Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Saturn’s son

Courtesy Creative Commons

A naked titan crouching in darkness, clutching the torso of a pale, dangling body, about to tear rib cage in two; some bold script pasted over in modern text—a clinical trial; the same words on traffic poles downtown; maroon stickers, claiming thousands of dollars—just answer a few questions: “How often are you happy? Sad? Angry? What does it feel like?” Beside that, a statistic about erectile dysfunction and porn addiction. “Desensitivity to sexual behavior in ED patients—” blah blah; “Births are decreasing and deaths are too”; “Missing pomeranian—Reward: $20,000.”

Toby—a man by age, but without the look (something around the eyes, the skin in between that suggests ignorant boyishness)—crouches down to look at the footnote of the clinical study ad posted on the bus shelter. A boy sits on the bench—backpack twice his size, phone, earbuds, an animated show with swords and blood. 

Toby is staring at the fine print of the ad, nearly touching his head to the poster:

“Saturn Devouring His Son”. 

The tiny script is smeared with mud; the bus drives off—dirty water sprays onto Toby’s pants. It’s one thing to eat your son; it’s another to “devour” him. But that’s an accurate title, Toby thinks, this huge creature gnawing the head free with the strength of a dog finally tearing open a bag of chocolate; there’s malice associated with devour and a sense of self-destruction also.

The boy doesn’t notice the ad until Toby does. Turning his small head from his anime, he gives the gore a glance before realizing his disappointment. With Toby looking so intently, the boy expected something more. Toby doesn’t think the painting is all that interesting; it just seems familiar. Maybe the museum had it for an exhibit.

Toby leaves the bus stop—to the pharmacy across the street. His phone: eight-thirty. Clouds too white to be threatening; the sun too bright to be nice. It should be raining.

Inside, the smell of bleach—a long-bearded custodian with dragon tattoos up his arms, scrubbing a patch of carpet by the exit. Static from above, the radio, playing dance music; scrambling noise of transition into “you’re listening to”—then, abruptly: the news. “—one-hundred and seven dead after airstrike in—”

The line is long. Toby mechanically steps forward, foot-by-foot, as it moves. He picks the skin around his fingernails until they bleed. He’s gonna be late. The radio: “—the Grammys, this Sunday—”

Toby takes out his phone. He doesn’t need the sound. In a few moments, he’s watching porn on his phone. Toby breathes; the line seems to move faster; his fingers hurt. 


“What?” he looks up from his phone. He looks back down and gives his name, then his birthday.

“We don’t have anything for that name,” the pharmacist says. She has blue eyes. “Give me a minute,” and she walks away; comes back a minute later. “I’m gonna check if it got sent to a different location,” she says, tapping on the keyboard and then the mouse. 

The radio: “—girls as young as thirteen are bleeding to death across the world. FGM procedures continue at a rapid—”

“Do you know what it’s called?” she asks.


“The name of your prescription? Or the name brand.”

“It’s—” Toby takes his backpack off and fishes around for the empty pill bottle. “Stendra.”

The pharmacist clicks more and then says, “Okay. It’s at our Health Street location. I can have it transferred to this one—”

Toby is already leaving.

The radio: “Riots in Poland over the ban on abortion.”

“Mister—” the custodian at the exit. Toby walks right over the bleached carpet. 

Outside, a man asks for money, holding out an empty coffee cup. Toby walks past him and crosses the street.

Back at the bus stop, he contemplates going to the other pharmacy. He checks the time and takes the next bus to Health. The boy from before, watching the anime, gets on after him, eyes still glued to his phone. On the bus, the boy goes up to a man sitting in the back, who takes his backpack and ruffles the boy’s hair. Someone’s headphones play music—metal, sad; the person next to Toby smells like dog saliva. There’s a loud phone call in Spanish. 

At the next stop, most people get off. The weight of the bus shifts and buckles; steam lets out the exhaust like a sigh. Toby sits down next to a woman in tattered clothes, a knit hat, a plastic bag clutched in her hands, mustard smeared across her mouth. Toby rubs his own mouth. Outside, a rush of orange and brown—flower trees and brick houses. And then a bridge, a dull gleam of light reflecting off the water from the river. Toby looks away. 

The bus moves faster and it seems they’re going out of the city, but they aren’t. The woman beside Toby stares at his phone. The two naked people are in different positions now; Toby turns the phone so she can get a better view. 

The boy in the back is sleeping now, an earbud hanging loose; he leans on the man. 

“Can you skip this part,” the woman asks, “you’re not even watching it.” The woman puts her bag down, places her hands on her knees: “Just let me hold it.”

Toby continues to stare at the boy and the man. Toby hands his phone to her. 

The woman holds the screen close to her eyes; she trembles: “Can I look up something else?” Toby shrugs. She flips the phone vertically: eight fifty-three. 

Toby looks over at the boy again; he wonders if the man is his father. 

The intro song for “Scooby-Doo,” full volume. The woman with the mustard on her face is enraptured. A notification about a political candidate’s use of hate speech pops up on the screen; the woman clicks on it and the news opens. She shakes the phone: “Get it back!” She turns the screen. He takes it and finds “Scooby-Doo,” hands it back. 

The father takes the boy’s phone, turns it off, takes out the other earbud and tucks it in his pocket. The boy adjusts his head but his eyes remain closed and his father pats his head. It’s a gentle pat, barely pressing at all. The boy grabs his father’s thumb with one pale-pink hand. At the next stop, they leave. 

The stop after is Health. The pharmacy is the same as the other one, but there’s no radio and no custodian cleaning the carpet. The pharmacist hands his prescription over with a laugh. Toby blushes and leaves. 

His palms sweaty, his face hot. He feels his platter, full, and his hair, staticky. The wind is strong, the sidewalk to the museum is bumpy. He shivers. 

An hour late. His boss pulls him aside when he arrives. In the break room, Toby pats his front pocket and then he feels his diaphragm drop, contract, suffer.

“I’m sorry,” he tells his boss. “I had to go to the pharmacy, then I lost my phone.”

“It’s okay,” his boss quells him without listening. Her shoes clack with all the importance of executive management; she paces before him, from coffee machine to vending machine. “Listen,” she says. “This was your last infraction.”

Leaving, he looks around the European art section. Pastoral, royal—the paintings are huge in comparison to their small subjects. Aristocrats and the poor; dead rabbits and too-colorful fruit. Christ, from every angle except the back. 

The next room, walls of blue and white messes—impressionism; the next, ugly portraits and black chalk outlines of horses; a figurine of a British warship; a vase, tall and cracking and fragile. He nods to some of the security guards as he passes; none of them like Toby. They’re glad to see him go, smiling as they wave goodbye. 

Then, there it is. Without the advertisement in the way, the titan seems vulnerable—his limbs skinny and deformed. And the body hanging from his mouth—it’s the arm he’s eating, not the head. The blood from the limbs is brighter in person—more red. He wonders how the editor of the ad changed it.

Toby waits for two women to move and then takes his place, right in front of it. His throat strains and he can feel the weight of his stomach, his heart, his lungs. His breath moves in and out. The titan looks at him, eating. And then his skin, his eyes—finally: his bones.

The plaque next to the painting is about the myth; Saturn eating all his children to discourage the prophecy that he would one day be overtaken by them.

Toby still blushes. Such an odd feeling, such a terrible one. 

Toby imagines what’s going on behind Saturn’s crazed eyes; the sort of passion that motivates eating your child—the type of passion, maybe, from twisted loneliness.

Being confronted with the reality of the painting—not just the recreation with the clinical study ad—Toby feels everything mechanically: his hair brushing on his forehead, the footsteps slapping his ears, the perfume stabbing his nose, and the tears stinging his eyes. Everything is real, like a baby born crying—maybe like Saturn himself, cut from his mother, Mother Earth. Saturn doesn’t cry for the feeling of being alive but for the isolation of being detached from his mother. He cries and strains to regain that attachment, to be that close again, to not be alone. He tries to find it again and again in other people, wrapping arms around friends, legs around others, tiny fingers around the thumb of a father; but he will never be like he once was in Earth’s womb—free of freedom, individuality, abandonment; life multiplied by the power of two. Maybe Saturn devours his son because he can’t stand being only himself; he can’t stand the loneliness of being born an individual.

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