Chinese culture is a strange thing indeed. She found out, the day her First came tearing, screaming and mewling out from her womb, tiny unformed fingers clawing at her insides. The doctors and nurses crowded round, strange and deformed in her pain-fuelled haze, babbling things that she could not hear. She remembered shuddering, drenched in itching sweat that turned her light-pink hospital gown into a shade of carmine red. She let the congratulations wash over her, the excited exclamations of her husband pulling her from much-needed sleep, needling at her, drawing her mind long and tired. She took her turn of clutching the baby, cooing softly at it as quickly as she could, before she passed it on, swallowing down the rising vomit that clogged her throat, attempting to right the spinning room through sheer force of will. Then, it was thrown onto her lap.
Her scream of disgust pierced the sterile operating room, jolting the sleeping child into its first wails. She looked up, searching for the source of this outrage, and her eyes met two beady pupils staring at her, behind a surgical mask. He was a short man, dressed in hospital blue, his long fingers steepled together at his waist, his eyebrows suggesting a smile hidden behind the white of the cotton mask. A long silence dominated the room, broken only by the insistent crying of the newborn flesh, and the low hum of the air-conditioning. Eyes travelled back down to the red, pulsing mass of bloody flesh in her lap, and then back again to the shrivelled doctor standing at the foot of her bed.
-Eat. Is good for you.
-But… Why is it raw?
-Just eat! Is good for you, and the baby.
Ryan just stood there, forced grin frozen on his face. He said nothing. He wouldn’t. He actually believed in this Chinese nonsense. He reached out, a claw swimming through the open space between her and him, and grabbed her hand. He squeezed it, once. Her other hand shook as it edged towards the battered metal plate, slipped slightly in the pooling blood, and finally managed to clasp around the oozing organ, picking it up. It squelched in her grasp. Small showers of blood dripped from it, slipping from the cracks between her fingers and back into the plate, merging with the symphony of expectant silence in the operating room.
It smelled disgusting. Loathsome. It smelled of fresh blood, of rotten flesh, of old torn clothes soaked in vinegar. It smelled like fresh fish gutted and smashed with a spoon. It took all of her willpower to not throw up there and then, to keep the vomit hidden deep within her throat, to gulp it down. Eyes were watching. Waiting. She had to do it. She had to. For the baby.
Her mouth opened. An inch. Two inches. It edged closer and closer, she could’ve sworn it pulsed in her hands, once, as it neared her teeth. The stench invaded her nostrils, piercing inwards like a jagged spear, and she gagged, lurching forward. The piece of flesh squelched again, popping from her grasp to splash down on the plate, throwing rivulets of blood up onto her face, allowing her the sensation of cold liquid snaking their way down her cheeks. Still, no mercy, nothing but the same waiting silence.
She picked it up and held it against her face. Her tears of disgust mingled with the blood coursing down her cheeks. She looked at the lump of flesh that had forced her to do this, and she found that she hated it. How strange. And, as she experienced this new emotion, almost unknowingly, unwittingly, she bit into the placenta.
She had known by now what it was, she’d known all along that she had to eat it, that it was customary. She had wished it wasn’t, upon finding out, that she had a say in the matter. Placentophagia, the practice of eating the placenta, was purported to help stem postpartum depression, contract the uterus after birth, and give back to her the life source that she had shelled out. The doctor had said so. She still didn’t want to. She had thought it would have been disgusting.
It wasn’t. As her teeth pierced the livid, red flesh of the organ, breaking apart stretched skin and into the pliable flesh beneath, she instead experienced ecstasy. Her mind broke behind waves of pleasure flooding into her nerves centres, arcing lightning burst through her mouth and into her brain as the perfect taste filled her taste buds. She had found heaven, found it in the organ of her own child, in what was essentially part of herself. All thoughts of cannibalism faded away beneath the rising tide of blood choking her throat, and all her disgust was drowned in the apex of the moment. She was complete, once again. Hungrily, she wolfed down the rest of the placenta, each bite sending shudders and shivers down her spine, causing orgasmic delight to wrack her weak, tired body. By the end, she could barely move, but the smile that was plastered across her face threatened to tear it in half. She had never felt better.
The erupting cheer faded into the background. Everything did.
She felt ashamed afterwards, of course, as Ryan joked with her about how she looked like she really enjoyed the after-labour meal. She hadn’t dared to tell him that she had. She didn’t tell any of them of the mind-blowing spikes that had lodged themselves in her chest, that sparked her fire and drove her insane. She couldn’t. Instead, she just smiled and nodded, joked back with her husband, throwing small talk around the room as she tried to erase the memory from her mind, to forget the pleasure that she had experienced, to drive the hunger away.
But it came back, a few weeks later, tearing at her insides with pure, maddening desire. She wanted, she fucking needed it, more badly than she had ever needed anything. She drew into herself, trying to control her urges, to chain the beast, but it was useless. Ryan thought she was suffering post-natal depression, had asked kindly about it. What could she say? Her silence continued.
It went on like this, for days, weeks. She cradled her child absently, ignoring its cries as she screamed inside, drowning out the piercing wails with her own desperate pleas for the madness, the hunger to stop. It went on, until one day she could take it no more.
She found herself alone that day, Ryan must had gone out for drinks with his buddies. She was alone with the baby, feeding it her precious milk, enduring the needling pain jabbing her breast as the hungry child tore into her nipple. Her life-giving fluids spurted out sporadically, tiny drops flecking the chin of the hungering monster, minute amounts of blood bitten from tender flesh mingling in with the milk. She stared at the child, transfixed, as she wondered. What if her hunger… what if? She had no time to think, the scraping against the back of her head had started again, the aching of her jaws and the tightness in her chest. She reached out with her left hand, her right still clutching the baby, holding it against herself, trapping it with nowhere for it to run. Her fingers closed about the fleshy, tender leg of her child, pulling it upwards with agonizing slowness. The baby continued to suck at her, to drain from her.
She wondered, for a brief moment, if it was a sort of poetic justice, as her teeth bit into the milky-white skin, her canines puncturing the epidermis, and flesh found its way into her mouth. The baby began to scream, pain driving its tiny mind wild, but she wouldn’t let go. She couldn’t. Her teeth were already halfway in, the lower jaw resting lightly against the puckered portion of the baby’s meat. She couldn’t do anything except bite harder and harder, her stained yellow teeth turning red as blood flooded her throat, filled her mouth. Her eyes watered, her grip tightened. The wriggling lump of flesh bawled, thrashing about, but it couldn’t escape her. Finally, her teeth met, parting aside prepubescent flesh with a squelch in order to hit the other half with a soft click. She tore her prize free from the baby, chewing with a furiousness born from desperation. She chewed and chewed, the blood spurting out of her mouth and onto her chin, dribbling in frothing bubbles onto her dress. She chewed until she realized… this wasn’t what she needed. In horror, it dawned upon her what lay in her mouth, what the bubbling mass of pink that rolled about her tongue actually was, and she screamed, for the first time, out loud.
She had explained afterwards that a wild stray dog had bit the baby while she had brought it downstairs to the void deck, and that the blood on her dress was from her rushing the baby to the hospital. She had cried, tears streaming down blood-stained cheeks, in Ryan’s arms, sobbing her heart out in what Ryan thought to be relief, but she knew to be frustration. She needed something else, something more. She needed what she had tasted before, what she had grown to hunger for. She needed the placenta, the prime cut.
She tried looking for it, searching online. It only came back with animal placentas, pills and dried facsimiles that she found no interest in, no desire for. She bought slabs of raw meat, hid it from Ryan, from her baby, who now lay in the cot recovering. Wolfed them down in the sink. Spat them out into the bin. It was no use. She needed the real thing.
And that’s why she found herself where she was now, sneaking into the hospital at 2 in the morning, drifting along the hallways with furtive glances cast behind her. Turn left. Two turns right. The maternity ward is just ahead. She made it there without anyone noticing, against all her wishes, all her hopes, she hadn’t been caught. She imagined what it would have been like if she had bumped into a nurse, if they had found her. The relief would have washed over her, the madness and darkness evaporated beneath the soothing touch of humanity, suffocated by the constricting knots of the straitjacket. But no, instead, she found herself at the door, whorls of laminated wood staring back at her as her fingers rested against the knob. She walked in.
Ryan thought she was having a night out, watching a movie and taking a break from watching the kid. He was at home, dozing off at the TV, rocking the cradle once every few minutes. And here she was, holding a pillow above the face of some woman she didn’t know, pressing it down as hands clawed at her. The woman’s body, young and lithe except for the distended belly possessing her spawn, struggled and bucked under her grip, but she held on, a strength that could come only from insane hunger pressing down her arms. The monitor rattled on the table, unplugged cord scattering about the floor, the bed shivered with the dying woman’s convulsions. Her grip upon the pillow softened as the woman struggled less and less, until finally, the flailing hands fell limply against the sides of the bed. The room was silent, except for her panting, interspersed with mumbled apologies and hungry growls.
Her hand gripped the scalpel, tightly, pilfered from a small room adjacent. Her knuckles were white, barely visible in the dark room, trembling as her fingers dug into her palm. She moved closer to the corpse. Her hand touched upon the protruding belly, feeling about. Thud. She felt something move, with a jolt. The spawn. The woman’s larvae. It still lived. She was supposed to feel remorse now, as if one life taken was fine, but two had crossed an invisible line. She was supposed to hate herself.
Instead, she raised the scalpel high, cheek-burning smile splitting her face in two, frame shivering in anticipation. And she plunged it down, as she prepared to dine once again.