In the white circle of his mother’s arms Ellis is an unlovely child; sour-mouthed, ill-tempered, sullen. His father’s face swims into view, watery eyes under jutting eyebrows over a gap-pored nose and flaccid chin. His mouth opens and closes and inside it is dark and wet and unpleasant. His mother speaks and her voice creaks, rusted raw with the red push of his birth. He hates it. If he had any strength in his arm he would beat her until she fell silent. He tries to bellow and manages a whimper scarcely louder than the creaking of the bedsprings under them. A white hand rises, unbuttons a white blouse, exposing a pimpled breast topped with a bruised nipple. His eyes squeeze shut in baffled fury. His father makes noises, mocking noises, and a horrible ratchety sound he only slowly realizes is laughter. He bites his mother as hard as he can and she runs chapped and callused fingers gently over the tender skin of his head. He sleeps in spite of himself, and in his dreams he remembers everything he was, everything he has lost, and wakes knowing he was born to forget. If he were stronger he would kill himself; instead they mock him and feed him and he sleeps again, helplessly.

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