By Harmony Neal
I didn’t know it was made out of butter. Not until it slipped out of the doctor’s hands and skidded across the cold tile, between the nurses’ white sneakers. Perhaps that explains the lack of pain. How could I guess that eating so much dairy while pregnant—pints of Ben and Jerry’s, gallons of milk, buckets of yogurt, wheels of cheese—could produce a baby made entirely of butter? The doctor said he’d seen worse: bubbly Coca-Cola babies, runny ranch dressing infants, even one wiggling newborn tuna that had to be submerged in saltwater. I’d obeyed the baby books, except for eating a balanced diet. I’d done moderate exercise as recommended, a beginning step-aerobics class, but all that shaking and jiggling probably compounded the problem.
My butter baby did not cry, did not make one sound. It lay there glistening like a half-molded doll, waiting to be painted and have its eyelashes glued on. It stared at me with creamy, monotone eyes, the only mostly formed feature on its smooth face, hairless eyelids blinking rhythmically. The nurses sent us home immediately, not wanting to upset the good mothers of normal babies with my aberration. They didn’t give me lunch or put a bracelet on the baby. They didn’t ask me to choose a name, just gave me a sheet of paper that looked like a typed grocery list, with “butter” checked off between “bologna” and “cabbage.”
I managed to get the baby into the car seat, but when we arrived home, the seat was so slick I could barely unbuckle the tiny straps indenting the baby’s chest and shoulders. I took it inside hidden under a blanket, leery of the afternoon sun glaring overhead. July is not a good month for butter left unchilled. I closed the curtains, spread out the blanket, then laid it on the kitchen table and tried to smooth out the dents with gentle fingers. My efforts produced swirls all over its body, and I occasionally nicked chunks into my fingernails, while it watched, silently, eyelids rhythmic, a few pea sized tears blinking down the side of its featureless face.
I wrenched a shelf from the refrigerator, losing most of a gallon of milk, a dozen cups of Yoplait, a few tubs of cream cheese, and a six-pack of chocolate pudding onto the floor. I banged through the cupboards, finding a roasting pan that seemed big enough. In my hurry, I plopped the baby down too hard, and it flattened: head, shoulders, and back spreading up the sides of the pan, thighs and tiny feet losing definition. It didn’t cry out, just kept blinking its hairless eyelids like a silent metronome. I put the lid on the pan, turned open the slotted vent, and shoved it in the refrigerator, breathing out heavily as I shut the door. Sliding down the front of the refrigerator, crushing yogurt and pudding into a smeary mess, I shook my head, like all new mothers, uncertain of the next step.
Harmony Neal was the 2011-2013 Fiction Fellow at Emory University. Her essays and stories have been published in Eleven Eleven, Psychopomp Magazine, Gulf Coast, Nashville Review, The Gettysburg Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Letters, Grist, Paper Darts, storySouth, and The Toast, among others. As a powerful witch, she spends her spare time avoiding false nonchalance, playing with her dog, Milkshake, and growing poets in her home. She “manages” the band The Favourite Child.
“Sarubobo” originally appeared in print in Sou’wester during 2007.