I'm pouring syrup on my pecan waffle when I feel someone pull my hair. This little baby girl, in a child seat behind me at the restaurant, is drawing my strands to her mouth. Her blue eyes twinkle; she smiles in an effort to appease me. I say hi. Her mother swivels and untangles my hair from the little wrist, while apologizing profusely.
I ask the baby's name. Emily, nine months old, the mother tells me.
For nine months, after I ordered the basal body thermometer, I received regular updates on the life supposed to be developing inside me. A poppy seed to an orange pip to a grape to an orange to an avocado to a cucumber to a butternut squash to a head of a lettuce to a pineapple to a watermelon to a jackfruit to a pumpkin. My child—in the emails— grew but my belly did not.
Ba-ba-ba, Emily babbles as she tugs at the tassels along my poncho. I turn around. She blows raspberries. This is the second time this cherub has tried to catch my attention.
I tap the mother, who is busy talking to her two friends across the table, and ask to hold Emily. She looks relieved as she unbuckles the little one and passes her to me.
Emily is light and warm like a ball of yarn, not heavy and hard like a pumpkin, as the emails said. I touch her cheek. Her skin is soft—not like silk, not like cream, not like anything I've ever touched.
I hold her under the armpits as she tries to stand in my lap. One of the satin booties slips off her foot. I have a pair like this in the secret baby stash at the bottom of my underwear drawer. I shoplift infant clothes and shoes, fearing the cashiers might question my need for those.
Emily's tiny hands, smelling of baby lotion, play on my face. Her fingers poke my eye, grab my nose, and then linger on my lips, before exploring my teeth. She brings her mouth to my face, her two incisors nibble at my cheek, and her drool wets my chin.
Last October, my neighbor and I planted tulip bulbs together. Her yard has green plants all around the perimeter—some are budding—but my soil is dormant. The same neighbor brought me an ivy houseplant, later. I placed the clay pot by a window and watered it. That one grew and spread like crabgrass. Its stems hang over the edges of the kitchen island.
I can't birth, but I can nurture.
Emily's mother is engrossed in conversation with her friends. They are discussing hard gel manicures and pastel dresses for the upcoming spring gala. What woman ignores her baby for friends?
I squeeze Emily to my chest and kiss her strawberry curls. She is as pliable as dough in my hands. My heart feels full.
The waiter arrives with the ladies' omelets, pancakes, and hash browns. He is a chatty guy who engages the mother and her friends in who-ordered-what, who's-doing-what-this-weekend, and who-needs-more-coffee.
I pull my poncho over Emily's head; she does not resist. I walk out with her cheek on my left shoulder.
Notes from the Author
I believe that inspiration is hidden in daily scenes and actions. It is weaved into our lives—a face from the grocery store, a colleague's flat tire, a child waiting for parent pickup at school. For this story, I was having breakfast with my husband at a restaurant when I noticed a cute baby girl sitting in a child seat across from our table. The baby's face floated in my mind and I kept thinking of a colleague who is trying to conceive a baby. I merged the two thoughts and created an outline of this story in my mind on the drive back home from the restaurant. I struggled with the title of the story and it came to me a couple days after the story was ready.