Cooper Levy-Baker is a freelance journalist and a second-year creative writing MFA student. Besides writing and reading, Cooper spends most of his time taking care of his 18-month-old son, mixing homemade liqueurs, and cleaning his gutters. In two years, he wants to move to Albania.
James clicked a link, then another, and another. He closed one window, minimized another. He left a comment. He clicked “Post” and refreshed the page to make sure his words stuck. He x-ed out that window and pulled up the minimized one. He read a series of DVD reviews. He left another comment. He closed that window and opened Facebook.
Denise leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. Her brown hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail; her face smelled like the palmitic cream she applied nightly. “Coming to bed soon?”
“Just checking some stuff.”
She scratched his scalp. Her fingernails always left him feeling lightheaded—his body one long, vibrating moan.
“Don’t forget to set the clock back,” he said. “Don’t want to be an hour early.”
She stepped behind him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders and neck. Her skin felt warm, like a blanket fresh from the dryer. “I know people hate daylight savings time, but I love it. When it’s six and dark outside. You think it’s time for bed, but you’ve got a whole evening ahead of you.”
Her taut, engorged stomach brushed the back of his neck. He turned and kissed her belly button. She bent down and pecked him gently on the lips, her toothpaste breath a reminder to brush his own teeth.
“It’ll be all right,” he said.
“Don’t stay up too late.”
He used two fingers to scroll through Facebook. A friend had posted photos from a fancy restaurant in Chicago—the kind of place where the food doesn’t look like food, or rather it looks like another kind of food. A sliver of buffalo meat had been broken down, wrapped around crystallized marrow, and fried—voilà, buffalo wing. The last photo in the series was of James’s friend and the chef out at a dive bar. They were hoisting beers, wearing the enormous grins of people who did not have to wake up early the next morning, who did not have to memorize questions to ask their doctors, who—in James’s mind—were out there living instead of being here, stuck. James continued scrolling, learning about workout regimes, chemtrails, the shooting from the night before. He watched a rap video and downloaded the audio.
There was nothing new in his inbox, so he checked his calendar. “OB/GYN Mon, November 12, 8am.” He finally pulled up a page he had minimized hours before. “What is a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia? A hole in the muscle between the chest and—”
He couldn’t take it—had to stop reading. After further Facebook scrolling, he turned on Private Browsing and searched for high-definition pornographic photos—mostly extreme close-ups of hairless vaginas and anuses. Tiny rounded goose pimples clustered together on a woman’s rear. Shame took hold of him after a dozen or so photos, but his penis couldn’t lie, and he felt its warm length pull itself along his left thigh.
He felt thirsty. With a glass of water in his hand, he looked out the kitchen window. The lamppost flickered in the front yard and the street beyond was completely dark. The cool water ran through his body.
Without leaving the kitchen, James was elsewhere, in a windowless room lined by yellow curtains with thick black chevrons, sitting in a white, wooden lounge chair, a short yolk-yellow table and two pearl-colored piña coladas to his right. Across the table, on a second lounge chair, sat a rotund baby, maybe seven months old. The baby was dressed in stretchy yellow pants, the crotch bulging where his diaper was secured. He wore a lemon-colored shirt. The boy’s soft neck looked barely able to support his head, but he sat exceptionally still, his face turned toward James, hazel eyes fixed on him. His brown hair was combed in a neat wave.
James knew no words to say to his future son. He took one of the piña coladas and sipped it through a long yellow straw. The baby remained frozen, staring at him. His eyes were heavy, circled with red and purple. He looked stoned.
“What,” James said, not taking the straw out of his mouth.
The baby blinked.
“I can hear planes circling the house,” the baby said, his lips motionless. His voice was deep and rich.
“We live near the airport. What do you expect.”
The baby shrugged.
“You’re not drinking,” James said, his own piña colada fifty percent depleted.
“Not in the mood, I guess.”
“More for me then.” James sucked down his drink in one elongated slurp and grabbed the second glass.
“Don’t do that.”
James paused. The baby leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ultramarine ceiling.
“Don’t you love those sounds?” the baby asked. Until then the room had been silent, but James began hearing the echo of waves and seagull squawks, as if someone, somewhere were slowly turning up the volume on a New Age CD.
“Not really,” James said. “What’s the joke? What’s the big deal about where dirt meets water… something like that.” The second piña colada was beginning to melt, the top of the drink more slushy than creamy. James looked up at the ceiling too, at the fathomless blue. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, blood was trickling out of the baby’s belly button. He seemed in no pain. He didn’t scream, didn’t thrash. He sat there calmly as the blood dripped out of him. There was no wound. The blood slid from his belly, pooled on the slats of the white lounge chair, and spilled down to the floor. The baby turned to James with a goofy, all-gums grin.
He set his empty water glass in the sink and leaned over the counter with both hands on the rim. He looked out the window. The lamppost was still flickering, the bulb giving off a ghostly, iron glow. Is this where he would die? Was he strong enough for that? The car keys jingled in his hand as he stepped outside. He could hear the roar of a plane ascending over a whoosh of wind. He slipped on a pair of flip-flops. It wasn’t until his hand was on the driver’s side handle that he realized he had nowhere to go and nothing to get there. His wallet, his money—everything was still inside.
He slunk back to his office and tapped Return until the screen came alive again. A pudendal cleft greeted him. He hurriedly shut that page and worked up the nerve to read the other one. “The hole allows the contents of the abdomen to go up into the fetal chest.” He Googled the condition, severity, outcomes, odds, solutions, recovery, effects on the mother, long-term care—will he be able to play basketball, will he be able to play soccer, will he run, will he be retarded, will he die young, what causes this, who does this happen to, why does this happen.
He looked at the clock in the upper right of the screen. It was two a.m.