The First Days
The first days the baby sleeps in a laundry basket.
“Isn’t that kind of dangerous?” the father asks, but what does he know? This is his—their—first child. The father is nervous. The father has never been so nervous about anything. “It was in the book,” the mother explains. But the baby won’t fall asleep in the laundry basket. Who would?
The basket is cracked at one end, asked, too many times, to hold wet towels while the father rests the basket against his car, searching for keys. They have no washer and dryer and must drive to the Laundromat. The first days the father washes seventeen loads of wash.
At night, they take turns soothing the baby. This baby can cry. This baby arches his back and screams, red-faced, his baby fists clenched tight.
“What does the book say?” the father asks. But the mother is sleeping. The first days they sleep when they can. The first days the mother dreams of linen.
The father and the baby have a nighttime routine. The father holds the baby against his chest and bounces on the bed where the mother sleeps, all the while watching the lone tree limb visible through the bedroom window. The father likes this limb, and believes the baby does, too; the baby has twice fallen asleep after the father narrowed his attention to the limb’s branches, which catch the moonlight in pleasing ways. The baby’s breath grows deeper, slower. The first days the mother wakes to find the father bouncing, eyes closed.
The first seventeen loads of laundry, the father checks inside the dryer to make sure he hasn’t accidentally thrown the baby in, too. A preposterous fear, he knows, probably from a lack of sleep, but still. The first days the father watches Oprah on the Laundromat TV.
“Maybe we should call the doctor about his poop,” the mother says, inspecting a diaper. The baby nurses at her chest. “It doesn’t look like the poop in the book.”
The father picks up the book, searches the index for poop. “What’s it under?” he says. The first days the book rests atop the TV.
Sometimes the moonlight makes the tree branch look fantastically bright. How has the father never noticed how bright moonlight really is? The first days the father sees one owl and three bats outside the window.
One night the baby finally falls asleep in the basket.
“The book was right,” the mother whispers.
“I’ve always liked that book,” the father says.
On the eighteenth load of laundry the father does not check inside the dryer. He removes the clothes and folds them into the basket. And it does not occur to him as he reaches the parking lot, where he must balance the basket against the car, that the first days are gone, and have become the next.
Anthony Varallo’s short story collection, Out Loud, won the 2008 Drue Heinz Literature Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press). His first collection, This Day in History, won the 2005 John Simmons Short Fiction Award (University of Iowa Press). Recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature, Varallo has had stories published in The Gettysburg Review, Epoch, The New England Review, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. He is assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is fiction editor of Crazyhorse. (3/2009)