The Thing that Looked Like a Baby

The fountain wasn’t deep.  A few nights before, I’d run through it, drunk with my friend, and the fountain was only half-way up our calves, but the baby at the bottom looked further down than that.
“Miss,” I said to the woman sitting next to me.  She had dyed blonde hair and a book on her lap.
“Miss,” I said.  “Is that your baby?”
“No,” she said, “but you see it too?”
“Of course.  What do we do?”
I felt a slow dread come over me like two weeks before when I was sick and kept falling asleep at the doctor’s office.
“Pull it out.  I don’t think it’s alive, but we should pull it out,” the woman said.
I wondered why we were both so calm with that baby in the fountain.
I dipped in my arm without rolling up my sleeve, and the water made the cloth cling to my skin.
“Is it even real?” the woman asked.  Her mouth had a curve in it.
The baby hadn’t been down as far as it had looked.  It was small.  Most of it could fit in my hand.  The baby’s skin looked like imitation skin.  Its nose looked loose.
I brought the baby close to me.  It was made like a real baby, only different.
“It must be a joke.” I said.
“It can’t be real,” I said.
“Should we call the police?” I said.
“For a prank?  That’s stupid,” the woman said.
“I guess,” I said.
The woman’s hands looked too big for her wrists.  She closed the book on her lap.  It was written in Russian, or a language with letters that look like Russian written out.  She scratched at the price sticker stuck to the back.
There was a weird ticking in my head.  It said: you should be more confused.  Why are you so calm?  I thought maybe I was still asleep at the doctor’s office.
“What do we do?” I asked.
“You pulled it out.  It’s your problem.”
The woman stood, and then she was gone.  I watched her go before I thought I should stop her.  Tick, tick, tick.  I looked around like maybe this was a book or a movie and she left a note or something.  There was nothing but that ticking in my head.
The baby, or the thing that looked like a baby, weighed five pounds, maybe four.  I wasn’t sure if that was how babies weighed.  It seemed too heavy for a baby that small.
The park was empty except for me, a woman with a shopping cart, and a family at the playground a field away, but I still felt dangerous holding what looked like a baby, a baby that wasn’t moving or anything.  I wrapped it in my magazine and tucked it in my bag.  And the whole walk home I thought: What if I’m the guy walking around with a dead baby in his bag?  I didn’t feel scared though.  I felt curious.  I was curious in a, this is an interesting thing to happen to me, type way.
I walked as gently as I could, holding my bag away from my legs.
I set the baby on my kitchen counter and drank that morning’s coffee straight from the pot.
I stood a ways back and looked at the thing on my counter.
The coffee tasted thick.
I thought: If I wasn’t so calm, I’d be anxious about being so calm.
 
Tick, tick, tick, my brain said back to me.
I’d held the thing for five minutes while I was at the park, but now I was afraid to touch it.
It wasn’t fragile.
I called my friend, but he wasn’t home.  He wouldn’t be helpful, but I wanted to call him.  I wanted to call my older brother, but I hadn’t talked to him since Christmas.  I wanted to put the thing that looked like a baby in my garbage, but if it was a real dead baby and they found it in my garbage, they wouldn’t believe I found it in the park and brought it home.
The thoughts came one at a time, like I’d once read a Wikipedia page about what to do if you bring what looks like a baby home from the park and I was just remembering what the page had said.
I pulled a beer from my fridge and looked at the baby again.  If it really was a baby, something would happen.
 
Tick, tick, tick.
It was then I noticed I’d left my apartment door unlocked and wide open.

I pulled a beer from my fridge and looked at the baby again.  If it really was a baby, something would happen.
Tick, tick, tick.
It was then I noticed I’d left my apartment door unlocked and wide open.
It wasn’t ticking like a bomb, more like a car after you turn the motor off.
I closed the door and locked the door.
I kept thinking that something might happen.  The TV was on, on mute, and I was looking out the window.  I was drinking my beer and listening to hear if maybe something would happen.
I thought about falling asleep in the doctor’s office and brain tumors that make you hallucinate, but it was just a cold.  I had gone to the doctor because I had had a cold, and I was better now.  I just had a cough that wouldn’t go away and this ticking in my head.
I went back into the kitchen to look at the thing that looked like a baby.   I put the what might be a baby on a plate.  It seemed like the right thing to do, but once it was on the plate, it felt a little like I was going to eat it.  I wasn’t going to eat it.
Tick, tick, tick.
I remembered I had to change my shirt.  The sleeve was still damp from where I forgot to roll it up.  The sleeve smelled like the fountain.
The TV was still on and flashing.
The sun was looking low, so I closed the blinds.  I wasn’t trying to hide anything; it was almost getting dark.
What if I killed the baby, I thought.  What if this was my son and I killed him then convinced myself I found him in a fountain and never had a son?
The baby had a curve in its mouth, just like my wife.  I could see her face in our son’s face.
I didn’t actually have a wife.
Tick, tick, tick.
I waited for my wife to come home and breakdown because I killed our son.  Then I looked around the apartment, and it didn’t look like a place where a family would live.
When I heard keys at the end of the hall, I put the magazine over my maybe son and stood very still.
When I pulled the magazine off the baby, it still looked like a baby.  It smelled like a dog’s mouth.
The Fresh Prince of Bell Air flashed on TV.
I turned my kitchen light on.
Tick, tick, tick.
Nothing happened, and nothing happened for two hours.
There was no blood pooling or face bluing or whatever bodies do on crime shows.
There had been a picture of a baby in the doctor’s office.  The baby was still inside a human being when the picture was taken.  I thought: I was once inside another human being.  I thought: the earth is a human being and I am inside of it.
It couldn’t be a real baby.  It couldn’t be my son.
Suddenly, I wanted a son.
I could make this baby be my son.
I didn’t really want a son.
Tick, tick, tick.
I had to take the baby back.  It wasn’t even a real baby.  I could take the baby back.
Tick, tick, tick.

I decided not to wear all black.

There was someone at the fountain.  I thought she was underwater, but it was just her reflection.  Her fingers were in the water.
I kept my head down and sat away from the woman.
I felt pebbles through my pants.
I would wait for the woman to leave.
The thing that looked like a baby was still in my bag.
It was April, and it was colder that I remembered it being the April before.
Tick, tick, tick.
“You came back,” the woman said.
The woman at the fountain was the woman from before, the one with the Russian book and the curve in her lips.  There was that YouTube video of that guy in Russia, naked and dancing.  I wondered if the woman had seen it.  I wanted to fall in love with the woman.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I wanted to see if you’d come back.”
“What do you know about all this?”
“I wanted to see.”  She might have had an accent.
Tick, tick, tick.
The woman got up and walked towards the street.  Her long coat that hit against her legs like in a film noir.
“Hey,” I yelled, “come back.”
Tick, tick, tick.
I started to follow, but she ran.  Her high heels didn’t get stuck in the mud.  I ran too, but my bag with the thing that wasn’t a baby banged against my legs.
“I want to talk to you,” I called.
But she was already at the street.
A bus drove by, and she got on.
Tick, tick, tick.
At the doctor’s office, the doctor had said to get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids.  I was better now.
I went back to the fountain and pulled the thing that looked like a baby from my bag and held it again.  I thought for a second that it was warm, but it wasn’t.  I slid it into the water; it was the only thing I could think to do.  It sank.
I reached my arm all the way into the water.
I sat holding the baby in my hand in the water.
A wet leaf stuck to my elbow.
Tick, tick, tick.
I couldn’t to let go just then.  In the yellow light of the park lamp, the thing that looked like a baby looked like it needed me.  My arm ached with cold.
When I was fourteen I wanted to be an underwater welder.
I let the baby roll out of my hand onto the cracked tile of the fountain bottom.
The ticking in my head stopped.
I walked the perimeter of the park, alone, feeling twice as alone, as though someone had taken the world away, and then taken it away again.  I couldn’t even hear my footsteps.  I started to run.  I ran around and around the perimeter of the park until I was afraid my shoes would fall off my feet and my feet would fall off my legs.  My lungs hurt, and I was afraid I was getting sick again.
I went back to the fountain, just to see, and the baby was still there, looking just the same.
The woman was nowhere, and I had a feeling she’d be impossible to find.
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