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Oct/Nov 2020 Fiction

Brainworm

by Pascale Potvin

Public domain street art


I didn't understand why she'd had to kill him. I'd heard her wails from across the house like an anti-birth. I found her red when only two weeks prior she'd been all blue confetti.

"She doesn't remember any of it," the doctor had explained, once the cries had stopped reverberating in me. "It may have been some sort of trauma response."

I spent the first minutes next to her wondering how I'd explain this to our families. Andrea had been the sole survivor of a knife attack? She'd only been trying to trim his hair?

I had my own trauma response when I heard her again, just weeks later.

"Liam, I'm so sorry," she sobbed, hard into me. "I think I was too scared of hurting him."

"What do you mean?" I told her. "You did. You did hurt him."

"Yeah, but..." And she hugged me tighter—to avoid my eyes, I sensed. "I think I was trying to save him. From me. Later on."

She told me about the fears, the thoughts she'd had ever since the gender reveal. I drank myself to sleep nearly every night after that, and I slept more during the day. I only ate take-out, not able or willing to stomach what I myself had brought into being.

I would sometimes hear Andrea throwing up, upstairs, too—but the whole sound of it was different. I was by that point convinced she was going all the way back through the pregnancy. Somehow rewinding.

Yet when I next followed the noises to our bedroom—my clumsiest climb—I saw a new, brighter shine of remorse in the woman's eyes. In her hand.

"I'm a monster," she said to me. "I deserve this."

"No," I mustered, my brain going heavy. "We'll get you into therapy."

Still, she raised her fist and crossed herself out in one swipe—right then and there, like she'd used red pen.

"We got concerned because she was so precise with the cut, with hitting her carotid artery," I was informed that night by a Doctor Number Two. "Yet she was also just shy of a fatal depth."

There was a ringing in my ears like screaming, again. This time, I felt I was hearing every cry beyond her office walls.

"I don't know what you're saying," I groused.

"We found what is called P. Caedis," the doctor explained, her face furrowing. "In Andrea's brain. It's usually found in rodents. Do you know if you have a rat problem?"

"No," I said, my mind still all bent. "I don't understand."

"Essentially, it's a really nasty parasite," she told me. "And she'll be okay, but I'm very glad we found it when we did. It'll take hard control of its host and is essentially lethal."

The air around me stiffened.

"It's all gradual, but often it gets the host to hurt themselves, to drain blood from their brain and take over further," she explained. "It's hard to know for sure, but we think it may have sensed your late son's brain, before hers, and treated it as the threat."

I was overturned.

"So that thing is why she hasn't been herself, lately?" I asked.

"Absolutely," she said. "But I want you to know, the surgery has a high success rate."

As expected, my wife could only remember shy and dizzy parts of the prior weeks. We celebrated her recovery in the spring, with a boozy lunch by the river and a walk where the plum trees were budding again.

Her eyes were shimmering just like the water, her voice like the birds.

"We'll try again," I finally spoke, finally said it out loud. At that, Andrea smiled faintly at me, and she raised her chest to take in the warm air. She looked over to the kids playing frisbee, in the field, like she had so many times before.

 

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