The Baby down Therehttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/garnibaby-clockwork-orange.jpeg?fit=1280%2C853&ssl=11280853Chelsea Laine WellsChelsea Laine Wellshttps://i2.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Chelsea-Laine-Wells.jpg?fit=72%2C96&ssl=1
Baby choked to death on a cherry pit. You’re not supposed to give them the cherries with pits. Gummy mouth, tight little throat.
Later he isn’t sure if it was him who did it or her. When he turns to it in his mind all he sees is after. Her shaking the baby upside down like a rubber doll, screaming screaming, the plastic highchair slammed over into wood paneling and apple juice everywhere, cherries crushed under her pajama knees like something bloody. Like the baby she lost two winters ago in a thin towel with all the soft washed out of it on the bathroom floor of the trailer while he lay in the wrecked-up bed smoking and trying to figure out what he was going to say to her face. He cupped his hand over the smoke but it escaped like water pouring up. Maybe these things happened because of bad living, no god, everything dirty slack shameful. Church in his upbringing but he kicked that the second he was able and found other things. She did too. You laughed so loud in bars, you laughed hard and loud like you were trying to cover something up. Now maybe they were paying. Solid blood hurting its way out of her body. Can’t seem to hang onto anything. What does it mean about you?
When it was clear the baby was dead, she went snatching at the air above it, where the soul must be. Trying to scoop the soul back down and stuff it into the baby’s body, but, he thought from where he sat useless and drunk at the table, stricken like watching a dream, you can’t unchoke, you can’t unbleed, you can’t unrelease, the soul rises, and unravels.
At the funeral he is drunk, she is drunk, there is no other way to be. Church people around, they show up for you even when you don’t show up for them. After it’s over and the baby’s little cheap box is in the ground he drives them to a CVS on the wet side of town, over the river. She waits in the car. He stands inside there in the clean warm air for a minute and looks at her through the dirty windshield glass. Cold huddles in the car, unmoving, nestled up to her. She is hardly breathing. Her eyes won’t shut. You can’t help but think of the baby’s eyes, the baby’s skin going cold. He touched the foot when the ambulance was on the way. Just the foot where it was poking out from her body on the floor all folded around the baby’s, wailing. They buried the baby with socks on, and these little soft-soled shoes. Not enough to protect from anything. You can’t help but think of winter in the hard ground and the baby down there, cold seeping in everywhere.
He brings two six-packs to the register. Has one of those money cards from the bank, the church gave them, expenses for the funeral and survival after. It goes in the slot or it slides, he can’t tell. He is fumbling it. Blurry-eyed. The cashier girl watches him. She is pretty, gold earrings, gum, dark hair pulled back tight like it might hurt her scalp.
Sir, she says. Sir, she says. Sir have you been drinking this morning, she says.
His mouth around the words is wrong. No, I, no, he says, and he can’t figure the buttons. The card shakes in his hand and he is sick he feels it in his skin the lightness sickness numbness creeping. The buttons are numbers, or the small letters on the numbers there like an old style telephone with, with, with, those-
Sir have you been drinking this morning, she says. Cinnamon gum.
No, no, I, he says, and watches as she takes the six packs back, gently, removes them to her side of the counter with her hands splayed over and under them like she’s not used to picking up a six pack by the plastic rings and maybe she isn’t. He wants to say, good, don’t get used to it. He is watching through a buzzy sort of tunnel her thin hands, red vest, thin gold chain around her wrist. There is a whirring sound he hears and he realizes it’s a space heater under the counter. The doors opening and closing all day must be cold, that hard winter air gets in your clothes your skin your bones gets in the box gets in the baby down there. It’s good they let her have that heater. Small comforts. Like the cherries he saw at the grocery store and decided to splurge on, out of season but somehow there anyway. They were his wife’s favorite, expensive but what the hell, sometimes you did things like that. It was details that made life out of survival. You can regret everything or you can tell yourself you had good intentions, you tried your best, or at least you tried, you did something. Maybe that matters.
He drives to another CVS, Walgreens, liquor store, somewhere. On the way the car drifts and the tire scrapes curb and it jolts her like she’s waking up and the baby’s name falls out of her mouth. Flies out, startled, like a bird in a magic trick. He moves his eyes from the road to where he imagines it to be, the name flying around released between them. Rising gone and uncatchable.
Chelsea Laine Wells has been published in Paper Darts, Gravel Magazine, PANK, Hobart, The Collapsar, Cease, Cows, Hippocampus, The Butter, Third Point Press, Wigleaf, and Heavy Feather, among others, and won a 2015 Best of the Net award. She is managing and fiction editor of Hypertext Magazine and founding editor of Hypernova Lit. She lives in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, TX, where she teaches freshman English and creative writing at a public high school. Her work is represented by Maria Massie of MMQ. You can find out more at www.chelsealainewells.com.