A story by Giulia Sara Miori and translated from Italian by Isabella Corletto


The child is sleeping. Greta walks into the room without making any noise, determined to complete her task—she won’t fail this time, she’s sure of it. She looks at the blue walls, the white changing table, the organza curtains, the new dresser. Her mother had helped her lovingly pick out every detail of the décor: the wall color, the furniture design, the curtain fabric, the fixtures. They had redone the bedroom during the long months of her pregnancy to make it as welcoming as possible, but Greta isn’t sure about anything anymore: not the colors, not the décor, not the tiny sleeping body covered in layers of tulle. Picking the rag bunny up from the floor and squeezing it to her chest, she places it back on the changing table and walks across the parquet floor, careful not to make it creak, before stopping about a meter from the crib. She realizes then that she’s shaking. Greta gathers her strength and closes her eyes as her feet move mechanically, one step after another. The child is finally close enough that she can hear it breathe, and she reaches her hand out to touch him before slipping it back, overcome with dread. She walks to the window and leans against it before shutting the blinds and closing the curtains. You never know, she thinks. Finally, Greta runs her hand over her belly that had been deformed by pregnancy, and for a second she lets herself remember her inhabited womb. She walks out of the room and locks the door.

Roberto is reading on the armchair when the doorbell rings. Greta catches her husband’s eye and shakes her head, but he puts on his slippers and opens the door. From the living room, Greta can only hear fragments of a conversation. Thank you, Mrs. De Carli. You’re really too kind, you shouldn’t have bothered. They’re very beautiful. Really. Very beautiful. Don’t let her in, thinks Greta. I beg you, don’t let her in. Of course, says Roberto. Of course we’ll let you know. Thank you, she says, and the door closes again.

As soon as she sees the flowers, Greta thinks of a bad joke. Roberto takes the blue ceramic vase—the one they always use for anniversaries—fills it with water, removes the plastic around the flowers, and arranges them on the table in the living room. She watches him without saying a word.

“What are you looking at?” asks Roberto.

“Do you know what kind of flowers they are?”



“I didn’t know,” says Roberto before sitting back down on the armchair.

“They bring bad luck,” says Greta.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m telling you. It’s true.”

Greta takes a piece of newspaper and wraps the wet chrysanthemums in it before throwing them away and pulling out the black trash bag.

“Take them away,” she says. “I don’t want them here. There’s enough bad luck in this house.”

Roberto puts on his coat and takes the black bag down to the courtyard. Take him away too, Greta says to herself. For a moment, she thinks about the clean and organized room, ready to welcome the child, and shudders. They’re cute when they’re babies but then they go rotten, the nurse had told her. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen many times.

The phone starts vibrating on the table. Greta sees the word MOM flash on the screen. Why won’t she give up after three or four rings like everyone else?

“So, how’s it going?”

“It’s going well,” says Greta.

“From the sound of your voice it doesn’t seem like it.”

“I’m just a little tired.”

“When can I come?”

“Soon,” says Greta.

“That’s what you said last time, too.”

“I know, but—”

“What does Roberto say?”

“Nothing. What’s he supposed to say?”

“Fine. But is he helping you at least? Is he doing anything?”

She’s used to her mother’s comments, but they still sting. When she was about to walk into the church, dressed all in white and with a rose bouquet in hand, her mother had looked at her in the mirror and said: You still have time to change your mind.

“Don’t worry, Mom.”

“Of course I worry.”

“Really, there’s no need.”

“I just don’t know why you insist on doing everything by yourself.”

“I’m not by myself.”

“I could help you with the cleaning, at least.”

“I can assure you we’re managing just fine.”

“Fine. Do as you wish.”

“I just need to take it easy for a few days.”

“It’s been a week.”

“I know, but—”

“I’m free tomorrow.”

Greta flinches. “No,” she says. “Everything’s a mess.”

“I’m sure it is. I’m sure the house is a pigsty.”

“Mom, please.”

“Did you at least get him to latch?”

“Yes,” says Greta.

“And does he sleep?”

“Yes, he sleeps.”

“You haven’t even sent me a picture.”

“I’m sorry, I haven’t had time.”

“Greta, it’s normal for things to feel strange at first…”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

“Maybe so. But there’s something about your voice that I don’t like one bit.”

When she hangs up the phone, Greta notices that Roberto has looked up from his book and is staring at her.

“Sooner or later they’ll have to come see him.”

“Sooner or later,” she responds.

Greta opens her laptop and types the words NEWBORN PHOTOS into Google. There are babies of all kinds: blondes, brunettes, redheads, hairy ones, bald ones, wrinkly-faced ones, smooth-faced ones, and more. But one picture won’t be enough. She remembers then that one of her old high school classmates gave birth two months ago. She opens Instagram and scrolls through the pictures—there have to be at least a hundred, maybe more. She chooses the ones without a recognizable background and makes a folder on her computer titled CHILD. Out of the pictures that made the cut, she chooses five to attach to her message and hits send.

She’s suddenly startled by a moan that sounds like the rattle of a dying man. The bedroom door is wide open. Greta walks in and sees Roberto standing by the crib, holding the child in his arms and singing him a lullaby. She stands silently by the door and then forces herself to approach them, until Roberto notices her and stops singing.

“He’s hungry,” says Roberto.

“I’ll try to breastfeed him,” she says.

“I’ll get the bottle ready in the meantime.”

Greta gives him a dirty look. “Why should he take a bottle?”

“You’re the one who said he’s not eating.”

“We have to keep trying.”

Greta works up the courage and takes the child into her arms without looking at him. The room is dimly lit. This time, she’s wearing a pair of latex gloves, but the discomfort is still there.

“Leave me alone with him, Roberto.”

Greta tries inhaling and exhaling just like they’d taught her to do during the prenatal class and then sits on the sofa, unclasps her bra, and delicately positions the child’s head. She has more than enough milk, there’s no doubt about that. So much that her breasts ache and drops of foul-smelling milk leak out of her, staining her clothes. But every time she tries to get him to latch on to her breast, the child refuses her milk and begins to whimper, emitting those cries that give her goosebumps every time. Why doesn’t he cry like all the other children? She can stand looking at him, even touching him, but not hearing those cries. It’s really too much. My god, thinks Greta. It’s not fair that this misfortune has fallen on her. Maybe her mother had been right when she’d said that she wasn’t cut out for this. You’re too fragile, Greta. You aren’t like me. You aren’t strong. She should have called her. Called her and confessed. Asked her to come quickly. Yes, she should’ve called her. But what would she have said?

The phone vibrates. She reads the preview of the message on the screen: He’s really a beautiful child.

“Is the bottle ready?” asks Greta.

“I thought you didn’t want it,” says Roberto.

“I changed my mind.”

“Is he the one who’s…crying?”


“I’ll take care of it. Go rest.”

Roberto gets up again, takes the bottle, and makes sure the milk isn’t too hot.

“He may not be like the other children, but—”

“He isn’t.”

“He may not be the same, but he’s still our child.”

“Lock the door whenever you’re done.”


Greta had always known, even while she was pregnant. Despite the doctors’ reassurance, she could feel it. He’s a very normal child, ma’am, stop worrying. When she’d gone to the hospital for her first ultrasound, the doctor’s discomfort had been clear. He’d seemed hypnotized by the image on the screen, which had then prompted her to worry and ask him what was wrong. But he’d said no, there was nothing abnormal. And yet, everything about the way he’d said it—the uncertainty, the frighteningly cold tone with which he spoke, his absent gaze—seemed to suggest precisely the opposite. After that, she and Roberto had been met by a different obstetrician every time they had returned for tests or ultrasounds. If they asked for an explanation, they were always told that their previous doctor had had an emergency, so she’d be seen by someone else. Eventually, the only ones left were the medical students. She didn’t trust a thing they told her, but they never stopped reassuring her that the pregnancy was going as smoothly as it could.

Even once he was born, they’d told her that everything looked just fine, but she’d quickly realized that the child hadn’t cried. Why isn’t he crying? she’d asked. Everything’s okay, ma’am, the midwife had told her. Everything’s okay, the nurses had said. But the fact that the child hadn’t cried wasn’t normal. She knew it. It’s not normal that my child isn’t crying. The midwife had laughed heartily, as if even the thought was absurd. Just wait a minute and calm down, she’d replied, slightly irritated. And that’s when Greta had first heard the wail in the delivery room. And, truth be told, she’d felt scared. There, the midwife had said. Are you happy now? Your child is crying. He’s very healthy. In just a moment we’ll wash him off so you can hold him as much as you want. Greta had felt Roberto stroking her hair. She hadn’t had the courage to ask him anything.

“Did he take the bottle?” Greta asks, stirring the sauce.

“No,” says Roberto. “But the pediatrician said that this is normal in the beginning.”

She doesn’t say a word and keeps cooking. Roberto clears his throat and says, “Maybe you should be the one to hold him for a while.”

Greta turns down the heat and looks at him. “So you think I don’t want to hold him?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What are you saying, then?”

“Calm down, Greta.”

“You don’t think I’m a good mother?”

“Of course I don’t think that. I was only saying…”

“I know what you were saying.”

She finally turns to look at him. He’s standing there in his slippers, bottle in hand, wearing a felt sweater and looking like someone who had never paid attention to anything but work. If he had only made the effort to listen to her, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten to this point. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt so alone. Her mother was right: this man isn’t right for her. But as usual, she hadn’t listened. He’d seemed trustworthy—maybe a little boring, but trustworthy—and at first Greta had gladly put up with his silence and polite answers. She’d let him work in his study without ever bothering him, not even when she needed comfort. Really, she’d only married him to have a child. But she’d quickly realized that she was destined to only give birth to dead fetuses: she got pregnant easily, but then things would take an unexpected turn and the babies would die inside her, as if they had been suffocated by an inhospitable womb. She should have gotten the message and stopped trying, but she’d never lost her optimism until finally, after years of unanswered prayers, she had not only gotten pregnant but had carried the pregnancy to term. She’d been waiting for this child for seven years, and now the only thing she wants is to never have brought him into the world.

“I can’t even touch him.”

“Greta, he’s just a child.”

“No. He isn’t a child.”

“He’s a little different from the others, that’s it.”

“Stop acting like he’s normal.”

“The doctors say—”

“The doctors can say whatever they want.”

“They say he’s a very normal child.”

“He can’t stay here with us.”

“What do you mean?”

“There have to be some organizations…”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m deadly serious. Roberto, listen to me. That child cannot stay with us.”

That child has a name.”

Greta hears the intercom ring. Roberto lowers his gaze.

“I’m sorry, Greta, but she really insisted on coming.”

“My mother?”

She can’t believe he’d betray her like this. But he had.

Her mother’s voice floats in from the kitchen as her footsteps get closer. Greta’s hands are sweating, and as she thinks of ways to get out of this she sees her mother’s serious, delicately made-up face in front of her: her thin lips, her waxed eyebrows that she’s filled in with a pencil, the black coat that falls down to her feet, her nails that are painted a matte crimson red.

“Where’s the child?”

Greta doesn’t respond.

“I want to see him.”

“He’s sleeping,” Greta says.

Her mother goes straight to the bedroom. She jiggles the handle up and down, but the door doesn’t open.

“Why isn’t this opening?”

Greta starts to cry.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“Give me the key.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

Greta pulls the key from her pocket and hands it to her. Her mother walks into the room, closing the door behind her.

Greta’s legs are trembling now; her heart pounds against her temples. She presses her ear against the wall and thinks she can make out her mother’s voice speaking words in an unknown language—first it’s a whisper, and then the voice gets louder and louder until it becomes a monstrous noise, like the cry of a wounded beast. Greta pushes the handle up and down, up and down, up and down, but the door doesn’t open. It’s locked from the inside, it’s locked and there’s no way to get in, it’s locked and there’s no way to know where the sounds and screams are coming from, but Greta can hear it, she can clearly hear that there’s someone in that room. Someone’s in there, she yells, someone’s in the room, and she screams until Roberto comes and tries to open the door, first calmly and then by punching and shoving it as though trying to break it down. Greta hears her mother’s voice talking to a man and the sound of breaking glass and moving furniture and horrible screams and wails that seem like they’re coming from an abyss.

The house falls silent; the door opens. When Greta walks in, everything is just as she’d left it: the room is clean and organized, the glass on the windows is intact, the furniture is all in its place. Her mother is standing with her back to the door, half bent over the crib and singing a lullaby. Greta is sure she calls out, “Mom.” But when her mother turns around to smile at her, she can recognize her son’s icy gaze in her eyes.



Giulia Sara Miori
Isabella Corletto