Post Road Magazine #18

BY'M BYE

Alexandra Chasin

Back in those days, baby things were white. Blankets, gowns, bottle collars, booties, high chairs and cribs, little cups, hats, bibs–white, all white. White on white. Miniatures on ivory. Pink meant off-white, as in shell.

Blue meant off-white too, as in skim milk, as in old ladies' bleached hair. Mild pink and pale blue ribbons tied off, or woven through, or accented, or bordered white linen, white knits, even wooden furniture painted largely white.

In this particular household, the babies themselves were white. The elder baby had begun to speak just before the younger was born, which event he protested by ceasing to speak. For a week. He hasn't stopped talking since; there, there, naked, laughing, grotesque, in his bath. From another room came the indelicate squeal of a spigot followed by the familiar noise of water rushing into the basin over the susurrus of adults: careless, easy, always elsewhere.

Against the backdrop of the lack of a lullaby, the new baby made hardly a peep. Little gurgles. A round burp after feeding. When her tears ducts developed to the point that real drops swelled up and fell from her eyes, they did so silently, the only sound the tears landing on white surfaces, flat plink on the white wooden tray in front of her, resting there convex as a contact lens for a blue eye, fleshy plashes on her porcine, pink-white hands, pad pad pad as the tears arrived on white fabrics, hovering on the surface for less than an instant before sinking and spreading in tiny circlets of slightly-darkened white, not quite gray.

Regarded, occasionally, as cute, she was no trouble. If she had made noise, if she had cried out loud, if she had asked for anything, she would have been trouble. But she white all day, she white all night. The baby died quietly, by degrees, over a very long time, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy years, wishing someone would give her something solid to eat, or wipe her eyes, or look into them, or pick her up out of her high chair and hold her and say, Baby, you matter more than anything else in the whole wide world, except for your loquacious big brother. Hush hush her to sleep. Instead, she sat parked like Buddha forever at the entrance to the fistula of her own silence. She squatted in her milk soil. She did not surprise.

In her little white mind, she would expand to explode the high chair then crack the door jambs, muscling through, would down a tree, a building, a couple of buses, would tear up a freeway, and get halfway across a bridge before she would make a peep, and then she would, and then she would fall and fall. Her voice—the shriek of an ancient baby—would get sucked into the swerving vacuum of an upswinging air current. List of demands like a banner in the wind unwinding forever behind her: Number, number one, number two, number three, good lord. Number one spider fractures their flawless landscapes into rivers, rivulets, runnels, invisible water ways, fissures. Number two reads: Too late.

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