The christening takes place early in the morning, when the sun is still too shy to warm up the place, but not so early that the guests can see their own breath. Bea holds the child stiffly, waiting for the priest’s blessing and hiding her still soft belly behind her daughter’s skirts.
Little Bella cries when the holy water touches her red curls and old Severí, the town’s oldest neighbor, laughs and whispers, “That little girl… Soulless, like her mother. And no reflection, either.”
“You old curmudgeon,” whispers his neighbor in turn, a woman almost as old as him, “don’t be rude. Isabella is a beautiful baby.”
“Beautiful she is, but soulless. We’ve never had redheads here. Never. But somehow Eudald thought to marry one. And from the city, no less! She’s pretty, of course, but everyone knows she’s a bit odd.”
The old woman smiles and gently pats his knee before fixing her gaze on a weeping Bella. The christening ends. Severí stands up with the help of his faithful cane and offers his arm for the woman to take.
Marina is an atheist. It’s a secret, of course, because she’s still sixteen and she lives with her grandparents. But that does not alter the fact that a year, three months, and seven days ago (dates are important, someday she will have to write her autobiography) she decided she was going to be an atheist and, for that reason alone, Bella’s christening feels like an enormous bore.
She loves babies, she really does, but her niece has to be the most annoying child she has ever encountered—what a crybaby! So, when the christening is over, and just so she doesn’t have to hear that annoying wail, she tries to be the first to leave. It’s not easy. It’s impossible, actually, since the whole town seems to fill the little church.
Nana takes her by the elbow just as they’re about to leave through the main aisle.
“Wait, love, don’t be in such a rush. We’ll wait for your brother.”
She means to protest, but is it worth it? Nana gets so annoying when Marina tries to act like the teenager she is.
Finally, Eudald and Bea reach their side and, with them, little Bella. She’s a beautiful child, brown-eyed and auburn-haired, her whole head lit like a flame. Bea, in contrast, looks paler than ever.
“Are you feeling under the weather, love?” asks Nana, but Bea just shakes her head and everyone pretends they cannot see the bags under her eyes and the soft green tinge of her skin.
Eudald has mentioned once or twice that Bea is acting a bit strange, that she loses track of time dully staring at her daughter, counting her fingers, caressing her chubby tummy. Nana says it’s normal—some mothers go a bit bonkers because of their hormones, but she should be back to normal in no time. Gramps is not so sure, though.
“He should’ve married one of ours!” he likes to mutter. “Cabré’s girl, huh… She had some thighs on her, that girl. Perfect for breeding. Should’ve married Mariona Cabré, he should’ve. Poor fellow…”
“Let’s go,” says Nana, throwing Marina a little smile, “I’ve got the maid in the kitchen with the snacks, but I don’t want her to touch my cannelloni. Such a beautiful christening, wasn’t it, love?”
Marina nods. She’s ten years younger than her brother; seven years younger than Bea, as well, so they rarely spend time together, but sometimes her sister-in-law’s pregnant silence is so much more bearable than her Nana’s superfluous chatter.
“Bella looks great,” Marina tells her sister-in-law as they exit the church and begin descending the stairs.
“She’s fat. I’d eat her up.”
“Yeah, she’s a chubby baby. And so cute!” she adds, caressing the baby’s cheek with careful fingers.
“I’d take a bite.”
“Her tummy!” Marina says.
There’s a cloud over Bea’s head, dark and heavy with rain, but Marina hopes it will soon pass.
“I’d eat her up as well,” Marina says, and Bea smiles like she’s hiding a secret.
“Her eyes prevent you from doing so.”
There’s a single bar in town. Juan Carlos has worked there for the last twenty years and he knows everyone. He knew Eudald’s parents before they died in a car accident, he knows Marina and, of course, he knows Bea and Bella. He’s the child’s godfather.
A christening is a popular affair where everyone is affected in some way or another. It’s the 90’s, after all, and the town is still a town, with a little forest and everything. Your neighbors are your friends, sometimes even your family, and, if there’s a party, you bet you’re going to be invited regardless of your surname. Juan Carlos, like any good godfather, runs to the bar as soon as the christening ends, stacks beers, champagne, and sodas in a couple of cardboard boxes, and runs towards the little house on top of Circumval·lació street sweating profusely despite the chilled morning air.
He really likes Eudald’s wife: she’s not only pretty but rich as hell, and every Thursday she gathers her college friends in Juan Carlos’ bar and pays for three rounds of coffee and pastries. She drunkenly sings Lluís Llach with no shame, laughs like a hyena, and kisses her husband until he’s red in the face from her lipstick. Juan Carlos is a married man (fifteen years this next summer!), but sometimes he wishes he were twenty years younger to steal that woman for himself.
Inside the house, everyone is eating croquettes from white trays. Eudald is in the kitchen and, upon seeing Juan Carlos, thanks him for the refreshments.
“I’m the godfather, I better make the party worth it. We don’t want people to say it was a bore. Where are the missus and the kid, by the way? I want to see the baby.”
“Who knows what Bea is up to? She’s losing it, I think. She’ll coo at the baby one moment, mumbling about how she just wants to take a bite out of her chubby tummy, and break out crying the next moment because of the baby’s fat.”
“I mean, the kid’s quite fat, but it’s not worth crying over.”
Just then, Juan Carlos sees Bea across the room with the baby in her arms. That red hair of hers reaches her shoulders, curled in thick ringlets like a princess. They look just the same, mother and daughter. She takes the stairs slowly, whispering softly in her daughter’s ears, and Juan Carlos smiles—Bea’s just so pretty, even when she’s sad.
Bea’s not sad, she’s just curious. She cries because she’s afraid. Her daughter’s beautiful, so pretty and chubby… Her daughter’s cheeks are the perfect shade of pink, her tummy is soft like an animal’s, her fingers are always sticky with saliva… Her daughter’s fat, she smells good, and her hiccups make her motherly heart skip a bit.
When Bea sees her, she has to force herself to lock her jaw, her fists close without permission, and the only things she wants to do is press, and press, and press until something breaks. That’s why she never stares at the baby while she’s sleeping.
But that day, after the christening, her damned mother-in-law makes her take the baby upstairs to put her to sleep, and no one—not her father-in-law, of course, that old grouch, who only knows how to talk about Mariona Cabré; not Marina, too busy being her annoying little self; and not her husband, the bastard, who only looks away from his beer to complain about her strange behaviour, as if she doesn’t already know she’s completely losing her mind—is willing to do her the favour of putting the child to bed.
They all think they’re doing her a favour by forcing her to spend time with Bella. The more time she spends with the child, the sooner she’ll go back to being her old self, they say.
So Bea takes Bella upstairs and puts her to sleep, and now that her little eyes are closed, now that she’s looking at her sleeping form, now that she sees those cheeks, and that soft tummy, and those grubby little fingers, and those chubby thighs… Oh, she’s so curious! She kisses the warm skin of her belly, kisses, and kisses, and kisses, and there! A bite! Softly, in the beginning, but she’s just so sweet, so soft, so juicy… They’re all downstairs, eating Nana’s cannelloni, and, God forgive her, but it’s too late now— someone else should’ve put Bella to sleep.
The skin breaks under her teeth, the baby cries, and the blood flows red from her lips to her chin to her dress. She can’t stop eating. She was so hungry… so eager to chew her up. Oh God, oh God! She doesn’t taste as good as she’d imagined.