Sam by Zack Graham
Jessica ordered the baby girl from China or Thailand or Korea (the Website hadn't specified). A stone-faced woman rang Jessica's doorbell, handed her the child and refused to accept a tip. Jessica named her baby Sam. Jessica's parents said how cute Sam was. Jessica's friends tickled Sam's belly, making Sam giggle. Sam preferred cottage cheese to baby food. Sam slept through the night most nights, and when she cried, she never cried longer than a minute or two. One day Jessica was at the grocery store when the cashier pointed at Sam and said, "her lips... don't you think they're a bit... low?"
When Jessica got home, she took Sam into the bathroom, turned on the lights and agreed that Sam's lips were abnormally close to her chin.
Jessica did a bit of research. Every child is special, the Internet said. Jessica felt relieved.
The following week, Sam's crying woke Jessica up at dawn. When she checked on Sam, she could have sworn that Sam's ears had drifted down the sides of her head.
A few weeks later, Jessica took Sam to the park to play. When Sam placed her hands on top of Jessica's, Jessica saw that Sam's fingers were twice as long as they'd been that morning.
Jessica decided to take Sam to the doctor.
The doctor conducted a thorough examination and concluded there was nothing wrong with Sam.
"Babies grow in the most unexpected ways," the doctor said. "Don't be surprised if one foot is twice as big as the other one day."
Reassured, Jessica continued to mother Sam, and tried to ignore the girl's drooping nose and wrinkling forehead, the way her eye sockets wandered further and further apart, the way her hands slid under her wrists.
One day Jessica put Sam in a hot bath and left the room to retrieve her phone. When she returned, Sam was gone. Jessica assumed Sam had somehow gotten out of the tub and crawled away, but she couldn't find her anywhere in the apartment. When Jessica returned to the bathroom, she saw two eyes, two ears, a nose and two lips floating in a splotch of beige liquid in the bath water.
Jessica couldn't believe it. She cried and cried. How was this possible?
She searched "melted baby," "melted child," and "why has my child melted?" on the Internet. No leads.
Unsure of what else to do, Jessica sucked the beige muck up with a turkey baster and deposited it into an ornate glass bowl. She covered the bowl with saran wrap (to keep the critters out) and put it under her bed.
Jessica was afraid to tell her parents. She was afraid to tell her friends. She combed over the Website for hours and hours trying to figure out what had happened. When she called the hotline, no one answered.
Jessica finally came up with a plan.
"Returned it?" her mother said over brunch, nearly spilling her mimosa.
"Yes," Jessica said. "Sam had severe behavioral issues. I consulted a number of experts. They said I didn't have the proper background to be her guardian."
"Infant trauma will almost certainly ruin a child," her father said. "I'm sure Sam has found a better home."
Jessica's friends were more disappointed than her parents. None of them had babies of their own. They pressured Jessica to get another one. Jessica refused.
On Sam's first birthday, Jessica took the bowl out from under her bed and set it on the kitchen table and stuck a candle in a cupcake and set it next to the bowl.
"Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Sam-my... Happy birthday to you."
As Jessica blew out the candle, she saw one of Sam's eyes blink where it floated in the bowl.
© Zack Graham, 2016
Zack Graham’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in Rolling Stone, Seven Scribes, The Cobalt Review, The National Book Review, and elsewhere. He grew up in Chicago and currently lives in New York, where he is at work on a collection of short fiction and a novel.
Sam was read by Heather Lee Rogers on 7th December 2016 for Dreams & Aspirations