The child’s feet are dirty.
“Yuck,” the mother says. “Look how dirty your feet are.”
The mother remembers when the child’s feet were dipped in ink. His first steps into life pressed onto a clean sheet of paper. Somewhere, the mother has that paper still. Those tiny, inky feet. She meant to frame it. Now, those same feet run all over the unswept floors of their apartment. Picking up god-knows-what. Splinters. Parasites.
“Shower,” the mother says firmly. “Now.”
“What if I don’t want to?” the child says. His pursed lips are stained an unnatural popsicle-red.
The mother squints, “But look at your feet.” She looks at his feet: each soft toenail, a half moon; the anklebones poking out in creamy orbs. Where was that paper with his tiny footprints? She’d like to see it.
“When was your last shower?”
“But it’s Thursday today!”
He finds that hilarious. As he laughs, convulsions shake his shoulders and chest.
Suddenly, he runs away from her. The mother laughs too, but in surprise. She begins to chase the child. They rush through the living room, down the hall, and into the bathroom.
“I’m locking you in,” she says, but there is no lock. “Don’t come out until you are clean.”
The child rams his body into the door.
“Stop,” she says. He does it again.
“It’s not funny,” the mother says, louder.
The doorknob presses into her belly. She thinks of the small weight of those feet. How they once pressed against her navel from inside. He pushes at her once more.
“It’s not funny,” the mother repeats.
His head pokes through the gap of the doorjamb. His teeth are crooked and his head looks too big for his neck.
“Stop it,” she tells the child. “Stop. It’s not funny.”
They catch eyes and there is a moment when they do not recognize each other. “How is it not funny?” he asks, earnest and innocent. “We were laughing a second ago?”
But then, the question is erased from his fleshy face. He continues pushing. He keeps pushing and pushing against his mother. He will keep pushing until he is free.
Rebekah Bergman’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Hobart, Joyland, Passages North, Conium Review, and Necessary Fiction, among other journals. She has received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and was a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly’s Kathy Fish Fellowship. Rebekah holds an MFA from The New School and lives in Brooklyn. Find her @RebekahBergman