Cross Your Heart
The baby is screaming, always screaming. Six weeks of nonstop wails and his little face scrunched up and red, refusing to latch, refusing the bottle, only content to be driven around in the backseat of the station wagon I once imagined full of children and now longed to be empty.
And she is always here, arriving at the airport three days before the screaming baby, saying she wanted to help, when what she meant was criticize. And him, always the mama’s boy, gobbling up her overcooked food and saying it’s just how he remembers it, impossible to speak to him about how she corrects the way I hold the baby, nurse him, swaddle him. No, like this dear, she says, wrapping the blanket too tight around his arms. Mother knows best she says.
But my own mother is long gone — went out to get a pack of smokes and never came back is what I tell people — so I can’t know if that sentiment is true and since I’m the mother now shouldn’t I know best? And it comes to this, the baby screaming, her standing in front of me in the hallway at three o’clock in the morning, saying you’ve got to support his head, and I don’t know if she’s just woken up or if she hasn’t gone to bed yet because she doesn’t seem to sleep other than the cat naps throughout the day, on the sofa, in the armchair, at the kitchen table, her head bobbing up and down while her soap operas play on the TV, those five minute increments the only moments I can relax and look at his round face and see the beauty in it.
She’s standing in front of me in her bra, an old-fashioned cross-your-heart type, and her pantyhose, digging into her waist, the soft flesh spilling over the top, and I think, who wears pantyhose anymore? The baby’s wails are so loud, his face so red and scrunched. How could she raise a son that sleeps through this? And then I tell her to go, to get the hell out and leave us alone. I tell her I’ll drive her to the airport right now, I don’t care how much a ticket costs. And she says: okay fine, if that’s what you really want, just let me pack my bags.
His tiny fingers pulling at my hair that hasn’t been washed in days, begging me to do something, to make him happy somehow but I can’t. Maybe you want me to take the baby and calm him down first, she says.
And I say: I never wanted any of this.
Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship. She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project and her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and divides her time between Singapore and Indianapolis.
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