She says, I don’t think that baby is eating enough, and I poke a pointy finger into its spongy side.
But Baby, I say, that baby is a round baby. Round like pomelo, like a panda, like a wheel of Parmesan cheese. That baby is a terrycloth towel full of tapioca pudding. And Baby, that baby is gonna be fine.
She says, I don’t think that baby is eating enough, and who am I to doubt her? I am not monitoring frequency and flow, and I only measure throughput in pre-portioned popsicles and tiny paper hourglasses full of sweetly scented mustard. I didn’t grow the thing, didn’t make its eyes and kidneys, its soft little gurgles, didn’t make twenty tiny shark teeth piercing perfect pink gums. All I know is what I have carried on my whiskery neck, this brick of hot ryebread that sears the skin above my old-man’s belly. But I marvel at the heft of this thing she has made, like a brick, like a board, like a deckle beef brisket, and I say Baby, that baby is gonna be fine.
She says, I don’t think that baby is eating enough, and I can hear what she is saying now, because that baby slipped into this world as airy as an unexpected fart, inconsequentially caught in a blue plastic bag and tubed up in some hi-tech Tupperware, and we wept at colostrum and chanted in milliliters and collapsed every night into the fear of it floating away. We put our wedding rings on safety pins pierced into sterile gowns and scrubbed until our hands were raw, and we told ourselves stories of other people’s problems in an elevator scented like a state fair sausage. But we’re home now Baby, and that baby is gonna be fine.
She says, I don’t think that baby is eating enough and goddammit but she is right and all her maternal disquiet mere metaphor, for we will feed that baby from sunup to sundown, in strollers and highchairs and in restless dreams. We will feed it carrots and cantaloupe and carseats and corduroy, and an ocean of goldfish and another of tears. We will fill melamine plates with pharmaceutical-grade worry and drastically discounted sleep and soothe ourselves with twenty-two-dollar cheeses and six-dollar rosés, feed it mortgages and South American vacations and parent-teacher conferences and Volkswagen GTIs, and ER visits and personal checks to underqualified nannies and it will eat co-pays like it eats crackers. It will dine on our dreams and our wallets and our time until we throw every last thing into its mewling maw whether it is hungry or not.
And we will feed it, also, on that gold-green glow, the one that wrapped around our ribs the day it was born, that inexhaustible organ we never knew we had, the one that aches at every fall, that shudders at every cry, the one that leaps at every single smile. We will serve ourselves up by the spoonful, by the shovelful, by the bright-yellow-barrow of a tin-Tonka-truckful, until our hearts are raw, until it is bigger than the two of us together, like a mammoth, like a mountain, like a miracle. And that baby will stretch skinny into superhero pajamas, thin like a bean, like a bookmark, like a whisper of hope.
And I will hold your hand and say, Baby, that baby— our baby — is gonna be fine.
David K. Gibson has been a magazine editor, a travel writer, an advertising copywriter, and a sensitive male advice columnist for the Harlequin Romance web channel. His flash and fiction have appeared in Wigleaf, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and May Contain Nuts: A Very Loose Canon of American Humor. Gibson lives with his wife and child in Orlando, where he very recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida.
“Baby That Baby” was a finalist in our 2021 CNF Flash Contest, judged by Heather Christle.