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The Old Baby

Story by Elizabeth Crowder (Read author interview) January 25, 2021

Art by Joanna Kosinska

The old baby splits my wife like a papaya, his only cry a keen. We drift past unused artifacts new with tags: newborn onesies, saccharine plastic toys, the old baby’s name hand-painted in cranberry on the nursery wall. When the casserole people arrive, they place hot dishes on our doorstep like flowers at a roadside memorial.

*

I sleep and my wife sobs and my wife sleeps and I whimper and sometimes when she flashes her skeleton in the dark, I can hear the old baby wailing.

*

This time, I rub my wife’s swelling feet and kiss her distended belly. This time, when her water breaks, I’m right there, clasping her clammy palms between mine. This time, when the other woman texts: tell me what you want to do to me, I say: fuck you.

*

The new baby doesn’t cry. He squirms in the hard bright, wrinkled and red. The casserole people are back. This time they’re showing all their teeth.

*

My wife props herself up when the new baby fusses, her joints and rivets snapping into place. Her expressions click whir, projected onto her face like a film. He roots, and she feeds, and I watch from the doorway of the nursery we decorated for the old baby, burp cloth dangling from my limp fingers.

*

“Do you think he knew how much we loved him?” My wife is holding the new baby, talking about the old.

“He knew,” I say. But I didn’t love him. Not yet.

She knew the old baby, felt him knuckle and sputter inside of her, made space for him like lightning carves a channel for thunder. I will never know him. I was supposed to have time—six months, they said. To bond. To love. To find a way to be useful again.

“I wish I could tell him myself,” she says. She looks at me with eyes that echo.

I trap my breath like a spider under a glass.

*

I am watching the new baby’s breath dome his madeleine chest when they find my wife’s minivan belly up in the lake. I wait for the casserole people to return, to smear grief like clown paint across their faces.

*

I try to remember my wife as she was, before the old baby, before the other woman, before me. Soft. Smiling. Sipping unsweetened Earl Grey from a chipped mug she inherited from her favorite grandma, dawn trapped in the folds of her collar. I wet the dry bristles of her toothbrush, pink as a tongue. I punch down, like rising dough, the craterless pillow on the cold side of the bed.

About the Author

Elizabeth Crowder is a writer, a law librarian, and co-founder of The Sartorial Geek magazine. She is also Acquisitions Editor for X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine.

About the Artist

Joanna Kosinska is a photographer based in Leeds, UK.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy
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Important

The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. Watch for the long list coming soon! The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.