“Again. Slower. Why did she go to… punishment,”
“Jail,” I said.
“Yes, same thing,” he said. This was our third year having these beach-side discussions. This year I felt ready for his Socratic mind games. Every May my family rents a condo in Oak Island, NC. Every year since I turned 12, he’s come to talk. Only to me, he said. Only on my night beach walk.
“You wouldn’t like me during the day,” he said. I believed him. I didn’t much like the looks of him at night. It was like walking next to a web. The rare times we passed other beach walkers he plopped into the water as if gravity snatched him. In the black waves he’d float along, and as soon as we were alone he’d rise again and match my stride with his.
He took no notes, but I’m sure he was recording because sometimes he asked me to repeat a phrase, swiveling his head so my lips were close to the thing that looked like an undulating heating vent on his neck.
“Why she leak?” He said.
“Because she’s going to jail for killing her baby,” I answered.
“On my planet we can kill who we wish,” he said, “We are similar species, you and I.”
“We are not allowed to kill each other.” I said. I didn’t mean to sound haughty. I could swear he snorted, an alien snort.
“Of course you are. 1,300 humans are killed every day by their human counterparts, and you collectively cull 125,000 offspring a day. Why does this one go to punishment for doing what you do every day?”
“You mean kill, and it’s not the same.” I said.
“To cull is to selectively slaughter on a large scale. I stand by my word. ”
I sighed. “People who kill other people go to jail, but with babies, it’s the mother’s decision.”
“I don’t understand why a mother can make that decision sometimes and not other times. This leaky one should be rewarded for taking time to think it over.”
“Look, I don’t expect you to understand, but being pregnant is no walk in the park. While that baby’s inside the mother, it’s the mother’s business.”
“Like excrement. It doesn’t bother anyone while it’s inside. Once it comes out, everyone makes a stink about it… Haha! My first wit… makes a stink… but I think I finally understand. Your offspring and your excrement are interchangeable until such a time as… at what point do they become different?”
The waves were cold against my ankles, the little shells piled up in a tide pool. I walked with cupped feet to protect my arches from the sharpened bodies of the sea. The alien and the ocean were always one. Effortlessly, he glided along beside me. I was beginning to hate him.
“Does your planet have a lot of water,” I asked.
“Oh yes,” He wrapped a clear tendril around my arm. I felt the slither go around several times. “Does this subject make you uncomfortable? I’m just trying to understand. If it was hers while it was inside to do with as she pl–”
“Look, I don’t know how it goes on your planet, but here on Earth babies cost a ton of money; they require 18+ years of sacrifice and they bust you up like an egg on their way into the world. Women shouldn’t have to put up with that if they don’t want to.”
“I agree. You should be able to kill your offspring any time you wish, until they no longer depend on you. Eighteen, yes?”
The alien rose up, a twenty-foot high wall of water that hissed and foamed and threw arcs of spray. I was drenched. He still had my arm in a frothing grip.
“Foolish human! Time doesn’t change essence. I am me: today, yesterday, and tomorrow. You are you. The passage of time does not alter matter. If you can kill at six weeks old, you should be able to kill at six years old, even sixteen years old. Until you’re free of the little buggers.”
My guts melted like when I’m caught in a lie, but I had to make him see; I had to defuse him. Never before had I seen him like this: dangerous. I willed my voice to be a solid fist over the surf. “The difference is, a baby feels it. The bunch of cells inside a mother… there’s no there, there.”
The rushing water arched over me, blocking out the night sky.
“How do you know the baby doesn’t feel it?” He said, “If I slice off your head in .45 of a second, you won’t feel it either. And you’re a bunch of cells, are you not? The only difference is the passage of time, which means nothing. I have already told you this. I thought we were alike, you and I, but I’ve come to a different conclusion. You humans: I wonder if there’s any there, there.”