Worn Smooth By the Passage of Time
by Jenn Marie Nunes
My boyfriend gives me a baby as a going away gift. It is a blue-colored baby. Looks sort of like a potato and sort of like a piece of sea glass and I am not even sure it is a baby, but that's what he says when I unwrap it.
"I want you to have this baby," he says, "to remember me by." And he picks up the plastic bag with his shirts and socks and the special set of pints he's stolen from his favorite bars.
"Thanks," I say. I would rather kick him in the shin, but it's very early in the morning and I haven't had my coffee yet.
"Word," he says and walks out the door.
I set the baby on my desk.
"Oh, Baby," I say. It wriggles and leaks a little onto the brown paint. I offer it a banana and then some yogurt and a cracker and a pickle and even cat food, but it doesn't want to eat or else I haven't found the mouth. It's a little hard to tell and while I am fairly certain this is not usually the case with babies, I couldn't say one way or the other with any sort of authority. I have never had a baby before.
I constantly have the feeling I should be doing something and yet there is nothing to do. I walk around the house opening and closing drawers. I get up in the middle of a movie, the sentence in my book, a bowl of cereal to offer the baby a flower, scraps of paper, a ladybug. Things occur to me, but apparently they are all the wrong things. I prop them against the baby and try to go back to my book.
My friend calls and asks how I'm doing.
You know, I say.
She invites me to come up for a visit. You need to get out, she says. Change of, etc.
I look at the baby in its pile of things on the couch. I notice the flower is gone. And I could have sworn I had put all my extra packs of card over there, too. The baby itself is a lumpy green hue. I have not told anyone else about it.
Sure, I say. I could do that.
It is cold in the mountains. My friend takes me out and introduces me to some people and we see a new movie and I buy a pair of expensive shoes. I sneeze on my friend's friend and she shrugs.
It's ok, she says, I work with kids.
I think of the baby and wonder if I left the heat on just in case.
When I get back, I run into the house and throw the shoes in the corner.
Baby! I call. I have been thinking of it all the way home. The way light passes through it onto the page like a piece of water.
I go to the couch, but the baby isn't there. I check all the usual places before I realize it must have crawled away — babies are known to do that. I check all the other places and finally there it is, in the dirty laundry, a greyer shade of blue for sure, but bigger than ever. I am careful to lift with my legs.
The baby makes soft watery noises and I prop it in the crook of my arm, against my shoulder like I used to hold the puppy we had when I was a child. The baby and I stand at the backdoor that way, looking out through the screen, for a long time.
I was afraid the baby would be a lot of work — something I had heard — but now that I have calmed down about it, this baby is actually very pleasant to deal with. It fits in a lot of places that need things fit in them and it makes a lot of little noises that fill the silences that need noises in them.
I have begun to carry it with me most places as it is so pleasant and so useful to have around.
"What a lovely baby!" people always say when they see it. "Where did you get such a lovely baby?"
I don't like to tell them it was a gift from my ex, so I say I got the baby on a trip down south or I found the baby on eBay or I grew it all the way from a seed! They are always very impressed and it makes me feel special and it makes them feel special because I have shared with them this very special thing.
It is nearly a year later when I see my ex-boyfriend through the baby at a bar in the Marigny. The baby has gotten very large and I can barely carry it around anymore. I am certain it is eating now, although I never see it happen. Every time there is something in my apartment I am tired of, I put it against the baby and when I come back it is gone. We are beginning to look very modern.
Recently, I had a friend over who just wouldn't leave. She had broken up with her boyfriend and while I know I should be sympathetic, I just can't be sympathetic for more than an hour at a time. She didn't ask me to come over and drink all of her whisky when my boyfriend gave me the baby. She has never even asked me about the baby. In fact, she seemed to think it was a pillow, as she kept rubbing her shoulders into it as she talked. About two hours and twenty-three minutes in, I yawned hugely and excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came out, she had left of her own accord. And now I take the baby with me everywhere.
I am drinking a beer and the baby is tucked into the stool next to me.
My ex-boyfriend looks at me around the baby and shakes his head. Last year he shaved his head for charity. Now his hair is very long. Longer than I have ever seen it and it is this blond color I do not know.
"June," he says. "What have you got there?"
I look at him. I shrug.
"I can take care of a baby," I say loudly.
He holds up his left hand, the one missing the first three fingers.
"It's our baby," I say softly. Then loudly again, "If it were just my baby, but it's your baby, too. In a way. I mean. I didn't want you to think." I take a sip of beer.
He lowers his hand and looks at the baby and shakes his head again. "Has anyone ever told you that you're missing the point?" he asks.
"You're missing the point," I say and point my left forefinger at his hand. It is an old joke and he gives me an indulgent smile.
A girl comes up and whispers something in his ear.
I wrap my arms around the baby and spread my fingers against its dusty potato-skin flesh. There is a small seam that I have not noticed before. A tiny raised line that runs along the length of the baby and I try to explore it with my fingers without the ex noticing. "I have been taking very good care of the baby," I tell him, "and it gives me a lot of satisfaction."
"Aren't babies supposed to be pink?" he asks me, watching the girl walk away.
"This is the color it was when you gave it to me," I say. "You picked it out this way."
"That's true," he says. He finishes his drink in one gulp. "But I thought it would change. I better run," he says. "I have to meet someone." He looks at me through the baby. With his new hair and in the wavering blue he looks so strange he could be a stranger, but he is also still exactly my boyfriend.
I lug the baby down the street to where it is quiet and empty. I pry my fingers into the seam and the baby opens easily, like pulling half an avocado from its pit. I put my head in first. Everything is blue-green smooth and warm. It smells a little like a vintage store. I kick off my shoes and climb in. The baby folds around me. I am momentarily afraid I won't be able to breath, but the fear passes.
The baby and I move together. I try to walk quickly but it feels like swimming in Jell-O. I give up and float. The baby makes gurgling noises. I can feel them in my chest. Everything is tinted green-blue and waved like old glass.
The baby has closed around me, the seam disappeared like a line drawn across water. To anyone on the outside we would appear to be a statue. A woman encased in blue glass. But I know we are moving. We are slowly, very slowly moving.
Jenn Marie Nunes has work that appears or is forthcoming in such journals as Ninth Letter, Finery, Black Warrior Review, Danse Macabre and PANK Magazine. Her echapbook, STRIP, is available through PANK Magazine, and she is co-author of the chapbook OPERA TRANS OPERA, forthcoming from Alice Blue Books. She is co-editor of TENDE RLOIN, an online gallery for poetry.