None of Niobe’s Children Shall be Spared

for, among others, Heather Emmons

She was a beautiful baby even when she was being born. Even then. Even shiny and slick with mucus and blood she was a beautiful baby. The doctor who delivered her — whose hands were the first to touch her when she slipped into the cold and garish world — rejoiced to see her. She turned to laugh with one of the nurses, and found him still as frost. Her legs had slipped from her mother and sprawled in the air. Her twelve legs, all perfectly formed, all healthy legs, pink and perfect as the rest of her. As perfect as that. She was smaller perhaps that she had seemed when floating so remotely in the womb, and smaller really than she seemed with such a tangle of legs.

“Ma’am…,” said the doctor. “Uh, your daughter–“

She began to cry, a bright, robust wail. Her mother glanced up from her magazine; she was reading an article on the preservation of the Hopi way of life. “My, that was fast,” she said. “Much faster than the other two. How marvelous!”

The nurse clattered to the floor, unconscious.

“Goodness,” said her mother. “You’d think he’d never seen a birth before. Her name is Sitala.”