They’d lost track of the baby.
Joe swore he’d put her in with the flowerpots. Careless, he knew, but that was because at first he thought she belonged with the delicate tea things. Jillian was always criticizing him for being too predictable, even patriarchal, so he opted for the milk crate stuffed with flowerpots, which was both organic and gender-neutral. But still. The baby was not there.
They were in their new place, a small 2/1 with a neat, square garden. They had to tunnel through boxes and sidestep furniture. Jillian’s breasts, refusing to shrink, were swollen with milk.
And then: no screaming. No baby.
Joe wanted to know why it was his fault. Why didn’t Jill wrap her? Or simply carry her?
Because she had been too busy setting fire to their past. Sipping bourbon and playing old records. No problem, he’d said. The new mom needs a break.
It was summer. Mid-afternoon. Joe’s body turned to cold sweat as he saw himself trying to explain what had happened to their baby. Jillie, he called, we have to pull it together here. Jillie. He was running through a different house now, bigger and older than the one they had bought.
Jill, his great love, emerged from a cardboard passageway and trained her wide eyes on him. She took over, soundlessly. He could read her pretty lips. Don’t you worry, they said. Don’t cry.
Remember this? Jill held up a Sea Monkeys kit. Some tiny creature was bobbing up and down in the pale blue water. She’s right here. Contained, in this miracle. Joe grabbed the little aquarium and peered inside, and yes indeed, a micro-baby that looked like it could be theirs was in there. And she was alive!
Jill was busy now. She found an old pair of bronzed baby shoes stuffed with pink flesh. These could be hers, right? Jill looked down and laughed. I mean, I’ve got my feet and you’ve got yours, Joe. The baby flesh smelled sweet. Familiar. Joe tipped forward, freshly gutted, but Jill was in the lead. She tore open box after box. How about this old P.E. uniform, Joe? A mist of sweat and grass filled the house. Or this itty-bitty cat costume from Halloween? Meow! It must be the baby’s. We don’t have a cat, Joe. You know that.
(We did once, of course, but there’s no telling what happened to her.)
Now Jill was ripping open another box, one long rectangle. Solid white. Joe knew what it was. It held Jill’s wedding gown.
Joe covered his eyes. If he could just not see what else was inside. He hid and shook like a child, afraid of this haunted house, determined to disappear.
His wife laughed. Then another, younger voice joined Jill’s. Joe tasted wedding cake and heard glasses clinking. A band started playing his favorite song as a soft hand tugged at his arm, inviting him to dance.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella, Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Gamut Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, Conium Review Online Compendium, A cappella Zoo and Paper Darts, among other places. She reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughters. Find her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb
Photo by Robert Valencia