The “Old Woman” sent another letter. The envelope was again marked with esoteric runes that few outside the society would recognize. This woman is unknown to me and my colleagues. I find myself unreasonably disquieted by these letters, as if my subconscious is detecting a dangerous subtext I can’t put my finger on.
Dear Mr. Mahoney,
After telling my granddaughter how I was discovered as an infant, in a hive of violent bees, she mulled the story for a day and asked the inevitable question.
Had she herself been found under remarkable circumstances?
My granddaughter’s name is Lil. She is a precocious seven-year-old with short black hair, black eyes, and a mouth I can only describe as candied. Her lips have the pink, thick fullness of fresh bubblegum. Her teeth are like Chiclets. She speaks with a slight lisp, as if she can’t help licking her own delicious words.
She is the adopted child of my son and his wife. I loved my son but he was, all his life, an unexceptional male who pursued disappointing goals with disappointing results. As for my daughter-in-law—I will not say I despised her, but I will not say I liked her, either. Imagine, if you will, a preadolescent Christian virgin persisting in the body of a middle-aged woman.
(Please understand I admire the depth and force of the true Christian faith. I merely subscribe to other depths and powers, and I cannot abide naïveté of any kind.)
My daughter-in-law seemed incapable of digesting any perspective, complexity, or fact she hadn’t encountered in grade school. I don’t believe she was mentally deficient. I believe she lived in fear. She covered her eyes during explicit scenes in movies, was disturbed by “sinister” Halloween costumes, and dismissed troubling news stories as if they’d remedy themselves if only she ignored them.
One day in early autumn, when she was forty-five, she noticed an enormous puffball mushroom had sprouted in her backyard garden. She asked my son to remove it. When they approached it together with a shovel and a garbage bag, the mushroom burst and they were surrounded by a cloud of dusty brown spores. When the cloud dissipated, a newborn girl was writhing in the dirt.
My daughter-in-law took the baby inside and refused to put her down. My son insisted on calling 911 but she was adamantly against it, believing the baby was a miracle, and she opposed her husband so hysterically that he finally called me to help calm her down.
I arrived soon after and, for the first time ever, I sided with my daughter-in-law.
“Keep the baby,” I said. “She came to you and no one else can have her. No one else can ever know the truth.”
Despite profound reservations, my son temporarily deferred to my opinion.
I stayed with them all that week, as my daughter-in-law obsessively held the baby, whom she absurdly named “Lil” in reference to her size. She fed Lil goat milk, which I procured from a local farm.
Both my son and my daughter-in-law soon developed a respiratory ailment, presumably from the mushroom spores they had inhaled. They coughed and weakened, and I cared for them in their home until they died of suffocation a week after the baby’s appearance.
Naturally I grieved. It was all nature’s way.
Although I hadn’t told my son or daughter-in-law the truth, I knew the baby hadn’t come to them. Lil had come to me. She was the daughter I had craved for half a century. I kept her as my own.
I told Lil this story two days ago. She immediately locked herself in her bedroom, where she has remained ever since. I will give her one more day to mull before opening her door.
An Old Woman
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