BABY

A man is the king of his castle, until his wife has a baby.  Frustrated with a life that hasn’t worked out the way he planned, the man seeks a non-violent method for recapturing his crown.

Words: 6,588

Rated: PG–Some uncomfortable moments.

BABY

IT’S not really a baby, he thought with frustration while watching it scramble across the grass on all fours.  The little entity was four years of age, yet it would always be the baby.  It would maintain a curiosity about it that a baby would.  It would maintain an obnoxious, loud and a carefree manner about it, so long as she allowed that.  So long as she provided it the attention reserved for a toddler, it would continue down the path of immaturity.  Yet, it’s not a baby.

“Our boy suffers from mental deficiencies,” its mother said when the father asked her why the baby acted the way it did.  The doctor told her that.  She smiled at its father when the doctor said that.  She was excited.  She tried to temper it with an appropriate gravity, but the smile could not be beat back.  The smile was a touchdown dance.

“It’s just a baby,” she said previous to that doctor’s prognosis.  “It’s just trying to learn; it’s not as strong as the others; it’s not as big.”  Its mother had no shortage of excuses before that doctor’s prognosis.  She now had another one, mental deficiencies, and it was certified.

***

“PUT IT DOWN, GAW damn it!” he yelled out onto the yard.  The baby had lifted a rock, and it smiled at him while dangling it above its mouth.

He lost his cool with the baby at times, and it feared him at times.  He lost his cool with the baby at times, causing it to mock him, at times.

“How come you don’t act your age?!” he furthered to counter his baby’s mockery.  The baby continued to smile.  It continued to dangle the rock above its mouth.  “You’re four, for the love of God, but you act like a damned three year old.”

It continued to dangle.  It continued to smile.  He took a couple forceful steps toward it.  It dropped the rock and scampered from the rock pile with an impish giggle.

Mental deficiencies, he thought, I’ll give its Mother mental deficiencies.  His eyes widened to display a threat as the baby turned to smile at him.

“Keep it up baby, and we’ll be spanking,” this was said with judicious temperament and forethought.  This caught the baby’s attention.

“No spanking!” it said.  It stared him down.  “Mama said: no spanking!”

“Well Daddy says spanking.”

That stare lasted a moment longer.  The baby moved on.

‘It’s not what you say,’ his own father taught him, ‘it’s how you say it!’  It felt good to say these things, it felt fatherly, and it felt normal.  It felt like a man setting boundaries for his child to prevent it from harming itself.

There was, however, an abnormal element to it that bothered him.  He felt a need to defeat his son.  He not only wanted to correct his son, when he son did wrong.  He not only wanted to protect his son from hurting himself.  He wanted to defeat it.  He wanted to be able to look his son in the eye and stare it down to concession.  To be able to prohibit it from activities it would’ve otherwise enjoyed left him with a feeling of definition he could not achieve elsewhere in life.

In his path back to the porch, and his malt liquor, he repeated the last interaction in his head.  Had he become as intolerant as his own father?  He had set the same boundaries, established the same jealousies of his son’s youthful vigor, and engaged in the same confrontations for no other reason than to prevent his son from having the fun in life in the manner he had been prevented from having fun as a boy?  This had never the plan.

Tilting his head back head to let the malt liquor slide in, he remembered the moratorium his father had placed on laughter.  “You can laugh,” his father had said in response to objections, “but you go on and on like a raving idiot.”  His father had been a miserable man with a miserable life, and he hated to see any of his sons laughing.  His father wanted serious boys to go on and live serious lives, even if that meant calling on them to refrain from their “jokey, jokey, laughy laughy” lifestyle.

He knew it was pointless to continue to dwell on his father.  It had been far too many years ago for him to continue to blame the man for everything he did.  Yet, to be realistic, he knew that the man had set his foundation, and that the man’s blood, his thoughts and beliefs, and his attitudes and reactions coursed through his veins.

He held that same bloodline with the baby, but that seemed the extent of their similarities.  These differences defined their family.  There were two identities in this family: his versus the baby and its mother’s, and he felt helpless against this division occurring among the three of them.  This division started the day after he held the swaddling infant for the first time, and the day after someone had called him a father for the first time.

He wasn’t fit to be a father.  He knew that much.  At times, he even wondered if he was cut out to be a man.  This meeting of standards, this competing, and this striving to be the best you can be, were all concepts foreign to him.  He was employed with people on the rise, people with promise and people who wanted more from life.  He had believed he was entering an establishment of working class joes.  He was mistaken.  Every person at his place of employment was younger than he was.  They were more ambitious and far more intelligent. They loved the company they were working for, and they had assumed the identity of the corporation.  He collected a paycheck.  He was out of place to say the least.  He sat alone scarfing down his lunch bag sandwiches.  They ate KFC.  He wore his one tie, a tie that matched the three slacks he owned.  They had an assortment of inventive outfits, sharp, shiny shoes and cufflinks.  He watched them, and their carefree lives, from afar.

***

CRAWLING at four years of age, the baby’s father thought with scorn as he watched it from his porch.  It appears content to crawl.  It can walk, and it does, but it prefers to crawl.  This makes it cute.  It loves to scrunch up its face for relatives, so it can appear to be even cuter.  It eats lemons for show.  It scowls at the pungent tang.  ‘Awwww!’ they say with laughter, ‘look at ‘im!’

Its father used to play with the baby more than anyone, and some of the times the baby didn’t like to play with him.  Some of the times, daddy played a little too rough.  Its mother warned him against the “rough stuff,” saying, ‘Daddy play nice with my boy!’

He warned her against calling him daddy in front of the boy, he thought while knocking back another swig of the cheap and nasty.  He wanted to be called father to achieve a form of respect.  It was all he ever called his own parent, so it seemed fitting.  She insisted on daddy.  She insisted on that divide.

There were times like these, when its mother wasn’t around, when he reestablished the foundation of respect, but that hadn’t been the plan.  The plan had been for him to love and laugh with his child on days like these.  That was before, however, before he realized his child would never grow up to be a man, before it became a product of its mother’s suffocating love and affection.  It seemed that the little brat only wanted to be caressed, loved and held, like a woman.

The malt liquor does go down just fine when you combine it with a little nicotine, he thought while combining the two in his system.  The malt liquor helps him deal with the baby now.  The cigarettes do too, only because the baby won’t come near him when he lights up.  The combination pulls him from acute awareness and allows him to mentally wander beyond the closed perspective of his poorly maintained lawn.

The baby continued to crawl on the lawn beyond the porch its Father sat on.  It turned around with its smile all but begging its Father to play with it or even scold it for playing beyond its parameters.

But he won’t play with it, and he won’t scold.  For some reason it isn’t as fun to play with the baby when it wants to play.  For some reason it isn’t as cute.  As far as scolding was concerned, he thought the baby’s best lessons would be learned from its own experiences.

The baby continued to stretch the borders of its mother’s allowed crawling space, turning to smile with each incremental progression.  It knew its borders, yet it had to test, as its mother said it would.

“It’s the baby’s nature to see what it can get away with,” she would say, “You must have patience with it,” she said.  “It’s too young and it doesn’t know any better,” its mother said.

The baby crawled onto the driveway.  Let it learn its own lessons, he thought.

(The malt liquor began to burn.  The nicotine began to dull.)

Let it trip a shovel upon its head.  Let it lick the oil from the ground.  I can’t teach the damn thing everything, he thought, letting the remaining droplets of the first quart of malt liquor melt onto the thick of his tongue.

He set the empty bottle beneath the chair, where it kissed the other quarts, from other days, with an audible “clink.”  On the rusted, steel chair with cushions attached by means of frayed, splintered and aged tie strings, he slid down.  He pulled the cap over his eyes and slipped into a world of comfort, remembering the days before the baby.

Were those days really that great, he wondered not paying attention to the baby’s whereabouts, not even looking.  He kept his eyes closed, absorbed in thought.

I wanted the thing to add to my life, he thought.  I wanted her to love me more through the shared responsibility of parenthood.  I wanted to love myself more in the manner everyone has described.  Now I long for that incompleteness.  I long for that day when I was the one person I had to consider.

There’s no eraser, no whiteout, and there’s no delete button that can correct the situation.  I have to live with this situation I created for myself through the good times and the bad.  Even if I lose my identity in the situation, I must live with it.

‘It’s my baby’ was the last thought that crossed his dream world before being awoken by it pulling on his pant leg.  He took the baby’s hand off gently: “Let your father take a quick nap, okay buddy?”

The baby smiled and pulled at his pant leg again.

“Goddamn it!  Can I get a break around here?” he screamed into the boy’s face, as he lifted it gently closer.  “Can’t you let your Father nap a little on his day off?”  The baby’s face scrunched up, and it began to cry.  His hands slipped up to the boy’s armpits.  This scared the baby, and its crying grew fierce.

“Shhh,” the baby’s father pleaded in his sweetest tone, “C’mon bud, let’s let mommy sleep.”

The baby continued its screaming.  He set it down.  Then he placed one hand over its mouth and the other behind its head.  Shocked, he pulled the hands away.

The baby continued screaming.  It didn’t move, nor did its expression change, nor did it appear that the baby would stop crying anytime soon.  The baby merely stood in front of him bawling.  The baby obviously wanted to be held, but sometimes a parent just has to let his child cry through.  He watched the baby and tried to take a drag from his cigarette, all nonchalant.

“I am sorry.”  The words followed the exhalation and dissipated on the air as quickly.  It was as much sincerity as he could muster, but the apologies were meant only to silence the boy and keep it from waking its mother.

He grabbed the boy at the waist, intending to bring the child in for a hug, but his hands slipped.  He was in the boy’s armpits ready to concede to the boy’s incessant wishes, but his hands slipped again.  He was clasping the baby at the collar bone: then his hands moved up and centered.

The cries softened under his grasp.  The muscles, the tendons, and the boy’s Adam’s apple felt smooth and tender under his fingertips.  The boy went quiet.  Its father let go, and to his relief the boy started coughing spasmodically.

“I’m sorry friend,” its father said reaching out for the boy.  The boy glanced at its father’s hands and stepped back.  It dropped to all fours and crawled away.

It had stopped crying.

Its Father looked at his own hands in disbelief.

***

STRIDING towards kitchen for his second quart, he clicked on the tube.  He surfed through the channels, a hand rubbing on his forehead to wipe the memory of his baby’s shock from his memory bank.

“What am I doing?” he whispered.  He glanced through the screen door to the baby, as it plucked the yellow heads off the dandelions.  I couldn’t even fathom doing such a thing one month ago.  What is wrong with me?  Is this normal?  Are other parents suffering from any of these feelings, or am I the freak?

He clicked the tube off, grabbed a second quart from the fridge and returned to the porch.  On his way out, he heard the mother’s snore.  If anything, at least baby sitting on the porch is an escape from that.

It was his turn, as mother slept the morning away, to look after the little dependent.  Before he could pass through the screen door, he turned to curse her for her laziness and inability to accept responsibility.  The silent cursing continued, until he was on the porch allowing the porch door to slam with full force.

It turned, when it heard the porch door slam and smiled a challenging smile.

He flipped it the bird.

Some of the times his baby’s smile didn’t seem so mischievous, he thought cracking the seal of his second quart.  Some of the times, it seemed warm and loving, the way it did that day in the delivery room.

Those were happier, simpler times, he thought taking the initial sip from his second.  Cutting the chord, holding the baby, and making a promise that this being would be one of the happiest beings to grace God’s green Earth.  These were fond, yet distant memories for him.  Since that day, the baby has succeeded in separating and dividing.  He didn’t feel like he was a husband anymore.  He was nothing but a partner in the rearing process.  He had no social life.  He spoke only with neighbors.  “How you doing Bob?  Weather looks good.”  Then it was back to the porch and the rearing.

He had never been the life of the party, nor had he ever had the game show host type personality that welcomed others to his life.  He had always had hope however.  He had always believed that he could one day be that type of guy.  He had always hoped that that day would arrive when he would walk into the lunchroom and have others strive to sit by him.  He had always wanted to be added to the joke email lists and in the inner circle that spoke of these jokes later.  He had also longed for the day when they would consider him for an after work outing, but that changed when he was forced to work a nine to five, then live a five to nine rearing.

“We can’t do that,” its mother said when he informed her of the one and only time he had been invited to an outing, “not with a child to rear.  If you didn’t think our lives would change when we had a baby you’re stupider than even I thought … and don’t even think of a baby sitter.  Until he’s old enough, no hand will take part in raising him but his mother’s … and of course yours,” she added the latter flippantly.

Calling him stupid was something its mother never did to him before the baby came into the world.  She used to praise his every move, saying, ‘some day, some way you’ll be it.’  Now she seemed satisfied and content with her life, and she no longer gave him that extra push he needed to become successful.  So he took to the porch, watching life.

He had become a watcher, like his own dad.

In years past, before he learned the ways of the world, he used to join his schoolmates in mocking his father.  They joked about his father sitting on the porch, spying on neighbors and sleeping his life away.  Back then, he laughed from a distance, but like all great comedy it’s more humorous when you can relate.

‘All this time I swore I’d never be like my old man, but what the hey, it’s time to face exactly what I am,’ he remembered hearing from an Alice in Chains song.  The lyrics held as much power for him now, as they did when he’d first heard them, because he could relate.

As a child, he watched his father age with work, grey with the rearing, and go hoarse with the screaming.  His father showed no visible signs of love.  The man didn’t appear to love him, or the wife.  The man never greeted them, and he avoided hugging the wife, or touched her in anyway.  He never called her dear, sweetie, love, or even the old lady.  He called her by her name when he wanted food, he called her the mother of his children when referring to her in the third person, and when referring to his sons, he would call each of them the boy, or they boys, in intimate and formal settings.  To even the most intimate the observer, the characters that existed in the home had no defining characteristics, and they had no names.  They were just nameless, faceless characters that, at times, happened to be in the same room.

A common joke among his friends was the disgust they would have for their parents’ displays of affection.  It was gross, it was hilarious.  He would get grossed out with his friends when the very thought of the parents kissing, and hugging, and calling each other sweetie and dear, and he would laugh as hard as any of them.  In truth, he was an outsider looking in on that joke.  He couldn’t remember his parents doing any of them above.  He couldn’t relate.

On one particularly grueling day of heat and hatred within their home, he confronted his father about the man’s incessant complaints concerning the responsibilities of life, and the ingratitude he felt from all of those in the home.

“Why don’t you just pack up and leave?” he had asked the man.

His father turned the page of a National Enquirer, an action he noticed the man did with as little noise as possible.

“Father?” he asked pulling the newspaper gently away from the father’s face.

“Leave?” his father asked, “What kind a man you think I am boy?  I have responsibilities.  I can’t just leave you and your brothers.”  His father added a chuff after that, to stress his indignation.

“But you seem so unhappy.”

His father chuffed again.

“Are you Dad?” he asked the father, still holding the paper back to see the father’s facial expression, “Are you happy?”

“Happy?” the man said.  “I ain’t got time for happy boy.”

The man had said that from the very same porch, and the very same chair he, himself, sat in now.

He’d become that creature of habit his father was, sitting on the porch with his medicinal supplies after work and on his day’s off.  The patterns he’d developed, like watching neighbors to keep up on the neighborhood gossip, reading starry-eyed, rag mags (The National Enquirer, The Star, etc.,) were all hereditary.  Even on days when weather conditions prevented him from sitting on the porch, he kept up with the neighborhood activities by pulling back the drapes.

He’d become a nap taker.  The naps mimicked his own father’s in both duration and frequency.  The naps lasted usually no more than five minutes, they were alcohol induced, and they were so light the slightest movement could awaken him.

The nap he took on this Sunday, however, broke the pattern, in that it didn’t last more than a minute, but he could not source what had caused him to awaken abruptly.  He also tended to wake with a satisfied little grin, for he loved his dream world far more than his reality.  The naps also   went a long ways in settling his nerves.  Waking up from this nap, however, was nothing close to soothing because of the urgency he sensed.

Within that otherwise humorous delirium of the recently awoken, he searched frantically for the baby.  A desperate scream nearly escaped him when he spotted it.  He went silent, watching.

What does it all mean, he asked himself in that brief second of mind numbing tragedy.  What does it take for us to lift ourselves off our chairs and pursue what we’re all about?  Does it take an image of the tragic variety, to tap us on the back of the head and say, ‘hey bud your time’s about up!’ to tighten the bags under our eyes?

The helplessness overwhelmed him.  Fear trickled down his spine in a cold sweat.  He couldn’t move or shout or say anything at all.  Breathing even became a task, as he watched his boy scramble beyond its parameters to the highway that lay at the outskirts of their lawn.

The baby glanced over its shoulder to place its father, and to determine if it was going to be stopped by a coarse yell or pursuit.

He met the baby’s eyes, and he hid from them behind a porch pillar.  His throat went dry, and his legs began to grow warm and loose.  He was never good in pressure-packed situations, and he cursed its mother for placing him in one.

He stood planted in the ground by his own fears, remembering again that day in the delivery room.  He then pictured their solemn little boy in the casket, with a rosary wrapped around its fingers.

Watching the baby exit into the world, that day in the delivery room, he had done everything short of passing out.  Now, fearing that he was watching his baby’s exit from the world, he wished he could pass out, so he wouldn’t have to watch.

Down the highway, came a Pacer.  He noticed its speed then estimated the perpendicular, cross-section of his baby’s path.

“No!” he cried with a voice cracked dry with indecision, alcohol, and fear.

His baby stopped just before the highway, just before the incident sure to happen, just before the Pacer flew by unaware, to itch its knee.  Its father dropped to his knees in relief.

That Pacer passed close enough to whip the boy’s shoulder length hair.  The incident, of course, terrified the baby, and it rose to a kneeling position, screaming.  The Pacer didn’t even see the baby, didn’t even swerve or hit its brakes as it passed.  For this, its father felt grateful, because he figured the Pacer’s driver would step out to berate him, and then give him parenting suggestions.  He’d had enough of those lectures, already, to last a lifetime.

He had fallen to his knees at the point of perpendicular cross-section and relief brought strength back to his legs.  As he started to rise, he paused thinking … what if?  Would it all be different?  And if it was different, would it be better?  He forced these thoughts out, knowing that no respectable father would think that way.

God, I don’t need this kind of pressure on my day off.  From now on the mother watches it.  He turned back to his second quart, noticing he still had a cigarette lit, and he was almost allowed to return to his relaxation.  He needed to calm himself after that, knowing that it would be harmful to his mental health.  The relaxation wasn’t granted to him however, for rustling began within the house.

“Damn!” he whispered, concentrating on concern.  He ran to the boy.  He picked the boy up to try and settle and quiet it, before its Mother could step out onto the porch.

“What’s a matter with him dad?” she asked leaning out from the porch.

He feigned surprise at her presence, saying, “The boy just got scared by a big ol’ semi!”  He had the boy in his hands now, and he was stroking its hair and cooing softly to it.

He hid his guilt well, he hoped, remembering to look her directly in the eyes while he spoke.

“Car!” the baby screamed leaning out of his arms for the mother’s. “Daddy…car!”

She shot him a penetrating stare and whisked her boy out of its father’s arms.

“Ya’ gotta toughen the boy up mother!” he instructed with no conviction in his voice.  Again, he felt defeated by a four year-old and a woman.

Following them, he tried to stay true to his character, but inside –the side he vowed never to let them see– he was shaken by the event.

The little runt.  Things were great around here until it arrived.  The little runt.

Nearing his seat, the hand was out to greet the malt liquor.  As he sat, he delicately brought the bottle of malt liquor, with the sitting motion, to prevent the contents from spilling out.  His ear was involuntarily bent to the house.

He could hear them.  No matter how hard he tried to block them out, he could hear them.  He could hear the mother give the runt consoling tones.  He could hear the baby’s subsequent laughter.  He felt sure, deep in his heart, that they were laughing at him.

Strict to script, it began.  It began after she had fully consoled the little baby and left it to its own.  It would squeal.  It would laugh.  It would run across the floor in a pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter pattern of cute, tiny, little baby feet running back and forth across the floor.  A herd of cattle couldn’t have been this agonizing.  It was the subtlety of the little feet pounding into his head that wrinkled his skin and grayed his hair.

Work became an escape from that.  Even though he hated his job, and he felt like it stole a part of his life that he would never get back, it was still an escape from this.  The thunderous poundings of machinery he experienced every day, that which his doctors worried about, became an escape for him.  The gargantuan, ear-piercing thuds blocked thought.  The routine of the day stole hours of his life with the meaninglessness of every task he performed.  The mindless minutiae of the tasks slowly killed his brain in a manner he considered irrevocable.  It was still an escape from this though.

***

IT was a gorgeous little tike.  It had its mother’s golden blonde hair, her rosy cheeks, its father’s ice blue eyes, and its mother’s tight facial structure.  It had taken all their best features, and it was, for lack of a better description, a beautiful boy.

The relatives loved it when they brought it before them.  It was the center of attention, and it knew it.  It handled the adoration casually, rolling an eye here, scrunching up its face there, and giving cute, little comments everywhere.  It pretended to be shy.  It pretended that it didn’t enjoy the attention.

Of course, its father laughed with them all.  What kind of father would he be if he didn’t?  He fought the urge, between his bouts of feigned laughter, to collect the obnoxious show off, set it next to him, and tell it to shut up.  He couldn’t do that of course, not with her relatives around. He received those looks from them as it was.  He hid this urge well from everyone, including the boy’s mother.  The boy knew.  Its four-year-old mind wasn’t built, or trained, for much, but it sensed discomfort, and it cashed in on any moments of weakness.

The boy latched onto him at the family reunions they attended –be they her family or his.  It mussed its dad’s hair, hair he had shampooed and gelled for the occasion.  The boy messed with its dad’s clothes, clothes that were uncomfortable to begin with.  Then, just this last year, at one of her family reunions, reunions he felt uncomfortable and out of place in anyway, the boy did it on its dad’s lap.  Two years after it’d been fully potty trained, the boy did it.

It screamed, of course, loud enough for it to gain the center of attention in the high priced dining room they had chosen for this reunion.  Tables from far and neared stopped what they were doing, and saying, to watch how high the screamer could scream.  A busboy stopped pouring his glass of water.  A waiter was holding his heart with a half-smile on his face, and a notepad in his hand.  The alarm turned to pity, and soft, cooing smiles.

After handing the screamer to its mother, he wiped at his pants with his good handkerchief over the damp, urine spot that was now his, high up on the thigh, and in one of the more incriminating places anyone could image.  His good handkerchief accomplished little-to-nothing.

They consoled the pisser, until it felt better.  Its mother picked it up to take it to the car to get it another pair of pants.  Its father said he wanted to leave, but mother said she had prepared for such emergencies, and that she had another pair of pants in the car.

“Do you have another pair for me?” he asked.

She laughed with her family, and she said that all would be fine, and she would fix it.  She was speaking of the boy, of course, and that they wouldn’t be leaving.

It was this reunion that escalated the matter.  It was this reunion that began his exit from his immediate family.

When she returned, the two of them smiled at him from across the table.  They had sent him a message in their unity.  They knew that with pee on his leg, he wasn’t about to leave the table for all to giggle at him privately.  He was confused that day, the day he had been totally ostracized.  He was confused until finally they readied to leave.

As the relatives began to stand, and gather their coats, and chat among one another, and gave farewell kisses and hugs, the little ferret sought its father out once again.  With a closed, fisted hand upon its father’s leg, the boy pointed to its mess, and in its cutest, most sugary voice cried out:

“Potty?”

“Yes,” he responded as sweetly as he could.  Then he laughed along with the group, as any good Father would.

“I’m sorry,” the pisser’s mother said giggling beneath her hand.  When she apologized in this manner, it wasn’t to offer condolences so much as it was to give herself an excuse for laughter.

“If you’re sorry,” he asked.  “Why are you still laughing?”

Her laughter continued well past the others, for she knew him better than any of them.  Her apologies meant nothing either to him or to her for that matter.

***

SHE’D become a master of excuses, when it came to her boy.  “He’s one … he’s two … he’s four …!” she would say to initiate her excuse for whatever failing it had.  He predicted he’d be hearing this for the next fourteen years.  When, after the fourteen year sentence, the byproduct of his loins would be old enough to land upon his tender keester out in the cruel, cold world.  It was a day that his father looked forward to, and his father’s father with him.  Call it family tradition.

His longing for that day increased when the baby crawled into bed with them.  The baby claimed that everything from the moon, to the owls, to the rain outside, disrupted its sleep.  It didn’t matter that the boy was acting as a physical divider in their bed; he had accomplished that in the womb.  It was the boy’s bony body, which crept into its Father’s side throughout the night.  He could’ve moved to the couch, he knew that, but that would’ve given the boy a victory.

He and the baby’s mother still had sex.  They weren’t dead.  Their sex, however, had degenerated since its birth.  They used to whisper words of passion to one another, words that only two in love can understand and enjoy.  They used to get sappy and dramatic with their words.  After its birth, their whispers became contrived, obvious gestures to two that had accepted the love in their lives as a given and something that didn’t need to be proven.  Then the whispers stopped.

The cessation of the whispers brought on the cessation of their lovemaking.  Now sex, between them, was a quota.  “It’s something that couples should do,” she said one night when extending the invitation.

“Something that couples should do?” he repeated with indignation. “You make it sound so … medicinal.”

“Don’t be difficult.”

That was it.  He lost.  They had sex that night, and they would in the future when she deemed it necessary.  When they did, they had sex in the manner rhinos will, with the same motion and the same faces.  Rhinos didn’t need to look at one another when they had sex, and either did he and his son’s mother.  Rhinos don’t need love or even lust, and neither did they.

***

“LIGHTEN up a little!” was her refrain to him.  She said it with an expression of surprise and disbelief, as if he were often out of line in expressing his concerns.

She had a point.  He did need to lighten up.  He wouldn’t lighten up on the boy.  He would fight her tooth and nail on that one.  He did need to lighten up, though, in general.   He was wound too tight.  He dwelled on things.  He drank too much and dwelled even more when he was drinking.  He concentrated on stupid stuff that stupid people did to him, until it became impossible for him to achieve the distance of perspective.  Everything was personal.  There were no flippant mistakes in his world.  There were no slips of the tongue.  Everything had a purpose.  He didn’t like being that way, but he knew no other way.

There weren’t too many happy times in his day, because he concentrated upon its every minute.  He could never click on cruise control, and was awed when he saw how well others could.  He worried about things that concerned him and things that didn’t.  He thought about things that others didn’t, and he thought too hard about things that others did.  There were always things he wished he’d said, and things he’d said he wished he hadn’t.

Looking out onto the highway, from his porch, he wondered how those who passed by in their shiny, expensive cars had dealt with their problems.  He wondered how they had handled their problems so much better than he had to achieve their current status.

***

“COME ON IN,” the boy’s Mother said sticking her head into the porch, “I’ve fixed a lunch.”

Mealtime, he thought with a grin.  He rose from his chair and staggered to the table.  Mealtime was the only time he was treated with any kind of respect.  His wife had but one standard in life, and that was that her family would always be well fed.

“Can I get some more milk?” he asked halfway through the meal.  His wife shoveled a spoonful of peas in her mouth and took his empty glass to the kitchen.

He flipped the child incarnate the bird, in her absence.  He enhanced the action with the ugliest, meanest face he could muster.  The child smiled immediately upon meeting its father’s gaze, then frowned and ducked his head in shame.

“Thank you!” he said when it’s mother returned with the full glass.

“Why are you smiling?” she mentioned with the knowledge that a happy, satisfied grin rarely crossed his face.  Her worried expression lasted from the release of the glass to her seat at the side of the table.

“Nothing,” he replied, smiling into his food.

The baby, with its short term memory, began playing with its food.  It destroyed its wiener, methodically ripping at it with its fingers.  Then it was laughing and playing with its food, until it spilled its milk.  It hesitated a moment, in its carnage, to evaluate its Mother.  She rose from the table with a slight sigh and raced to the kitchen.

Looking at the baby, who had now refocused his efforts on the wiener, its father knew he hadn’t much time.  He hadn’t a plan either, until he focused in on the Jell-O.  With his spoon, he retrieved a Jell-O square.  He cocked the spoon back, aimed, and let the square fly.  It bounced off the boy’s temple.

The baby immediately began mewling.  Its happier-than-though expression had altered deliciously.  It was now looking at its Father with a bewildered expression while rubbing the Jell-O’s point of contact.

“Daddy lello?” it cried when the Mother returned with a paper towel.

“Well, you gotta be more careful,” its father said, in his dad voice.  “You can’t play with your food, or things like this are going to happen.”

Its mother wiped and cleaned the table, and then she wiped the baby up.  She sat behind her food ready to dig in, ambivalent to the whole matter.  And with a spoon of peas almost to her mouth, its Mother paused looking at him with the same bewildered expression the baby gave him.

“What’s so funny?” she asked in tones that suggested an earnestness.

“Nothing … just the baby’s expression when its Jell-O square hit its face,” he said laughing hard.

“Daddy lello!” the baby said still rubbing the center of its head.

“Well, daddy’s right you can’t play with your food,” its Mother responded before placing the spoonful of peas in her mouth.

“DADDY LELLO!” The tones of the little victim grew in earnest as it pointed at him.

He smiled at the baby, then into his food again.  He could play now.  He had found an angle in the game.  He was scoring points.  The tide was turning in his favor.  The possibilities seemed endless.  Soon, he decided, he would launch an all-out, mind-altering attack on the Mother.  Soon they would regain respect for him.  Soon he would be the head of the household again.

###

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