Read Karen Russell's short story 'Orange World', published in The New Yorker's issue June 4 & 11, 2018. I wanted to swipe away the page after the first five paragraphs. Newborns, breastfeeding and motherhood aren't topics that I'm interested in.
But I didn't mind Karen Russell's books (Swamplandia!, St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove), so I gave this short story a little chance. Another few paragraphs on, there was talk of an agreement with the devil, and of promises to keep Rae's geriatric pregnancy stable and her newborn son safe if it was fed milk. Then, the early morning feedings began, and Rae crept out to the storm drain to breastfeed the devil at 4.44am. Every morning.
Like clockwork, at 4:44, the devil appears, making itself out of fog and solidifying. Its tone has changed completely since the baby’s birth. No longer does it offer any green guarantees, promising safety to her child, her friends, her family. These nights it’s all red threat: Feed me, or else.
And when she revealed this to a moms' group, they didn't dismiss her ramblings. Most of them had met this 'devil', and Yvette insisted that it wasn't the real devil, and it was simply a minor devil which could be ignored. The moms told Rae that it appeared to every one in a different form, as a hawk, as a horse, a bear cub, a capybara. New moms Rae and Marie didn't know how to wean the devil off of these feeds, and it scared them.
There's quite a number of things going on in this story, but I'll take it as a rather fun horror tale. The ending is awesome. The moms in the group rallied around Rae, and she drugged the devil, and they captured it and put it in a large cat carrier, and it dissipated with the rising sun miles away from Rae's home. The Orange World is the author's idea of "a place suspended between overlapping realities", where all the worries of being a new mother reside. She put her own worries and confusion of her pregnancy journey and as a new mother into this story. The author wants Rae to move into the Green World, where it's a new landscape of ease, calm and happiness, and most of all, acceptance.
Yvette has convened a special meeting, Friday at 8 p.m., which feels like midnight to Rae. The co-op is closed, its windows shuttered. Six women sit around the table, Old Moms with demonic experience. The seventh woman is another New Mom, Marie. She and her wife run the piano store on Franklin; Yvette put her in touch with Rae. Sometimes they meet at the park, trotting behind their strollers like bleary centaurs. Marie has also been feeding the devil, in a ditch behind the Windy Grove apartments.
Shyly, Rae asks the Old Moms, “Did you bargain with it, too?” A torrent of stories follows. What this devil once promised to do for them: