Rate of Growth

by Lindsey Drager
Rate of Growth by Lindsey Drager

The giant’s lips were chapped when his father sat him down to explain how to calculate rate. This was at the kitchen table and during the autumn of his eighth year. Distance divided by time, the equation went, and his mother accidentally dropped a plate when she heard her husband tell him this, the proof he was too big. The evidence had come years earlier, when he was three and his parents bought him a puppy. It was when the boy’s father realized his son was growing more quickly than the dog that something struck them as wrong.

The giant’s mother had lost her first child to a miscarriage. When the doctors explained to her what had happened, she thought of the black frosts that plagued her family’s tomato plants when she was young. On nights when an unexpected cold hit, the family would worry about the plants getting sick, but in the morning there was no frost on their skin. It was only weeks later when they cut the tomatoes open that the black insides were exposed. From the taut skin of her stomach, the giant’s mother looked ripe, but her first child had been a black frost baby.

When her husband and son returned from that first doctor’s visit, she told the child to take the dog out and dried her hands on her apron, put her wedding ring back on. She was sitting at the kitchen table when her husband told her about their son’s condition and she cursed her body under her breath, thought of the first child she’d lost. She looked out the window where her son was wrestling with his dog and remembered the arithmetic maxim he would one day have to learn: the product is greater than the sum of its parts.

As the years passed, her son grew exponentially. She often thought about the fact that this man once fit comfortably inside her, a pit in fruit. How do cells multiply, she’d wonder to herself, what prompts their progress? And how does a body know when to stop growing?

It is his lips that have always fascinated her, lips that were thicker than her husband’s thumbs. Lips from which came a voice larger and darker than the sky.

Years after the giant had left his parents’ house, his dog developed its own disease, a disorder that caused her to chew herself raw. There were spots of blood on the eggshell carpeting where the dog had sat to gnaw, and the giant’s mother would scrub hard to get rid of the stains, scrub until her arms ached.

One evening her husband came home early with a pot of flowers. When he entered their bedroom, he saw her on the ground, frantically scrubbing in waves. He took her arm and she told him, gasping between sobs, that she could not escape size; the harder she scrubbed, the larger the stain became.

Lindsey Drager holds an MFA from the University of Illinois. She is a 2012 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize finalist.