The baby was born with red hair. Also, an abnormally large hole. There is a birth certificate; there are many pictures. All the evidence exists, if you need it.
“Not to worry,” said the doctor. “Everyone’s different. She’s a beautiful baby.”
The hole would close up at some point – all holes did. Still the mother worried, comparing it to the holes she saw on other babies: quarter-sized gaps in palms, a pint glass circumference in a thigh, a space just a little bigger than a piercing in an earlobe. The baby’s hole looked nothing like the other holes she saw.
“It’s not normal,” the mother would say. The fabric of every onesie lay loose and slack over the baby’s belly with its hole the size of a saucer. “What will people think of us?”
But the doctor, at each check-up and vaccination, just ran his fingers around the hole, making the baby laugh, and nodded. “She’s fine. Don’t worry.” There are vaccination records.
At the end of the baby’s first year, they moved to be closer to the mother’s family. Her parents and friends adored the baby, who was so calm and light she could be put on a lap and nearly forgotten about. The father, unemployed, stayed home with her. He drank often, but not too much. Every morning he took her to the bakery and the park. Sometimes they met the mailman, from whom the baby hid despite his attempts to charm her. Sometimes the woman at the bakery gave the baby a buttery, sprinkled cookie. The father expected the hole to close up while the baby looked sparkling back at the woman behind the counter or hid from the mailman behind her chubby hands, or best case, while he pushed her on the swings. There are stories about the mailman, the baker, the swing set. But the hole did not close up in the baby’s second year.
The baby, and they assumed this was because of the hole, started talking late, and used few words. All the mother’s friends had normal babies, normal children, normal lives with no problems and happiness all the time forever. At the mother’s insistence, the doctor – the new doctor – gave her a referral for a psychologist who would test the baby.
“If they say she’s special needs, we’ll get government assistance,” said the father, still unemployed, drinking more. The mother thought everyone should have regular needs. That year, the father spent days unable to leave the bedroom. He kept the baby in the bed with him or put her in front of the television. The baby passed the test, was normal. Everyone was normal. There is a record of the baby’s test results.
The baby turned three and someone brought a human-sized inflatable banana wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt to her party. Everyone watched to see if the hole would close up at the sight of it, but it did not. It was still a good party. They took pictures of the baby’s reaction, the hole a faint outline under her shirt. In the background, the father is smiling and holding a beer.
“Do you think she knows the hole is there?” the mother asked one night when the baby was sleeping and the father was sober. The mother’s frettings got on the father’s nerves. As did the baby’s growing language, her ability to make more and more inane desires known.
“She doesn’t know anything,” he said. “That’s the point.”
What the baby had done on the day she stood crying at the top of the stairs remains unknown. It must have been very bad, because the father screamed at her from the bottom of the stairs. She cried for her mother and he screamed that her mother wasn’t there, that only he was there. His face was red and he spit when he shouted. She clutched her blanket to her side, she stuck her fingers in her mouth, the light fell through the window in an afternoon way. Pain rippled through her body as the hole finally sewed itself shut.
That night, the baby lay in bed holding the place where the hole had been, terrified, not knowing how she was meant to go through the rest of her life without it. There was too much flesh now. She was too much body. Now, when things hurt, she would have to feel it forever: the only record invisible, the only evidence inside.