Victorya Chase’s work has appeared in Lunch Ticket, The Mothman Files Anthology, and Goldfish Grimm's Spicy Fiction Sushi, among other venues. She has a story forthcoming in Cemetery Dance. She currently resides in an impossibly suburban home with two roommates and an agoraphobic cat. You can visit her online at victoryachase.com
Someone Else's Children
Gemma had one blue eye and one brown and each child she gave birth to was not her own.
The first time she gave birth her doctor told her to stand up because it was easier with gravity on your side. A litter of kittens slipped out still in the amniotic sack. Gemma stared down at the bubble glistening wet and watched a nurse gingerly pop it. The litter was small, only four kittens, and only two of those survived. Still, she named them all: Thaddeus and Octavia and Barnaby and Callum. Barnaby grew strong and would often bring her birds from the garden or chipmunks and once the neighbor’s rabbit. He laid them gingerly at her feet or by her slippers at the side of the bed, if she was sleeping, and smiled at her when she looked down at his offering.
Thaddeus was smaller, an orange tabby to his brother’s sleek blackness, and very sensitive. He’d bring his mother flowers and place them on the table and purred whenever her eyes were open and looking at him. While Barnaby left home at age two Thaddeus stayed. Barnaby ran out the door when Gemma took too long bringing in groceries. Gemma put up posters but to no avail.
The second time she gave birth the child was a child pure and true with curly black hair and striking green eyes. Gemma named her Camille. When Gemma took her daughter on baby’s first trip outside the country she was told they needed to prove the baby was hers. Despite the pictures she had of Camille, and the birth certificate, and baby’s first passport, and even a video of the birth saved to her phone, she was told DNA didn’t lie. She cried while Camille was taken away and cried on the way back to Thaddeus who crawled into her lap and put a paw up to catch her tears and then purred until they were both asleep.
Her third child was a platypus and stillborn. The nurse made a joke about flushing him (Reginald) but said the flush would swirl in the wrong direction and confuse his soul.
Her fourth was a little boy she was determined to love with a ferocity she loved all her children that weren’t hers. Thaddeus was middle-aged for a feline by then and spent his days curled on the windowsill but purred when his mother came home. He crawled over to where she sat with his new brother and meowed to be picked up, as he had done every day since his birth. He kneaded her lap and sniffed the baby suckling at her breast. He rubbed his face against Baby Nicholas and fell asleep.
Gemma decided not to travel anywhere if it meant giving up her son, so stayed in her house day in and day out and was soon the recluse of Park Terrace West. Food was delivered and left on the porch. It was only at night that she went for walks with Baby Nicholas. Neighbors said his cry was that of a ghost and echoed in the dark. Others said she created mists and fogs to cover her when she went out in the day. Normal people want to talk and say hello to neighbors and choose their own fruit, especially oranges and apples, because when you have them delivered you only get the ones that are bruised. She was an oddity, a danger.
The police came and saw the child was real. Testing began but this time she fought. Nicholas was hers. There was the video and the pain and the memory of Camille. Thaddeus was on the windowsill and came over to be picked up. He circled her feet and then stood between the police and his mother and hissed at them but the baby was still taken away.
“You’re not you,” was what her doctor said. She was sitting in a gown with little blue flowers that tied in the back but didn’t fully cover her. “And you have diabetes.”
Gemma opened her mouth because she didn’t understand, but didn’t have the words to explain what it was she wanted explained.
“It’s actually fairly common,” the doctor said.
“My mother had it. I shouldn’t have eaten so much ice cream,” Gemma said.
“Not that. You absorbed your twin in the womb. It happens a lot. You’re an interesting case. I’ll get a paper out of you because you aren’t you,” he said, leaning forward and smiling.
His teeth weren’t entirely straight and two of them were chipped. Gemma could see the striations in them from age. His eyes sparkled with the publicity he was about to get. She listened to him explain how much his career was going to take off because of this. This being that most of her was her sister. He’d have to test to find out what part, if any, was her, but he knew for sure her ovaries weren’t.
“My mother always said she wanted two daughters, Gemma and Gertrude,” Gemma said.
“Well, it sounds like your sister was lucky you were such a hungry little zygote,” the doctor chuckled. “How awful to have to live as a Gertrude!”
Gemma’s doctor congratulated her on becoming an aunt. He sent her on her way with a signed piece of paper saying she was related to baby Nicholas and helped her petition for guardianship. After a year the petition was granted.
Gemma decorated the house with streamers and baked a cake. Baby Nicholas, now almost two, put his hands into the frosting and smeared it all over the table before spitting at the candle when told to blow it out. He giggled and gurgled and laughed and spoke in two-year old speak.
In the corner, sitting in a pile of ripped wrapping paper, Thaddeus, the first-born, watched the reunion. He purred until his breathing stopped and then was silent. He still loved his mother.