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Zeal

by Stefanie Freele



The new biting provokes something ugly in her. When his little teeth, sharp and fine, not dulled by age like hers, grip her nipple and pull back, stretching the pink like a hideous long something from the sea, she tries to withhold that ugliness, that force that makes her want to throw, to hit.

He giggles and bites her stomach, grabbing muscle underneath. He releases, gleaming as joyful as he does when playing in his sandbox.

If only she could hand him to someone else. There is no someone else. "No." She has tried so hard to eliminate no from her vocabulary, to use positive language instead. "We kiss, we pet. We don't pinch. Soft."

He pets her arm. "Oft. Oft."

Looking her in the eye with a dazzling smile of a boy who loves his mother and will never love any other, he chomps his mouth down on the smoothness of her breast.

She wedges her finger in his mouth. "Ow ow ow ow. Stop it. Stop it." Her nail jabs him in the gum and he lets go.

The pain drives all the way through to her back. Even though she knows a mother shouldn't hurt her own child, she takes his forearm in her mouth, like a mother dog might and clenches her teeth on faultless skin.

He giggles.

She bites harder, leaving imprints in his wrist.

She did it. She bit her child. Through tears she says. "We don't bite. Soft. Soft."

He frowns and kisses her nipple. "Oft." He snuggles in on his side with his eyes closed. He wedges cool feet between her thighs.

She strokes his hair. "Night nighty night. Sleepy thoughts." She can hear her aunt saying you should have weaned him a long time ago. Wean him and get yourself a husband that cooks.

The fire crackles. Orange reflects against the window and the snow.

Little breaths, the little gulps.

Again. Pain grips her chest. Her nipple is as if it's being ripped off and then a lingering sear.

Without opening his eyes, her son offers the back of his own wrist for her to bite. He pushes it on her mouth.

Despite how much she wants to squeeze his face until he understands, she doesn't. "I don't want to bite you back baby. We don't bite each other. Just love."

With eyes still closed he presses his wrist harder on her lips, crying the same cry he does when he wants something, like when the cat scoots beneath the bed or the ball falls off the porch.

His insistence scares her more than the biting. She holds the modest wrist to her mouth kissing it.

He falls asleep with one small hand on her ribs and an arm on her neck. She imagines if the arm was long enough, it could hold her. But then, that arm wouldn't be of a baby, but of a man.


Recent and forthcoming work can be found in Glimmer Train, American Literary Review, Wigleaf, Literary Mama, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Frigg, Boston Literary Review, Hobart online, and Dogplotz. Stefanie has an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop. After serving as the 2008 Writer In Residence for SmokeLong Quarterly, she joined their editorial staff. She is also the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review. Stefanie's short story collection Feeding Strays will be published by Lost Horse Press in September.