“At least she didn’t hit the corner.”
“I can’t believe you dropped her.”
“Just a little spill.”
“She’s a very squirmy baby.”
“All babies are squirmy!”
“Not all babies…”
“What the fuck do you know?” said Kyle, rocking Sylvia, who was now wrapped in a thick pink blanket. “You don’t have children.”
How I wish Sylvia was wrapped up in that plush shell when she fell. She wouldn’t have made nearly as loud a sound. The clattering and confusion that ensued seconds ago was clearly heard from the next room, judging by the stampeding dinner guests and the hateful looks they brought with them.
“I don’t need to have a baby to know they squirm. I handle them all the time. It’s common knowledge.”
“Oh, it’s common knowledge?” sneered Marissa, who was now being handed the baby delicately from her husband.
“Yeah, it’s common knowledge,” I successfully retorted.
“Oh, it’s common knowledge?” echoed Kyle, his hairy forearms propped upon his bony hips.
I don’t have another chamber ready and resolve to sit on the ottoman before the bereaved parents, who stand tall before the onlookers like victims are prone to do. Their friends, who the Kelley’s repeatedly refer to as “our friends”, assess me—but I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. We’re strangers forced to dine together because we know the Kelley’s, and we like the Kelley’s, and we simply adore their new baby, which “takes up all their time” and blur Kyle and Marissa into vague memories to those that actually care about them.
The women circle Marissa and nurse her nerves. Every now and then a pistol-barreled iris is aimed at me, designed to keep me spotlit and frozen. The men are gathered in a posse, actively getting the back of their brother, just like they are wont to vow while drunk; but they’re doing it now, true to their word, and they’re all better friends for it going forward. Everyone is closer now that there’s an obvious enemy. All pettiness is forgotten when true evil is near. And it is, for we have a Baby Dropper on our hands.
“I’m sorry I dropped her. It was obviously on purpose,” I mumbled into the shag. Christ, I’m like a hunched-over criminal being escorted to court, angling away from the smattering of cameras. The only thing I can stand to study are the coasters upon the coffee table—once together in a neat pile, now scattered by a tumbling toddler.
A commotion of murmurs from the female squadron. Kyle breaks off from the male pack and conferences with his confused wife.
“I don’t know,” Marissa says helplessly, “she’s not crying. Does she need stitches you think?”
I know the cut they’re referring to. It’s a mere scratch. What a bonda fide mess.
It’s true—Sylvia still hasn’t cried, nor cooed, nor whined. She’s just blinking at people, as if wondering what the big deal is. And I’d like to know what the big fucking deal is, too.
They’re all looking at me accusingly again. This is getting ridiculous.
“Should we take her to the emergency room?” Marissa asks. The chianti adds several sloppy syllables to “emergency”, but I could tell Kyle was sober enough to think it unnecessary. Still, Kyle looks over at me, pondering what to do.
Finally, he says to his wife while gazing through my chest, “I’m not sure if we need to. Nathan is a nurse.”
This was no secret. Marissa knew I was a nurse. They all knew I was a nurse. We talked about it for a fucking half hour during dinner. I remember their dumb comments:
“Wow, I hear that’s such a challenging profession.”
“Long hours, right?”
“The doctors get all the credit, don’t they? That’s not right.”
And now those faces that once feigned interest in my profession were only interested in my ostracization. Nobody wanted to bring up that I was a nurse, because I was no longer a nurse. I was demoted by every party guest to Baby Dropper. And, if on the off chance I was a nurse in a past life, then it must have been easy. They’re making everybody a nurse.
“He’s probably the one who just wipes the asses.”
“I was thinking the same thing. His hands are kind of small…”
“Yeah. Could fit right up an ass.”
To be honest, I didn’t want any part in inspecting this baby. I ordinarily deal in high-pressure situations, but nothing like this. I had already dropped a baby. An infant. What would happen if…? Christ, they’re bringing her over here. They’re creeping towards me like I’m a lion. No thanks, I’m not hungry for baby—you just made dinner. And if the dinner you conceived tastes any bit like the child you birthed, then I’m afraid no hunger will ever make such blandness enticing. Roar.
Here they were about to give me their baby again. The varsity members leaned against the wall with their chiseled jaws, ready to gossip in the event I began to gnaw the child. But the Kelley’s disdain for me was somewhat subdued. Now, they were concerned parents. The past was the past; just make sure Sylvia is ok. I used the armchairs to push off of in order to stand before my dear friends, and as I rose my head glanced off what felt like a soft ledge. Gasps all around, a nearby shriek—too shrill to be Kyle’s; Sylvia, rolling like a log to the floor, her pink blanket unraveling and guaranteeing a rough landing.
The baby was dropped again. I stood before it with locked knees. Everyone seemed to know what just happened except for Sylvia and her uncoordinated limbs jerking in the air.
Such relief. There is a God. Someone else dropped the baby and not me. I was off the hook, because nobody remembers who dropped the baby first, but who just dropped the baby.
Alas, all eyes were again on me.
“You got to be kidding me,” I said to the collective.
With the baby between us, Kyle goes, “What do you mean? You’re the nurse.”
“I’m a nurse, not a net! You’re the parents.” Yeah, I included both of them. This was not my fault this time. I will not take any of the blame. Hell, I’ll take on the whole fucking room if I have to. Tonight ends with me off the hook.
Now Marissa goes, “You got some nerve. You headbutted her you buffalo! Plus, you are our guest. We fed you.” At this Sylvia starts to whimper because nobody seems to realize she’s still lying there on the floor, but being a professional I know she’s probably fine and go for Marissa’s jugular.
“You weren’t holding her right! Just because you hosted dinner doesn’t mean you can blame others for your butterfingers.” Butterfingers! It’s school yard rules, bitch.
“I do not have butterfingers.” Marissa was flushed and offended.
“You got butterfingers, babe,” I counterstriked, knowing full well she’ll hate the misogynistic “babe” I threw in there, but I couldn’t help myself against the lure of alliteration.
“Don’t call me babe.” Called it.
Kyle’s dumb hands on his dumb hips again. “I thought you were our friend, Nathan.”
“You do know your baby is on the floor.”
“Don’t interrupt me.”
Every school yard tactic was utilized that night. We mocked, we sneered. Twisted faces were made in imitating the adversary. Everyone at one point was called a baby. Round and round we went, circling the fussing Sylvia, searching for unguarded rib shots. In the early rounds, I must admit, I was the glue, but as the bout progressed I rallied to rubber. Then, outnumbered, my legs gradually turned to mush, and I devolved back into glue. Their friends watched the bloodshed gluttonously with full glasses. Their round spectacles and tucked shirts, their sports jackets and moccasins—they grin dumbly as we argue, but it focuses to malice when they notice I’m looking at them. I’ll never be invited back here. It annoys me that I even care. The Kelley’s and these varsity chads will meet for future cocktail parties and will always have this disastrous night to dissect during a lull: how Nathan dropped the baby twice; how he bickered like a child and defended himself to the death; how they never dropped a baby, and, like, who would? Like, who does that?
These future fucks were more detestable than the present ones. And the Kelley’s were friends with them? That means they were like them now. Right? Aren’t people like those they socialize with? What happened to my friends? I remember picking up the Kelley’s back when they were Kyle Kelley and Marissa Havershaw, wandering around the environs of Queens College, zombified on ketamine. Getting them in my back seat was like gathering renegade balloons. Kyle wound up puking in Marissa’s lap and started fingering her halfway through trying to wipe off his vomit. And who drove the gray and depleted future-Kelley’s to the emergency room at 7am the next morning when Marissa was pissing fire because her vomit-clogged vagina got infected? You know who.
But that was all forgotten. Because time is a dick. It makes people forget, especially while you’re with them. And then when you’re away from them—particularly after a fight—the memories you made invade. You remember listening to those two or three Savage Garden songs on repeat together, you remember brownies and orange juice, and laughing until you cried and crying until you laughed. Sometimes the bad memories prevailed and sometimes the good ones did. But as soon as you met again, all those memories blew out the transom and clattered against an unseen sidewalk. Passersby may see them and marvel at your established friendship, but you two are on the other side of the door, in your adult clothes with your adult scruff and dashes of gray, armed with fun facts you heard recently on a podcast and the various things you did the last couple of weeks, all the while wondering what that sound was. Time compresses memory into a three-week window of things you just learned and things you just did. And one of those things I did was, now and forever, drop a baby.
Well, I had enough of it. The memory was made. Kyle was all stupid on wine and Marissa’s mouth was purple. They’re minds were made up—they’re better than me, or at the very least I’m a piece of shit. The varsity members that had replaced me at some point will never have anything nice to say or think of me. To all in attendance, I’m something to avoid becoming, I’m a warning, I’m rock bottom. They don’t know I bring in over 45k a year, they don’t want to know I bring in over 45k a year; nor do they care about my extensive shot glass collection.
It would have been easy to punt Sylvia into the fish tank. To wiggle my foot under her back just right and lift her like a pink comet arcing through the air, until banking off the backwall and splashing into the water, a puffer or whatever-the-fuck-they-got flopping onto the rug.
But Sylvia wasn’t the problem. Nor is the problem the Kelley’s or the varsity against the wall or me. Even the most stable coasters topple if stacked high enough.
So, I picked up Sylvia to a chorus of gasps, swaddled her while being berated in some infantile way, and handed her to Marissa, cutting off her tirade.
“Thanks, and have a goodnight,” I said to the Kelley’s as I walked out their apartment. I didn’t even look at the varsity chads. Fuck them.
A sleepless night yielded zero dreams and a damp pillow. When both legs were under the covers it was too hot. When I whipped the covers off it got chilly. And tucking one leg under the sheets and one above lured buxom sleep, who flirted with me from a barstool until drawing her skirt to the side and exposing a half-birthed Sylvia, pale and wet and quivering and about to drop to the floor. Then I’d jolt awake from my dream and try every permutation of sheet cover again.
I watched my bedroom get brighter and brighter. My head throbbed and I tasted my pasty breath. The Kelley’s were probably just as exhausted as I was, tending to their baby, who knew no schedule. As a bachelor I felt gypped, and I also felt hungover. I suppose that’s about right for a bachelor.
I hoped work would sufficiently fog me so that all I thought about was the task at hand instead of the evening at the Kelley’s.
But the rewarding sensation of progressing through a task and nearing its completion was replaced with dread. If I was almost finished with starting an IV or wiping a geriatric’s ass, it would mean a vulnerable gap of idle seconds was approaching, where I would contemplate what I had to do next, and the Kelley’s bloated heads would fill that space.
Coffee—yes, that’s it, coffee. I’ll ride the caffeine train and outrun my mind…
Oh dear, the emerald tile on which I usually tread has been replaced with pink blankets. Nobody seems to notice except me. But it’s much softer than the tile was, easier on the joints.
Uhp, it appears I’m sinking. Here I was thinking that I was walking to the Keurig in the nurse’s station, and I’ve actually just been sinking into a plush sea. Waist deep. Now down to my chest. No need to struggle—it’ll only make it worse.
“Hi Nathan. Are you lost?”
“Hi Betty. Incredibly.”
My coworker laughs and walks away, shaking her head at my shenanigans.
Ok, I’m all the way in now. As low as I can go. There’s a pink cavern with miles of slopes and portholes and flowstones stretching as far as I can see. It’s difficult to distinguish all of the intricate formations because everything is the same shade of pink; however, somehow a touch of sunlight has gotten through, which brushes the scene with shadow and delicate contrast. I think I hear a river babbling far off too. Oh, no, that’s just the varsity, whispering to each other, leaning on vulnerable stalagmites. An unkind word flies into my ear like a wasp. Suddenly the varsity and I are going at it from afar and I start stomping over to them through the cave to give them a piece of my mind. My steps don’t echo, however, for the floor is cotton—or perhaps a polyester hybrid.
Their murmuring is getting louder. Here I come chads. As I stride, I kick a soft boulder, which spins further into my path and erupts in tears. It’s Sylvia. I walk to her and she’s just like how I remember her: on the floor. I lift her and her wailing stops. The group of shoulder-padded fucks are snickering, waiting for me to drop the baby again. And Sylvia’s looking at me like she knows what needs to be done; and I trust she remembers her training. We simultaneously nod mannishly at each other, bidding farewell, as I heave her to my shoulder and shotput her into the unsuspecting crowd. There is no explosion, only a rippling felt through the pink expanse. And what is heard are the pleas of help. And what is seen are cleaved limbs and limbless torsos and tattered blazers. I prance over to the pile of death like a ballerina. One particular jock, perhaps a rower judging from his shoulders, is in agony over the loss of his lower body. His hands are full of meat and his spine is like a tail. I bend over, unfasten my pants, ignore his begging, and as I squirt diarrhea all over his face someone asks:
“Today just won’t end, right?”
I’ve resurfaced and I’m before the Keurig in the nurse’s station, which is squirting its final ounces of coffee into my thermos. There’s matronly Betty flirting with me again in the friendliest of ways.
“One of those days.”
Funny what time (and coffee) is capable of. The rest of the day whooshed by. As I unlock my locker, I hear my phone vibrating frantically against the metal shelf. Kyle was calling. Kyle—that henpecked shit. Suddenly the numbing relief achieved through labor was pierced with a seething spit of resentment.
“Hey Kyle,” I said, sounding not at all happy to hear from him.
“Hi Nathan.” Ah, timidity. I keep quiet so he gets to his point. He doesn’t, but he nears it: “What’s up?”
“Just finished my shift.” I’m so succinct it’s obvious he’s wasting my time.
“Well, I don’t want to waste your time,” (he was), “but I just wanted to…” Kyle didn’t know which phrase to use, but I didn’t mind waiting. I was excited to hear what he had to say. Arby’s could wait. An apology was on the way.
“I just wanted to clear the air about the other night.”
“Oh, ok,” I said quizzically, as if searching my plethora of eventful nights for the particular night he was referring to.
“Well, I just wanted to clear the air, because, you know, Sylvia is fine, and shit happens. And I just wanted to make sure things were fine between us.” A man’s apology if I ever heard one. Still, as a fellow man, it did the trick.
“Oh, yeah man. It’s ok. I’m just glad Sylvia didn’t get hurt.”
“Yeah, she’s fine. They got rubber bones at that age.” Forced laughter burst like steam from both ends of the phone.
After we gather ourselves, he goes, “Also, Nathan, you’re right about their squirminess. She really is hard to hold sometimes.”
“Oh yeah?” I pretend to learn. I was a diplomat in waders, careful not the rock the boat.
“Yeah. I mean—and don’t tell her I told you—but Marissa dropped her the other day.” God bless America, I was glad to be alive; I was glad everyone was alive. I planned on doubling my curly fry order at Arby’s and wearing them like rings on my fingers. I’d pretend I was a wizard and make the children laugh and scare their parents. Then I’d apologize by buying the parents a round of curly fries and absorb them into my wizard conflagration; I’d celebrate with silly.
“Get the fuck out of here,” I said, astounded at my luck. “Is she ok?”
“Oh, yeah. She’s fine. Shit just happens, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I know.”
“So, bud,” he began in a familiar way, bringing to mind Savage Garden and PlayStation, “what are you up to? Want to hang?”
I was so surprised by the offer my giddy hand tremored and lost grip of my phone, but I managed a shoestring catch inches before it hit the ground.
“In the mood for Arby’s?”
Rich Glinnen is a market researcher by day and a writer by night. He enjoys bowling, and eating gruyere with his cats at his home in Bayside, NY. He was nominated for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. His work can be read in Kenneth Warren’s Lakewood House Organ, at foliateoak.com, petrichormag.com, underwoodpress.com/ruescribe and richglinnen.tumblr.com. His wife calls him Taco.