.. and The Man.
He lay flat on his back in bed in the dark of night and listened to the baby scream.
The sound was muffled by the two closed doors between them, but not nearly enough. Sleep was still out of the question, no matter how desperately he needed it. He wondered if the neighbours could hear the baby.
He did not wonder why he didn’t care if they did.
The baby’s cries, in defiance of all logic, rose ever higher. He wasn’t sure when he’d stopped thinking of her as his daughter and instead began referring to her as the baby. He knew for certain it was after the woman left.
She too no longer had any association with him. She was no longer his wife, but rather the woman. He turned his head and contemplated the dark lump that had been her pillow. He was surprised to find it still next to his after the front door had slammed shut for the final time.
A faint trace of some flower or another still clung to its surface. He didn’t know if it was lilacs or lilies or irises. He did know that it no longer mattered. It was not something he had to pretend to care about any more.
Things had been manageable at first. There was enough pumped breast milk in the fridge to keep the baby oblivious to the woman’s absence for two days. But then the last bottle was emptied and he’d turned to formula. The baby could not be convinced that it was a suitable replacement and the crying began shortly afterward.
He had tried holding her to soothe her to sleep, rocking gently from side to side, but she kept clawing at his shirt, trying to gain access to his nipples. For the briefest of moments he considered allowing it, but then a repulsion overtook him and he barely managed to return the baby to the crib without dropping her.
That was when the screaming had commenced.
It had to stop. One way or another he needed peace and quiet. He listened to the shrieks coming from across the hall, considering his options. He wondered if the how really mattered. Maybe the end justified the means.
Grabbing the woman’s pillow, he struggled out of bed and made his way into the hall. He stood outside the baby’s room for a long while, steeling himself. Eventually he reached for the knob and twisted it, removing the final barrier between him and the full force of the noise.
With a pained expression he made his way to the crib and stood looking down at the baby. His eyes went to the pillow in his hand, then back to the baby’s contorted features. She looked like she was being tortured.
It was impossible to think straight with her cries so nearby. He couldn’t decide if this was the right thing to do. Was it weakness or strength? So he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him, the pillow still in hand. He went to the living room and opened the liquor cabinet, then extracted the half-empty bottle of tequila.
He’d never considered himself much of a drinker. But the bottle had been full when the woman left, so maybe that was one more thing that had changed while he wasn’t paying attention.
Unscrewing the cap, he let it fall to clatter against the hardwood floor. The baby’s screams swallowed the sound whole.
He brought the bottle to his lips, drank until his eyes watered, lowered it again. Liquid courage, that’s what he called the stuff back in college. He waited for it to perform its magic, then made his way back to the baby’s room, still carrying the pillow and tequila.
In the semidarkness he stood over the crib, head cocked to one side. Another sip, this one smaller than the first. He brought the woman’s pillow up, let it rest on the side of the crib. Minutes slipped by unnoticed as the baby continued to shriek. The flowery scent filled his nostrils and pulled his eyelids together.
Was it just his imagination, or had the baby’s cries lowered in intensity? He shook his head. Probably just the alcohol at work.
Opening his eyes, he stared down at the baby. Releasing a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, he nodded once before forcing himself into action.
He lowered the woman’s pillow into the baby’s crib and held it there for a few moments before letting go. He watched as she grabbed it in her tiny fist, her head turning toward where it lay next to her. He listened as her screams slowly subsided and silence finally returned to their home.
He watched as his daughter found comfort in his wife’s pillow and at long last fell asleep.