Malanoct. He has chosen us for his parents. He doesn't come from my wife, I don't think. He is just there between us in the bed when we wake. He doesn't tell us the name. It is already in our minds. My wife wears it on her lips as her eyes open. Malanoct.
He is like a child, but not. He crawls the house on splayed hands, dragging rubbery legs. He expects, watching us with eyes that know. Malanoct. We bring him things we know he wants. Stuffed animals to tear into. A ball that he follows from room to room, wheezing through his twisted nostrils. My wife feeds him from a bottle. Chicken parts, raw. Blended into a grey slurry. Bits of bone swirling in murky orbit. His mouth is an eager maw; there is no limit to what it could swallow. She cradles him to sleep, whispering the name— Malanoct, Malanoct— her eyes simmering with violent tears.
I don't sleep at night. He takes his share of the bed, coming and going as he pleases. The name lodges in my throat, comes forward hard and compact like black shit. Malanoct. My wife churns in her sleep, waking from dreams, her mouth bursting with the name. Malanoct.
I go to the grocery store for more chicken parts. I wander the aisles. The fluorescent lights confuse me. Everywhere around me, the others know. They are like background actors in a play, pretending to have their own concerns, but I feel the name floating on their minds. Malanoct.
The mail carrier delivers a package. "Please sign here." I sign and hand it back. His eyes are looking past me, stretching for eons. "Malanoct," he says. He shakes his head. "Please sign here." I sign again, Malanoct, over the other.
The phone rings. I answer. "Malanoct." No. I crease my mind for the right word. "Hello?"
"What is going on with you? No one has heard from you in weeks." My mother. "Jenny and Phil are worried about you."
"Oh... I didn't realize."
"You didn't realize? Everybody's been calling—" She stops. Even the soft undersea static of the line goes silent. I think I have lost connection. Malanoct crawls into the room, his onesie dragging the floor behind him like a tongue. My mother's voice returns, crisp now, as if the words have been chiseled from her mouth and staked directly into my ear. "Is that—" I hang up before she can say the word.
I load him into the passenger's seat and drive. His mouth glistens, jagged tooth nubs hanging in the air. He watches me the whole drive. In the woods I carry him, hearing the rustling of night animals all around. He clutches tight to my chest like a tick, his wet head pressed into my neck. I leave him on a stone. Maybe something else will want him.
When I come home, it is the first thing my wife says. "Malanoct."
"Malanoct." I answer, though it's not what I mean to say.
My wife tests her tongue. I see her lips moving, sampling other words. Then she tries. "Malanoct." I hurt with the agony in her eyes.
"Malanoct." I say. I grit my teeth against the word. Shudder my eyes. "Malanoct." I bite my own tongue until I taste blood. Still it whips out the word. "Malanoct."
"Malanoct." She moans, fistfuls of her own hair.
It comes in waves.
We hear it in everything. The hum of the refrigerator. Malanoct. The sound of our own breathing. Malanoct. We huddle together against the wall. Try to shelter each other from the word, but it is scrawled into the air between us. Malanoct.
I drive, the trees dark on all sides, hoping I can remember my path through the woods. A stain rides my tongue. Malanoct.
is a poet and writer living in Santa Cruz, California. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Rust+Moth, Jelly Bucket, and Roanoke Review