Flash Fiction "And So it Begins" Contest: Up to 500 words, beginning with the following first sentence: "They say he was born without fingernails."

The Baby

By Cristina Henríquez

They say he was born without fingernails. Not that it mattered. Because at four months old, just as his crawling was in full bloom, his hands fell off. There was a thud. His mother looked from where she stood at the sink, peeling potatoes, to see her baby with his face pressed against the carpet, pushing himself along with his feet, like a propeller boat. She smiled lovingly and then she saw the hands, which at first she mistook for dropped potatoes, on the carpet as well, left in his wake.

On her lap, she carried the hands in plastic baggies packed with ice all the way to the hospital, her baby waving his newly-nubby arms in the car seat next to her.

The doctor gave her the bad news: they could not be reattached. The arms had already cinched at the wrists, and healed. The main problem would be crawling. He suggested a plastic disc, similar to a Frisbee, to put under the baby's cheek so he could glide along the carpet without rug burn.

At six months, the baby's feet came detached and he scooted himself with his knees. By the time he was a year old, his ears had whipped off his head and plopped into a lake during a boat ride while his mother held him by the railing. His hair had fallen out, and his arms were only shoulders.

Bedlam broke out in the town. One of the doctors at the local hospital wrote an article in a major medical journal that caused heaps of hoopla. The whole thing defied explanation. The baby was simply falling apart. Not that he seemed to mind, or even notice. But it was definitely happening.

In the town bank, someone started an intricate polling system where people could submit their best guesses for when the baby would lose a leg or a lip or an eyelid. Frightened residents moved away. And others, curious onlookers, moved in to be close to the disintegrating baby. The mother had nightmares about the last pieces of the baby turning to puffs of air in her hands. She bathed him in glue to keep everything stuck together.

Then it happened. The baby was gone. The mother went to the crib one morning and the last of the baby had dissolved. She went to the freezer where for two years she had kept the baby's hands in plastic baggies. They were covered with hairy, white frost. She drew one hand from the bag. But it melted, leaving water running down her arm. She put the other hand in her mouth and sure enough, it melted, too, frost water sliding down her throat. The last of her baby, back in her belly where once he had started.