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June 16, 2017 Fiction

Taking Care of the Baby

Letitia Trent

Taking Care of the Baby photo


The neighbor comes to my door with my keys in his hand: I'd left them in the mailbox earlier, or maybe yesterday, or the day before that. I look at the table, where the mail sits in multicolored piles, the slippery circulars spilling all over the floor, the vegetables and olive oil and deli sandwiches bright and alluring above their sale prices. I can’t remember the last time I got the mail. The baby senses I'm talking to somebody who isn't him and walks out into the living room, bowlegged, groaning rhythmically, still gripping a handful of human hair. 



Another neighbor asks to see the baby. I set him on the lawn like a wind-up toy so we can watch him crawl through the green grass. He laughs and tries to pull the grass up. I turn to ask the neighbor how he keeps the coyotes from eating his favorite rabbit, the one with the rotten leg that flops back and forth when he hops, but the neighbor cannot answer because the baby has crawled into my car and put it in neutral. I catch myself waving. The baby waves back, automatic, because this action, in the past, has produced my approval. Luckily the ground is flat and the baby makes no progress. I retrieve him and he bites into my breast because he thinks my body is his body and he wants his body to go faster, farther. 



A man arrives in a truck with a box full of wine bottles. He lifts the box and places it on the porch. When I come to meet it, ecstatic, I leave the door open and the baby gets out. He climbs the drainpipe to the roof, where I find him standing at the edge, his arms out. In this moment, I am impressed by his dexterity and his bravery. I wonder if I should clap for him and show my approval so he'll climb back down or if I should show disapproval, which might make him climb back down to try to please me. At this age, it’s difficult to tell what will make him turn to safety. His sight has cleared and his legs work, mostly, and he often shakes his head to express how the conditions of the world displease him, how I must change them even if I cannot change them. He begins to do this now, no no no no no he says, and I am panicked, wondering if he can hear inside my head, if I have made him want to jump with my desire for him not to jump, if he's in one of those moods in which he'll bite my breast so hard it bleeds, even though he's hungry, even though the only thing he wants is milk, even though I'm the only one who can give it to him. 

image: Aaron Burch