The Question Is Disappearing. (Or: The Garden Orb)
Here’s a story for the Daily Prompt: Doubters Alert — “What commonly accepted truth (or “truth”) do you think is wrong, or at least seriously doubt?” @ https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/doubters-alert/Why?
My straight response comes afterward, if you’re interested.
“That’s not a hobo spider. It’s a garden orb. See here.” She passes him her device, the screen of which clearly shows the characteristic stripe of the harmless creature now squashed in the bottom of their tub. He pretends to look and nods, but he already knows, like almost anyone would, could.
“Hmm.” He says. He rubs his eyes, red from lack of sleep. The new baby cries in the next room. “So…”
“So, you killed it for no reason.”
“I panicked,” he says quietly as she scratches vigorously at her upper arms. She’s been doing this since the birth. He chalks it up to postpartum hormone fluctuations, which he knows all about.
As he turns away, he makes a mental note anyway to look it up: postpartum + eczema, postpartum + scratching/itching, postpartum + tics, etc. She bends with noisy effort to collect the little pulpy mess with a square of toilet paper. “You panicked.”
She’s tossing the spider into the toilet, he thinks as he heads down the hall toward the baby’s room, and she’ll let it mellow with the yellow rather than flush it. One flush, even from their H2No toilet, uses more than a gallon of water. He knows. She knows. Everyone they know knows.
“Panicked!” she says louder, just now (perhaps) realizing that he’s left the room. “Well, there are things one can do for that, you know. One doesn’t need to suffer that nonsense unless he chooses to!”
I know, I know, I know. We all know. You probably know already, too, were born knowing –— he thinks, looking at the baby before he gently lifts her into his arms. The baby’s eyes are clamped shut as she wails on, but there are no tears yet. That happens later. The crying is upsetting, of course, but less so if you understand that it’s normal. He finds it upsetting anyway, could not sleep, panicked. He’s very tired. Everyone’s tired. And all of this is normal.
He hears the toilet flush after all and then the still-pregnant-sounding footsteps of his wife as she approaches. “Or instead of getting help for your panic disorder, maybe you could try leaches or something, you know, to suck the bad blood out. But then again, it could be a demon. Too bad Father Cohee’s still in jail.”
Father Cohee has been dead for five years … she must know that, he thought. She’s exhausted.
Now, she is standing in the nursery door way, puffy-faced and drawn-looking at the same time. He hates it when she gets like this and this is worse than usual, but again and most important: he’s not surprised. He’s been expecting this. “You should try to sleep,” he says.
“I knew you were going to say that.” She attempts to tighten the draw string on her knit top, but her boobs, big and heavy as sacks of flour, get in the way. She starts to cry.
He blinks at her slowly, sensing something shifting, murky out of the corner of his eye. He turns to face the baby and begins to hum to her. His wife stomps off and slams a door. I would too, he thinks. I’m a shit.
In bed later, his wife turns to him and says, “‘The Old Gray Goose Is Dead.’ I searched and found a match for the tune you were humming. It was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Please tell me you can come up with more suitable material for a lullaby.”
“I can.” Anyone can. “Good night.”
Sleep comes quickly and ends abruptly, with no dreams in between. The baby wakes at 11:00 p.m., 2:30 a.m., and 5:45 a.m. This goes on for a couple of weeks before a new pattern develops. All normal. All to be expected. There’s plenty of crying, there are harsh words, and there apologies. But there’s also joy (or some feeling he doesn’t really attempt to identify or even describe; he believes his wife feels it too) — moments the three of them share that seem gilded, brilliant with significance, before they’ve even passed. Again though, certainly all of it this is well-charted territory for new parents. (Except, except, except!)
Except for that weighty, winged thing fluttering about in the shadows of his peripheral vision.
Yes, except for that. No, he’s not sure what it is. He doesn’t know how to find out more about it. He’s not sure whether he should or can do anything in response. But he is sure he doesn’t want to panic — not now, especially.
When he was a child, he remembers now, he’d ask his mother so many questions (“Does God live in the The White House?” “What happens if you fall into lava?” “Where did the first seed come from?” “Why does Dad work at night now, too? Who goes to the dentist at night?” [She had a quick answer for that one: “Vampires, that’s who.”]) and usually — if she didn’t know the answer (and sometimes even when she did, probably) — she’d do just as most parents then believed good parents should: admit it and suggest going to find the answer together.
“Hmmm,” she’d say. “That’s a good question, but to tell you the truth, I have no idea. Let’s see if we can figure it out.” And they’d go straight to her laptop. Usually, they’d end up watching YouTube, funny clips or music videos that were popular when she was growing up … and, finally, they’d check out her Facebook page. He remembered often waking up in the middle of the night — either on the couch, his head on her lap, the laptop “sleeping” on the next cushion over, or in his father’s arms, being carried up to bed. The next day, he’d try to recall whether or not they’d found an answer to his question, not because he cared that much anymore but more “on principle” — he told himself then. He doesn’t remember that last detail now.
Tonight, the baby cries at a new time: 4:40 a.m. It’s his turn, he knows, and the pumped milk is ready and waiting in the fridge. He looks straight ahead, keeps his eye on the prize, passes another garden orb on the way: first the steps, then the fridge, next the bottle, now the baby, and finally the bottle + the baby. Ahhh, “there we go.” The crying stops.
She has real tears now, right on schedule, and once he brushes them away, he and she will stare into each other’s eyes until the bottle is finished — a great antidote, he’s found, to the dark, flapping thing. Then, sleep can begin again.
We give a lot of lip service to the importance of questions, questioning, curiosity, etc., to the superiority even of questions over answers, BUT our institutional, cultural, and personal practices seem to suggest otherwise: we are as afraid of “not knowing” as ever, speeding toward “certainty” on as many fronts as possible — some of us begrudging the believers their beliefs, others calling the scientists out on the seeming inconsistencies or contradictions in their conclusions. It is good to know, even when knowing = trouble, complications, or worse yet more questions. I think that maybe the only thing as irresistible as having the answers (at the risk of sounding sappy) is love (and with it, the fear of losing love), which puts the pedal to the metal in our drive to know.