In the style of “Welcome to Night Vale“…
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She first sees the billboard truck slowly circling the traffic rotunda on the street outside her tiny apartment, and she is unnerved by it.
There is nothing unnerving about the truck itself. It is a smallish General Motors delivery vehicle, colored in hues of green and rust. The payload is the thing that bothers her. The truck carries information, perhaps the most dangerous of all cargo. In large, block letters, the billboard on the bed of the truck proclaims the following message: “THIS IS WHAT YOUR BABY LOOKS LIKE THREE MONTHS AFTER CONCEPTION.”
She is unnerved. This is not because she hadn’t been planning on bringing her baby to term. Despite the fact that she is a single mother, in poor financial straits, the thought hadn’t even occurred to her. She is unnerved because the image accompanying the message is one of row after row of metallic teeth, set in a circular pattern, not unlike a lamprey. Interspersed between the rows of teeth are rows of glittering blue eyes, as though the creature was designed to be able to get a very good look at what it was biting, while in the process of biting it, possibly for reasons of enjoyment.
The truck continues to navigate the roundabout, and soon she is able to see the other side of the billboard, which is different. The message on the other side of the billboard reads, “THIS IS WHAT YOUR BABY SOUNDS AND SMELLS LIKE THREE MONTHS AFTER CONCEPTION.” This time, no referent is given, save for a large black arrow pointing at the truck itself. The sign apparently implies that, three months after conception, “your baby” sounds like a clattering assembly of thousands of iron parts, and smells of unburnt diesel fuel vapor.
She crosses to her thrift-store desk and with cold fingers begins sifting through the pile of important documents there until she discovers the ultrasound images from her recent well-baby examination. She takes comfort from the picture she finds of the tiny, perfect human growing inside her. She prepares a simple dinner, all for herself; showers; and settles in for bed, the comforting images occupying a prominent place on her nightstand.
When she wakes in the morning, the truck is still circling the traffic rotunda. When she leaves her apartment en route to her part-time job in the typing pool of a local law office, the truck is still circling. It is still circling when she arrives back home, and it is still circling when she settles back in for bed. She does not know how often light trucks have to refuel. It is one of many important facts she does not yet know.
When she wakes in the morning, the truck is still there. Over her morning hot chocolate (she cannot stand the smell of coffee here in her first trimester) she commiserates with her downstairs neighbor about the clanking vehicle.
“Oh, I know,” says her neighbor, helping herself to a second cup of cocoa. “All that smoke and noise, and for what?”
“I guess they’re trying to send some sort of message?” she says.
“I can’t imagine what it’d be,” says her neighbor. “It’s just a big blank sign, after all.”
She does not finish her cocoa.
Five minutes later, she is standing on the curb near the roundabout, shouting out to the driver of the billboard truck and waving her ultrasound photos in the air.
“Do you see these?” she screams, as the truck passes. “This is what my baby looks like!”
And then, the truck stops. With a shrill, repeated beeping noise, it begins to back up, in defiance of traffic roundabout etiquette. The driver leans out of the cab. She is not certain how to describe him, other than that he has a mustache, but no upper lip to wear it on.
“Keep in mind,” remarks the driver, “you’re not at three months yet.
“And besides,” he continues, “it wouldn’t matter anyway. He only looks the way he does in those pictures because he knows you’re watching.”
That night, she lies in bed, clutching the ultrasound photographs to her chest. Her New Baby guide tells her that before two years of age, infants do not have a sense of self. If this is the case, she reasons, then a baby cannot know that it is observing itself, because it does not know that it is an observer.
She wonders what an infant sees when it looks in the mirror. Does it see a little, perfect, human child? Or does it see a whirling collection of hard iron teeth, reeking of oil-smoke…
…the same thing we all would see if we looked at ourselves in the mirror, save for the fact that we all know that we are watching us?
This message brought to you by Skittles. Skittles! Taste… the rainbow.