Two Fictions

Jesse Ball


The Proper Technique

Approach the child quietly from behind. Snatch it up, obtaining a solid grip with both the right and left hands. Have the basin ready, and set about waist level. Strip the child of its clothing (if possible, see that the child is brought unclothed). Ignore any struggles, whines or shouts that may escape its mouth. Lift the child above the basin and make a short speech. Then, proceed with the dipping. Be sure to wear nothing that cannot get wet. For many a bold child will at this juncture splash and fume to such a degree that all the basin's water makes its way into the air. Should the child prove tractable, then dip it wholesale into the water. Make a slow count of three. Then, produce the child, raising it up principally by the grip of a single hand upon its left ankle. This is the traditional way. Others involve a gripping of the chin or wrist. These last are less effective, though time-honored as well. As the crowd surges up to praise the little thing, give it into the arms of its mother, stopping only to dry the child with a soft cloth which should be kept at hand.

Mother and Child, headless child, handless mother.

In the shop, the replacements were not to be found, though they looked and looked. Up and down the broad aisles, the servants went, examining every niche, every nook and cranny, trying desperately to find the section where spare hands and heads would be kept. For the butcher had been no help. The baker had provided only fortification for the coming search. And the tailor had directed them here, to the Miscellany Shop run by defrocked priests. A spare head for a child! Who would imagine ever being sent to fetch such a thing. And by a woman with only half a head herself. The very idea! If only the child were not so unfortunate and sad, missing its left arm and half of its right. Better that it had no head so that it might not look upon the sorry state of its lower regions. Then with a glad leaping shout, the youngest servant scurried up a series of shelves. Balanced upon the top shelf was a toy-soldier, the very proudest sort. Surely such a fine head as that would serve. And its arms as well. The servants jostled each other, running in haste up to the proprietor, pressing coin into his hand, and shoving their way through the crowded storefront to the wagon and home. How pleased she would be! thought the head-servant. What praise will come from these very lips when the child awakens, said the youngest one, holding in his filthy hands the brightly painted face. It was a good outing, thought they all in unison, and we are a fine lot of fellows. Surely the mistress must count us among her several blessings, if she should ever have a hand on which to count at all.

Jesse Ball is the author of The Way Through Doors (Vintage 2009) Samedi the Deafness (Vintage 2007), Vera and Linus (Nyhil 2006), Og svo kom nottin (Nyhil 2006), and March Book (Grove 2004). His work has appeared in domestic and international journals and also in 2006's Best American Poetry. He teaches methodical courses on lying and dreaming at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.