Friday, March 6, 2009

A Baby

by David Erlewine

Three nights after their daughter was born dead, an umbilical cord strangling, John’s wife woke up screaming. He cowered under his hands, his heart on the verge. Her face contorted in a way he’d never seen. He rocked her in his arms, shushing her back to sleep. At breakfast, John’s son stared at the empty table. John got up and made him some juice and set out a box of Cheerios. His son threw the box in the trash. “Stale, Dad.” John hoped the boy didn’t ask about his mother, who was in bed, legs splayed, waiting to be changed.

Her psychiatrist asked what her name was. She put her thumb in her ear and said, “Goo goo goo goo.” Later, while she sucked on what would have been Melissa’s pacifier, the good doctor suggested immediate hospitalization. John rubbed his wife’s shoulder. “Not yet.” In the car, John helped her into the front seat and buckled her in. He whispered, “Snap the fuck out of this.” The pacifier fell in her lap. She fumbled at it with her left hand.

A few weeks later, he located and assembled an adult crib that to him looked like a cage. “This is what it has come to.” She nodded and crawled in. The next few nights before bed he pretended to chase her; she giggled every time she crawled in.

Her brother flew in for the weekend. He left Saturday afternoon.

John consulted with her psychiatrist, their son, friends, and then her. She stared as he explained the predicament. As he held her in his arms, he reminded himself that taking her to the hospital might be the only thing to bring her back. During the intake procedure, or maybe upon seeing her room, she just might snap back in place.

The first night in her new bed, she wouldn’t sleep, crying and screaming. A tall woman came in to check on them. A few minutes later, she returned with a bottle of formula milk. He tested a few drops on the inside part of his wrist, recalling how he had done so for their son years before, how the little boy writhed in her arms, waiting. John flicked the little lamp on. He grabbed his wife’s shoulders and shook them, snapping her head back and forth. Her eyes filled with tears. He stuck the bottle in her mouth before she could scream.

David Erlewine's stories appear (or soon will) in Mud Luscious, Keyhole Magazine, 971 Menu, elimae, CEllA's Road Trip, and other journals. He edits fiction for Dogzplot. Check out his blog at