It wasn’t that I didn’t hear the gurgling sound, I just thought it must’ve been a dream. The way that dreams sometimes settle into reality, blurring a bit. I’d been dreaming of my best friend Rosa from grade six, her hair stringy in blond plaits. We were eating roasted potatoes and tortillas from Tesco and her father was there talking about politics, but all we could do was taste sweet starch. Mad for monosaccharides, she had exclaimed. Always a bit annoying with her alliteration, her education. Straight to university. Going places. Et cetera.
I woke up wanting bland, soft food and didn’t quite remember where I was. I had to use the toilet but the idea of moving (one foot in front of the other! Mum used to cheer, as she ripped the covers off like a hot wax strip) seemed impossible. If I could just concentrate hard enough to ignore the liquid-y pressure, everything would be alright. I felt certain of this. A bubbling satisfaction crept over me like a spider beneath the closet door, away from the light, scurrying. It was all ignorable, apart from the spider-feeling. It was perfectly manageable.
Then your baby began to cry. It was early, light slipping in through spaces left open from the dodgy set of blinds covering the window. Affording a Supreme Level of Privacy! The exclamation mark seemed a bit much. People complain about the sheets in their accommodations being scratchy, but the texture of this bedding was slinky, evoking moisture. I didn’t feel shocked that your baby was suddenly in the room. I did feel shocked that you were no longer there, and the car seat on the floor – along with your rucksack, filled to the brim with tiny jars of baby food – seemed to indicate that you were not planning to return. I kept my eyes closed on the way to the toilet. I did not want to look at your baby. When I ran the tap it seemed to quiet the crying. There was a blister on my pinky toe, hot and bulbous, and because I didn’t have a safety pin, I dug in with the corner of my fingernail until it burst. I picked off the deflated, whispery skin and rolled it into a tiny ball.
I tried to remember if you’d mentioned that you had a baby. I don’t listen well and have been frequently rebuked for it. Sometimes I try to pay closer attention, to avoid the eventual conflict and being called selfish, or poorly behaved. The nicest people using sweetly toned expressions. My little space cadet, Mum would coo. Her voice reminded me of a pigeon, purring slightly.
I have told you many things about myself, though none of them were overly important. If you’d been there, I would have tapped your skinny, protruding shoulder blade to recall the dream with Rosa and the potatoes. If pressed, I would say we met through a mutual friend. Through Frances, my flatmate and your co-worker. Though she was quite a shit friend and, at her goodbye party, I was hard pressed to recall any time I’d been in a room with her and hadn’t silently, strongly, willed her to leave. When we met, you made me a cup of tea with two sugars and just the right amount of milk. You had green, speckled eyes and your hair reminded me of a blackbird’s feathers, tinged with blue.
What is your baby called? As a girl, I named everything Louise. Our kettle, Mum’s basil plant, my first and only gerbil, escaping one afternoon into the languorous hum of the garbage disposal. Your baby deserves a name less fraught with complication.
Your baby was awfully insistent with its crying. I turned the shower on and stuck my head in as the water turned from cool to hot. The bathroom became too full of steam. My skin flushed a soft, sunburnt pink and my cuticles transformed to papery white shards. In the mirror over the sink, my image was ill-defined, distorted into limbs and body. You had taken the travel-sized toothpaste and small bottle of mouthwash. It didn’t seem justified, for you to have abandoned me without any products to maintain my oral hygiene. I ran my tongue over my slightly furred teeth, feeling for the places where cavities were beginning to form. I imagined the germs blossoming into tiny trees. I imagined the next time I would brush my teeth and spitting out a mouthful of foamy blood.
In the car seat, your baby was wiggling madly. Its little feet contained in a plush pastel onesie. Your baby does not look very much like you. It has veiny eyes and honey-brown hair scraped across its head. Little ears like an animated mouse.
On a second inspection, I found the rucksack also contained three pounds and an overripe banana. Your baby began to shriek quite doggedly. It was a different, much less tolerable noise. I imagined covering its mouth might be the solution but that proved unsuccessful. I kicked at the car seat, thinking maybe a bit of locomotion would help the situation. It did not.
I remembered an episode of the television show we both like, the neurotic aunt luring her niece to sleep by swooping her through the air like a plane about to crash into the sea. I didn’t want to take your baby out of the car seat. It seemed like an admission. It seemed like a declaration to your baby: I am yours now. As long as your baby stayed in its car seat, this was a temporary condition. I held up a jar of baby food and looked at your baby’s mouth, squiggling around on its square, pale little face and I could not open the jar. I could not. But I squeezed the banana into a slimy paste between my fingers, letting the baby suck banana from my skin.
When I thought of your baby as a pet, as a pet we owned together, it began to seem alright. It seemed nice, that you trusted me to watch your soon-to-be self-sufficient, un-scary little pet who just didn’t have any teeth yet. Your pet’s mouth was warm and grateful for the banana slime-paste. I turned on the television set. The ends of my hair were beginning to dry.
When it was time for checkout, and I didn’t have enough money to stay in the hotel for another night, and your baby-pet was slurping its own saliva and rubbing at its heart with its little hand, it was the first time I thought about hating you. My teeth were dirty. I didn’t know how I would explain the acquisition of your baby-pet to Frances, or to Mum, or to any other person in the world. And it occurred to me that this might not be your baby-pet, but someone else’s. And I didn’t want to think of you as a kidnapper. I didn’t want to go back to my job. I didn’t even want to go to Tesco, to get tortillas or potatoes, to try and recreate that flurry of fulfillment I’d found with Rosa in my dream. And I knew you had taken my car and my wallet. And I imagined the sun shining boldly on your blackbird hair as you turned towards the airport.