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Issue number three




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Baby bakes Valhalla by Randy Schroeder

Brock was not articulate. He birthed each sentence. Some required c-section.

Brock was a father now. Baby sat in the kitchen corner, peeling labels from tin cans, watching dada cut a lemon. The kitchen steamed, open window sniffing hot summer night. Brock cut, waited for Christine to come home from work. She'd slam the door. Maybe not.

"Cat got your tongue?" baby said. Ginger twitched her tail, leaped from floor to counter, slunk under the cupboards.

Ginger! Brock pulled cat from crumbs. Baby peeled labels.

The stove element smoked, smelled of copper. Who cares, thought Brock. This kitchen an awful mess. Grimy windows, busted sink, all that rotting produce in the crisper. Banana, onions, orange, potato. Christine would be so mad. Those dirty carrots needed washing and peeling. Did it keep getting hotter? Did the faucet drip faster each passing minute?

Week-old dishes layered the sink, rust and grey sludge between cup and saucer. Stove scabbed with stains, stacked with fossils -- corn bits, oatmeal clumps, pepper grains. Each a small epoch. If these walls could talk.

And all these other omens. Clocks, best-before labels, calendars. How Brock hated calendars. Everything fixed, no surprises. All those days in paper cocoons, tucked beneath pages. Waiting till month's end for the husk of spent days, enough to make you dirty the house yourself.

Brock considered the kitchen. Paint blistered on the wall where the kettle always steamed. A slice of wallpaper drooped over the stove. How unlovely.

He sighed. Why not clean that window, at least, gaze into the night? He needed to get out of here, just for one evening. I'll call a sitter, he thought, lifting the phone.

Baby started crying.

Oh, honey. No. Please.

Baby cried so loud. She had gears of volume, at least five.

Okay, no babysitter. Brock reached for baby. They'd get out of the house together, go to the park. Baby unbuckled another degree of volume. Why was she so heavy? And slippery, hard to pick as a watermelon seed. Brock almost cried. He had no control over this child. It was hopeless. He stood, leaned on the counter. The stove element sizzled, just about cooked his arm-hairs.

He needed a plan. A tunnel through the earth. Jailbreak, Stalag sixteen. Or a balloon, sail air to freedom. Or fire, arson. An angel to rapture him from the flames. Maybe a secret river, baby in a wicker basket like Moses. God, anything.

Speaking of water, the sink was dripping double time. He needed to fix that thing before it broke completely and flooded the place. Christine would be so mad. Really should turn the stove off. The element was poker-red.

Think realistically here. He bit a lip in concentration. Nothing. The harder he tried, the more mumbled his mind became. Baby cried and cried. Shut up, for Christ's sake. Brock pounded the cupboard, sprinkling crumbs.

Baby was stacking the cans. Oh, honey, no. They'll fall, knock you on the head.

Brock crouched and unstacked the cans. He suddenly wouldn't have minded throttling his own dear child, right there on the filthy floor. The feeling swept him. A brief thought, a guilty pleasure. He grabbed the clump of carrots and smacked them, showering dirt. A lot of dirt can cling to a clump of carrots. The faucet rattled. Drip turned to steady stream.

Oh Lord, Brock thought. I have got to get out of here. I am gone. He spun, left baby wailing on the dirty floor. Went for the door. The endless summer sky.

He stopped, head exploding with guilt, despair rushing in. He was leaving baby behind? What kind of father was he? He turned back. Baby was stacking cans again. Ginger crouched behind, muscles coiled, ears twitching. The freezer door opened, seeping ice fog. Brock slammed it shut. The cans fell with a rattle. Baby screamed. Ginger leaped into the sink and crashed the faucet.

The faucet coughed up bits of metal and gushed till in seconds the roof poured like uncorked firmament and soaked the wallpaper which dropped its sad unglued frond to the element where the paper started on fire in spite of its wet self and set off the stove fan rushing wind across the floor to stir and furrow dirt while the freezer door opened again and blasted wind straight from Valhalla.

Brock jumped back, pushed by the front of cold kitchen air, at which baby squealed with delight and Ginger uttered wheezy meows from the sink, all the while photographing the scene in quick epileptic blinks.

"Wow." Brock found his tongue.

"God is in the details," baby said.

Brock flattened against the wall and squinted into the storm. "What's the name of god?"

Baby shrugged.

The wind wisped and spattered clouds before spinning itself to oblivion. The ice fog smoked backwards into the freezer, pulling the door behind it. Baby stared at dada, mouth open. Ginger blinked. Brock slumped. He met baby's eyes, found connection, nothing he could voice.

He stretched. Gathered himself, tiptoed around baby to the window, scraped away an eyeful of grime. Brock was once a stripper, before he became The Mommy. He looked out. The world unzipped: black tea sky sugared with stars, wafer moon for dipping, leaves like unripe fruit.

Baby peeled labels. Such a gentle paper rustle. Such shiny silver beneath. Brock wandered from the window, through the cool evening air of the kitchen. He opened the oven door and plucked a lemon pie, time's prize, such fine meringue.

After unsuccessful stints as a rodeo cowboy, an itinerant monk, and an Elvis impersonator's assistant, Randy Schroeder moved to Canada to teach university English. He lives in Calgary with his pet crow, also named Randy.

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