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BloodLines: "The Mongolian Spot" by Kerri Sakamoto

We’ve partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a new literary series: BloodLines. Inspired by this year’s Massey Lectures by Lawrence Hill, Blood: The Stuff of Life, BloodLines features new fiction, nonfiction and poetry inspired by the theme of blood—written by ten Canadian writers who have won or been nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards.

In Kerri Sakamoto’s BloodLines piece, a birthmark foreshadows a troubling legacy for a newly adopted baby.

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“The Mongolian Spot” by Kerri Sakamoto

The baby was born, she was told, under the water sign, in the year of the pig, a good year for a boy. His new mother was happy but apprehensive. She hadn't ever held a baby for longer than a few minutes, and now she'd be holding this one for a long time to come. How strange this ball of flesh in her arms! She felt flushed with the heat coursing from his small body into hers. Flushed, too, with pride and shame at once, to be a mother who hadn't earned being one.

The boy's eyes were so large and round that other parts of his face receded. He'd already seen much for one newly arrived in the world. He'd seen a woman, the mother whose body had fashioned him from a speck, disappear even as he cried for her.

One morning, he was hosed on a rack with cold water, patted with sweet-smelling powder, swaddled into a limbless bundle, and handed to this new mother. Her face bobbed in and out of sight, frightening him at first. Her sounds, the smell of her were different, but he grew used to them.

She laid him in a bassinet on an airplane that flew high over water and above clouds. He felt a familiar sensation of floating while safely tethered. Once she brought him home, she stayed close, nearly always in sight, rarely disappearing. If he cried, she quickly returned, every time.

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At the top of the crack between the boy's buttocks was a quarter-sized spot darker than the rest of him. It was purplish blue, like a patch of sky as a storm gathers. A bruise soon to heal, his new mother surmised. Though it seemed not to pain him, it didn't heal. No one told her it was a Mongolian spot, a pond of yet-to-be-dispersed pigment—common to the Asian tribe—that would not disappear until the boy—now called David—was four or five.

First thing the mother did, once they were settled, was take her son to the doctor. The doctor examined the boy thoroughly, with great care. The mother explained the bruise that would not go away, along with the fresh scars on each thigh and right shoulder from boils lanced at the orphanage. She'd been instructed by the nurse there to hold the baby still, herself pained by each cut of the razor. The third time, tears had sprung from her eyes as blood trickled from his wounds. 

The doctor gave her a salve to apply and sent them home.

The next morning came a knock at their door. Mother and son were eating breakfast in the kitchen as had become their habit: him insatiable in her arms as she ladled spoonful after spoonful into his open mouth. A man and woman showed identification cards then swiftly packed up David and left with him. His mother stood at the door, weeping.

The boy cried and cried but his mother did not reappear, and a feeling he'd almost forgotten slowly returned.


When the boy was at last returned to his mother, he was bigger, and his enormous eyes had receded in his face. When he was placed in his mother's arms, he closed his eyes and yawned as she wept.

She ran a warm bath and cradled him in the water. As she turned him, sprawling marks glistened blue in the water across his back, ragged at the edges; so dark they swallowed up his Mongolian spot, which had begun to fade along with his scars. He cried out when she touched him. She peered into his round eyes and he began to screech and thrash as he never had before. She held him close even as he pushed away, letting him hear her sounds and smell her smell once again.

She stayed with him all day and night; wrapped him in the same blanket in which he'd first been wrapped. The feel of it took him back to the very beginning: the cold, the piercing light; the hunger that clawed him inside, the empty space above.

When his flesh was cut once, twice, three times, the pain told him this was the world and he was in it. The colour red had come out of him as powerful hands, his mother's, held him down. It was she who'd let him be taken away and she who cradled and fed him now, telling him he'd be safe forever.


Kerri Sakamoto's first novel, The Electrical Field, won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book in all regions and was nominated for numerous honours, including a Governor General's Literary Award. Her books have been translated into several languages. She lives with her family in Toronto.

Photo credit: Daniel Tisch

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