“Aren’t they beautiful?”
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Reading time: 3 minutes
Recommended for: Pedophobics
I asked you once if you’d ever considered having children—not because I wanted to have them, but because there was a silence I was either trying to fill or stretch endlessly into infinity. You were standing at the window with your hands on your hips as if surveying your kingdom, and there was something in the dismal, squat, slowly emptying buildings beneath us that reminded me of posterity. I was barefoot, which was unusual.
 
It worked. I’d barely gotten the words out when you broke into a peal of crackly laughter. “Have you ever seen a baby in a medieval fresco? They look like fucking monsters.”
 
“I hadn’t noticed.”
 
“You wouldn’t. It’s not you who has to push one of those lizard creatures out your hooha.”
 
This couldn’t be argued, and I was fully prepared to let it go, but a few hours later you motioned me over to where you were perched guru-style on the couch with a book open on your lap. I sat down, honestly thinking we were going to look at old photos—while knowing in the back of my mind that we didn’t have any surviving photos, yet briefly deceived by this cozy domestic happening and the promise of warm nostalgia—but when you turned the book to me, suddenly I was staring at the most fucked-up baby in all of the Western canon. He was a sickly shade of gray, shrunken-headed, and stretched at least twice the length he should be. He lay splayed in his mother’s arms, open to the world, an absurd little six-pack doodled onto his stomach. The hairstyle resembled that of a balding forty-year-old. His mouth, fully teethed, opened mid-moan, the eyes half rolled back; he looked to be in utter torment. Dual halos rose behind the heads of mother and child like gilded suns.
 
“Notice the abnormally long fingers,” you said, tracing them with one of your own. The lost cat, Peter, was close to the surface—hovering on his borrowed wings, maybe—but you didn’t mention him. “And look at that tiny. Little. Pecker.”
 
You left me alone to study the book. It was hard to imagine that the fiendish creature adrift in red and blue fabric would one day grow into a human-sized savior, 
or anything touched by the divine. I was struck by the profound absence of creative material about Jesus’ young adulthood—the painters were so obsessed with the extremes of his story (his miraculous birth, his extensive and impermanent death, his apocalyptic return) that they left out the middle. I wanted to follow him through his teenage years and see what was least godly. I imagined roughly the shape of a toddler at my feet, knee-height and blathering. “What a vanilla character,” I said. 

You fluttered back into the room—that’s the only way to describe it, your feet barely touched the ground and there was definitely some kind of buzz—and held an enormous Seder plate up behind your head with one hand. It had been stashed in the cupboard since before we arrived.
 
Faintly, encircled around your head, I discerned the printed outlines of the symbolic Passover foods this platter would once have been used to hold: the shankbone, for the yearly sacrifice; the bitter herbs, to represent the lasting tang of enslavement in Egypt. I bobbled a pair of tiny invisible arms in the air. You brought your hands out from behind your head, as if in echo, and wiggled them around.
 
“Who am I?”
 
The plate hovered there for a second, improbably, saint-like, and then it came crashing down. We feasted on crumbs.
 
The next day I revisited the book of medieval religious art but could no longer locate the ghastly baby. Page after page, in every configuration of virgin, saint, child, angel, and throne, they were the most glamorous and well-proportioned infants I’d ever seen, radiant, their futures robust and full of holy intent and, most especially, character.
 
You sat down beside me and settled into the cushions. “Aren’t they beautiful?”


Simon Jacobs 
is the author of SATURN, a collection of David Bowie stories, out now from Spork Press.

He may be found at 
simonajacobs.blogspot.com.
Previously:
Oedipus and the Sphinx
Adagio for Strings
"Doomed," Chris Burden, 1975
The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
Sarcophagus of Harkhebit
Witches' Flight
The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Death of Marat
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