by Derek White
I am married, but have no desire to
have kids. Neither does my wife Jessica.
So whats the point?
asks Gretchen, my brothers wife.
It was Easter Sunday and Gretchen was
wearing Eddie Bauer sweats and guzzling bottled water
like she was expecting a natural disaster. We were
at their house in Foster Citya housing community
built on landfill on what would have been San Francisco
bay. My brother was supposed to be there but he had
to go take care of some things at the office
for a few hours. Most likely he was getting
messed up at some bar. My mother was due any minute.
Even though my brother is six years
younger than me, they already popped this baby out,
adding to the pressure for me and Jessica and raising
the general family get-together discomfort level even
higher than it had to be.
Cause we are in love, I
said, in answer to her original question.
Gretchen was putting dishes away in
the dishwasher. Like were not?
Im not saying what you are,
Im just saying our love is not the kind that
needs to be propagated. Its going to stop with
us. I didnt feel comfortable talking to
Gretchen about this. It was pointlessshe had
her beliefs and I had mine. On top of it I could smell
myself from having my arms squished down to my sides
during the long transcontinental flight. I didnt
feel comfortable knowing that Gretchen and the baby
might be able to smell me. It was potent enough that
I could smell myself over the stench of the honey-baked
ham in the oven. And something about that just didnt
seem kosher. Not that Im Jewish or anything,
but cooking a ham in honey just seems plain wrong.
Even though none of us were really Christians either,
we still went through this whole Easter thing. Right
Jessica? I added. Help me out here.
Jessica was sitting quietly at the kitchen
counter thumbing through a catalog. Its
not that we dont like kids, were just
not in to the whole parenthood thing, Jessica
said as politely as she could.
Gretchen slammed the dishwasher shut.
Dont knock it until you try it.
Jessica flinched momentarily, but regained
and threw me her raised eyebrow look, which in this
circumstance meant it was my responsibility to defend
our territory. After all, she was only a relative
Were not knocking it,
I said. Its just not for us. Were
both scientists. We see things differently.
And what, you think youall
Not smarter. Were just trained
to be conscious of the meaning behind instinct and
urges. I threw an unfortunately
somewhere in there to appease Gretchen. If you
are going to study the whole evolutionary cycle you
have to stand outside of it.
Gretchen laughed a condescending grunt.
One day youall will realize that there
is more to life and quit living selfishly just for
yourselves. She ran the disposal even though
it sounded like there was nothing down therejust
this horrific metallic grinding noise. Gretchen knew
it was empty, she was just running it for effect.
It had the added effect of waking up the baby, who
started crying from its crib smack in the middle of
the living room.
That was my cue to throw in the towel.
Maybe one day. For now well just live
for ourselves, because as far as Im concerned
there would be no life at all without us to perceive
it. On that note, Im taking a shower.
Well, here. Since youre
going to take a shower, do you mind washing Celia?
Gretchen handed me the pink crying baby. What was
I supposed to say? On top of it I was getting more
displeased looks from Jessica who didnt exactly
look thrilled at the prospects of having to be alone
with Gretchen. But the fact that I was doing this
community service of bathing the baby somehow justified
I took the baby upstairs into the bathroom.
The weird thing is that it stopped crying once I handled
it. Not that I had any idea what I was doingI
had never done anything like this before. Everything
in the bathroom was unfamiliar. The baby was fragile
and pink and helpless and I had no control over it
or anything else that was happening in this house.
I set the baby down on the bathmat while
I shaved, careful not to step on it. Then I had to
take a shit, which was a bit awkward. The baby just
stared at me the whole time. I wondered if the baby
would remember this when it was older.
Then came the shower part, which was
where things started getting really weird. I had no
idea what to do, so I winged itI found a large
stretched-out tube sock in the laundry hamper and
stuffed the baby into it. See, Celia wasnt a
real baby, but was my brother and Gretchens
projection of their deficiencies into a stuffed doll.
And I was going along with it because I didnt
want to be the one to burst their bubble.
To be honest, I was kind of into it.
It wasnt every day that I had the opportunity
to give a baby a shower. I lathered up the stuffed
sock and rinsed it off. Then I hung it up on a hook
and forgot about it while I washed myself from toe
When I finished showering and emptied
the sock out, there was all sorts of stuff like pieces
of seaweed, peppercorns, cone-shaped sea shells, clumps
of brown sugar and various spicesbut there was
no Celia. I started panicking, recreating in my mind
all that I had done to the baby. I took the shower
over again and washed myself in the same order, from
toe to head. Then I turned the water off but still
no Celia. I took the drain off and clawed around looking
for the baby, but all I found was pulp and vegetable
scraps from Gretchens Cuisinart. Her garbage
disposal and the drain in the shower must have been
As you can imagine, I was pretty much
freaking out at this point. I was afraid of leaving
the warm steamy bathroom and facing the music, but
maybe Gretchen had the baby this whole time and I
was imagining all of this. Maybe my worrying was in
vain. Besides, in my mind I didnt do anything
wrong. The baby had simply disappeared. It wasnt
pre-meditated or intentional.
I went out to the kitchen with one towel
wrapped around my waist and another draped over my
shoulders, trying my best to act normal. Looking around
I saw no signs of Celia. The crib was empty. Gretchen
was showing Jessica these baby shoelaces that her
and my brother had brought from Tibet before they
had the baby. It was their last gasp of freedomtheir
world tour before they settled down.
Jessica was acting interested even though we had already
seen the shoelaces before. Last Thanksgiving we had
to sit down for three hours straight and look at all
the photos and souvenirs they brought back.
Gretchen and Jessica seemed to be getting
along just fine now. Gretchen had lactation stains
on her Eddie Bauer cotton shirt that made me nauseous,
but Jessica didnt seem to mind her proximity.
Gretchen got up to get herself a smoothie and asked
us if we wanted any. I dont know about
youall, but I cant hold out til the ham.
I have to eat for two.
No thanks, I said, toweling
off my hair. But do you have any coffee.
Gretchen squeezed a banana out of the
peel and into the Cuisinart. We got rid of our
Mr. Coffee once we had Celia. The caffeine and the
acid spoils my milk, you know.
Kevin can still drink it, cant
he? I mean, theres no way it could have an effect
on your milk if he had some, right?
He doesnt out of respect
for me. That wouldnt be very nice of him to
rub it in like that, would it?
I guess not, in your world.
Gretchen cracked two eggs into the Cuisinart.
Wheres Celia? She asked.
I dont know. I figured you
Gretchen threw the eggshells into the
disposal along with the banana peel, and then turned
the blender on so we couldnt say anything for
ten seconds. I looked at Jessica but she looked like
she could care less.
What do you mean? asked
Gretchen as it was spinning to a stop. She wasnt
nearly as worried about it as I thought she would
I was washing her inside that
tube sock thing, right?
And when I emptied it out, she
just wasnt there.
Gretchen looked puzzled. I took them
upstairs into the bathroom and showed them the empty
sock and the shower and went through everything once
more as it had happened. But Gretchen was busy straightening
out the towels and wiping up the mess I had made.
She was trying to act casual about, but I could tell
she was pissed.
Im sorry, I said.
My towel was starting to slip so I readjusted it.
Its okay, she said.
You couldnt help it. I shouldve
known not to trust you with her.
I didnt know what else to say
at that point so I went to get dressed.
Jessica came with me. What happened?
she whispered excitedly once the door to our guestroom
was shut. The guestroom was decorated in a nauseating
Nothing. I was telling the truth.
I was taking a shower, the baby was in that stupid
sock thing and next thing I know it disappeared. Probably
down the drain or something. Just goes to show Im
not cut out for that shit.
Jessica was laughing, bouncing up and
down on bed. What are we going to do?
Fuck if I know, I said.
Well figure something out. I pulled
some underwear out of my suitcase and as luck would
have it, there was Celia, tucked away in one of the
panel pockets. Jessica was speechless, perhaps a bit
disappointed. I held Celia up to my ear and could
still hear a heartbeat. Then the front door opened
downstairs and I heard the familiar voice of my mother.
I ran down the stairs cradling Celia.
Gretchen, I found her. And shes still
alive. Jessica didnt follow me but remained
motionless, sitting on the edge of the bed with her
hands tucked underneath her legs.
Gretchen was in the middle of giving
my mother an obligatory hug. Just put her down
over there, she said. Your mothers
We need to get her some milk,
I said. Instinct was taking over. I was swept up in
doing the right thing.
At this point its pointless,
My mother took the baby from my hands
and started going googly-gook and puckering
her lips up. Hello son, she addressed
me, but was looking at the baby the whole time.
There was no milk in the refrigerator
but I found some powdered baby formula in the cupboard.
I found the bottle and was frantically trying to mix
Look at Uncle Derek, my
mother said, trying to point Celia toward me, but
the baby was looking all around at everything except
me. Gretchen was more nervous now that my mother was
handling the baby. Hes trying to mix milk.
Isnt that funny? said my mother, bouncing
the baby up and down.
I was spilling half the milk I was so
flustered and annoyed. And the smell of powdered milk
on top of the honey-baked ham definitely wasnt
kosher. My mom said, Derek, do you know about
the Tibetan shoelaces. Gretchen, did you show Uncle
Derek the shoelaces?
I dont care about the bloody
shoelaces, I said throwing the spoon on the
counter. This whole powdered-milk thing was disturbing
me the more I thought about it. It was absurd to live
in a world that resorted to this. Just give
her your tit, Gretchen. Thats what it really
And finally she did and the baby shut
up. Not that it was ever crying out loud through the
whole ordeal, but I could hear it.
About the Author
My writings have been recently published
or are forthcoming in Cafe Irreal, Sendecki, Score,
minima, Del Sol Review, Diagram, gestalten, Aught,
Lost and Found Times, perspektive, xtant, Snow Monkey,
3 a.m. and CrossConnect.