The Pricklet, by Mazin Saleem, is a tiny book – a noveletta. Described as a companion piece to the author’s novelette, The Prick, this short story is told from the point of view of a baby as he develops from newborn to toddler. Make no mistake, there is nothing cute about the protagonist. As is their wont, this small human is entirely self absorbed as he tries to navigate an existence that is constantly changing in ways he often resents and is trying to make sense of.
At the opening of the tale the baby’s needs are met through the supply of his mother’s milk. Parents are referred to as Tits and NoTits. Baby cannot understand the point of NoTits as none of the ‘good stuff’ is supplied by him. Baby dislikes when NoTits seeks attention from Tits. By making noise, this situation can mostly be rectified. Descriptions are graphic with no gloss or attempt to make any of the bodies appear attractive. Baby’s wants are focused on being filled up with delicious milk.
As time passes things change, and not for the better. Baby is put in a barred box, alone. Tits has the temerity to leave him in a place with other babies and making noise doesn’t bring her back immediately. Baby is trying to work out the differences between Tits and NoTits and what this means for him. He is trying to interpret the meaning of noises his parents make and why they sometimes stop him exploring the differences in their bodies by touch. The noises they direct at each other also raise emotions that can be difficult to interpret. He is shocked when they first shut a door to separate themselves from him.
A crisis occurs when Tits denies baby her milk. What is the point of her if she will no longer supply what he wants?
The directness of the descriptions can at times appear unpleasant but it is fascinating to consider why this might be. Issues raised offer much to consider, especially in the expectations parents have of their young offspring on whom changes are imposed without explanation. Baby’s demands are selfish but also a futile grasping for agency.
Baby’s views of the roles of Tits and NoTits change over time. It is disturbing to think that this could plant the seeds of future gender bias.
A short but imaginative tale offering a fresh lens through which to observe behaviours during the early months of life. We may never know how babies actually think at this stage in their development, but it is interesting to ponder if it could be like this.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Open Pen.