Mommy and Me
Catherine googled “fur baby” but all that came up were pictures of dogs, not babies like Chloe.
“This is a first,” the fertility clinic said as if Catherine might appreciate the novelty. She should sue them.
She’s explaining this in Mommy and Me when Miranda cuts her off.
“I’m sorry,” Miranda says. “It’s too much.” They’re kicking Catherine out of the group.
Technically, they’re kicking Chloe out, but nobody says that. It’s not Chloe’s fault she ripped Johnson’s baby blanket to shreds. What kind of a first name is Johnson? He’s a potato-faced baby, but at least he hasn’t pooped on the floor in the middle of class half a dozen times. Nor has he bitten Ivy, twice.
Chloe wasn’t the problem; all children have difficulties. Catherine didn’t fit in. She wasn’t like the other mothers. She didn’t complain about sore nipples. Didn’t fret over attachment styles or sleep training. When she admitted that Chloe slept with her in bed, snuggled up at Catherine’s feet in a pile of blankets, the other mothers were horrified.
They liked to make their suffering a competition and Catherine’s suffering was unique. They didn’t know how to measure it. Her worries were bizarre. In their eyes, she wasn’t a real mother, her love for her child not as deeply and painfully earned. Catherine had never belonged and now she was being forced out.
Catherine can feel their relief as she starts packing her bag. She wrestles a toy from Chloe and stuffs it in alongside a container of treats. “You have no idea what it’s like—” she starts but doesn’t know how to finish. They can’t understand her isolation. They watch silently as Catherine grabs Chloe by the legs, slides her squirming body across the floor, and then struggles to put on her harness.
Miranda steps forward to help, but Catherine waves her off. “Don’t bother.” These women are not so different from her, Catherine thinks. Their babies are as much a mystery as Chloe, personalities and futures unknown. We could have been friends, she wants to say. We could have helped each other. Instead, she scoops Chloe into her arms, grabs her bag, and walks out the door.
Outside, Chloe squats and pees against a curb. It’s hot. Sweat dampens Catherine’s lip. When Chloe finishes, Catherine bends down, clips a leash to her harness, and starts down the street, but Chloe doesn’t follow. The leash pulls taut and Catherine stops. She whistles, but Chloe doesn’t budge.
“Let’s go.” She snaps her fingers. “Chloe, come,” she says, harshly.
The bag slips off Catherine’s shoulder and, exasperated, she jerks it back up and tugs the leash much too hard. Chloe stumbles forward and yelps, then plops down on the sidewalk whimpering. Catherine’s stomach lurches. She falls to her knees beside her daughter.
“I’m sorry.” She runs a hand over Chloe’s head, scratches gently behind her ears. Chloe is sun-warmed and soft, and Catherine kisses her. “You’re a good girl,” she whispers. “Mommy loves you.”
—Fiction by Claire Taylor
Rebecca’s balcony overlooks the playground at Wolfe Street Academy. She watches two children argue over a game of kickball. One kid looks like the ball, round and red-faced. The other, a wiry know-it-all, points repeatedly at a nonexistent foul line.
There is no faded line on the ground—Rebecca knows this playground better than anyone—and the argument ends unresolved, interrupted by the morning bell.
The kickball kids rush off, but a pair of older boys take their time, punching each other back and forth as they cross the blacktop to collect their backpacks. A blonde girl follows them, laughing cautiously, her back arched into a half-moon, chest pressed up and out. She has a crush. Rebecca can always spot a crush. The girl grabs her bag, but forgets her pink jacket. She leaves it crumpled in the corner of the schoolyard, bright against the dark asphalt.
The heavy doors close behind the last of the children with a thud and Rebecca goes inside. She takes the stairs down from her apartment two at a time.
She crosses the street and preemptively brings her finger to her lips, shushing the rusty schoolyard gate before it squeaks. She walks quickly to the corner of the playground and grabs the jacket. She runs her thumb across the collar, holds it up, and shakes off the dirt. The zipper jingles pleasingly.
Back inside, Rebecca carries the jacket to her bedroom, pausing to pick up the pillow she sent flying at his head earlier that morning.
“You need help,” he said, and as if to confirm it, she wailed and threw a couch pillow across the room.
In the bedroom, she carefully navigates the items splayed across the floor: a deflated red kickball, a Paw Patrol trapper keeper, a pencil kit, a hair bow, a tin lunch box with a thermos, a red winter hat, a blue mitten for a right hand.
“What the fuck, Rebecca?” he said when she came in from the bathroom to find her suitcase open, her collection exposed, the red hat still in his hands. “Jesus, did you do something to these kids?”
How easily he’d jumped to the worst possible conclusion, as if he’d been searching, excited to stumble across this excuse to leave.
They were just things, she explained. Treasures. She didn’t know why she liked them.
“Please tell me you see how sick this is?” he said.
“Lots of people have collections,” she replied and he looked at her with such concern that for a moment she believed he might stay.
Now she sits on the floor and presses the jacket to her chest. In her mind, she can still hear the sound of the children playing, the argument over the foul line, the hollow laugh of the blonde girl. She pictures the girl at the end of the day, the afternoon air chilly without her pink jacket to warm her. “I’m cold,” she’ll tell her crush and she’ll lean into him, searching for a treasure that isn’t there.
—Fiction by Claire Taylor
My Son Invents a New Game
It ends with us all being eaten. But first, we watch the world crumble. Dinosaurs return. They chase us upstairs where we huddle in the corner of a closet, breathing heavily. He wants to laugh, my son. I can see it in the press of his mouth, the small tremble of his shoulders. This is all pretend and yet, with each new disaster, he says, I’m serious. Globs of hot ash fall from the sky and splatter against our heads. I’m serious. The earth cracks open between us, a deep fissure that grows by the second. We must hurry, so I reach out my arms as he prepares to jump. If we fall, we die. I’m serious. The ground is full of snakes and lava. It is full of one-eyed globe fish. It is full of bears who wish they could be friendly, but they don’t know how because they are bears. So they will maul us. If we try to play dead, they will maul us anyway. I’m serious. One monster after another until we are racing back and forth across the house, trying to survive. The dog doesn’t like it. He barks and whines. He chases after us, leaps into the air, and nips me on my shoulder, trying to herd me back to safety like I’m a dumb, helpless sheep. It hurts. I’m serious. When will this end, I ask my son. We are huddled beneath a blanket. Hiding in a cave. Every few seconds he pokes his head out and screams, spying a fresh horror on the horizon. I don’t know, he says. Maybe never.
—CNF by Claire Taylor