By Hayley Igarashi
The other mother smells like the candle aisle in a grocery store, a cacophony of clean linen and cedar, mixed, however irrationally, with a hint of peelable cheese and basil.
“Am I holding him correctly?”
“Maybe support his head a little more with your hand,” Lana tells the other mother, making up a suggestion on the spot. “There, that’s better.”
“I’ve never known how to hold babies,” the other mother says.
“I guess that makes sense.”
The two women do not make eye contact. Instead, they sit in Lana’s living room and watch the baby, a squirming collection of limbs held together by slick, purple satin. Lana would never have bought such an item for herself, let alone a newborn baby prone to slipping out of swings and arms. The blanket came with the other mother.
“You’re doing okay, though?”
Lana shrugs, and the gesture feels like the first honest thing she’s done today.
“I think this week will help.”
The other mother smiles, a wide, cavernous thing that doesn’t just reach her eyes but seems to extend to the tips of her ears.
“That makes me so happy to hear you say.” She clutches the baby tighter to her chest with one hand, freeing the other to softly squeeze Lana’s leg. “This week is what’s best for you and me. And our husbands.”
No mention of what’s best for the baby, but perhaps that benefit is implied.
Lana nods and forces her lips into the semblance of a smile.
The men return from who knows where. Lana catches Cooper’s eye, resisting the urge to peek at the other mother doing the same with the other husband.
Before today, Lana worried about a mix-up, confusing the other husband for Cooper or Cooper confusing the other mother for herself. How embarrassing. But just as the other mother smells quite good and wrong at the same time, the other husband is a pleasantly unpleasant visual puzzle, both familiar and alien. Maybe it’s his eyes, or the lines around them.
“We should probably get going,” the other husband says.
Cooper agrees because of course he does.
“Is that okay?”
The question crawls on spider legs down Lana’s ear canal.
“Of course,” Lana tells the other mother, imagining herself screaming instead. “Best leave while he’s in a good mood, anyway.”
Both women stand as if on cue, and then the four of them are all facing each other, two Coopers and two Lanas, and one baby in between.
“I’m so grateful we get to do this.” The other mother’s voice cracks at the edges, splintering single syllables in two. “We’ll be the best parents for him, all of us together. We’ll be more present, more well-rested, more…”
They know. They all know already. It’s in the brochure.
Lana places a long kiss on her baby’s forehead. She leaves a tear clinging to his soft temples.
Outside, the night is still, like the rest of the world has been paused or put on mute. Lana’s bare toes cling to the edge of the curb. Cooper holds her shoulders tightly as they watch the other mother and other husband strap their child in and drive away, back to this same home, but in a universe parallel to here.
“It’s only a week,” Cooper whispers. “And we need this.”
Yes, that’s right. This is good. This is responsible. Because they’re drowning in a sea of their own making. And these days, Lana’s own body might be the heaviest anchor, dragging her family deeper and deeper into the abyss. She inhales and remembers a golden morning of gentle coos and small fingers grasping her hair. She exhales and remembers the sound of his piercing shrieks, a bottle crashing down the stairs, and her own breath catching in her throat, again and again and again.
“I miss him already,” she says, hoping it’s true.
The other family’s car is almost out of sight, tail lights hovering on the horizon.
“They’ll bring him back soon,” Cooper says. And then again, as if for himself: “They’ll bring him back.”
A bit of the night’s darkness detaches from the sky and slides under Lana’s skin. She shivers, and her rib cage squeezes and twists around her heart.
I like it!! Fascinating story.
Modern Parenting, is telling the reader what was once
instinct has been lost, so we depend on each other try and share
Well done, very relatable! Really liked the ending.
Pulled me right in. Bizarre and spooky. Thank you!
I loved how the tension kept growing along with my realization of what was going on, how I kept supplying possible scenarios only to have them banished. The tight, clipped dialogue added to the tension too, I think, and the images of things splintering and sinking.