So we had this couple at work, the Smiths, and they had this baby, a boy. We didn’t know them that well; couldn’t say they were really friends. They begged us, as a last resort, to watch their baby for the weekend. They thought it would be good practice, seeing as Amy was pregnant.
We asked what his name was, and they said they were waiting to see what kind of shit he did, to see what name fit. Amy looked at me, her mouth a grim line holding back a smile. For now we could just call him “The baby.” I finally agreed, but let me just say I didn’t like this baby. There was some cute babyish quality he lacked. He was quiet, I’ll give him that; but his expression was set, never changing, as though he were analyzing and not approving of this life. And his eyes were creepy, blue and white like the sky and clouds, but with hardly any pupil. I waited for something to cross, like a bird.
They handed him off with an accumulation of breast milk and some jars of baby food and his feeding schedule. The sucker ate every two hours, even at night.
I placed his Jolly Walker thing in the living room, and the first thing he did was put his fingers in the electrical outlet. I watched him do it, and it didn’t really register until his wispy blond hair stood up. I had the plug covers; I just hadn’t gotten around to it. It didn’t seem to bother him, though. He just headed for the coffee table, where I had his bottle. He picked it up, sucked for a second, and tossed it. It rolled under the TV stand. He rolled after it and flattened his fat hands on the screen. I said, “Cut it out.”
I retrieved the bottle. Maybe it wasn’t the right temperature. Thinking about the baby’s mother, and her nice tits, I opened the bottle and tried some. It was plenty warm, but seemed bitter. Amy caught me. “Maybe he wants food,” I said, wiping my mouth, capping the bottle.
Disgusted, she took the bottle, grabbed the baby and sat with him on the sofa. He sucked away for her, and she bounced him gently. Now and then he turned his head and looked at me, and each time he did, I swear my gall bladder pain flared. I had this crazy thought: here was a baby that could bring pain.
Later we walked him by the river in his stroller. The ducks and geese flew away as we approached. The baby put his head back and watched them go. His eyes were the same as the sky, but the birds moved in the opposite direction. I didn’t think about it. When we got home I studied his tiny pupils.
“What are you doing?” Amy asked.
I found a magnifying glass and examined his eyes. “It doesn’t seem right.”
“Do you think there’s something wrong with him? They didn’t say anything.”
I didn’t answer. Magnified, his pupils looked like crows.
Amy fed him baby food the rest of the evening. I tried a couple times, but he wouldn’t open his mouth. The pain in my gut came back, and I couldn’t eat anything that night.
Amy set an alarm for every two hours on her phone, and then she conked out and slept through the first one. “Won’t he cry if he needs to eat?” But I was asking myself, and the answer was that he didn’t cry.
I warmed a bottle, took a sip, and headed to the port-a-crib. He was wide awake, watching me approach. He moved his limbs, but just slightly, not in an excited way. I picked him up and sat in the rocker where we could see the bright moon and clouds through the open curtain. I offered the bottle and he sucked away. He didn’t take his eyes off me. They were lit up, except for those dark spots. When I looked away, and I had to, I saw the geese passing over the moon, and smaller birds; and then a large shape without a name, which scared the shit out of me.
I put the baby back and sat in the chair. I closed the curtain, but still saw his eyes, wide open.
I fell asleep in the chair, and the alarm went off in two more hours. “Please,” I said. I peeked in at him and there he was staring at me, like he never slept. I did a terrible thing: I pinched his fat leg, hard, to see if he would cry. All that happened was that I doubled over onto the floor with my own twist of pain. “I see,” I told him.
I warmed more milk. I drank half the bottle myself. Maybe I would be indestructible too, nameless, needing no sleep, capable of chasing birds away, of causing pain. Two more hours, two more bottles. One for him and one for me. She certainly brought a lot: she was one of those super-pumpers; I’d seen her doing it at work. I was wide awake now. I took the baby for a walk along the river.
We got in just as Amy was up. She was dressing to show houses. “You’ll be able to handle him all day?” she asked.
“He doesn’t sleep.”
“Put him down now. And you can nap.”
“I think he controls me.”
“He’s just a baby.”
“I have ballgame tickets for today, remember?”
“Take the bugger. You’ll have fun.” And off she went.
I packed a backpack with bottles and some food, and a tiny Red Sox hat I’d bought for our potential boy, and baby sunblock, and diapers. I’d had my first diaper bout earlier, and it had weighed a ton, like some new kind of scale needed to be invented for waste generated by babies with no names, because they will weigh down the world with revenge, with shit so foul and perhaps non bio-degradable.
“Third baseline seats,” I told the baby. He was studying the sky, as usual, maybe getting ready to signal birds or Batman.
I rubbed him down with the sunblock, put the hat on him, which was way too small. He sat there next to me in his little rocker seat. I gave him a bottle and I sucked one. A guy looked at me in disgust. But then he leaned forwards squeezing his temples, like he had a sudden killer headache.
I saw the swing of the bat, and half a second later heard the crack, and the ball sizzling, but I did not see it coming. People ducked. The line drive hit the baby in the head. The sound it made was terrible. He was surely dead. People didn’t dive for the ball as they normally did; they stood over me like I was a monster for not throwing myself in front of the baby. The headache guy spit on my feet.
But the baby was fine, looking around at all the faces.
“His eyes aren’t right,” a woman said. “He needs to go to the hospital.”
She started tapping on her phone, and I picked up the baby’s seat and my other stuff and sidestepped from the murderous crowd. They followed me, making sure I was actually going to do something. I was aware of some dried breast milk on my chin. I looked down at the baby and saw a nice welt forming between his eyes.
In the ER waiting room, the baby turned his head slowly, studying faces. It was creepy. The bump made his eyes further apart. People looked away, grabbing their heads or chests or legs – whatever hurt.
“I’m just babysitting,” I told the nurse that brought us back.
“Did you call the parents?”
She looked at me and shook her head. “This could be serious.”
“Oh no, he’s fine. Look at him. Just a bump.”
“You will take financial responsibility?”
“I’ll call them.”
After they did a CT scan the doctor came in. “He’s okay for now. No evidence of an acute bleed or fracture. His brain is large.”
“You mean, like, swollen?”
“Just large for his age. The parents should follow up on that.”
Ned Smith faxed a copy of his insurance card. “We’re having a great time!” he faxed on a separate piece of paper. “Glad the little guy is okay!”
“Jesus! How could you let that happen?” Amy took the baby from me. “He could have been killed!”
“I doubt it. He doesn’t feel pain. He makes pain in others.”
“What the fuck does that mean? Are you drunk?”
“Good. Go to bed and stay there. I’ll take care of the baby. Take your sleeping pill.”
She took off with the baby, and he watched me over her shoulder. I wondered what was going on in that big brain.
I took the pill. As I was drifting off I said out loud: “Amy, don’t let him touch your belly. Don’t.”
I slept for many hours, but then I dreamed I got up. Or I really did get up. You couldn’t tell with these sleeping pills. Sometimes you did things. I went and got the baby from the crib. He was wide awake; Amy snored on the sofa. I picked him up and said, “Let’s do something.” I went to the fridge for the very last bottle, and we took it to go.
I didn’t take his seat; I just belted him up front with me. We shared the bottle and I tossed it out the window. Somewhere in there, four cop cars stopped me, accusing me of going 100 mph through the city. “Impossible!” I said. “I’m asleep.” But there were saplings from a median strip sticking from my grill.
They put me against the car and looked at the baby. “Jesus Christ,” one cop said.
“That bump’s from earlier,” I said. “A baseball.”
“That baby was crying,” said another cop. “No, he was laughing,” said yet another.
One twisted my arm behind my back. “You the father?”
He read me my rights and cuffed me.
At the station I woke up. An officer was saying: “Speeding . . . reckless endangerment . . . endangering the welfare of a child . . . possible kidnapping . . . ”
My wallet was open on the table, and Amy was standing there, pale, holding her belly.
“I’m going to jail,” I said. “I need to be there, and you need to get that baby back to them.”
My cellmate was Alonzo, a tattoo artist in for bad checks. He had oil pastels and he drew the baby on my shoulder. “Most important are the eyes.” I said. “Like lying on your back and watching blue sky and fluffy clouds roll by, but with tiny crows for pupils. Or ravens.”
Alonzo trembled. He got on one knee and crossed himself. He said something in Spanish.
We looked at the baby in the warped metal mirror, his eyes even bigger.
Alonzo showed me the high chink of window in the tower. It was all we could see. Dusk grew, and Alonzo said look and listen. With a rush and some chirping sounds thousands of bats left the tower window.
What got me out was my gallbladder. Probably too much fatty breast milk. They thought I was faking, but the nurse realized I was turning yellow. So I got to go to the hospital. A scan showed I had large stones to come out. Amy had arrived, along with the Smiths, who were just getting home.
I said to the baby, “Hey buddy, I’m in your hands now,” and everyone gave me a weird look.
A huge wave of pain broke through the meds. I tried not to cry. The baby smiled. I had a name for him.
GARY MOSHIMER has stories in Wigleaf, Frigg, Cease, Cows, Monkeybicycle, and many other places.