A momentary dearth of caloric stimulation prompted an torrential tantrum, salty raindrops pooling in the corners of her eyes until a volcanic burst of emotion sent the tears flowing down her reddened face. Words a foreign concept to her, the outburst played out like a game of charades. Eventually, the process of elimination would dwindle the possible irritants into oblivion and exhaustion would retire her oh-so-willful mother to despair.
“Who knows why babies cry? Maybe it’s their form of speech, just as a dog barks or a tea kettle screams as her water boils. The good news is, this phase doesn’t last long. Eventually they are juveniles, learned in the arts of manipulation and ambivalent mischief. Pick your poison and enjoy the ride. I’m wishing you the best Mrs. Powe.”
By now, Lois Powe was as used to fruitless therapy sessions as she was to vomit stained lapels and sleepless nights. Her eyes puffed with discontent as she settled into the driver’s chair of her station wagon. The rusted car key found its way into the ignition and Lois sailed home, fueled by caffeine and desperation. She wound the treacherous path up to the hill top house just as the blackness of night enveloped dusk. As the vermilion light of the garage fluttered out from under the door, Lois halfway expected to spot the worn rubber tires of her husband’s four by four in the spot which he had claimed as his — right next to the long forgotten lawnmower and third bay he’d promised to declutter six months ago. Hugh usually wasn’t home, of course, he was out with his coworkers, drunkenly spewing misogynistic epithets at a staticky bar television. Well at least, this is the most likely scenario that Lois had imagined. Nothing else could explain why she was virtually raising her newborn, Ellen, alone.
Lois read each letter of her husband’s license plate aloud, mildly surprised that he’d finally gotten a car wash — and that he was even home. Lois handed the redheaded babysitter a mangled hundred and trudged upstairs to find her newborn resting peacefully in her bassinet. Hugh was already asleep, though Lois knew that he couldn’t have been for long as a trail of post shower footprints lead decisively from the bathroom to the master bed. The Egyptian cotton sheets were strewn messily about, negating the ten minutes that Lois had carved out that morning to straighten up the room. Lois stripped herself of the day’s sweaty clothing, contemplated bathing, and found herself clad in yesterday’s pajamas as she transcended into a light sleep, forever aware that she could be instantly awoken by Ellen’s midnight screams.
“Lois, the baby…Lois….Ellen’s cryi…” Hugh groggily asserted.
Lois didn’t even bother fighting at this point. In the twenty-seven nights since Ellen’s birth, Hugh had only awaken for one of them, the first, and that’s because neither of them could truly find their way to sleep. Lois hobbled out of bed and down the long creaky hallway to find her little Ellen no longer crying, but smiling and wide awake, as if it weren’t the middle of night. The cold therapist’s words rang in her ear. “…this doesn’t last long… enjoy the ride…” Lois decided she would cherish this moment, lulling Ellen back to sleep as the slow trickle of breastmilk connected her and her child. Lois gently placed the baby back in her bassinet, dimmed the warm lights, and began journeying back down the hallway. A whisper of rage escaped her as she remembered that Hugh was still in their bed, sleeping undisturbed and completely unaware of the situation that had just transpired. Lois freed herself of her now milk riddled pajamas and decided at last, to freshen up. As she entered the washroom, she noticed the enamel handle of her favorite hairbrush peeking out from the depths of an unclosed drawer. She began to shut the drawer but decided to give her tangled mess of hair an evening’s brush. As she lifted her arm past her shoulders and up to her hair, she craned her head to the left a little and noticed something between the bristles. A strand of hair. Gorgeously ginger hair that was as red as blood and as curly as the twisty road that led up the hill to Lois’ house. Lois had told the babysitter to stay out of her things, but thought nothing of it as she was running on fumes. She rinsed herself of the adrenaline and began closing the bathroom’s door to retrieve her towel from the hook that sat anchored on the back of it. Green lingerie slithered out from behind the door, revealing itself in that under-door crack that’s notorious for getting stuck on woolen rug and loose clothing. Lois hadn’t worn lingerie since before she and Hugh conceived Ellen. Even then, green was her least favorite color, its forest-like hues clashing against the jaundiced undertones of her skin. In that moment, Lois began to put two and two together. The curly red hair in her enameled hairbrush, the foreign lingerie that was about three sizes too small, and the suspicious early arrival of her husband, Hugh. The whisper of rage that she had quelled so nonchalantly earlier escaped into a torrent of anger. Lois’ mind filled with white hot indignation as the smoke of every rational thought escaped her bone-tired mind. Without a second thought, Lois found herself atop her husband, smothering his last boozy breaths away with a feather pillow and her animalistic rage. She looked Hugh straight in the eyes as she did it, every ounce of her love from him had evaporated as she cared for Ellen alone. How could he cheat on her? Had Lois unknowingly paid the treacherous babysitter’s corner rate with a single benjamin? As Hugh’s life pulse reached a fatal crescendo, Lois heard the familiar sonance of Ellen’s crying. The long trek to Ellen’s room was without trepidation this time, because Lois finally knew what it meant to be a mother.