Human cheese is made from mothers’ milk. Édouard Levé, “Works”
I babysit and the baby twists. It tugs on my nipple. Hard.
“NOTHING IS COMING,” I holler at the hollering baby. It’s late, well past the baby’s bedtime, and neither of us is sure about the other.
The father left the baby with me. He played Youtube videos of Bread & Puppet Theater. Told me that he’s trying his hand at puppeteering himself. He offered no instruction regarding his baby.
“Wow,” I say to the videos, to the homemade puppet he shows me.
I met the mother earlier. She told me that her baby was so good, that he slept so easy, that he basically never cries. She took her breast out, the baby put his mouth around it and made sloshy sucking noises like a pug. She held the baby in one arm. She used her other hand to pull her pants down and show me her cesarean scar. We’d only just met and I looked at her bush so I told her Wow…nice… which wasn’t the appropriate answer.
“Geoff will show you everything,” she said, handing the baby to me and leaving. Geoff shows me nothing except for puppet theater and so the baby is hungry and hollers and I holler well past its bedtime.
When I was little, I told my mother how lucky we were. Lucky because, if stranded in a desert, we would never go thirsty. My mother asked how this was. I told her this was because we could always drink from ourselves. Portable and thermosed liquid, hanging from our chests. She explained that this is not the way things work and I felt very unlucky.
It’s not that I don’t like babies. What I don’t like is to be told how a baby is easy, that it loves everyone. The parent hovers, staring and skeptical, as the baby screams and you bounce and you hold it. You can’t give the baby what it wants. What it wants is its mother. What I want is a baby that’s mine to drop, without it being so terrible. The mother watches her baby scream from close by; He doesn’t usually do this, I promise, she says, trying hard to hide her smile.
The baby is screaming and its eight year old brother helps by making noise and dropping things. The baby slams his head into my chest and makes sad slurping sounds. The eight year old brother gestures at my chest. Feed, his hand and his eyes say. The three of us go down to the kitchen to stare at the freezer which the baby enjoyed earlier.
We open the freezer, stand in its blue, and the baby calms for a moment. Then he screams so I open the fridge; on the middle shelf, by the dairy products: a glass cylinder with its millimeters marked. Filled with something once liquid, now solid. I take the cylinder out, twist off the top. I dump the solid onto the counter and it slips on spilled orange juice, slides into the sink. I sniff it: melon and milk. Soapy.
The eight year old batons the cylinder in his hand until the bottom faces me with a label.
Mothers’ Cheese it reads. A diagram shows a mother with porn-star proportions holding her breast, pinching the nipple, milking herself into the cylinder. Squirt, Shake, Wait, the directions tell me.
I lift the heap from the sink and I bite it. It tastes like breast milk. The eight year old says eww gross you ate sink-cheese and I don’t point out that his molluscum is oozing.
When I babysit I’m hungry. Hungry for the bags of my eyes to smell like blood orange. I stand by the vanity. I pretend to be the mother. Tap light circles dipped from jars with the tips of my fingers. Layer it all till my face turns plastic. Retinol serum, Crème de la Mer, hyaluronic acid bubbled from the tip of a dropper, burst onto my cheekbones like nectar. What were you doing in there, the kids say and I tell them Cleaning up, my face all waxy.
I stand by the stove and shovel Annie’s white cheddar pasta with the spoon meant for stirring. Into my mouth, I mean. I serve the children smaller shares. I make it wrong anyway, slimy, not how their mom does it. I eat mac and cheese in gulped servings. Maybe this is me experiencing, forgoing, the maternal instinct to eat one’s young.
I can’t feed the baby Mothers’ Cheese because it sat in the sink. I take the cylinder from the eight year old, turn it over and examine. My right breast pulses. Jolts once, stops. Then a constant thrum; I feel like I need to pee then realize that I need to out of my tit. My nipple is a zit: swollen, throbbing with pressure. I place my breast on the cylinder all casual, like I’m only leaning over. I leak through my t-shirt. The eight year old doesn’t see because he’s still fake vomiting about when I ate the sink cheese. I send him to the bathroom to apply his ointment.
While he’s away, with the screaming baby on my hip, I milk myself into the cylinder. The release is better than peeing, different from cumming. I scream a little but half heartedly; I only feel like I should feel weird. I feel very normal. The milk stops once the cylinder’s full; I screw on the lid one-handed. I shake, which is hard to do without shaking the baby, which I know you aren’t supposed to. I wait eight minutes.
I sneak up to the nursery, the eight year old left behind. I dim the lights and tap the noise machine on. Whooshing swirls the air. The baby on my lap in the rocking chair, I place the cheese plate on the changing table beside us. I take a breath, pick the cheese up. I dangle it near the baby’s face. And the baby chomps; it eats the cheese so fast. Gurgling and snorting, rubbing his face in it until shards crumble, covering his cheeks in cream colored flakes. The baby falls asleep on my chest. Breast, I think to myself now.
The father comes home three hours later than he said he would. The mother doesn’t come home at all. Geoff walks into the nursery loudly where the baby sleeps on me, wanting to talk puppets. The baby wakes but doesn’t cry; he turns to me, eyes huge. Little hands sweaty, twisting at and groping my nipple with fervor. The father thinks that because the baby is, he can, too. I sit there while they each twist one.
After a while, I stand. I hand the baby back and I walk down the stairs and through the front door.
I pass the mother who’s entering; I don’t stop to chat. Her cylinder is tucked beneath my coat.
I walk a few blocks and pass the bus stop. I don’t quit until I’ve reached a bushy area, dimly lit by a street light. I squat and I squirt until the cylinder fills. I stop. I shake, but this time I don’t wait. I funnel milk into my open mouth, my upturned lips all frothy.