The infant's doughy arms waved erratically in the air while a steady stream of drool dripped from its lips, down its chin, and onto its shirt, where a large dark spot had already formed.
Teresa stared at the monstrous creature, and when she closed her eyes, she willed it to disappear. Yet, when she opened them, the parasite was still in front of her, now slobbering all over its thumb, snot oozing from its nostrils. Madeline had said it would be easy.
When Teresa arrived, having received the promise of a large paycheck, she figured it really couldn't be so difficult. It was just one kid after all, and he couldn't talk, or walk, or do much of anything really. He was as boring as a human could be. And no matter how awful this day might become, at least Teresa would have money. Putting up with a monster for a few hours was better than working an extra shift at Kmart, or so she thought.
"I'm gonna miss my handsome, my precious little Brutus" Madeline said in a babyish voice, pecking her son's forehead a thousand times in rapid succession, squeezing his chubby cheeks. He slobbered in response. Madeline turned to Teresa. "Don't look so scared, I promise he's easy. He sleeps and poops, that's it. You've barely seen him since he was born, don't you think it's time you got to know your own nephew?"
"I'm not changing his diaper," Teresa said, "and how exactly am I supposed to bond with someone who doesn't even talk?"
Madeline tutted and shook her head. "I know you hate kids, Teresa, but please make an effort. I asked you to do this for me so you could spend some time with Brutus. He's a part of the family, and I want you to accept that. I wouldn't have asked you to babysit if I didn't think you could handle it."
"Your husband once called me a heartless bitch and refused to let me attend Kate's first birthday party because I said I'd rather be sterilized than become a mother."
"Michael just overreacted," Madeline said. "I'm sure you didn't actually mean it."
"Here we go again," Teresa sighed. "Did you not just say I hate kids? Why wouldn't I mean it when I said I wanted to be sterilized? I've been saying I don't want kids since we were kids; I've never liked them-."
"I don't wanna discuss this right now. You agreed to show up, I agreed to pay you, and now you're stuck here. It's too late to call someone else and I have to be at work in a few minutes. So please, please, just make an effort. You don't have to like Brutus, but remember that he's your family. Please just do this for me, Teresa."
"Fine, Maddie. I'll try." Teresa tried to smile, attempting to look confident for her sister's sake. If this potential babysitting nightmare would put an end to their constant bickering, then maybe it was worth it. The money didn't hurt either. "I'm still not going to change the diaper, though," Teresa quickly added.
"When the smell permeates this entire house, leaving you gasping for breath, you will change Brutus's diaper."
"I'll just leave." Teresa didn't mean it, though she had to admit that it certainly didn't sound like such a bad idea.
"Not if you want money," Madeline smirked. "Have fun! Don't make me regret this, Teresa." Before Teresa had a chance to say anything, Madeline was gone, leaving Teresa to fend for herself.
The first hour passed by quickly enough. The hell beast was fast asleep, drenched in his own drool and cradling a creepy stuffed bear. Teresa managed to make herself comfortable on the pee-stained couch, watching two Seinfeld episodes before she heard precious little Brutus announce his awakening by screaming. Sirens were blaring against Teresa's ears, wailing and wailing, refusing to stop until Teresa performed some kind of task. What was she supposed to do? Hold the creature? God no, she wasn't going to touch the hideous demon. Feed it? "There's breast milk in the fridge," Madeline's words echoed, and Teresa shuddered.
She maneuvered towards Brutus's bedroom, fingers crossed that he would shut up. Of course, he didn't. When she pulled the door all the way open, kicking Fisher-Price toys and dirty pacifiers out of the way, the blob of horror was sitting up in his crib, rattling the bars like he was in a prison cell. Brutus paused his screaming for a moment to look Teresa directly in the eyes. He fixed his malevolent gaze upon her and then began to scream louder, as if daring her to fight back. The volume was turned up full blast now, assaulting Teresa's ears and making her want to bludgeon the beast. She yelled at him, throwing obscenities loud enough to match his voice; he didn't so much as flinch. This was a war, and Brutus was winning.
Suddenly, the evil brat went silent and very still. He stared straight ahead, as if concentrating on something. "No," Teresa gasped. "Don't." It was too late; the repugnant odor had already begun to flood the room like a poisonous gas. Brutus looked triumphant, overjoyed at shitting himself.
"I'm calling your mom," Teresa spat, and she stomped out of Brutus's domain, nearly tripping over a plush bunny. She leaned up against the wall, trying to ignore the crayon drawings courtesy of Madeline's four-year-old. For a moment, she wondered if she was being too dramatic. Was it unreasonable of her to refuse to change a diaper? She certainly didn't think so; it was the breeders who were unreasonable for producing offspring in an already overpopulated world. Nevertheless, Teresa could practically hear Madeline scolding her, calling her immature, telling her to grow up. She could predict every word, and yet she called Madeline anyway.
"Oh hey, Teresa, I was meaning to call you. Michael and I started feeding Brutus baby food last night, so if his diaper is extra full-"
"I'm not changing his diaper."
"What do you mean you're not changing his diaper? Teresa, I thought you were more mature now! Just plug your nose, get it over with, and wash your hands, it's not that hard!"
"It's disgusting and I'm not going to do it," Teresa said. "I warned you, Maddie. I told you I didn't want to babysit your little crotch fruit. But you just wouldn't leave me alone, you had to drag me here and ruin my entire Saturday!"
"We thought that maybe you would finally grow up!"
"What the hell does growing up have to do with liking kids? Why doesn't anyone ever explain that to me? What's the correlation between maturity and wanting to pop out Satan's spawn?"
"Change the diaper," Madeline growled, "or I'm not paying you."
Madeline had already hung up. Teresa couldn't remember the last time they'd had a civil conversation. She gritted her teeth, and slowly slumped towards Brutus's sewer. She had never changed a diaper before, and she had certainly never planned to, but the smell was unbearably nauseating. And Madeline had trusted her, no matter how stupid that was, she trusted her.
Why did anyone willingly have children? What compelled women to want to become walking incubators, sacrificing their minds and bodies for disgusting little devils? And after birthing the things, they were never the same people. It was like a switch was turned on in their heads and suddenly their entire existence revolved around their kids. They were never just Sally or Sarah, but always "Mommy." Their conversations consisted of riveting topics like stroller safety and affordable baby food. They plastered on smiles and talked in high-pitched voices, trying to sell everyone they met on the joys of motherhood, despite popping anti-depressant pills like candy.
Teresa missed her sister -her real sister, the Madeline who had once said that cats were better than people. Madeline, the individual was gone, replaced by a mombie, bearing the telltale stretch marks, twenty extra pounds, and God knew what else.
"I'm gonna change your diaper," Teresa said, now standing over Brutus, "because I don't want your mom to hate me." She slid on the pair of latex gloves Madeline had purposely purchased just for her, and began to reach for the thumb-sucking stink bomb. "Don't you dare cry," Teresa commanded. She set him down on the changing table, took a deep breath, and dove in. The horrific process of diaper changing would forever traumatize Teresa, but when it was over, she admired her work. Would Madeline be proud?
Brutus wriggled around, gurgling and cooing. Teresa looked down at him. "You're named after the guy who betrayed Julius Caesar and got him killed. You almost killed me with your poop. I'd say both of you Brutus's are pretty brutal." Teresa sighed and picked the brute up, plopping him back down in his crib. He flailed his meaty arms and legs for a minute, playfully kicking the crib. Before long, he was sound asleep, and as Teresa glanced at him before leaving, she couldn't help but think he looked remarkably like a potato, round and bald.
When Madeline called to check in, Teresa happily stated her accomplishment. "I changed his diaper."
"Good job, you've joined the ranks of parents and teenage babysitters everywhere."
"Are you proud of me?" Teresa could hear the sigh on the other end of the line.
Teresa smiled. It was better than nothing.
"I'm coming home early; Kate has a piano recital that I almost forgot about."
"What? Kate's like four, what's she going to play, Mary Had a Little Lamb?"
When Madeline didn't answer, Teresa burst into laughter. "Seriously?"
"She's been working hard," Madeline countered.
"Come on, even you can't tell me that you're excited. I don't care how much you love your kids, that recital sounds like the stupidest thing ever."
"Trust me, when you have kids, you'll love everything they do. Every scribble drawing, every macaroni necklace-"
"I'm not having kids," Teresa repeated for the second time that day, and by this point in life, she'd repeated that sentence so many times to so many people that it was utterly exhausting.
"Right, whatever, I'll be home in an hour." The line was dead, and Madeline was angry, just like she'd been the past four years.
When Madeline had so proudly announced her first pregnancy, disregarding the disdainful things she had said about children, her relationship with Teresa had nearly been destroyed. The two sisters had once been close. Teresa could remember the day they made a pact to never have kids after their mother had shown them a birth video in order to scare them into not having premarital sex; they'd been so thoroughly grossed out that it actually did scare them, at least for a few years. But years came and went and so did boyfriends, and Teresa and Madeline didn't change their minds. Until Michael came and Madeline got pregnant, changing everything. Suddenly, she was a mother; Maddie the individual was taken over by a protuberant belly that grew and grew until it burst and a new parasite took over not only Maddie's individuality but her entire being, leaving Maddie behind with Mombie in her place.
When Kate rocketed through the front door, jumping into Teresa's arms, memories of the past faded, bringing Teresa back to the harsh present.
"Aunt Teresa, Aunt Teresa, you're coming to my recital right? Right?!"
Teresa looked towards Madeline, who was setting her purse down on the kitchen counter. Madeline nodded.
"Yeah, for sure, Kate." Teresa awkwardly patted Kate's head and detached herself from the kid's weak grip.
"I need to talk to Aunt Teresa, why don't you go check on your brother?" Madeline said in that condescending way adults always talked to small children.
As soon as Kate had skipped out of the room, Teresa turned to her sister. "I'm sorry, Maddie," she said. "I tried to make an effort, really, I did. And I mean, Brutus is a good kid, when he's not crying or shitting himself. He's kinda cute even, like a little potato, but I can't do this. I'm not cut out for it and I don't want it."
Madeline waved a check in front of Teresa's face. "I gave you some extra. For not giving my son a diaper rash."
Teresa took the check, not sure whether to thank her sister or apologize again. Madeline's arms were crossed and her lips were curved in a thin frown.
"Thank you," Teresa said softly.
"So you're serious about never wanting kids?" Madeline asked.
"Have I not made it clear enough by now?"
"I just thought you'd change your mind eventually. Like I did," Madeline said.
"I'm not going to change my mind, Maddie. Call me immature, call me a monster, but I'm not changing my mind. I'm not you. I'm not going to go against everything I stand for."
Madeline shook her head, frowning even more deeply. She leaned over the kitchen counter, resting her elbows on it, as if she was tired. "And you think I did go against everything?"
Teresa stepped towards her, attempting to reach her sister who seemed so far away. "Of course I do! For over a decade you said you'd never have kids. You believed all the same things as me, and then you met some guy and threw all of that away! You're not the same person you used to be!"
"That's right, I'm not the same person! I grew up, and it's about time you did too." Madeline took a step backward, leaving the counter. The distance between the two sisters grew despite Teresa's attempt at getting through to the mombie.
"Don't tell me to grow up, Maddie. And don't tell me I haven't met the right man or any of that shit, I've heard it all way too many times."
"Then don't demonize me for having children," Madeline countered. "Accept my life choices and I'll accept yours."
"I'm trying, Maddie. I showed up here, didn't I? Look, you don't even have to pay me. Here's your check back," Teresa said. She placed it on the counter, looking adamantly at Madeline, silently wishing this argument would end and that they would just get along, that things would be the way they were so long ago.
"Just take the check and get out of here," Madeline said, not even meeting Teresa's eyes.
"Maddie, please don't shut me out, just try to understand me," Teresa pleaded.
"Try to understand that you hate me and my kids?" Madeline scoffed. "Yeah sure."
"No, Maddie, I don't hate you. I don't even hate Kate and Brutus, I just wish that you and everyone else would stop treating me like I'm a horrible person for not wanting to reproduce. People look at me like I'm a monster, like a woman who doesn't want kids is the scum of the earth. My goddamn doctor won't even tie my tubes, she tells me I'm too young to make that decision. Yeah, I'm old enough to have a child and invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into raising it and potentially cause permanent damage to my own body, but I'm too fucking young to know that I never want one. Do you think it's fair that everyone thinks they know me better than I know myself? To be told over and over that I don't know what's best for my own life?"
"Don't act like you treat the rest of us any better, Teresa," Madeline spat. "I get it, people are shitty, but do you think you're any less shitty? I asked you to babysit Brutus, because I thought that maybe just spending some time with him would at least make you less of a bitch. Michael said I was insane for leaving Brutus with you, but I wanted to trust you. I wanted to hope that you'd be nicer. I'll admit I was wrong for trying to change your mind about wanting kids, but it's unfair to be angry at me for wanting you to have a relationship with your nephew. How do you think it makes me feel to hear you hate him? That you hate your own family? I get it, you don't want kids; I respect that, but I'm not okay with you playing victim when you've been just as awful as everyone else."
"I don't hate any of you, Maddie! I've been a bitch, I get it. I'll try to make a better effort really, I will. I'm so sorry." By now, the tears were falling, and Teresa couldn't stop them.
"Sorry doesn't make up for the last four years," Madeline breathed.
"I'm sorry," Teresa repeated weakly.
"Get out of my house."
"Please, Maddie, I don't wanna lose you. You're my sister."
"You've already lost me." The mombie turned away.
"I'll be at Kate's recital," Teresa said.
The mombie did not look at her.