Ariana Ervin '11
When my baby is born I am surprised by its size.
They hand It to me, Its pink tongue loping around in Its mouth, Its chest crushed so tightly in a white velour blanket I find myself prying with my fingers to feel the anxious little patter of a heartbeat. They are stamping Its feet and rolling Its toes through black ink and smoothing the thin strands of hair that sprout from Its soft head and saying time to go.
Time to go. Time to go.
But I feel dizzy. My legs are angry bees and earlier, before, they had strapped me in this plastic dress with thick silver buttons down the back and the snaps are harder to undo than one might think. I fumble madly so the nurse helps me. I slide into shoes and socks, my baby safe inside Its plastic box, the one they have inches next to my bed that I could make go up and down if I wanted. The one with buttons for calling for ice cubes. And I am signing papers and assigning names and they are lifting my baby from the box and handing It to me saying watch the head.
Watch the head. Watch the head.
So I do. I clutch the little head like a tiny boy clutching a sled and I take myself out into the day that is partly warm but also turning grey with graphite pencils as the birds swarm the sky. I think my baby is too young for public transportation so I ignore the #1 and # 12
and #4 buses and move my feet in the direction of a place that is maybe just a little warmer than the air here so cold it burns my ribs.
I have a sandwich in a Cafe; my baby tucked under one of my arms, Its eyes closed and shallow. I am chewing really slowly, the sandwich so hot it has melted the mayonnaise and a tiny sad pool of white liquid has formed on my plate, the insides dotted with brown crumbs. When my baby presses Its pink tongue to Its cheek and thumps at the blanket with Its foot, I feed It too. I pull out one breast (the breast farthest away from my sandwich) and we eat in silence, the only sound from puckered lips. When I am finished eating but my baby is not, I lean down to tell It about a life under the trees.“Your father will drive you to school in a Chevy Impala.” I say. “You can drink from water fountains and run your fingers under the leftover spray and when you are tired so that your eyes feel hot and warm and hazy, like now,” and I pause, press on Its eyelids with my thumb until the flesh twitches and jumps, “you can lie under the window and just lay or sleep or dream." The Café man asks to take my plate and I am struck with a sudden urge to tell him I think my baby hates me. But that is stupid so I nod and he does and pours me more coffee at the exact moment I remember the nurse told me to watch out for caffeine.
Watch out for caffeine. Watch out for caffeine.
I wonder if it matters that I have already forgotten or if you can fix things in reverse like the man in Memento, exonerating himself from murder. So I push my coffee away and like the sound it makes as it slides across the table and tell my baby who is still mashed against my breast that It has to be done eating because suddenly my breast is an aching, wounded lion, roaring into life and I can’t stand for one more drop of milk to be taken.
And then we are walking again, after I have paid the Café man and hoisted my little swaddled thing to my right shoulder and tucked my face into Its fleshy neck all wide and bunched like uncooked dough. I think maybe it is five ‘o clock because here are the people, imitations of angry bird flocks, onslaughts of black heels pounding the sidewalk, red hands wrestling with “Don’t Walk” signs and briefcases with metal locks and slippery stroller handles and other more slippery, much smaller, hands.
I am looking for a blue door in a nice part of town and that kind of generalization can really help you get where you are going. So the flashing neon McDonalds signs are just another part of the design and the people, so incredibly jolted, bumping at my shoulders, banging at my baby are just becoming a pulse like a heartbeat. Or a ringing telephone.
When I get to your door I stand outside for the longest time, my feet moving all on their own in a pattern I never thought up. Here is the blue door and this one with a tiny gold brass knob for knocking one two three times or banging, pounding, one two three times, or ignoring. And I don’t need to go inside because it only matters that I found it, only now, my baby’s face is red and I remember what the nurse said which was outside is much too cold for a baby.
Much too cold for a baby. Much too cold for a baby.
So I make the brass knob go bang bang bang (three times) and you come. When you answer the door, I am surprised by your size.
I thought I remembered you bigger, so much bigger. I thought you would need to be to create something so small but you are almost the same size as my (our) baby now and so I come inside as we sit on the couch and I let you hold the baby and you feed me tea. And here we are now five or ten years later past the right now and you are driving our daughter to school, rinsing our son in the bath, his squeamish naked body riled with water droplets as you pull him from the tub, slipping her tiny feet into pajama bottoms, rinsing his bottom teeth because he can never reach them himself. And you are saying things like “Okey Dokey,” and “Daddy loves you” and cuddling with the moon, which is astonishing.
Except here’s the thing.
The thing. The thing.
I have finished my tea and the baby is squawking and clawing at Its cheeks and you are holding it out to me, your shoulders shrugged into your neck and I hear myself saying time to go.
Time to go. Time to go.
Out on the sidewalk, under the blue door, I feed my baby again and its head is already getting bigger and I think it’s from all that milk.