Fiction · 07/10/2013

Baby

When I lived in that house I always used to look outside, and that day when I looked outside I saw where they left the baby.

The baby’s parents were gone. The moment dilated. I tried to think about whether this seemed irresponsible. I thought about the question of what does and does not coo. Only pigeons and doves and babies coo, and doves and pigeons are practically the same thing. The baby is not the same thing.

So I looked out and saw the baby cooing on a blue blanket in the lawn and said out loud that I wondered if the baby should be alone like that.

And then the baby was weeping and screaming.

I had seen this sort of thing before. You’re with a baby, and the baby is looking around, like every object could turn on at any moment. There’s just an expectation of input. Babies love input. They get input everywhere. So you’re with the baby, and the baby starts weeping and screaming, like it’s getting bad or unpleasant input.

An unfamiliar face can be bad input. Even if the parents are there, but especially if they are not.

It’s not like I haven’t been left alone with a baby. Just for a few minutes. My friend Cora had run to the store. We were making dumplings because her husband left her and the baby, which was now weeping and screaming in my trembling arms while Cora literally ran to the store. I saw her out the window, actually running. Dumplings weren’t the only solution. Cora was also in counseling, developing other solutions. A bunch of us were helping her with household solutions. But if Cora’s husband had been there instead of me, instead of somewhere else forever, the baby wouldn’t have been screaming and weeping.

“You learned to weep and scream from Cora,” I said to the baby that time.

Cora had been weeping and screaming for days, and babies learn by watching their parents’ faces for many, many days.

In general, watching people be with their baby is like that. The baby on the blue blanket had provided so much input throughout my time living in the house. It’s quick-switch moods, its drown-y little gurgle, its fat pointing finger. The world was just the world of input to the baby. For everyone else the world not only has unpleasant input but demands equally unpleasant output. The input/output ratio is supposed to be equal, Jaime told me, although she did not use those words and probably wouldn’t, though I can’t ask her now.

But you can’t just leave a baby alone like that.

I called the baby’s name out the window.

Except I didn’t know the baby’s name, so I couldn’t call it from the window.

What I ended up calling was, “Baby!”

I sort of screamed it hysterically.

The baby did not turn and look at me. This was my responsibility, I told myself.

The screaming and weeping baby needed my help. It needed to coo again. Don’t we all.

Then I actually said that to myself, that the baby needed my help. That it needed to coo again. That we all did.

I stood up from my chair and screamed again, this time not hysterically but confidently, “Baby!”

Then the backdoor slammed open below me.

The screaming and weeping baby turned.

The mother came running, arms outstretched, her feelings of goodwill streaming after her in the air like slow motion ribbons.

Then the father came running, arms outstretched, his feelings of goodwill streaming after him, too. He almost became tangled in his wife’s slow motion goodwill ribbons.

The mother grabbed the baby and lifted the baby into the air. The baby was cooing again. The baby’s smile stretched around the earth.

Then the father took the baby and lifted the baby into the air. The baby was cooing and cooing.

The father spun with the baby, like a father and baby in a commercial for detergent or cotton or minivans.

I sat back down and watched.

The baby was so happy. It was perfect contented happiness. What marvelous planetary luck. It was like everyone was getting married, and it was like getting married was what everyone wanted. It was spring or summer or even fall, whatever mom and dad and everyone wanted. Everything wonderful, if wonderful is good. Because it lasts so long, it’ll probably last forever.

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MH Rowe’s fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Word Riot, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, ILK, Bodega, Jellyfish, and Timber Journal.