The Complex (Anthropophagi)
By: William Hayward
My children are fat, my children are twins, my children are fat twins. They were small when they were born, barely the size of limpets, falling out of me with no pain while I was taking a shower. They slid down the curved walls of the bathtub to rest by the plug, crying like foxes. I hadn’t known I was pregnant. Though they were small and premature looking, their features were perfectly formed, their eyes and mouths wrinkled and open like black holes with two little white teeth, one on the bottom and one on the top. My partner, who’d always considered being a father his God-given profession, heard their cries through the shower’s falling water. His ears pricked up, wiggling like a dog’s at the sight of a perfect furry rump, and didn’t even think about it, running up the stairs with bounds to caress his children. I stared without moving when they fell out of me, stared as they cried under the shower’s heavy flow, little dolls being tossed by a shampoo-tinted hurricane before my partner came to rescue them.
My children grew fast, my children grew fat. Two weeks after falling out of me they were the size of normal babies if normal babies weren’t normal babies at all but obese jellyfish. Their skin accommodates them, growing with them like a pair of everlasting pyjamas, stretching and moulding in ways normal skin doesn’t, moving in random directions as they have no concrete bones to hold it all in place. They didn’t feed on me even from the start and ate solid food, craved solid food, as soon as they dropped out of me. I tried to offer them my breast as my partner carried us all from the shower but one of them bit a chunk off my proffered nipple and now it has the shape of a crooked man, so I haven’t offered it again.
They drink nothing at all, but eat anything they can get their hands on. Bacon, sausage, egg, fish, cream, expired and curdled milk, cereal, cereal boxes, carrots, pepper (red, green, yellow, and orange), caviar, hummus, pitta bread, crackers, guacamole, popcorn, candy floss, name brand chocolate bars, pencils, half baguettes, cupboard drawers, apples, pears, celluloid and metal dildos, elephants made of wood, whole baguettes, blocks of cheese, jars containing jalapenos or pickles, beans (baked and the other kinds), rice, cucumbers, gumbo, jambolana, soup, celery, courgettes, large screws, small screws, peppers, bottles of wine, bowling skittles, tacos, burritos, every combination of microwave meal, microwave meal packages, any type of package, any type of animal not considered too big to put up a fight, any type of toy, plastic, wood, metal, brick, mortar, tar, parts of the dining room chairs, chunks of the settee, nibbles from our mattress, plates, pretend moustaches, wigs, human hair, animal hair, miscellaneous substances resembling hair, bowls, forks, spoons, knives, mud, the light in a particularly light room, the dark in a particularly dark room, the warmth of a heating, the green of grass, the rainbow sheen of oil and water, bricks, generic aluminium, iron, and plastic. It all goes in their mouth to be devoured, spaces in the world left void from their insatiable hunger.
They eat, they grow, they eat and grow fat. At four months they’re the same size as me horizontally and the only noise they make is a shrill cry that forms the word, “Daddy”. I think they are a boy and a girl, but it’s impossible to tell, their features continually change. At one point, that is this point, one has blue eyes and more freckles than skin, the other black eyes and the white face of a mime. They haven’t looked like me or my partner at any point; I’m squat with a fast mind and clear face, my partner tall and skinny with a kind mouth. I like his kind mouth, it’s shaped kind and says kind things. Though since I told him I think sometimes in a negative way about our twin’s fatness, it’s only ever shaped kind towards them, leaving me to stare longingly at it flap.
My children have arms and legs, my children are identical twins in this department. My children’s identical arms and legs are oddly proportioned compared to their huge masses- still the size of newborn babies and petite with soft fingernails that refuse to harden no matter how many milk bottles they swallow whole. When their little arms and legs wiggle around it’s like they belong to newborn babies, wiggling as they do without thought, jerking up and down in a constant state of seizure, as if trying to grab flies out of the air, as if trying to kick the skeleton out of some invisible omnipresent god.
My children’s heads have sunk into their necks that have sunk further still so their heads are almost level with their torsos and have no shape to them. Their features, so perfectly formed at birth, haven’t grown with their bodies or even heads and look like tiny paintings done on pools of oddly coloured porridge, egg yolks on masses of expanding flesh. The only parts of their features that grow are their mouths, which change shape according to what they are eating. Their mouths are very wet, a line of spittle stretches like a plumber hanging from a pipe from their top tooth to the bottom, and their barely discernible throats swallow almost constantly, regardless of if there is anything to swallow.
My children have lived on the living room floor since they were two months old, as picking them up even then was like trying to keep a giant water droplet perfectly formed, or a slug perpetually moist. I try now and then but they slide like ferrets through pinholes from my grasp, re-forming in their usual positions on the floor, mouths screaming until my partner runs in and shouts at me until I cry and punch him in the face.
Our family money sits in bundles on the kitchen table, the most desirable coins and notes getting picked off daily like orphans to be spent on things for the children that we can’t steal for free. My partner wants them to have a varied diet and insists they eat at least one new thing a day. Our bundles are like manatees diving beneath a black sea and vanish without warning, quickly, but not as quickly as the things we buy for the children. Standing by the kitchen table, I look at the dwindling like I would a sculpture and tell my partner to go to the shop in the same manner the devout wait at the gates of heaven. My partner, playing with the twin’s feet by letting them kick his chin so hard his head jerks up and down like a malfunctioning cuckoo clock, looks at me, vibrating, and blows a raspberry with his tongue.
“You go. I’m playing with the twins.”
The gates of heaven slam shut and my anus does what it would do if a probing finger was trying to experiment in there.
“Don’t say no to me. Go. Now. Go. One of us needs to go.”
“I’m playing. If one of us needs to go, let it be you. The walk will do you some good. I’ve noticed your ankles are getting bigger.”
The surprise of him not doing what I say as soon as I say it makes me do what he says as he says it, leaving and bringing back chutney sandwiches, the smell of an autumn morning, and a collection of two-by-fours for the children to consume. I lower them all slowly into their mouths myself as they scream, “Daddy,” to the ceiling while ‘Daddy’ watches, his kind mouth smiling.
My children watch me like I’m a game of dominoes while my partner sits in the tiny diamond shaped space between their spreading masses ripping our pillows into bite-sized pieces, feeding their wet mouths with doting fingers. They’re taking up the whole living room, there’s no room for me. Boulders dash against each other in my stomach and I can’t stop thinking about the living room carpet - it’s been so long since I’ve seen the living room carpet that in my mind it is a penguin waddling into an Icelandic dusk. Sometimes I remember it with a green pattern that always reminded me of the tropics and other times I remember that in another memory it’s completely white with a red smear on it, the remnant of a body painting episode.
“I’m out of pillows,” my partner says, throwing his hands up to display their lack of pillow. “Get me the ones from our bed.”
“But we sleep on those.”
“Now our babies intestines will sleep on them. You bad bad mother. You bad bad woman. You don’t want our babies intestines to sleep comfortably?”
My children are fat, my children are twins, my children are fat twins without a single hole for anything they consume to escape from. It’s why they’re growing so large, they hoard what they swallow in their pits and their fleshes simply expand to keep everything inside. Sometimes, when my partner isn’t around, I approach them and press on their colossal bodies, stretching their skin until the shape of some undigested food or object appears. When they do, my mouth becomes as wet as theirs and somewhere discreet I hunger for all of it, my gullet howling, a quality we share.
The living room carpet plagues me, changing from green to white to red to blue to black in my mind, rolling over and over again, a kaleidoscope zigzagging like a blind flamingo across my vision as I lie in bed, missing my pillows and my partner who has left our bed for the warmth the bodies of our children provide him, telling me his love for them makes them more comfortable than any mattress shared with me. I punched his face when he first told me this, five times, and was caught off guard when he punched my face back, six times.
Fed up with lying in bed, I sneak out of the house for a walk and end up at the canal. Dipping a stick into the water as I walk, watching the marks it leaves on the surface. I take it out of the water and swing it around as I remember doing when I was young and still played, shoving it into monsters and ghouls, puncturing their guts and wriggling it around, giggling. My children never giggle.
An old homeless woman sits on the canal walkway wearing a long grey rag dotted with little burn holes. Her face, wrinkled like an elephant’s ass, has a nose that mocks her mouth for being so far behind it, and eyes stitched shut with thick black thread. I decide to play with her, challenging her with my stick, thrusting it under her chin to lightly tickle the hairs there with its nobbled end. She smiles, tilts her head to make it clear she can see despite the thread, and makes me feel noticed.
“En garde,” I lunge, lightly stabbing her shoulder before rapping her skull.
“You’ll eat your children soon,” she nods, making her smile disappear by spreading her long grey rag out wide and ducking her head beneath it.
I stab at the mouth moving beneath her rag and feel her teeth clamp down on my stick’s end, the impact of their calcium vibrating through the wood as she speaks more, her voice echoing.
“Eat them quickly. Num num in your tum tum.”
Then the grey rag falls to the ground, empty, the body that had been inside gone without leaving a stain. I prod at the rag for a while and then run home, the living room waiting for me, and the sight of my partner lying horizontally across the children’s bodies, his legs sprawled across their jerking infantile limbs and immovable squishy torsos, displayed for me like the scene of some painting to be. There is a bright light in my stomach casting shadows over my innards and a great respect for the elderly arises in me so, falling limply, I slither into the living room and eat my children whole, sucking at their liquid flesh, my mouth stretching as theirs do, pulling them back into me. They don’t scream as I do it. My partner rolls off them and onto the living room carpet, which I’m surprised to see doesn’t exist at all, without waking.
As I swallow them, all the parts of the world that once filled them now fills me and my stomach tries to emulate their rapid expansion, a heathen’s hand stretching to the heavens, finally giving me the belly my children never gave me before. My new belly is like a drum, with my children’s features pressed tight against the skin. Their little noses and the hollows of their eyes and mouths peering out from me like a ghost in a sheet.
I’m very full with the part of the world the children had consumed inside me. I can barely stand, but do so, stumbling up just as a wave of gas approaches my throat with all the correct permits and papers to demand release. The burp rips out of me, smelling of leather and bubble bath and providing no relief. I stumble against the wall, against a photograph of me and my partner at the beach, my partner with a black eye and holding me timidly. The photograph, deciding to do its image justice, grabs me, the teeny arms of my photographic partner stretching out from the image, growing larger and gripping me as my real partner wakes up, his kind mouth growing progressively unkinder as he searches the floor for the children with fatherly palm pats and looks at me. His eyes fall like stars upon my protruding belly and his head shakes at the children’s features pressed rigidly against the skin.
“You’ve eaten our children. Our babies. Our twins.”
“Our fat children. Our fat babies. Our fat twins.”
My voice is oddly deep from the pressure building in my stomach. My partner’s photographic hands tighten as his real hands gesture weakly at my belly.
“Oh hypocrisy, come, come lap on this moment. Look at yourself now fatty. Fatty fatty bum bum. Miss fit to burst. Miss piggy rutting for scraps.”
“They were eating the world. What was going to be left for me?”
“Motherhood to the children eating the world.”
My belly feels like a bubble floating on the eye of a needle and as my partner walks towards me the shape of the children’s hands appear, stretching out for him. My partner bends towards my belly, touches their hands, and then raps on my skin like a door, waiting to be let in with his mouth so kind. I stretch my hand towards his kind mouth in a half fist.
“I couldn’t help it. I was hungry.”
My partner straightens and pulls out a handful of small, perfectly round stones from his pocket, shaking them, making his fist a maraca, and ignoring my outstretched hand.
“You were hungry?” I gag on my fullness as my partner starts placing the stones in my mouth, my jaw a pelican’s beak hanging open as he holds my nose with his free hand.
The stones fit in my mouth like little sweets and slide down my throat without swallowing, settling in my belly with the children. The stones seem endless, a grey stream pouring down my throat making me fuller and heavier still, until my partner’s photographic hands can’t or won’t hold me up and I fall, landing with a blowing. I blow, and a part of the world comes back out.
William Hayward was born in Birmingham, England. He has been writing for several years, mainly in short fiction. He's previously been published in Ruminate Magazine, Litro Magazine, Something Involving a Mailbox!, and Terrain.org.