By Attila Zønn
Ivar sat on the roof, and in the early morning darkness, he waited.
Perched in mute attention, a patient bulk that absorbed the eastern sky, inwardly exhilarated by the anticipation of what he hoped would happen. Outwardly, his expression was unflinching, a safe indifference.
A fly buzzed around his head. Attracted by the larger being’s odor, it searched for a place where it could land to suck what nourishment it could loosen from Ivar’s skin. Ivar snatched it from around his ear, heard it buzz inside his fist, then ate it.
A sigh escaped into the chilled air and billowed. The air was sharp to inhale, as yet untouched by the sun’s rays. It enveloped him and sprouted goose-flesh on his bare arms.
No amount of discomfort, however, could distract him this morning. He scratched his head, picked his nose and vented two quick farts.
He puffed his chest because there it was — a swelling glimmer, flickering in its infancy, cresting the tops of distant mountains. It quickly intensified, offering warmth, illumination and visual assurances to everything it touched. His brow twitched at the spectacle; its image doubly mirrored in his drooping black eyes.
As the light of a new day advanced, it chased the shadows from his face and revealed the grotesqueness of his form.
It was at this instant, with the sun showing the promise of a sparkling day, and like a duplicate of the previous morning, and the one before that, and forever it seemed — or at least since the day when he learned to climb onto the roof — that Ivar stood, as tall as his curved back allowed him, and with arms dangling like dead weights, he began to crow.
It was a guttural rendition that made the beasts on the farm awaken and ball in unison until the entire yard was the confused performance of an hideous symphony.
Ivar reveled in the power he possessed these mornings. He was a great conqueror and all he could see belonged to him! This was his rite and the solitary glee in his existence —
“Shut up!…Get down!”
That voice!—piercing and evil, it catapulted above the barnyard din and bashed his ears.
Its familiarity sickened him. Its pitch and serrated edge ripped through his simple soul and connected with memories of the back of the hand, or a precisely thrown rock or the whip. It’s rudeness startled Ivar from his glory.
He scampered down the slope, bounced onto a lower roof, and reaching its eave, turned to lay on his stomach. In a frenzied trial and error motion, he searched for the rim of the rain barrel with a long leg, found it, balanced himself, then jumped the extra three feet to land heavily onto a hard dried ground.
He grunted a greeting, addressing a thin figure standing by the bottom step of the farmhouse porch — Nathaniel, his father, who never looked at him directly and expected the same treatment in return.
Nathaniel was an old man, in his seventieth year, his skin tightly stretched on his skull as if being sucked inward by the cruelty he possessed, affecting the countenance of someone whose life-inflicted tribulations had somehow dehydrated any goodness that may have moistened his youth, creating a lashing soul of torment and misery. His eyes, now sharply visible through the shading beneath the brim of his hat, were bright green as he confronted his only child — his curse.
Behind him, and behind the bubbled mesh of the screen door, floated the face of a frail old woman. Her soft eyes cried and bathed Ivar with love, but in the same instant, as they locked onto the back of Nathanial’s head, their roundness changed to slits of cold regard and loathing. Her’s was a life of mute hatred and silent sufferance. This was Ivar’s mother and she too succumbed to Nathanial’s corporal discipline, for, in his punishing mind, she was also responsible for the miserable path his life had taken.
“Slop the hogs, you!” Nathanial barked and thrust a metal pail in Ivar’s direction. It clanged when it struck the ground, kicked up a puff of dust, then rolled on its side. Ivar grunted and extended a massive hand to seize it by its stiff wire handle. He turned and stooped away, swinging the pail like a pendulum, forcing it to squeak. He hummed as he went to work; a nasal utterance, like his speaking voice, when he used it, which was not often. A grunt and a scratch was as good a vocabulary as he would ever need within the confines of this place.
He went about his morning; mooed at the cows, grunted at the pigs, baa baa to the sheep, neighed at the horses and clucked with the chickens. And after his chores, Ivar climbed up to the hay loft where he slept and among the barn cats, he thought, and plotted the death of Nathanial.
Ivar looked at his hands and imagined them clasped around Nathaniel’s skinny neck. Many times as he stood behind his father—the old man unaware of his presence—his face flushed red as he envisioned the many ways he could end the old man’s life. And as the old man sensed someone behind him, turning back startled, the hatred left Ivar’s face in that instant, replaced with an away glance.
“Thou shalt honor they mother and thy father,” Nathaniel read from his sacred book, on those evenings after the meal, as the sun set, Ivar picking his teeth and listening from the porch steps, his mother knitting at the table across from Nathaniel.
Iver was born misshapen.
His arms were long, as were his legs, ending on disproportionately large hands and feet. On his torso, the midriff was non-existent. His buttocks joined directly with his upper body in a violent fusion. His crooked backbone protruded, pressing against his skin and revealing each vertebra, from its origin at the nape of the neck, over the hill of flesh that burdened his shoulders and down his short back. It was ornamented by a crown of reddish tufts, originating from the forest of red hair on his head then followed the path of his spine like a mane. And where, on any other child, the spine would end at the tailbone, Iver’s extended further, the length of a mature middle finger to form a tapered tail.
As the doctor pulled Iver from his mother, the moment overwhelmed him, and Ivar dropped to the floor. His body coated in the bloody slime of birth, the infant writhed and trembled under the warm golden rays of the kerosene lamps. He did not cry like a newborn babe, but wailed most melancholy. The doctor quickly gathered his things and rushed from the room without a word spoken, into the hall and down the staircase, two steps at a time. He savaged open the front door and leapt from the porch like a demon freed from saintly bindings. His buggy squeaked and thumped when he boarded. He snapped his whip and startled his napping nag. She whinnied and pounded frantically forward, the rhythm of her hooves quickly fading into the darkness, diminished by the distance erected between the doctor and the unnatural scene.
Isabel and Nathanial were left to deal with their creation. The euphoria Nathanial had felt since the conception was replaced by an uncontrollable fear, and emptiness within his bowels. The sight of the child they had waited so long to see filled him with a profound sickness and a brewing rage towards the Great Creator . . .