Diana Joseph

The Baby

We built a baby out of red meat and Reese’s cups. That Baby was a crime lord. He kept us anxious and eager to meet his demands by refusing to reveal what, exactly, his demands were. When swaddled, the Baby grimaced, frowned, rolled his eyes, scowled, creepy as a mental patient. We offered him one thousand dollars in exchange for letting us sleep for three consecutive hours. But the Baby did not want money. He wanted something but what? It was not his job to tell us. It was our job to figure it out. In this way, his power grew.

His favorite music was vacuum cleaner. We played it for him all night long.

The Baby had cradle cap. We rubbed Vaseline on his head. To us, he looked greasy and conniving. To our pugs, he looked delicious. The first time the Baby rolled over, he was on his stomach on the changing table, and we could see that he was trying to roll. We moved him to his play pen where he rolled once. The action made him emotional and loud, worked up. He chugged down a bottle and fell asleep. By the time the Baby was four months old we could tell he would be the kind of person who rolls down hills for fun. The Baby was very fifth-century Sparta. If we took him to the top of Mount Taygetus and left him there for the night—to test his strength, endurance, and capacity for survival—he would roll his way back to us in no time.

The Baby frequently looked smug.

There was always a speck of glitter somewhere on his body. We’d bathe him, change his clothes, wipe clean the surfaces upon which he sat or slept. Still. The glitter. A speck of it was always on him. Did this mean his charts were accurate? A friend of ours had the Baby’s astrological charts done, and the astrologist said they were the gayest charts he’d ever seen. That information was interesting but of little use. It explained the glitter but told us nothing about what the Baby wanted.

We wanted the Baby to sleep. But he was awake. The Baby was always awake.

The Baby needed something to do so we gave him the plastic lid from the Folger's can. The Baby was fussing so we gave him a bag of frozen cauliflower. The Baby was screaming so we showed him the contents of the dishwasher. We gave him some fuzz to play with, we gave him our car keys, our cell phones, our wallets. We looked for things to show him that he had never seen before. We showed him our tongues, our belly buttons, a YouTube video of the song “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads.

We were waiting for something had to break. We didn’t know that something was us.

Soon the Baby was teething. Teething made him irritable. He kept spitting like he had a mouthful of Skoal. We were living with a tiny pissed-off hillbilly. The Baby rolled around on the floor, grunting and spitting, drooling and blowing raspberries. Was he insane? Rabid? Preparing for the Rapture?

The Baby was angry because we wouldn't let him eat dog kibble. We pried open his mouth and removed a headless, legless insect; dog kibble; a clump of matted ick. Each time we said where did you get that? the Baby cried like he was on fire.

We also cried. Because the Baby did not sleep. Or because the Baby had been asleep but now he was awake because a pug barked or a cat knocked over a glass or one of us forgot the Baby was asleep and flushed the toilet. How could you “forget” the Baby was asleep? We cried because we were each sure we did more than the other. It’s your turn, we said when the Baby needed changed, needed cuddled, needed a bottle at three in the morning. I did it last time. We cried in separate rooms, and when we were in the same room, we purposely did not look at each other. But then the Baby would do something cute. The Baby would gurgle or coo or wiggle his eyebrows, and we’d touch hands. We said, Let’s not fight. We have got to work together.

Or maybe we’d remember something from our life before the Baby like the night we climbed to the top of an oil tanker and kissed. There was no baby up there with us. There wasn’t even the plan for one. Sometimes we needed to remind each other: That Baby’s got nothing to do with you and me.

We referred to the Baby's jars of pureed carrots and green beans and applesauce as his wet food. He was a cat. The Baby would not eat an avocado unless we mixed in green chiles. The Baby bit into a raw onion like it was an apple, chewed, then took another bite.

Our favorite thing about the Baby was when he babbled real loud so we babbled back but whispered it, which made him whisper-babble in turn. The Baby’s favorite thing about us was when we opened the dishwasher. We opened it and he applauded. We did not know that a baby could be a friend—a demanding and high maintenance friend—but one who generally seemed happy to see us.

The Baby's favorite way to be was upside down. He was a fruit bat. The Baby loved to crawl around the house carrying a piece of cloth—a towel, a onesie, a curtain liner. Every so often he stopped, sat up, and flapped the cloth like wings or a parachute. The Baby wore a shirt sized for eighteen-months-old. He wore pants sized at six-to-nine months old. The Baby was a gorilla.

Then the Baby stood. He took a step. He ran.

Upon seeing that we were after him, he was cornered, there was nowhere and no way to escape, the Baby pressed himself flat against the floor.

We put the Baby in daycare. Did we feel like celebrating? Yes. Did we feel guilty about feeling like celebrating? Yes. Did we send him to daycare anyway?

We did.

We were strong and fit, never sick, we knew good health, and then the Baby went to daycare. He came home from daycare with a cold. He had an ear infection. He puked in his crib and on our shoes. He had a rash. He had hives. He had bronchitis. He had diarrhea, another cold, a fever. He sneezed on us. The Baby was an Outbreak Monkey.

We took him to the doctor. Upon determining that the Baby's recent meaner-than-usual meanness was nothing more than a consequence of teething, we whined. Teething? That’s it? No prescription? Dr. Rath told us we needed to see things from the Baby’s point of view. The Baby was in pain, Dr. Rath said. The Baby's life was in the toilet.

We took our cranky Baby home. We gave him a cherry popsicle and we sang to him.

We weren’t good singers but the Baby seemed to like hearing us so we sang and sang. We sang about the wheels on a bus that went all through the town but had no final destination. The people on the bus never get off the bus. We sang about an itsy bitsy spider climbing the water spout but never making it to the top. To us, what the spider experienced didn't seem like perseverance. It seemed like futility. The songs we sang to the Baby seemed to indicate the perils of a Sisyphus life. When the Baby cried, we empathized. There, there, we said. We know, we know. Your life is in the toilet.

Days passed, then weeks, months. The Baby was a year old. We sang to him about ants marching to get out of the rain, and the little ant whose meandering ways slowed down the progress. We sang about the ants marching one-by-one while we marched the loop through the kitchen into the living room through the dining room and back into the kitchen over and over. We sang about the ants while we led a parade of pugs and the cat watched from under the table. We sang while we waited for the Baby to shit. We needed him to shit so we could determine if it was normal enough for him to go to daycare. We needed him to go to daycare. But would he? We couldn’t know until he shit. In the meantime, he kept telling us more! more! in baby sign language. He wanted more. But more what? Singing? Marching? Talking Heads Youtube videos? Did he want to hear us make more requests that he shit, more prayers that his shit please be normal? Our life was absurd. Absurdity made our life beautiful. We chose to believe that. We needed it to be true.

 

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