Mom did it. Just that once. And I never trusted her after that.
“Hey Patsy,” Mom called from the kitchen. “Come in here and see this baby.”
I did. I ran in and saw it: a tiny baby in the palm of Mom’s hand. A little, bitty baby. “Aw,” Mom said, stroking it. “That’s a good, little baby.”
She had been making tuna salad at the kitchen table when she found the baby and called me in.
There, inches from my eyes, I examined it. Barely three inches long, bumpy and green, it was a pickle. A whole pickle, small and curved. I knew it was a pickle — at first — but Mom was talking so sweet to it that I looked for its face. And saw it, too. I saw its little dark eyes and its miniature mouth. And I saw a tuft of hair poking out the top of its smooth, round head. I leaned closer expecting to hear a soft coo.
It lay in her palm, cradled against her thumb. She brought it to my lips.
“Here,” she said. “Kiss little pickle.”
I did. I gave it the tiniest peck on its head as delicately as I could.
“Do you love it?” she asked.
I nodded. I did. I loved the little pickle. All Mom needed to do now was cover its nakedness in a napkin, and then I’d carry it off to a corner somewhere to rock it and soothe it. I’d press it against my cheek. Whisper to it. Keep it safe. Forever. Me and Pickle Baby.
There against her thumb, Mom pressed a knife hard against its throat and sliced off its head. It wasn’t quick. She took her time, sawing and screaming. Screaming as if it were the pickle screaming. I screamed, too. My mouth big and round. My eyes big and teary. My face red and shaking, terrified from seeing Pickle Baby tortured.
Poor little pickle. Its pain, my pain.
Pickle Baby’s head fell onto the table with a soft thump and a half roll. It lay there lifeless, its tuft poking up, its wet neck sticking to the table. Its body, with the exposed greenish innards, was still in her hand. When I looked up at her, wondering why she did it, Mom threw back her large, hairy head, howled a loud laugh, and squeezed her thighs together to stop the pee.
At dinner, Mom and Dad talked and gobbled their tuna salad sandwiches. Their mouths full, their cheeks puffed. Smacking and spitting. I stared at my sandwich between the bread crusts where the mush bulged through. There were Pickle’s pieces, dead and diced, mixed with fish, its screaming still ringing in my ears.
A smack on the back of my head stopped the screaming.
“Eat your food or go to bed,” Mom demanded.
I didn’t. And I did.