Back at the circle of storytellers, an old woman tells the group: They were married very young and had a house built in the heart of the city. They felt it necessary to construct a concrete wall around their house to keep out the felons, the transients, the cannibalistic businesspeople. The couple felt alone in the world and the city and so they chose to transform their feelings of loneliness into a veritable reality. They had no family or friends; only each other. Nobody ever saw them. People in the city just assumed the couple was in there, aging behind the walls. Their strange behavior began to garner rumors which soon metamorphosed into legend. It was purported that they were getting very old, or that one of them had died and was still inside the house, rotting and decayed, and it was also rumored that the couple had a child long ago, by accident. The tale goes that one rainy night many years ago the woman gave birth in the bathtub and the couple, as terrified of the outside world as they were, couldn’t bear to allow such a sweet and lovely and innocent creature out into the maw of horror and so they killed it and ate it. It was a rumor, of course, because no one had ever walked through the gate in the wall and asked the couple if it was true, did they really kill their child and eat it like people say. So the house behind the concrete walls soon became the locus of community legend, it became an integral fragment in the vernacular, the baby eaters and the baby-eater house was mentioned weekly, perhaps daily in the city and the surrounding communities, it grew to hold a temporal and spatial point of reference regarding the identity of the people born and raised in the city, generations of families who had grown up with the specter of the baby eaters haunting them from behind the walls. It became a rite of passage for all teenagers in the city that one night, amid drunken clamor and bravado, bets would be made and solidarity would reign supreme and the young men and women would decide to scale the concrete wall to become more intimate with the baby-eater house, which was symbolic of their departure from childhood and arrival into the adult realm, for their entire young lives the baby-eater house was one of the city’s most consistently frightening features. The scaling of the wall would wipe the slate clean, as they say, of everything they had ever known and said, in terms of legend, identity, what was real and what was make-believe, all of their fears and questions confronted in one great leap. When they finally scaled that wall in the middle of the night, one or two of them boosting up the bravest or most reckless of souls to traverse the fold himself, for it was usually a young man driven solely by the desire to impress the others, what he found was a very old and abandoned house, windows cracked and broken and weeds sprouting up through the floorboards, the furniture inside rotted and caked with dust, a home, truth be told, so abandoned that not even the city’s stray animals lived there. The young man alone on the other side of the wall, wracked at once with emotions in myriad learns and understands many things in those few seconds, before re-scaling the wall and returning to the other side. He understands things he hadn’t before, about life, about assumption and discovery, about the power of secrets and legends, about himself, and he knows that nothing will ever be the same for him again, there will always be something separating him from his friends, there will always be deep within him something no one from that city or its surrounding communities will ever touch, will ever match, unless they too scale that wall and witness the baby-eater house or the so called baby-eater house for what it truly is. The young man holds a tremendous amount of power in that moment, for he realizes the future of the community is in his hands, so to speak. He can return to the other side and tell his friends whatever he wants, he can choose to keep the legend alive or destroy it in one fell swoop, and the choice is his and his alone.
Published by TJ McAvoy
Primary influences include, in no particular order, Chandler, Voltaire, Saramago, Borges, John Coltrane, Nietzsche, Ricardo Piglia, Emerson, George V. Higgins, Manuel Puig, D.F. Wallace, Cortázar, Denis Johnson, Michelangelo, Italo Calvino, Cormac McCarthy, Juan José Saer, Keith Jarrett, J-Dilla, Roberto Bolaño, and Don DeLillo. View all posts by TJ McAvoy