The room is deathly quiet, save for the soft sound of sniffling in the corner. That’s where the baby is, asleep on the floor, atop her favorite blanket. There was no money for a crib, or a mattress, or even a pacifier to soothe the child’s sore gums, so he had improvised. It was something he had experience in, the improvisation, not the child. He is absurdly afraid of the child, which is the reason for the separation, the opposite corners.
The man is a study in contradictions, with his frayed suspenders and designer shirt that do nothing to hide his emaciated figure. Indeed he appears to be wasting away as he sits there staring out the large, clear window. He breathes a sigh of relief that the child is asleep. The previous night had been a long and harrowing experience, punctuated by screams that pierced the static air of the room. He aged a year in one night.
The woman left in winter, during the longest month. He knows because he marks it on his calendar, the old one that he recycles from year to year. It is missing April but April never seems to come when he wants it to anyway so it is not relevant to him. He cannot remember why she walked out the door, but he can remember the vacant look in her eyes, the ones that used to give back more than they took in. She looked at him with those strange eyes and walked out the door.
The baby shifts on the blanket and he recognizes this as a precursor to the child waking up again. He covers his eyes with one large dark brown hand, hoping to preserve this quiet for just a few moments longer, knowing that it is probably an impossible dream. He wishes he were the one who left. He had been thinking about it, of course. The child hadn’t been part of the plan for his life, no more than it had been for hers. But he cannot abandon it now. The stirring continues.
He sits in this plain wooden chair every afternoon more or less at the same time, depending on when the child decides to sleep, his form casting abject shadows on the floor, contemplating a peace of sorts. He thinks of when he first met the woman, what seems like eons ago, and he cries silent tears, hoping some version of god hears him. The gray that has crept into his hair is a reminder that he doesn’t belong in that room, that he is closer to death than he would care to admit, and the child is a vibrant white, a pulsing glow that is too bright for him to handle.
The man believes she will return, but he has no idea what she will find, most probably a broken husk, or a retiring fetus, broken down into the most basic of human forms. Will he recognize her after all the time between? In the opposite corner the child begins to keen, low at first, but he knows it will build. He has to steel himself to emerge from the chair and cross the immense distance that is more than just physical.
The child is not his, at least it wasn’t born to be, and neither was it hers. But somehow it ended up with them, and he had never asked the necessary questions to ascertain the truth behind it all. Truth is slippery, of course, and perhaps he never asked because he never wanted to know the real answer. He still doesn’t. All he wants is a moment, a pausing of time, to consider his place in the world, how it twists and turns with the seasons. All he wants is to do what she did, to leave the child lying on the floor to take care of itself, but he is too flawed to follow suit.
So he goes to the child instead, against all of his primal instincts, taking her tentatively in his arms. She quiets instantly, as if her crying were a switch one could turn on or off. He relaxes in that moment, when his past meets his future in a beating heartbeat matching up perfectly with his own. It is the beginning of hope.