By Phoebe Thomson
The ash tree outside our flat was cut down that morning when we told my mum that Jan was pregnant. We spoke to her on Facetime. “The tree was sick for ages,” I said.
“All we can see now is gray,” Jan said. “The birds will stop coming to our windows.”
Jan had already been reading about how bad our air was around here. She had found a paper about climate change and allergies in infants. “All swollen up and suffering,” she said, “and they can’t go outside.” I smiled and then frowned and then stroked her hair. She shook my hand away.
She ordered anti-allergen serums online and supplements with long descriptions. One promised that it could prevent all allergies forever. It contained things I hadn’t heard of, such as slug slime, crushed pearl, and some mauve berries with a long name. Jan ate the vitamins every morning before breakfast. She ate strange meals made up of ingredients that she had read about on the internet. Jan ate everything she could by the end of the pregnancy. It was as though she was trying to chew up the whole world to give it to the baby.
The baby came early, in November. It was like a tiny, red, beautiful kitten.
My mum visited from Truro, and Jan’s mum came down from Dumfries. They held the baby and kissed its soft head. They sent us presents—little knitted shoes and tiny bracelets. But mostly, it was just Jan and baby Skye and me. The flat smelt of Jan’s serums and her milk, and the exhaustion and the stink, and the clean, and the close-body warmth. It was like that almost all of the winter while the baby was getting big enough, and well.
In January, the sun was out. We took the tiny baby outside. We wrapped her up tight against the cold, and I carried her inside my coat. But the world was winter-empty, and we didn’t stay outside for long. After our walk, the baby was almost iridescent: shiny and wide-eyed.
“Skye’s not a normal baby,” Jan said to her mum over the phone.
“They never are,” her mum replied.
The baby was getting heavier. Sometimes, Jan would pass her to me, and I would be shocked by her new heaviness. She changed so quickly and got bigger. She was stronger and stranger than other babies.
I wondered whether it could be Jan’s allergy serums. I said it out loud to her and then regretted talking. She became very worried. She looked online for allergy scam and baby growing fast and powerful babies + allergy serums, but there was nothing.
In spring, we heard the birds flying back to the city, and we knew that it was time to introduce the growing baby to the world. We dressed her in a Babygro designed for a ten-month-old. I wore a smart shirt, which Jan thought was funny.
We wheeled our baby to the park, where the first blossoms were just peeping out into the sunlight. Skye stared out at the world around her, and then, she began to tremble, as though she was being electrified.
Jan leant down, panicked, over the buggy. She touched the baby gently, nervously.
Our baby was having some kind of physiological reaction to the world, and it was like the inverse of an allergy. We stood there, by the duck pond, and the reaction grew stronger. The baby was shimmering and growing. I stood, transfixed, and saw that she was a gleaming, powerful creature. She was taking energy from it all—from the trees, from the pigeons, from the path. And she was so much stronger than myself that I did not recognize her.