing Me

Aubrey Taylor

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T he little leech must’ve gotten stuck to me right out of the womb. Clung onto my leg like the bloody monster she is, still dripping from my uterus, placenta trailing behind.

She really freaked me out when I first caught sight of her in the mirror, peeking out from behind my frizzy hair, grinning widely at the thick coat of foundation I had on. She was terrifying: yellowish-blue nails, and a twisted smile that curled up right to the corners of unblinking eyes far too sentient for a newborn. I dropped my candle, a little Yankee Vanilla Bean that shattered on the floor – the kind of ridiculous shit you have when you’re a thirteen-year-old girl, because you’ve already gotten sucked in to the commercialist trap that is Bath and Body Works – and the baby went berserk at the noise, chomping down hard on my ear with her devil-sharp teeth. (I still have a chunk of my helix missing, and now I can’t wear my hair up, and all in all it’s just really not ideal.) Out of horror-movie reflex I grabbed a jagged piece of the broken candle and shoved it into her chubby jelly neck, where her head hung as delicately as a flower on its stem – she was just a baby, I guess she hadn’t grown the muscles to lift it yet – and with a gut-wrenching gurgle she puked up blood and then disappeared.

First I thought I was crazy, but I knew I wasn’t. Then I thought I was rid of her, but of course I wasn’t. She’s practically invincible, the freak.

My ear stung for a few days, and I had to wrap a bandage around it, but as soon as it stopped bleeding she was back. Bigger. Learning to crawl. She climbed on me like a spider at one point during gym class, hissing in one ear and then moving down to sink her claws into my thigh right as Brent Mudd kicked the ball. Naturally, I got hit in the face, and any patience I had left for the thing imploded. As soon as I was able to escape to the locker room I grabbed my locker door, leaned forward so she swung off my shoulder, and repeatedly slammed the metal into her bald, baby-powdered head, until it was mottled brown and violet, her eyes bulging red and bloody out of their sockets.

But it only ever got rid of her for a few days; never for good.

There was a time late in high school (she was maybe four or five, shiny blonde hair growing in down to her shoulders, cheeks wide under bright blue eyes, dimples and all) when she started to suffocate me at the hockey rink while I was watching my brother play his senior night game – hands clamping down hard over my mouth and nose until my vision started to blur, black spots poisoning the bright orange heaters above me. I drove myself back home from the game, pedal slammed to the floor, tears still streaming down my cheeks, straight through the intersection. I was praying for cross traffic to careen into my back end and grind her premature bones into her tissues until her underdeveloped brain splattered the back seat. But there was no one else on the road, so I got home and just made do with a razor.

I’m starting to get nervous. I want rid of her (obviously). She’s about seven now, and she’s been getting stronger although she’s clearly malnourished (I tried to starve her for a few years, but somehow she always gets into the Nutella). I can fend her off for now, but she’s already decently tall, and crafty, and I’m worried about what will happen when she gets to fourteen, fifteen, twenty. When she starts to form an interest in kickboxing or pipe bombs or something. She’s already starting to hurt me with her bare fists, and the possibility haunts me of the damn thing watching Karate Kid or Home Alone and getting ideas.

And besides that, I want friends. I’m sick and tired of missing out on exciting dates and parties just so I can take care of the wretched thing. I mean, I am twenty. I’m at college. I’m supposed to be having fun, for God’s sake. I should be rid of her by now, ready to naturally reenter the social sphere with a newfound maturity. But all she’s ever done is take up my time and energy, ungratefully, violently, growing more and more needy as the years tick on.

I can’t exactly hang out with friends with the Kid around, you know? It gets tiresome for everyone, with the whining, the sorry, hang on, I just need to put her down for a nap, could you keep it down, please?, or the way she sidles up to my friends, all doe-eyed, and begs and begs for ice cream, or movies, or whatever else she thinks they’ll give her; and if she ever feels mistreated or left out her face drops to something Satanic, devil-teeth glinting, and she lunges at them, and I have to get in the way and usher them out the door before anyone gets hurt.

And yes, I probably should’ve told my parents about her a long time ago, and I know it. But no one wants to be the stupid teen who got pregnant! It wasn’t even my fault, really, I didn’t even get the luxury of having sex first. She just showed up. It was all very Virgin Mary, really, if you ignore the fact that she’s the Antichrist.

But my mom would never believe that. It would be all five stages of grief: Oh, you must be mistaken, she can’t be yours, you’re lying to me. Then, I can’t believe you, how could you be so irresponsible?! Her bargaining would be useless, really, just all the things I’ve already thought of: Did you try dropping her off on someone else’s doorstep? Did you try putting her up for adoption? (Yes, and yes; and no, it didn’t work, she magically reappears at my side no matter what I do.) Then, slowly, painfully, the bullet of reality would sink in, and she’d grudgingly help babysit so that I would be able to focus on school (for once), and she’d call up Grandma and say, I know, I know. Her life is ruined. We should all pity her and make snide comments because we don’t know how to deal with it otherwise.

Well, I don’t know… maybe they would come around eventually. I’m just not sure it would be worth the effort. I have a Just don’t tell us! kind of family when it comes to being a disappointment. When my brother said he was an atheist, my mom fluttered her hands around for a few minutes and then elected to pretend he never said anything at all. But since then, she’s made it a point to drag him to church every time he goes back home, like he’ll realize his error with enough people singing psalms in his face. And the less said about my particular “lifestyle choices” the better.

So it’s been… boring, to say the least, these past seven years. Fine: lonely. I’m lonely. Alright? I said it. Kids make for dull company. The moron’s been trying to get into the vodka and Cheez-Its for months, and when I cave all she does is get lethargic and drunk and depressed. I resigned myself to being her guardian. What else could I do?

Then, by some miracle, I met someone in one of my classes this year, and that was when I decided that I was at my breaking point. I will get rid of the Kid so I can date this girl if it’s the last thing I do. Because the Crush is amazing: tall, and gorgeous, and likes most of the same things I do. We talk about gruesome tales of true crime! We watch Game of Thrones! And, well, she only drinks coffee when it’s iced, but hey, everyone’s got their baggage.

Thing is, it’s impossible to date her without getting past the constant distraction of having the unwanted Kid around. Shortly after I met the Crush, I was so tired I almost fell asleep in the shower, and the Kid pressed my face up against the faucet and tried to drown me. So, really, the little wretch deserved it when I swung her out the window and held her up by her long, matted hair until she screamed her lungs raw and I finally dropped her and had the satisfaction of seeing her splat against the pavement. (It was great, she exploded like a balloon.) So finally I caved and got an appointment with a specialist, who might be my only chance to get rid of the Kid for good.

The doctor is very smiley and hopeful. She says, Wow, she looks just like you! (like that’s a compliment and not the greatest insult I’ve ever received in my life) and doesn’t even miss a beat before adding that, no, I can’t just force her to go away. But apparently there are other people like me, and some of them have been taking care of their children, especially when they tend toward murderous fits of rage, and research shows that they can grow up to be quite lovely young adults.

Bullshit. I stormed out of her office in a hurry, hell-bent on never returning. I’m not about to start taking care of the damn thing, are you kidding me? But then, of course, it’s only a day later that the Crush calls and asks if I want to get lunch while I try to hush the piercing screams behind me.

“Are you alright?” she asks at one point.

“Fine, fine,” I say, ripping the Kid’s nails out of my chest and biting as many of her fingers as I can clean off, all the way up to the little knuckles. The kid lets loose another wail, clutching bloody stumps to her chin, face red and blotchy with tears. I spit out her pinky, wipe off my mouth. “I’m afraid I can’t make it, though.”

I drag the Kid, kicking and screaming, back to the doctor’s office the same day, a little sheepish for the way I’d left, but mostly just pissed at the new claw marks down my torso and downright irate about missing out on another date.

“Fine,” I seethe, “what exactly do you suggest I do?” I gesture at the little monster, letting the doctor look closer at her regrown fingers and pale white wrists. At her teeth, glinting out of her scornful, predatory face.

The doctor doesn’t even seem frightened. “Hello,” she says, leaning down to make eye contact with the demon. I gape at the doctor. The kid matches my expression, eyes growing wider, teeth disappearing behind trembling lips.

“Would you like to tell me about yourself?” The Kid looks at the doctor, and then looks at me and frowns.

The doctor straightens and shakes her head. “This may take a while.” She writes something down on a clipboard and clicks her tongue. “Start by giving her lots of water and healthy food. Make sure she’s sleeping well. Maybe let her exercise—”

Exercise? You want me to put this thing on a fucking treadmill? She tried to kill me today, for God’s sake!”

“Then you should exercise, too,” the doctor says calmly, which I think should be a politically incorrect thing to say, but I can’t exactly call her out on it because she’s a doctor, and she’s right. I honestly haven’t had the energy to exercise in years.

When we get back home the Kid and I have a staring match. I put my hands on my hips, make myself tall and intimidating. She gazes back up at me just as detestingly, arms crossed over her narrow chest.

Finally I cave, grab a cup and slam it down in front of her before filling it from my water bottle. “Haven’t washed these dishes in months,” I tell her spitefully as I do it. “I hope you get mono. I’m not about to waste a Brita filter on you.” She looks at me distrustfully, and then looks at the water with need. She grabs the cup, inspects it from all angles, sniffs it, but then it’s too much and she drains it, gulping deeply, breathing so hard the glass fogs up as she drinks. I can practically see her pupils dilating.

When she finishes she looks at me expectantly, still frowning. But she doesn’t whine or scream. She doesn’t bite me. She almost seems… calm. I refill the glass slightly less hesitantly, and she drinks it all again. She uses the back of her hand to wipe her lips and stares at her reflection, rotating the cup in front of her wide eyes: the kind of bright, childlike eyes that are supposed to be full of wonder, that always make middle-aged women go awww, what a little darling.

I lean on the counter and squint, trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with those eyes.

And then she slams the glass on the counter, and it shatters. I leap back, but can’t dodge the shard of glass she flings at my face. Tears spring to my eyes when it cuts through the skin of my cheek. She grabs a bigger piece and jumps at me, aiming for the neck, a reminder of our very first meeting.

“You! Piece! Of! Shit!” I yell, sprinting around pieces of furniture, weaponless and betrayed. “I thought we were finally getting along!”

She jumps over the back of the couch and the glass grazes my shin as she tumbles over my feet. I stomp down on her wrists until she drops it, and then pick her up by her ankles, her teeth still snapping, claws shredding any bare skin she can reach, and head toward the oven.

“You asked for this,” I mutter, turning it as high as it will go. “I was being so nice to you. Giving you water from my own water bottle. And this is how you repay me.” She snarls, and I struggle with her for a few more moments, coming out of the blitz with long scratch marks down my arms and neck. “Jesus Christ, stop moving so much and let me cook you, damn it!”

With a final shove, I manage to squeeze her inside the oven, her spine pressed up against the light at the back, her legs curled up to her chest, fingers gripping the edges of the oven before I snap the door shut with a bang! and she recoils with a scream. I sit there, heaving air, holding the door shut with my entire body for thirty minutes, until I’m sure she’s done writhing and hissing in pain.

“Rare or medium-well?” I pretend to ask the Crush, fixing my hair and chuckling to myself, when I finally open the door to check. The Kid – probably charred and blistered, skin puckered up in red welts and eyes dripping out of their sockets – is gone.

Of course, she comes back a few days later. This time, I’m ready. “Come out and drink some water, bastard,” I say nicely, when I first spot her lurking under my bed. I hand her a full (plastic) cup. As soon as she’s distracted with the water, I push her down into a fold-up chair and zip-tie her ankles and wrists to the metal poles.

She isn’t even bothered with the lack of freedom, just more irritated when her cup of water drops to the floor, away from her chapped lips. “Yeah, yeah,” I mutter, picking it up, refilling it, and holding it up to her mouth so she can drink. I’m such a stellar parent.

“Next you’re going to eat,” I say sternly. She watches me dubiously as I walk over to the kitchenette and whip out carrots, onions, and lentils. I grin at her shocked face maliciously. “Oh, yes, real food. I went to the grocery store, like an adult. No frozen pizza, no granola bars. We’re having—” I squint at the recipe on my phone and try not to make a face “—lentil soup, because the Food Network says it’s healthy and also… tasty… I guess. So you’re going to eat it, and you’re going to like it, you little fucker.”

Two hours later, I discover that I am a master chef. I mean, sure, it took me some time and some Googling to figure out how to “dice” onions (turns out, they’re already pre-cut into rings! ha!) and the carrots end up kind of raw and chunky, but damn, garlic and oregano fix everything. The Kid and I make reluctant eye contact over our steaming food (I un-zip-tied one of her hands and pulled her up to the table, because I’m gracious) before literally tossing aside our spoons and drinking it from the lips of our bowls.

I give her more water, because her eyes are drooping, and I guess she isn’t so bad when she’s physically restrained. Then I wash the dishes, turn out the lights, and head to bed.

We go on like this for a while, her in her makeshift high chair (slash torture chamber, if needed), me playing the part of caring Gen-X parent: buying organic food (okay, not really, but what does “organic” even mean?), keeping junk and dangerous objects out of reach, and forcing myself not to hit the damn thing, even when deserved. Occasionally, she’ll get prickly, trying to literally bite the hand that’s feeding her; but I don’t lose my temper, since she’s zip-tied and I’m in control. Besides, she’s looking healthier, sure; her cheeks have rounded out, her hips don’t jut out so extremely from her waist, and her eyes are no longer sunken into her cheeks.

But while all of this makes her more dangerous, I can tell that at least I’m healthier, too. No bite wounds, and more protein than I’ve ever had in my diet. I’m forcing myself to sleep longer, so it’s dark and quiet enough for her to sleep, too. It’s not too bad of a situation. I’m considering calling up the Crush soon. Getting out of the house for a change.

One night I’m turning out the lights when she speaks for the very first time. “Will you untie me?”

I freeze, hand still on the light switch, and then flick it back on, afraid it’ll be like a horror movie where she suddenly appears right behind me. But no, she’s still trapped in the chair, looking right at me with her big eyes, which are strangely starting to seem more and more human as time goes on. It’s probably just because I have to look at her so much: while I cook dinner, while I eat, when I wake up. Always. Just the two of us. I would be losing my mind if I didn’t feel so fucking great. I think it’s the protein.

“Could you maybe try not to kill me?” I retort, and turn the lights off dismissively, heading to the bedroom.

But she won’t give up. Her reedy voice floats through the crack in the door. “Untie me.”

I peel off my socks and jeans. “No.”

“It hurts.”

My shirt gets caught on my head, and my voice comes out muffled. “So do your teeth.”

“I can’t sleep like this.”

My clothes fall into a dirty pile on the floor, and I dig through the hamper for week-old pajamas. “You’re fine.”

“The doctor said I need exercise.”

I grit my teeth as I dress. I mull this over until I’m under the covers, the bedside light switched off. “Maybe, when I’m awake to supervise.”

“I’ll try to be good.”

This makes me pause. But then I squeeze my eyes shut and roll over. “Don’t lie.”

“I’m not lying. I’ll try.”

I really am a sucker. It must be all that hippie food I’ve been buying, free-range zero-plastic recycled soy bullshit giving me faith in the world again. But I get up from bed and grab my scissors and go back through. I hesitantly free the girl from her bonds and she climbs down from the highchair. She must be eight by now. She is quite tall for her age.

She mirrors my movements as we walk back to bed, and lay down together. And miraculously, despite every bad feeling I have in my gut… in the morning I’m still alive.

I go back to the doctor’s office with the girl a few days later, holding her hand. I’m practically preening when I tell her about our new routine. “Look at her! She’s so healthy. And she hasn’t bitten me in weeks!”

The doctor smiles at us. “Do you both feel better?”

I roll my eyes. “Obviously. Those teeth are like daggers. And I hate having to wash the blood out of my laundry.”

The doctor looks at the girl. “And you?”

She looks at me uncertainly, and then nods.

“Excellent!” The doctor makes a note on her clipboard. “Well, now that physical health is being taken care of, you should start the emotional process.”

I frown. “We’re not done? She’s fine as she is.”

The doctor shakes her head and smiles again, somewhat condescendingly this time. “She’s doing a wonderful job right now, but it’s possible for her to relapse at any time.” She tilts her head at the girl. “It’s a lot of effort to try to control it, right?”

The girl squeezes my hand tighter, looking down at the floor. But then she nods, and my chest drops.

The doctor looks at her pityingly, like she might hug her, but she keeps her distance. “For her physical health to make any lasting impression, you’re going to have to be kind to her.”

To the Kid? I raise my eyebrows. “I already cook literally every single meal for her.”

“You have to tell her she’s good. Tell her she’s wonderful, and precious, and smart, and thoughtful, and that you care about her.”

I burst out into laughter. Then I realize that the doctor’s dead serious, and I morph it into an embarrassed scoff. “Then I’d be a liar,” I retort.

The doctor gives me a hard look. “Listen, you’re a parent whether you like it or not, okay? If you want this to get better, even if it feels stupid to you, you have to try.” She takes a deep breath. “And keep coming in here together, too, okay? We’re going to keep talking.”

I’m disheartened, but I’m certainly not going to give up. Not when we’ve come so far. The doctor’s right: if this is my only chance at getting control of things and finally having people I like back in my life, I will do anything.

We awkwardly sit in the car outside of the doctor’s office, my hand frozen mid-air as I hold the key unturned in the ignition and try to think of something nice I can say to the Kid. But I look at her, at her awkward bony shoulders and her wide, almost smeared-looking face, and I think about all of the days I’ve spent pent up with her instead of out and about, enjoying life, and I can’t force out the words.

Days later and I’m still struggling. I serve her food, and she eats every last bite in silence, and I wordlessly wash her dishes and go to bed, barely even looking at her. I mean, what is good about her? She’s irritating and dependent and too quiet to be interesting. And every time she opens her mouth, I still see those devilish teeth. I avoid her when I can, even when we go to weekly sessions at the doctor’s office, out of guilt or discomfort or something else.

But regardless of it all, something has changed, because the next time the Crush calls, asking to study together at a coffee shop, even though it means bringing the Kid, I say yes.

The Kid is appeased with a cup of whipped cream (who isn’t?). The Crush and I sip our grown-up drinks, strawberry shortcake lattes. Hers is iced, but I’m willing to let it slide. Neither of us move to open our laptops. She leans on one elbow, body slanted toward me, and I think, Oh my God, don’t ruin this.

“I like your— your—” my eyes zigzag around the table “—your posture.” Shit. I mean, I do! It’s all slouchy, and she has short fingernails that tap lightly on the table, I like those too. But posture? Who says that?

She smiles all crooked, another huge plus. “Thanks.” Her gaze slides toward the Kid, then back at me. “I like your notes.” Internally I cringe. Obviously she just wants me for my homework. This is purely transactional. It’s college, after all. I bend down to open my bag and get them. “Whenever I look over at what you’re writing in class, it’s something super interesting and completely unrelated. And you have good handwriting.”

I stop reaching. “Okay, first of all, it’s not interesting, and I have the handwriting of a middle-school boy and it haunts me. Second of all, it is related! Name one thing I’ve written that isn’t completely relevant to the lectures.”

“Yesterday, you copied the entire transcript of a three-hour Titanic documentary.”

I flush. “That’s totally for the final project.”

The Crush giggles, and I lose all remaining train of thought. I made her laugh! I can’t stop staring at her mouth until her gentle fingers reach out and tap my hand, and it’s like a live wire jolts through all of my nerves at once. “Hello?”

I clear my throat. “Sorry, what?”

“I said you also drew a picture of the world on fire.”

Accurate rendition, in my opinion. “I have many talents.”

She looks at the Kid again. “You’re sure funny for someone who draws so much smoke.”

“Is that a metaphor? I think you should know that I consider those useless. If there’s something that needs to be said, make it explicit.” I smile benignly. “And I know best. I did pass English in high school.”

The Crush continues to look at the Kid. “She looks just like you.”

I fake gag, purely on reflex. “Ugh, just tell me I have red horns and a forked tongue, you don’t have to be so mean about it.”

She raises her eyebrows. “You think she’s ugly?”

“Among other things. She can’t take care of herself and doesn’t make anyone happy.” I laugh a little, but they both just stare at me. Okay, maybe this is fun and all, but I’m really not here to dilly-dally. I duck down to grab my notes. “Anyway, which problem are you—”

“I mean, it’s not her fault the world is burning. She’s just on one little corner of it.”

My notebook catches on the table edge and falls out of my hands onto the floor. I feel hot. I can’t look at anything for too long. “Okay, listen, she’s my problem, okay? You don’t know what she should or shouldn’t be blamed for.” I bend down to pick up my notebook, but then I squeeze the table and stop myself. “Her existence itself is pretty awful, when you think about it, the amount of resources she needs and the ignorance she has about where they’re coming from. And there really is no meaningful way for her to atone for all of the terrible things she is implicit in, whether they are purposeful or not. So, I mean, it is her fault that the world is burning, or at least that she plays a part. And maybe she should be punished for it, because there’s not a lot else she’s good for.”

I stare at my fingers, and then I let go of the table.

The Crush shrugs. I catch it in the corner of my vision. “That’s pretty harsh. I can see where she gets her murderous looks from.”

I swivel to face the Kid. Sure enough, she’s glowering. I scowl right back.

“Yep, right there. You’re both so cute.”

I rile. “I’m not here to be infantilized.”

“Oh, come on, I’m just teasing.” Something in my chest feels tight. Probably indigestion. “Some teasing is fun. Actually, it’s necessary. On that Titanic transcript, once the lifeboats were all gone, did anyone crack a joke?”

“God, no.”

“Huh. Such a good opportunity to break the ice.”

I bury my head in my hands. The Kid starts to laugh.

The Crush is laughing, too. “See?”

“Yeah, I see. I see that you’re a moron.”

“What else do you see?” I can hear the smile in her voice. “Do you see me on Tuesday for another coffee date?”

I pull my fingers away from my eyes to look at her. My whole body is buzzing. “If you don’t pull any more pick-up lines like that, I’ll think about it.”

“Done.” The Crush is still laughing. She ruffles the girl’s hair. “Bring this one again. I like her.”

One of us says “Okay,” and it’s only when the girl and I are back in the car that I realize I don’t remember who.


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Aubrey Taylor

Author image of Aubrey Taylor Aubrey Taylor is a short story writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She uses books and coffee to cope with her engineering degree. This is her first publication.

© Aubrey Taylor 2024 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: Bru-nO and Andrea Piacquadio.

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