Telling Tales 35
The stump-baby tried to look all around, but his neck was a solid piece of wood and couldn’t move. Only his eyes could shift, side to side and up to down.
“Can you hear me?” asked the father. “Blink if you can understand what I’m saying.”
The stump-baby blinked.
By now it looked a great deal like a small child, albeit a smooth and polished light green one with gray burls at his joints and the grain growing outward in the direction of his limbs. The innkeeper’s wife had not seen the carving that her husband had done in some days, so it was with surprise and fear that she came into the stable seeking him, and found him with his carving knife, drawing a line across an infant’s neck. “What are you doing?”
“Come here,” he said without stopping his task, and completed the cut across the front, ear to ear, before proceeding with the back. “It’s our baby, the one that I found for us.”
The woman approached slowly, for a madman with a knife is not someone to be ignored or taken for a fool. He is unpredictable. Her concern vanished, however, when the stump-baby blinked again. “He’s alive,” she said.
“Of course,” said her husband, and completed the cut across the back of the baby’s neck. “Can you move your head now?”
And across the cut – paper-thin for it was a fine, sharp knife – the stump-baby turned his head. Left and right. Up and down. The wood creaked with its movement, protesting across the grain. “You need some oil to soften you up,” said the mother, “not just to give you clean skin.” She went inside and returned with small cloths fine oils and rubbed it deep into the cut along the baby’s neck. By now the father had made further cuts at the shoulders and legs as well, and she oiled those, too.
She worked the oil along his joints and along his throat. The father made a cut for the stump-baby’s mouth, right between the lips, and the mother tucked an oil-soaked rag into the opening, forcing it farther open every day, until one day it was wide enough for the stump-baby to cry.
And cry he did. Long, loud cries they were, almost unbearable for the emotion they carried.
“He’s hungry,” said the mother. “Look how big he is, and he’s never eaten so much as a scrap of food.”
“He’s thirsty,” said the father. “He hasn’t had a drop to drink.”
While the mother searched for something for the baby to eat, the father poured – very gently for a man who’d only the day before cut a line across the stump-baby’s neck – in fact, he dripped water into the stump-baby’s mouth. The baby drank greedily, until his little belly was just as fat as his father had carved his little arms and legs. By the time the mother returned with bread and mashed vegetables and milk, he was beginning to cry again.
“What did you do to him?” she asked.
“I gave him water to drink,” said her husband. “Look at all that food! He can’t eat all that!”
“We don’t know what he’ll eat, now, do we?” she retorted. “He doesn’t have teeth, that’s clear enough, but he’s bigger than a newborn. He’s sitting up on his own.”
Which was true. The stump-baby was sitting up on his own. He rejected the bread. He accepted the vegetables. He drank the milk. He didn’t seem satisfied, but even stump-babies get tired.
“What will we feed him when he wakes?” they wondered.