Conrad Treplet emerged from his mother wielding a tiny bayonet. The bayonet was sharp and the perfect size for a newborn boy. His mother, knowing such tools to be dangerous, ordered the bayonet to be disposed of immediately. The doctors tossed it in the bio-hazard can, not bothering to examine the extraordinary object. His father, who believed himself to be a man of great foresight, decided to hold onto the bayonet. He pulled it out of the can and stowed it in his overnight bag. There was no time to clean it off.
When Conrad wouldn’t stop crying no matter what his mother tried, the father pulled the bayonet out of his bag and handed it to the child. Conrad instantly fell silent, and gave a subtle facial expression that his mother construed as a smile.
When the Treplets left the hospital for home, Conrad held the bayonet in his arms and continued to hold it the whole car ride home. He didn’t fall asleep like babies usually do. His eyes were wide, fanatically fixed on the bayonet.
When they arrived home their neighbors were waiting on the porch with pale blue balloons and a bottle of Mrs. Treplet’s favorite wine. Before the neighbors could congratulate the couple on their adorable baby, Conrad popped the balloons with his bayonet. The neighbors were shocked. The bottle of wine slipped to the concrete porch and shattered. Red wine enveloped Mr. and Mrs. Treplet’s shoes.
“A baby with a bayonet,” the woman mumbled to the man as they scurried back to their house. “What awful parents.”
Mrs. Treplet asked her husband if they were indeed awful parents.
“We’re doing our best,” Mr. Treplet replied.
That first day they were home, the couple argued for hours about the bayonet and whether it should go in the crib with Conrad.
“It has to,” Mr. Treplet said. “It’s a part of him. It would be like asking him to sleep without his legs or hair or eyes or intestines.”
“It’s not a part of him,” Mrs. Treplet said. “It’s an accessory. A dangerous accessory. We can’t let him sleep with it. Look how sharp it is.” She held it up so he could see the shimmering blade. It was indeed sharp, but Mr. Treplet knew the only reason his wife didn’t want Conrad to sleep with it was because she hadn’t thought to keep it. She was just trying to show that she was right.
Mr. Treplet finally relented, mainly because he knew it would be easier to prove he was right if Conrad first tried going to bed without the bayonet.
“I’m glad you see it my way,” his wife told him.
Conrad refused to sleep without the bayonet. His wailing and whining sounded almost like a battle cry. Mr. Treplet shivered at the thought of his child seeking blood. He couldn’t keep the picture the red wine spilling all over the shoes out of his mind.
“I told you he needed the bayonet,” Mr. Treplet said.
For the next six months the routine was the same. Mrs. Treplet refused to allow Conrad to sleep with the bayonet. Alone in the crib, the boy cried and cried. Then once Mr. Treplet placed the bayonet beside the boy, Conrad snuggled up with the weapon and fell right to sleep, not making a peep until morning when they had to pry him out of bed—and the bayonet out of his hands.
It wasn’t until a year had passed that the couple noticed the bayonet was growing along with Conrad. For the next fifteen years, no matter how much Conrad grew, the bayonet fit perfectly in the boy’s hands. He continued to sleep with it, and he kept it at his side as much as he could. It was quite a battle, but the family made the decision that the bayonet must stay at home while Conrad was at school. This seemed to be in everyone’s best interest.
But every afternoon, as soon as Conrad rushed into the door from school, the bayonet was back in his hands. Sometimes he would spin it, sometimes he would stab at the air with it, sometimes he would go in the backyard and hunt lizards, sometimes he would just hold it and stare in the mirror and admire how good he looked. And he did look good. He was a natural with a bayonet.
It was no surprise when he turned eighteen and he told his parents he was joining the army. His mother was devastated, but his father had known all along that this was his boy’s destiny. At least that’s what he said to his wife.
“We both knew this would happen. It’s only natural,” he said. “Besides, it will be good for the boy. He can’t go into any other profession with that bayonet.”
Conrad shipped off for basic training three days after graduating high school. He packed lightly for the journey, bringing only a few pairs of underwear, some deodorant, and his bayonet. The bayonet was the only thing he wanted to bring, but his mother insisted he bring along a few other essentials. He couldn’t walk around smelly and naked with his bayonet. Conrad didn’t really see why not. That was how he was born after all.
When Conrad arrived at his training, everyone eyed the bayonet. The other trainees murmured about it. The commanding officers ordered him to get rid of it. They didn’t use bayonets anymore. Conrad was stunned by the reactions. The bayonet was the only thing that had ever given him comfort, yet he was also ostracized because of it.
No matter how much the officers heckled him, Conrad would not give up the bayonet. It was a part of him. They might as well ask him to lay down his ribcage. Before his first day of training was over, Conrad found himself discharged from the army. He’d never felt so alone and unwanted. The bus ride home was long and uncomfortable. He didn’t want to face the inevitable “I told you sos” from his mother. She’d wanted the bayonet gone from the beginning.
Conrad began to question the bayonet. It had to mean something. No one else had ever been born holding a bayonet, and no one else had a bayonet that grew as their body did. Surely it was a sign he was destined for something. But Conrad just couldn’t figure out what that something was.
After the bus dropped him off at the station, Conrad wandered the streets wondering what he could do. He held the bayonet like he’d seen the marines hold their guns and marched along the sidewalk until he came upon a man asking for some change. Conrad didn’t have any change to give him.
“Don’t you have anything you can give?” the man begged.
“All I have is this stupid bayonet,” Conrad told him. “It’s never done me any good though.”
The man stared at the bayonet. “That’s a nice bayonet,” he said after awhile. “I think I could use something like that.”
Conrad looked at the man, his clothes tattered, his soul broken. He didn’t know what good a bayonet could do a man like this.
“Can I hold it?” the man asked.
Conrad saw no harm in this, so he handed the bayonet to the bum. It looked good in his hands.
“Oh, I like this,” the man said. He stood at attention, just like the officers had asked Conrad to do. The man was a natural.
“Ever been in the army?” Conrad asked him.
“Not my style,” the man said. He started to march with the bayonet. Then he started to stab at the air. Conrad laughed.
“What’s so funny?” the man asked.
“It just looks a bit silly, a grown man stabbing at the air with a bayonet.” Conrad didn’t really think it was that silly, but it did look at least a little abnormal.
“So can I have it?”
Conrad thought for a moment. Could he really live without it? After eighteen years? Then again, maybe it was time for a change. It’s not like it had been a great eighteen years.
“Yeah, take it,” Conrad said.
“Thanks,” said the man as he stabbed at the air some more.
Conrad turned away and walked quickly from the man and his new bayonet. He didn’t want to think about the loss or his lack of place in the world. Instead he just thought about the future and how great it would be. But as he walked, he began to feel different. His hands felt empty. He looked down and noticed his body was shrinking. He kept walking, but his strides grew shorter and shorter, and soon he found he couldn’t walk at all. He began crawling, but soon his muscles wouldn’t allow that either. He tried to sit up for a moment, but fell forward. He rolled unto his back. He let out a wailing cry of hunger and tiredness and desperation and loneliness. He cried and cried and cried, but nobody ever came to help. His body curled up into a ball and soon he was floating. He would’ve wanted his bayonet, but he had forgotten it ever existed, and he had forgotten how to want. All of a sudden he had everything he needed. He was content.
When he had the strength, he rose and marched home. It felt good to walk with his hands free.
Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 100 online and print magazines and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His story “The Oaten Hands” was named one of 190 notable stories by storySouth’s Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, was released in July 2011 through MuseItUp Publishing. Visit him atwww.bartlebysnopes.com/ntower.htm
© 2012 Nathaniel Tower