Gemini Magazine
_______________
by Kathie Giorgio
THE GOLDEN
DAUGHTER
It is 1953 and you want a baby.  Not just
any baby, but a girl, a girl you’ve pictured for years:
blonde curly hair, like yours, bright blue eyes, like
yours, and a face that glows whenever you walk into
the room.  A girl who will sing in a clear soprano
voice, play classical piano, look perfect in a tutu,
who will help you make the beds in the morning, do
the laundry in the afternoon,  and set the table for
supper at night.  Whatever you do, she will do, and
she will do whatever you’ve always wanted to do,
but were too afraid to try.

Years go by and you get pregnant and pregnant and
pregnant again.  Six times, dark red clots with wispy
tentacles plummet from your body, followed by a
torrent of bleeding that takes months to stop.  Each
time, you stand over the toilet, a pad stuffed
between your legs, and you hesitate.  You say a
quick prayer for the unformed child and you ask that
it not hover in Purgatory.  But secretly, you breathe
a sigh of relief as you flush the clot and turn your
face away.  Your girl would never leave you like
this.  Only something dark would desert you, would
stab you with a sudden pain and then leech from
your body like scum.  You tell yourself this each
time.  Only your girl matters.

Somewhere in the middle of the six, one baby takes
root and survives, but it is a boy.  While he amazes
you, while he has blond hair and blue eyes and you
are happy that he is there, living and breathing, not
just a clot to be flushed away, he is not your girl.  
You keep looking for your girl and when the doctor
tells you no more babies because it’s too much of a
risk, you turn your face away.

Your husband tries to intervene, to insist you stay
barren.  There’s only one way to do that, you say,
and is that really an option?  You’re both Catholic
and he goes to the priest, asks for permission to
use birth control.  She can’t get pregnant anymore,
your husband says, she might die.  But the priest
says that birth control is a sin against God, and sex
for reasons other than procreation is a sin against
God, and so the priest insists you must stop having
intercourse.  You know your husband well; he turns
his face away too.

When a pregnancy lasts into the seventh month,
your hope burgeons.  And you hold onto that as you
begin to bleed, as your husband takes you on a wild
ride to the hospital.  Through the ether fog, right
before you go under, you feel one bolt of pain slice
from your abdomen to your most private of places
and something wet and tiny slips between your
legs. The doctor says, “It’s a girl!”  

It’s a long time before you see her, tucked away in
her incubator.  You only catch glimpses from the
viewing window; dark hair (which you assume is
dark with the intensity of struggling to live, and will
turn to curly yellow when the crisis is over), pale
skin, closed eyes.  Fingers curled tightly into fists
which smack against her thick, monitored glass
walls, defiantly, you think, railing against the
doctors and the nurses, demanding that you come
in, come in and hold her.  Make her only yours.

On the day you are finally given entrance, finally
allowed to answer her call, you sink into the rocking
chair and hold out your arms.  You are not prepared
for the still-dark, abundant hair that frizzes out
against your arm.  And you are not prepared when
she opens her eyes and tilts her head toward you.

Her eyes are dark.  A brown so brown, they’re
almost black. And they are crossed.  Her eyes point
in to her nose and it’s impossible to tell who or
what she’s looking at.  

The darkness and lack of focus sink into you and
you feel the jolt of ice.  The ice of an evil so pure, it
pours openly from eyes that stare at nothing.  And
you’re afraid nothing will hold it back.  Your arms
loosen and the baby rolls forward on your lap.  Only
the most basic of instincts moves you to grab her,
to keep her from falling to the floor.  “Her hair,” you
moan.  “Those eyes…”

The nurse nods.  “Many babies are born with
crossed eyes,” she says.  “She’ll probably grow out
of it.”

But the chill you feel lets you know the truth.  It
spreads from your heart across your chest, down
both arms, to your fingertips that lightly clasp the
child.  This is not the girl you waited for.  Risked
your life for.  This is someone else.  You think of an
adage that you’ve heard many times and now it
rings with a hollow resonance and you understand
its meaning.  “The eyes,” you say, “the eyes are the
mirror to the soul.”

The nurse tsks.  “Silly,” she says.

But you ask her to take the baby away, and when
she does, you feel lighter.  You wonder how to ask
to give the child up.  

Your husband tells you you’re being ridiculous.  It’s
a girl, he says, you got what you wanted.  He and
the nurse leave you no choice.  Three weeks after
the birth, the nurse carries the baby out of the
nursery and gives her to you, firmly taking your
arms and wrapping them around her, strapping the
two of you together with your own flesh, and you
bring the baby home.

Every time the baby opens her eyes, she jolts you
in a shower of cold.  Her unwavering stare at
nothing convinces you that there is much going on
in that brain, things being hatched, plots planned.  
You wonder what her crossed soul is up to, where
her evil is, what it extends to.  You do the minimum
required to keep her alive: you change her, bathe
her, feed her when she’s hungry, but then place her
quickly back into the bassinet.  She cries, but not
much, a thin sound that barely pierces your
attention as you gaze out the window and wait for
your afterbirth bleeding to stop, wait for your
husband to take you again.  You wonder where your
golden daughter is, when she will get here, how you
will find her.  Your body has betrayed you twice
now—once with the birth of your son and now this
strange, strange girl.  You wonder, as your body’s
bleeding extends day after day, if you can ever trust
your own womb again.

One night, as you prepare for the baby’s bath, your
husband is with you in the kitchen as you place her
on a towel on the counter.  You pull off the tiny
sleeper and then remove the diaper, and you feel
your husband shift.  You look up and he is staring
at the baby, his eyes roving, and you follow their
path.  To her mouth, softly pink and round, to the
barely there luminescent nipples, and then there, to
the doughy slit between her legs.  He reaches out
to touch.

There is something in his face that you recognize,
that causes you to step between them.  As he turns
and leaves the room, goes back to your son and the
television, you know you didn’t stop him to protect
the little girl.  You blocked her from him.  He is the
one who needs protecting.

You know where her evil lies now.

Starting that night, you turn the temperature of the
water up.  The baby cries and her skin turns red, but
it must be done.  Sterilization is key.  Clean the
evil.  Inside and out.

                        ****

The baby is only three months old when you find
your husband in the children’s bedroom in the
middle of a Sunday afternoon.  He’s taken the girl
from the crib and laid her on your son’s twin bed,
blanketed with cowboys and Indians on a plaid
prairie.  She is undressed, you see the pink footie
sleeper in a bunch on the floor, and your husband is
naked from the waist down.  He rubs himself
against her and his eyes are closed.  You know he
is too big for her, too big for that tiny opening in a
tiny girl, yet there lies her evil and she seems to
accept him.  She’s not even crying.  As you walk by
them, intent on delivering the laundry to the
dresser, your husband arches back and cries out in a
voice you know too well.  A voice you don’t hear
much anymore.  You thought it was because you are
still bleeding, but now you know better.  It’s her.  
Beneath the hard curve of his body, you see her,
and she is calm, sucking on her fist.  He gasps and
falls forward, but catches himself on his extended
arms, only pressed against her in a certain place, in
a certain way.  He opens his eyes and sees you.  
You put away the laundry, then carry the empty
basket from the room.  When he comes out later,
the baby is in his arms and she is fully dressed and
asleep.  He holds her all afternoon.

That night, you decide to add a new rinse, hot
water brought to a boil in a glass coffee decanter on
the stove. You’re smart, you know not to pour it
over her while it’s still boiling; tending to evil is a
delicate balance between what needs to be done
and keeping the outside world out.  Instead, the
decanter bubbles on the burner while you fill the
sink with the hottest water you can force from your
tap.  You turn the burner off, set the decanter on a
rooster-tiled trivet while you immerse the baby,
scrub her with the washcloth.  Inside and out.  You
pay special attention between her thighs even as
she cries, though you believe her voice is thick with
lust.   

Does her voice remind you of your own, when you
lie beneath your husband with your legs spread,
your knees pointed toward the ceiling?  Do you hear
an echo?   His eyes closed, his face turned away.  
You always wondered what he was thinking before
you closed your own eyes, hid inside the black cave
of orgasm.  A cave you were supposed to emerge
from with a blonde little girl in your arms.  A girl
who would latch on to your breast and suck all the
pain away, looking up at you with the bluest of
eyes, eyes that reflected the sky on an early June
day, eyes that reflected everything you want to
be.    

In the sink, this baby’s eyes are crossed and tear-
filled.  This baby who emerged from you, from your
cave.  Her mouth is a tipped-over crescent with
turned down corners, and in this moment, there is
no sound.  She closes her eyes and you are released
into motion.   The decanter is still steaming when
you pour it over her and her shriek makes your arms
shake.

This is so hard.

From the living room, your husband yells at you,
telling you to leave the baby alone, to stop all the
noise.  You comply and shove her completely under
the water, her voice drowning in the ripples.  When
you bring her back up, you can’t tell the tears from
the water drops on her face, and she is silent.  She
stares, like always, at nothing.  At her own nose.

When you carry her through the living room, your
husband stands up and holds out his arms.  You
give him the child.  He glances at her red skin, then
at you, then takes her to the children’s room.  He’s
gone for a while.  You worry that your sterilization
hasn’t worked and you peek around the doorway.  
He has her on the bed again, and he has his face
between her chubby thighs.  They look alien,
reddish-pink rolls against his unshaven cheeks.  You
know what he’s doing to her, and when you see his
hand between his own thighs, you know what he’s
doing there too.  You sit back down in front of the
television and wonder how to combat this, how to
contain the evil emanating from her, seeping
between her legs, enticing your husband to do
these things.  When he comes out, he says the
baby is sleeping.  The skin around his lips is shiny
with her juices.  He glistens with evil.  

Hers.

                        ****

Right before the girl’s first birthday, your doctor
puts you in the hospital for a hysterectomy. You’ve
been bleeding since the birth and you’re too weak
to argue and now you know that the blonde-haired
girl is gone.  In her place is this child who looks at
the world through twisted eyes, who never seems to
focus, yet pulls your husband in to erotic exchanges
day after day after day.  You know now that he
doesn’t penetrate her; there is no blood on the
sheets or on her thighs.  He just tastes her, the
way he used to taste you, and he rubs against her,
looking for his release, and she opens herself to
him, her face directed toward him but her eyes
elsewhere, internal, deep in her soul like a vacuum
that sucks him in.  

He never touches you.

You are told her eyes will straighten on their own,
but you cart her from doctor to doctor until you find
one who says he will cut into her eyes and yank
them to their correct places.  You wonder, as she’s
wheeled off to surgery, if the straightening will
bring blue to her brown, washing away the evil,
bringing you the daughter you truly deserve.  But a
day later, when the bandages are peeled off, her
eyes are still crossed.  Less so, but still not
straight. And they remain brown.  You know the evil
is there to stay.  It is too deeply embedded.

Years pass and you try to contain it, try to contain
her, keep her hidden.  Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t
play, you say to her, and you choose three places
where she is allowed to be.  A corner of the living
room floor.  On the back step.  And sometimes, you
allow her to walk up and down the driveway, looking
at the loose gravel, playing with the rocks.  Other
than that, there are no toys.  Not for her.  The toys
that line the shelves of the children’s room, fill the
toybox, are your son’s and not for her play.   She
doesn’t play.  You feed her, let her potty, you
sterilize her and leave her alone.  Your son calls her
Big Bad Dolly.  He knows to stay away, to never
touch.  Not even when they’re alone.  At night, you
keep her contained in her crib, even when she has
to bend her knees and elbows to fit.

On days she cries out, on days she can’t control the
evil inside her and it bursts out in tears or howls or
shrieks, you carry her downstairs to the basement,
open up an old wardrobe box, and put her inside.  
You tape the box shut, tie it with rope, and leave
her there.  The darkness swallows her and for a
time, you are free of the evil that is invading your
house, stealing your husband.

You try to break the trance she has on your husband
by insisting that the girl’s done wrong and needs to
be punished.  It is the man’s place to discipline, you
say to him, not yours, and he needs to control her.  
So every day, ten minutes before he is due to come
home, you march the girl into your bedroom.  Just
wait, you say.  And when he comes in, you nod
toward the door and you hear the clink of his belt as
he removes it.  You are surprised and pleased by
the relish he shows in this task.  He seems to
understand for the first time that the girl needs to
be punished.  She needs to be cleansed.  It will
take the both of you.

He shuts the door and you wait in the hallway, and
you count the strikes.  After the second week, the
girl no longer cries.  You count and you count, the
numbers going higher and higher, and you picture
the welts that rise on the girl’s buttocks and you
hope the red that seeps is full of evil, evil that is
being released and lanced like a pus-filled boil and
that you will wash away.  When the belt stops, you
tap your feet to the invisible rhythm and you wait a
while, daring yourself to open the door, scared to,
but finally doing it.  Praying that you will see her
standing there, blonde and blue-eyed, and your
husband drying the tears of a naughty little girl
made whole.  But what you find is your husband
always over the girl’s prone body, her legs
astraddle, his face against her, and her brown eyes
are closed and her hair is spread like a dark stain on
the carpet.  She’s won.  She wins time after time.  
And you grab her by the hair and drag her to the
sink for her nightly baptism in steam and sweat and
raw, raw skin.

                        ****

And then one day she comes home from
kindergarten and she tilts her head right at you as
you tell her to sit in her corner of the living room.  
Normally, her eyes are downcast, they way you’ve
taught her, don’t look at anyone, don’t let the evil
show.  Her unfixed stare disarms you and you leave
quickly after making sure she is sitting Indian-style
on the bare wooden floor, her hands folded in her
lap.

Ten minutes before your husband’s arrival, you
stand in the entry to the living room and point down
the hall.  Silently, she gets up and slips by you,
going into the bedroom, shutting the door.  When
your husband comes home, he doesn’t say a word,
there is only the clink of his belt buckle.  The door
closes and you stand outside it, ready to hear her
punishment.

But instead, you hear her voice.  Then his. Then
hers.  The door opens and he comes out, doing up
his belt.  He looks at you.  He tells you that she
said no.  That she said stop.  That her teacher at
school gave a talk and told the kids that if anyone
ever hurt them, they had to say, I’m going to tell,
really loud. She didn’t say it loud, she said it soft,
he says, but she said it.  She says she’s going to
tell that we hurt her.

You turn your face away.  What else is there to do?  
You think of the nurse’s reaction, the tsking, of all
the doctors who told you her eyes were natural, and
you know that no one will understand.  No one will
applaud you for your battle, for the way you try to
put evil down, keep it from infecting the earth.  
They will only see a little girl who has been beaten
by a belt, burned by hot water.  No one will see the
reason behind it.  No one will see what she makes
her father do.

The girl steps into the hallway.  Her dress is raised,
held clumped in two clenched hands, and her
panties are around one ankle.  Not this, she says to
your husband, thrusting her hips toward him.  Not
stop this.  Only that.  She points to the belt.  And
that.  She points to you.

Your knees go weak when he returns to the room
with her.  The door closes in your face and there is
only silence.  Thick silence.  It sinks over you and
you think it will smother you, until it is shattered by
the softest of sounds.  The release of a child freed.  
The girl’s sigh.  Guttural and moist.  A release you
long for.

You can no longer stand.

                        ****

That night, you bathe the girl in the bathtub instead
of the kitchen sink.  You make it inviting, warm
water—not hot—filled with bubbles from your own
scented collection.  You hold the girl’s hand as she
steps into the tub and for the first time, you see
her smile.  Her eyes look at nothing as she sits
down, up to her chin in puffy bubbles.

You wash her.  Gently.  And she closes her eyes.  
You feel her relax beneath your touch.  

She is clean, her skin pink and shiny, glimpsed
between the white rainbow-hued bubbles.  It seems
to take no effort, none at all, to put both of your
hands on her shoulders and push her under.

You fight the evil. You feel it under your knuckles,
trying to force its way up, trying to surface.  There
is some splashing and you turn your face away.

Until you feel her give over.  Until you feel her give
up.

You let her go.

She won’t ever tell. Neither will you.

You stand up, drying your hands on your hips, then
resting your hands, folding them, over the place
where your womb used to be.  A pink knee sticks
out of the water.  You turn your face away.

Outside of the bathroom, you collapse.  As your
husband rushes past you, you plunge headfirst into
your mourning.  But it is your golden daughter you
grieve, the blonde hair, the blue eyes.  The
behaviors you want for your own.

Your own eyes stare straight and blue.  Glassy with
loss.

Eyes are the mirror to the soul.  You shut yours,
turn your face away, and cry.
Kathie Giorgio's first novel, The Home For Wayward Clocks,
was recently released by Main Street Rag Publishing Company.
New stories are forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review,
Lalitamba, Karamu, Alimentum, Epiphany, and Fogged Clarity,
and a poem will be published in a Fearless Books anthology on
sexuality. Her short stories can be found in Harpur Palate,
Fiction International, Dos Passos Review, Thema, CutThroat,
Bellowing Ark and many other journals, as well as anthologies
from Papier Mache Press, Main Street Rag Publishing Company,
EBibliotekos, and Susurrus Press. She is the director and founder
of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, and publishes Quality
Fiction magazine. She also teaches for Writer's Digest.