Crybaby

By Omeirondi Chinonye

Raw flesh parts open. A nasty pink, slick with warm saliva, birthing a crevasse where mouth should be. Mouth, no teeth, not yet, only thick tongue shaking, jolting. Shake with anguish—arms layered with fat shake in the air, chubby hands not quite fists grab at stained sky, she wants out. She screams, crevasse grows wider, louder, too loud, parents clasp tired hands over tired ears and coo and pray and plead what’s wrong baby what’s wrong, piercing cries cannot give them an answer. Families stare, children stop playing, metal chains on swings stop music, they stop to watch and listen. Watch hot tears spill over lovely brown skin, dark like the soil underneath her diapered bum, listen to screeches burst from small body that cut through eardrums like scalpel on skin. Screeches persist under that hot sun, that odd February sun, they will not stop for attempts at sycophancy in bottled breastmilk or bumblebee pacifiers. Her cries, yes, her cries are heard clear as Kirkland plastic, but they do not hear the cries that she hears. What she hears is rumbling, massive, a disconcerting litany of not quite terror but anguish, yes, the anguish of sluggish death. The cries she hears ruptures through mantle and crust, permeates troposphere, channels through holes of ozone, bite and pinch at her soft skin and settle deep deep in her bones until they rattle like lungs filled with smog, diffuse through her young blood and threaten her little head with explosion, she feels that terrible pain from her shaking fingertips, feels great cries of anguish, yes, these are the cries of Mother.


*


Her kneecaps are no longer cartilage, her cheeks no longer chubby, she speaks now. She speaks enough to scream it hurts oh it hurts when Mother’s pain flows through her body, like shockwaves of a bomb, oh it hurts. Her parents, yes, cowardly humans they are, wring hands and clutch hearts as they watch her stand in their suburban backyard through spotless windows cleaned with VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that tarnish innocent air, watch her place child hands on aching tree bark, watch tears turn silent, cheeks remain wet, watch neck crook towards sky.

Mother, why do you cry? Tree bark trembles. Mother’s voice is not lovely and saccharine, it tastes of jagged metal and magma.

I am sick, my dear. I am dying. Mother says dying with flashes of blackened water and belly-up creatures with bulging blank eyes and lonely beasts in lands of melting ice and burning koalas and blood red skies and insects skitting over four-legged skeletons on barren land. She doesn’t understand, it’s too much Mother it’s too much, she’s scared, shaking like that February day in the park, she runs inside to cowardly parents who watch her with cowardly eyes and buries her poor little head into the father’s legs, her words barely comprehensible through the choking sobs scratching their way out of her little throat.

“Mother’s sick! Mother’s really sick!”

The parents share a look of confusion. “Mommy’s right here, honey. She’s fine. There’s no need to cry,” says the father.

“Mother is dying.” Her voice grows more somber than hysterical.

“Mommy’s not dying. She’s just fine—”

“Mother is dying!” She throws a pointed finger out the window. The tree stands still. “Mother is dying!” Her tears run fast like fish in clean waters, the poor girl doesn’t understand. She doesn’t understand why the parents can’t hear Mother’s cries, feel her suffocating pain in the very air they breathe, why she’s alone in her tears. The poor girl is too young to understand why Mother Earth is dying.

She remembers skeletons and blood red skies and sinks to the floor. She lets out a cry that’s not yet keening.

*


The girl is old enough for school. She’s learned to hold back tears, like all children do to avoid judgment, but she cannot escape them. Her classmates see her streaming tears mid-conversation, tears on a smiling face, they notice it before she does. They notice her weeping while she tells a joke, while she eats lunch, while she answers question-number-two on last night’s math homework, they find it odd, scary even. They come up with a name for her because masking fear with humor starts at a young age. Crybaby, they call her.

Crybaby lies alone on brown grass while other children climb monkey bars and kick balls and laugh. The grass pokes into her skin, but the pain is nothing compared to Mother’s. Her hair, a cluster of unruly black coils, coarse like Mother’s roots, collects dirt and dead matter burned by unregulated sun pouring through ozone holes. She presses her young body into earth, running calloused fingers over thin tan knives, ignoring tears that come with the rumbling in her blood, she wants to speak with Mother. She wants to tell Mother the truth.

Mother?

Yes, dear. Her voice crashes into her from all directions, erupts from within her flesh, the same nature of her cries.

Mother, she says, I am tired.

Tired? Tired of what, dear?

Tired of crying. Mother says nothing. Everyday is like torture. I want to live a normal life, Mother.

Mother pauses. Air grows thick and heavy. A normal life? Voice pounds in skull. That’s not true. Voice loud like bitten tongues. You want to escape reality. This—sickly warmth swallows her whole, not enough oxygen, can’t breathe through not mouth but shuddering gills, swim through dead bodies, ah, the murky light looks enticing, rise to the light belly-up, meaningless death—

Mother please! —the sky bleeds red and black, bleeds screams of forest and burning skin, she tastes fire, breathes fire, orange licks at her gray fur and swallows it, she’s burning—“Mother, stop!” she screams—yes, her skin is melting peeling revealing red—“Stop!”—blood red skies—“Stop!”—body burns under charred cecropias, meaningless death—

“Stop it!” Crybaby’s body shudders violently on rough grass, she doesn’t cry with her tears this time, but with guttural shrieks that claw from her mouth and disseminate across playground and blacktop, children stare, poor girl, they think she’s mad. Crybaby lies there, crevasse pouring ugly wails, as Mother puts her through death after death, record-breaking floods, intense drought, ocean acidification—This, she says, is reality. You humans, my children, did this. Anger and hurt ripple through the atmosphere. You knowingly extinguish life created from my womb. You kill my children by pouring carbon into my blood to burn skeletons. I am running a very high fever, dear. It moves me to tears I cannot control. Our souls are connected, you cannot escape the reality your race created. I am dying, can’t you see?

A supervisor carries Crybaby to the nurse. They find nothing wrong with her. They say the heat makes kids crazy.


*


Another day of maddening heat arrives. She bikes fourteen miles to the beach instead of home; the burning pain in her legs is nothing compared to Mother’s. Cowardly parents call her twice, she tells the father she’s at a friend’s house. After wading through Mother’s salty blood for a moment, she grabs two trash bags and the trash picker she stole from her school’s cafeteria, and begins to clean. Mother’s skin here is soft and warm, she walks until the sky cries periwinkle, until a crowd of old and young humans who don’t ask why she sheds tears and smiles decide to clean with her. “Separate recyclables,” they shout. They finish at night with hugs and pictures.

Air shifts. Thank you, my dear.



 

Artist's Statement


To create this piece, I did a lot of sitting and thinking. I sat in my little swivel chair and stared out the window. I looked at the sky, the trees, the homes of my neighborhood, and I thought to myself, this will not be here forever. If we continue to stare out our windows and do nothing, the effects of climate change will soon destroy the things we take for granted, whether it’s during my lifetime or the next, and I held onto the pain of that realization and put it in my writing. I personified Earth in my story as “Mother Earth” and handed her that pain. By personifying Earth, I wanted to reach into my reader’s hearts and provide insight to the true damage we’re doing to our home. I aimed to tell my readers that the climate change crisis causes pain in all living creatures, and that we, as humans, shouldn’t be selfish and turn a blind eye to the destruction we produce. That was Mother’s message.

With the climb of global warming, causing problems like rises in sea levels and unusual weather phenomena, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the issue and ignore it with a “I can't do anything” mindset. My main character, nicknamed “Crybaby,” discarded this mindset after truly realizing Mother’s pain, and decided to help in her own way. It’s little actions like those, that give me hope in Earth’s fate.

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