Her brother never stops watching. Every time she feeds the baby, holds it, he’s there. But today is Monday, and he has gone to work. She and the baby are alone.
She fills the tub with warm water and places the baby inside its walls. It’d be so easy to leave the water running and step outside, daydream her nightmares away.
It’s been almost a year since she moved into her brother’s apartment with the baby. The skeletons of leaves fall from their perches once again. The clink of metal against metal, the door lock clicks, the creak of the front door opening, sounds that used to break her slump no longer carry the hope they once did. Her ex didn’t want a baby.
She doesn’t want a baby.
Whenever she feeds the baby and presses her nipple to its mouth, feels the pull of her skin, the emission of milk, what should be natural feels wrong. She’s not her brother who sings songs and hums tunes of barnyard animals and sunshine and love. She’s a woman who matches pitch with a shrieking baby in the middle of the night and yells “shut up!” over and over again. She’s a woman who stares out the window wondering how this became her life.
With a squirt of soap, the water transforms into a dangerous sea filled with scaled-down reptiles and dated dinosaurs. Beside the sink, she finds another toy. She opens the package and removes a yellow rubber ducky, one with a red cap and the trademark “Made in China” stamped on the rear. Her brother must have left it for her to find.
She stares at the toy. The baby mimics her, eyes enthralled by the new yellow wonder. She feels the fine speckle of dust along its exterior, invisible to the eye. She remembers having a ducky of her own. The baby grabs the ducky from her hands and submerges it into the bubbly sea.
She snatches the rubber ducky away and holds it close to her chest.
The ducky reminds her of the last time she saw her father. She was five and three-quarters. In the tub, she pretended the rubber ducky was a giant ship for sea and air adventures and its rubber wings transformed into wide-spread warmth and plush. She planned out adventures, waiting for her dad to return from his solo adventure. He never returned. Her adventures stopped.
She drowns the ducky, and squeezes it as hard as she can. Hiccup bubbles break the surface of the water.
The dust washes away.
She laughs, and the baby laughs too. She hands her baby the ducky and he maneuvers it through the air above him. The ducky then plummets into the sea, a deep-sea diver plunging into the depth of the ocean only to return moments later. She picks up her nearly-one-year-old son and sees delicate features, his pinchable nose, his cheeks waiting for his mother’s lips. She opens her mouth and hums a tune.
Jonathan Phin is a MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Co-Chair of the Marketing Committee for the MFA and Treasurer of the Graduate Writers Association. In his free time, he reads slush as a graduate intern for The Florida Review.
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