a story excerpt from Issue 34.1

Grow Your Eyelashes

by Polly Rosenwaike

We are all in love with the baby. “We” meaning the #4 bus community, weekday mornings during the seven o’clock hour. The baby wears a royal blue snuggly jacket and a green knit hat. He tracks our shopworn, overly articulated faces. Despite how we caper—tilting and bouncing our heads, scrunching our lips and wriggling our noses, working our hands into furious hi’s—the baby is chary with his baby gift of a grin, a wave, a mimic. He gazes at us with his grave baby face, obliging just often enough to lend hope to our campaigns. The father is charming, an early-thirties smiler of undetermined ethnicity, perhaps South American, with warm eyes and skin and a soft voice, generous with the vowels. Strapped to the father’s chest, the baby flaps his puffy arms. There is something of a bird in him, both cautious and confident. Something of a bird and something of a sad little clown and something of a medicine man, and all of the possibilities that are open to a baby. When we look at him, he will not say or even think that it is rude to stare.

I say that we are all in love with the baby, but probably there is someone on this bus who is not. Probably someone looks out the window, or at the father’s rosy ear, or at her own lap, and thinks: Goddamn that baby. This person is not swayed by the miniature hands, the swollen cheeks, the exploratory chirps—not swayed by this new human, welcomed as if he belonged to all our delicate hopes and magnanimous impulses. As other faces soften, hers hardens. I am willing to believe that there is such a person in our cozy bus community, with the chatty women and the tenderly grizzled men and the driver who says, “So long, tiny guy,” when the baby leaves, borne aloft by his smiling father.

We are trying, my husband Kevin and me. I wish that meant we were trying to teach a monkey to do sign language, or trying out this new robot that cleans bathrooms, or trying to save the world, one polar ice cap at a time. But when you are a childless couple in your mid-thirties with two full-time jobs and a three-bedroom house, everyone knows what trying means. Once, making love, we thought breasts or penis, vagina or balls. Thought them hard, as the dependable pleasure things they were. Then we thought baby, almost sexier than sex for sex, a mystery beyond tit-for-tat physical love. We thought not quite sperm and egg, those clinical, un-lovely words, but something like seed pearl embryo pregnant fetus heartbeat fingers toes belly bump baby love genius baby. We thought we’d make this thing—no, not a thing, the only non-thing thing that we could ever make. We have been thinking this baby into limbo existence for eleven months now.

The baby isn’t coming. The baby is perched somewhere, her tiny fist in her fierce, dainty mouth. I picture her the way Christian children are taught to think of babies God hasn’t released from Heaven yet. Fully formed and squeaky clean, enthroned in clouds, parents an unnecessary earthly contrivance.

*

One Saturday I make the mistake of going to the mall. My sister’s birthday is in a week, and I’d like to get her an interesting piece of clothing. Just inside the mall’s entryway, a woman on a sign greets me. A beautiful woman, though not high-cheekboned, sultry-lipped, sculpted-breast beautiful. The idea is, she’s the kind of beautiful I might be if I tried a little harder and listened to the voices that are trying to help me. “Grow Your Eyelashes,” this voice says. There is, apparently, a scientific formula for it. Do the eyelashes on the woman-who-could-be-me seem to have recently experienced a growth spurt? They are noticeably mascara-laden, but otherwise unremarkable. Perhaps my doppelganger is just about to call the phone number presented here. She knows her eyelashes are fine, but that they could be even better. She is on the verge of possessing the eyelashes she’s always wanted, not falsies but real ones, cultivated from her very own eyelids.

Inside the mall, I go store to store, looking for something interesting for my sister Audrey. She lives near Boston with her husband and their two chickens. Patsy and Cline are surprisingly endearing pets. They live in a coop in the garden, where they take daily strolls through the sweet alyssum, nodding agreeably. When they want company, they press their beaks to the back door. You pick them up and stroke their feathers, and they seem to expand to fill your arms. Audrey and Jeff don’t plan to have kids; as far as I know, they are in agreement on this, being neither the maternal nor the paternal sort. As a girl, I played with my dolls every day—otherwise they would miss me—and Audrey, two years my junior, could be conscripted to join, but she coddled no babies of her own. She was the movie-star aunt in her feather boa and plumed hat. “I’m just in from Europe, dearie,” she’d say. “Have an Eiffel Tower.” An Eiffel Tower was anything she could stack up that weren’t blocks: Oreos, beanbags, packets of pocket tissues. I dressed the dolls and brushed their hair, and she let towers fall in their laps. She’s an architect now, specializing in sustainable public projects. She goes to movies in the evening and eats popcorn for dinner.

“We don’t feel the need for children,” Audrey told our wounded mother last Thanksgiving. “You have to need them, I think. Need them so much you don’t think you can be happy without them.”

…and you can find the full story in Issue 34.1.

 
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