“Understand this,” the narrator of Adam Byko’s “Inheritance” commands in the opening line: “My father was born with a bullet in his head.” A brilliant opening line for a brilliant speculative story that explores the physical manifestation of the sins of our ancestors. Sink into “Inheritance” below, our New Voices story for this week.
At sixteen, my father took a straight edge razor to his forehead. He dug at the bullet, hand unsteady from the pain. Blood streamed down his nose, splattered on the pale blue carpet of his bedroom. My grandmother would find him unconscious, maimed and puddled on the floor.
Understand this: My father was born with a bullet in his head.
My father came into this world late and screaming. This was 1953, inside the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, off the New Brunswick trolley line. My grandmother panted in her bed, blinded by her labor. The nurse only noticed after bathing the child. Flecks of blood swirled down the drain, the tender stump of the umbilical cord shriveling in the water. Skin pink and soft except for the grey bump pebbling in the infant’s forehead, right between the eyes.
The nurse noticed, but she did not understand. She assumed a defect, maybe an infection. It wasn’t until my grandfather entered the room, observed his son snuffling quiet in the bassinet, that anyone realized the true nature of the child’s condition.
“Отчего?” he cried out. “This cannot be. He is an innocent.”
The nurse ushered my grandfather out into the hall. She could only parse every other word, my grandfather lapsing between Russian and heavily accented English, but guessed the lamentations concerned the deformity in the baby’s skull. The severity of the reaction, the depth of my grandfather’s shock, seemed out of proportion to the injury.
“Sir, please calm down. It’s probably just a minor cosmetic condition. I’m sure we’ll be able to clean it up if it doesn’t go away on its own.”
My grandfather waved off the nurse’s comfort. Squinted the water out of his eyes, straightened his suit jacket.
“Nyet. No. This, this is not a thing that will go away. Not on its own.”