4 a.m. ... again (flash fiction)
Updated: Jul 19
It’s 4 a.m. again when the baby cries.
I know Daniel won’t get up to tend to our son, so I go without resistance. Daniel has to work in the morning at the firm; I’m just the stay-at-home-mom now.
I enter the dark nursery and see our squirming child.
“Hi sweet Sammy,” I whisper and caddy him into my arms. Together Sammy and I sway in the rocking chair under my grandmother’s quilt. Our 4 a.m. routine.
When he was born I could hardly fathom taking care of someone with such tiny, fragile limbs. With such a soft skull and floppy neck. Someone so needy and defenseless, my tissue paper baby. It was all so much.
Of course I was happy to become a mother. Of course. Everyone said it would be so fulfilling, and it is. Of course.
As I nurse, I see her—the woman next door—she’s just getting home. Her name is Chloe Butler, and we must be about the same age. I’ve accepted packages for her on behalf of Amazon and Victoria’s Secret and American Outfitters. She has impeccable taste. Must be a lawyer. Or a bartender. Or maybe a pharmaceutical rep. She went to a fancy school—you can just tell. Or perhaps she backpacked through Bali instead. Or went on tour with her boyfriend’s band.
Tonight I realize she hasn’t brought anyone home, but there have been some exquisite men in the past. Always tall. Always athletic. Always tantalizing. Sometimes they have sex on her kitchen counters. Or in front of her fireplace. I’ve heard moans from the shower as steam billowed from her bathroom window. Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it’s sensual. Her bed is like an ocean of crimson silk sheets in which she is held and caressed into the pale light of dawn.
I envy how Chloe seizes the mother-fucking day.
Sammy gurgles at my breast. Calm, finally. His eyelids flutter shut and my body relaxes. I stroke his downy hair, then inhale him: the powdery scent that keeps me going.
There’s nothing more stressful than not knowing how to soothe your crying infant. That’s how it was in the beginning. With desperation I flailed around, trying everything, texting Daniel manically that I didn’t know what I was doing.
And just when I thought I was the biggest failure on earth, the crying would stop. A cease fire.
And then my tears would flow as fantasies of packing my bags and escaping danced in my mind’s eye.
Across the way, Chloe takes off her clothes. She doesn’t close the curtains because she flaunts her body. Unapologetically. After all, she has time to go to the gym. Or jog. Or do morning yoga and blend green smoothies.
I look at my own breasts and sigh; my once perky tits are now glorified milk-machines. Veiny and chapped, they ache and leak and have the occasional blocked duct. My belly puckers from being stretched taut to house a fetus.
Chloe washes her face at the sink and I imagine she has products from all over the world: Sulwhasoo face masks, Hatomugi skin conditioning gel, La Roche-Posay moisturizers. The finest anti-aging serums available. Without a child, she would have the money for such luxuries.
As she turns in for the night—though the sun will rise in merely two hours—she rests. Really rests. God, that must be so refreshing. I can hardly remember it.
I study my son again and know I traded that life for this—chose this over that. And I try to accept this truth every day. But does Chloe ever wonder if she chose correctly? Does she want more? Does she have regrets? Is she fulfilled?
“Hey…” Daniel peers into the nursery at me with sleepy eyes, interrupting my late-night-feed-contemplations. “Everything okay, Chloe? Are you coming back to bed soon?”
I glance over my shoulder at him, guilt washing over me. “Uh… yeah. I’ll be right there, babe…”
With heavy footsteps he returns to our bedroom, and I stare out the window into the obscurity.
It’s 4 a.m. again, and I’m looking at the sister ship of life I abandoned.