Free Spoonwood by Ernest Hebert

Book: Spoonwood by Ernest Hebert Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ernest Hebert
amused, as one watching the antics of children. He’s enjoying the show. I reserve a special hatred for him.
    I take the papers, look at them for two minutes, see nothing. It’s as if I’ve had a stroke and lost my ability to read. I put the papers on the coffee table. The heat is so intense that I must do something to escape it.
    â€œMom—” I hold my arms out for the baby.
    Something in my demeanor, or perhaps my voice, causes her to start shaking. “Please, Freddie. You’re not going to hurt him, are you?”
    â€œWhat is she talking about?” Persephone says. Apparently, I’m not sending any dangerous vibrations to her. It’s only my mother who can read my true intent. I don’t even know what it is myself.
    â€œHe’s mine—mine!” I scream. Everyone in the room is stunned for a moment. I jerk Birch out of my mother’s arms.
    â€œWho gets the baby, her or us?” she asks.
    â€œDon’t you understand?” Persephone says. “He’s going to keep him for himself.”
    Persephone had to say it for me to know what was inside me.
    â€œCome on, let’s get out of this den of snakes,” I say. I hold Birch under one arm like a football and march out of the house.
    The pickup barrels down Upper Darby Road, kicking up stones and dust, Birch lying on his back on the passenger seat, no safety carrier, which remains in my parents’ car. For the first few minutes I have no thoughts at all, only my fine, blind rage. I reach under the seat, grab my Uncle Fred, and suck on him. The liquor calms me, the false calm inside the storm. My anger has cost mefifty thousand dollars. I want to be alone on the road, but I’ve sabotaged myself. How can I be free with a baby on board? I can’t bear to go crawling back to the elders, and anyway I don’t want either my parents or Persephone to raise this child.
    â€œRead page one in tomorrow’s Keene Sentinel, ” Old Crow says. A headline in bold type appears in my head:
    Murder-Suicide in Darby
    Father Kills Son, Self
    How to do it?
    I can drive to the ledges where Lilith died and throw my-self and Birch off the cliff. For a moment everything is quiet, everything is peaceful in my head. It’s as if the sunlight has been dimmed, the sounds of the road muffled; I am outside myself, already in the afterlife, watching my last hours from the future in a time rearview mirror. I see a storm, me fighting my way into its vortex, my last chance for salvation. And, puff, the vision vanishes.
    Which leads me to a philosophical question. If there really is an afterlife it’s only worthwhile if you can keep some semblance of your earthly identity and experiences and memories and feelings, because identity, experience, memory, and feeling are what makes you you. But what about the poor infant who has neither an identity nor worthwhile memories, nor even an inkling of gender? If the baby is killed off, can the baby ghost grow into a grown-up ghost? If a baby has no personhood, how can one consider him a candidate for the afterlife? All Birch has is his name, which I gave him. The name is only an idea: it’s not him. He has formed no identity. Therefore he does not exist as a person. Birch the baby is merely a collection of pulsating cells, no more or less important in the scheme of things than a birch tree.
    â€œHold on,” says Old Crow. “We may be miserable, but we do not want to die. We are a person. We have a personhood to protect. Scratch suicide from the murder-suicide option.”
    â€œThat leaves murder,” I say.
    â€œHow can you kill a being that has neither identity nor self-awareness? Infants do not distinguish between themselves and the people who care for them. And what difference does it make? Everybody you know is sick or stupid. Take your mother, for example.”
    â€œShe’s the only person I can think kindly of.”
    â€œShe’s pathetic,

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