I am seven, eight maybe. I’m taking advantage of the fact that my father is upstairs to come closer than the recommended six feet towards the television. If my mother is with me, she does not comment. She will be tucking the sofa cover in at the edges, reprimanding me for not leaving my mug in the sink, telling me I need a haircut, asking me if I want to go to Jenna’s house this afternoon. Alex is sprawled on an easy chair, or listening to a taped Wiggles episode, or gnawing at the teether my mother keeps in the fridge. He is nearing the two year mark, a blubbery, finicky creature with yogurt in his hair, blue plaid jumpers over his limbs. By this point, he has become a recurring character as opposed to a novelty. His allergies, his fear of dogs, his favorite flavors of soup, the giant plastic tunnel at the mall he likes to sit under? These are the selfsame things I memorized, assimilated months ago, in an effort to understand the phenomenon of a child so closely related to me, but that are now as predictable as my allergies, fears, favorite foods.
I am wearing beige pants in a flowered print, clothes that become electrified when I sit for prolonged periods on carpet. The floor is bathed in yellow-red-green light from our clunky television screen. I am watching a documentary voiced by a man with a London accent. There are shots of chimpanzees, bottlenose dolphins.
Some animals eat their offspring in periods of scarce food resources, or to remove inferior spawn.
I cover my eyes as the apes lumber after a smaller, feebler counterpart, as the ocean animals begin slamming into a baby. This is what my mother tells me to do when a particularly violent or sexual scene comes up in a movie, but, as often happens in those situations, I end up staring through my fingers. I hear the screams of a primate, and the sound is so human I react in much the same way I will do when, two years later, I watch a film about Japanese suicide victims that will haunt me for the rest of my life – with horror, and also inexorable, pitiless fascination.
My mother looks up from whatever she is doing – categorizing home videos, brushing Alex’s hair – to raise her eyebrows, squeamish about filial cannibalism the way only a woman who has carried and reared children can be. But I, despite the knot in my gut, think: well, actually, it does make a lot of sense.