Silence, Screams, Serenades

From sunset to two in the morning, Carla did nothing but scream. During the hours of Carla’s colic, Ariel attempted to soothe her, and Summit attempted to soothe Ariel with herbal tea, soft words, and hopeful promises of a better, and quieter, future. But Carla’s screams were as potent as caffeine. Father and mother were both on edge until precisely at two when Carla’s face, which heretofore had been colored the pink of a horrendous sunburn, became an angelic rose-white and she fell asleep.

If after Carla disappeared into dreams, Summit had trouble sleeping, Ariel had full-blown insomnia. Every three hours, she needed to wake to feed the baby, and because she worried about missing a feeding and retarding Carla’s growth, she was constantly checking the time. And because of the episiotomy, she was in horrible pain. She was constipated. She had dizzying headaches.

Carla would wake before dawn, content and adorable. Summit would rise from bed or, just as often, the living-room floor to make coffee. Ariel would look at Carla with both deep pleasure and deep suspicion. She would wonder if her baby had multiple personality disorder, Carla the Calm and Carla the Crier. She would wonder if her milk turned poisonous after 5 p.m. She would wonder if she would ever sleep again.

And before long, the Screaming would commence.

Whatever Summit offered Ariel as a balm to soothe her seemed paltry, an aspirin when she needed open-heart surgery. She wondered if he was intentionally tormenting her. “Chamomile tea?” she said from her spot on the couch on the fifth day of Carla’s residency in their home. (It was nine o’clock, and the Screaming was in its loudest hour.) “I need a six-month vacation! I need to be FedExed to Hawaii! I need…I need…” She didn’t know if she was crying or self-combusting. Or both.

“Here, let me take her for a walk,” Summit said.

And Ariel thought: He’s going to steal her from me. He’s going to go home to West Virginia and run off into the hills with one of his eight high-school girlfriends—or maybe all eight of them, he’d love to practice polygamy—and…and…

But she was so tired she couldn’t hold on to Carla when he pried her out of her arms.

“Bring her home soon,” Ariel ordered. “She needs to nurse.”

After Summit put Carla in an infant snowsuit and wrapped her in three blankets, they left. Ariel called Becca for the twentieth time. As usual, she tried both her home phone and her cell phone. She left the same message: “Where the hell are you and why aren’t you returning my calls?”

Becca hadn’t even called to congratulate her on Carla’s birth.

Ariel wondered about Becca’s silence. She wondered if Becca was jealous of her. Becca had never said she wanted a baby, but now Ariel thought, Of course she wants a baby. She wants a husband and a baby and she’s jealous because I have both.

Ariel jumped to her feet, paced her hardwood floors for two-and-a-half minutes, and collapsed, dizzy, back onto the couch.

Five minutes later, the door swung open. Summit was red-faced from the cold, and his teeth were chattering. Carla was screaming more powerfully than ever. Ariel looked at her watch. “Only fifteen minutes?” she said. “You could give me only fifteen minutes?”

“You said…,” Summit began. In a softer voice, he said, “You said she had to nurse.”

“She nursed half an hour ago,” Ariel said. She glanced again at her watch. The numbers seemed to swirl as if they were going down a drain. “An hour and a half ago,” she said. “Or three hours ago.” She looked up at Summit.

“It’ll be all right,” he said.

“No, it won’t,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. “It won’t.”

“If it won’t, why did you say it would?” She stared at him, her face contorted with anger or sorrow—she couldn’t differentiate between her emotions anymore. Exhaustion had blended them into a terrible cocktail.

“We could hire a babysitter,” he said. “Someone to come during the bad times.”

“You mean all the time?”

“Someone to come relieve us.”

Ariel gave Summit’s plan ten seconds of thought. “We’ll hand over Carla, and two hours later the babysitter will throw her against a wall,” she said. “No one could stand her crying—no one but her mother. I can’t leave my baby to a stranger. She’s in too much pain.”

Summit said, “All right. Let me take her outside again.”

“It’s time for her to eat.” Ariel strapped Carla onto her breast. She tried to murmur comforting words to her but what left her mouth seemed more like threats.

A minute or five minutes or ten minutes later, Ariel looked up. Summit was standing in the same place as before. Perhaps he was too exhausted to move. Or: He’s inspecting me. He’s going to turn me in to the Department of Children and Families. He thinks I’m crazy.

“Why the hell hasn’t Becca called?” she asked.

Was Summit taking an unusually long time to reply or had her sense of time been warped so profoundly she couldn’t distinguish a second from a minute, a minute from an hour?

“She did call.”