The Founding of Rome
I’m trying to feed baby girl, and she shakes her head, slaps the spoon from my hand, raspberries away any puree I manage to force into her mouth. I give myself a time out, but it doesn’t help.
“You have to eat!”
I come at her again. This time she shields her mouth with her arm. Enraged, I slam the plate on the edge of the table, and it shatters. A stoneware shard lands on her highchair tray, and before I can react, she pinches the sliver and pops it into her mouth. She smiles and laughs. I’m reaching for the phone to call an ambulance, but she’s tapping her fingers together in toddler sign language for more. I pull her out of the seat and pat her back. She’s giggling, not coughing.
At the hospital, they don’t believe me. The x-ray shows nothing unusual.
She cries when I offer her breakfast. She pulls the little bowl holding yogurt swirled with blueberry baby food out of my hand. She brings it to her lips, and I hear those matching two top and bottom teeth clink. When I free the bowl, there’s a chip. Had it always been chipped? We go to her pediatrician. Nothing.
She eats a rock off the ground. The doctor says she probably dropped it and I didn’t see.
She feels heavier. She stops eating altogether. I pour some sand on her tray, and she pushes fistfuls into her mouth, the way she used to with shredded cheese.
Her fingernails can no longer be cut, the clipper finally snapping from the pressure, my finger and thumb sore for days. I put wet cement in her sippy cup. Her feet become bricks.
She eats all the plates, the bowls, the pans, the pots. She slurps copper wire like spaghetti. It’s hard to tell where the house begins and she ends. I smash tube TVs I find abandoned on the roadside and shovel her the bits. The yard is gone as she expands beyond the bounds of our home. I pay a mixer to pour asphalt into her funnel.
A nice couple moves into what might be her leg.
The more I orchestrate into her, the more she spreads, replacing the cul-de-sac, apartment-block arms stretching out into the neighborhood. Soon, on my walks, I cannot find an end to her, a limit. Like the wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, I nurtured not a person but a city. And as I go, I sing and the sound of my voice changes, her architecture harmonizing with me.
S. Craig Renfroe Jr. is the author of the short story collection You Should Get That Looked At. Currently, he is the chair of the English department at Queens University of Charlotte. His work has appeared or will appear in Wigleaf, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, PANK, Hobart, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere.
Cover Photo by Marco Verch