Ariel didn’t sleep, which didn’t stop her from dreaming. Images appeared in front of her as if on a movie superimposed on the objects in her apartment. One afternoon, when Summit had gone to the store, she hallucinated a car chase scene around the legs of the coffee table in the living room, with the lead car being driven by a blind woman. And she remembered, as if from another life, what she had seen from her living room window before her water broke.
She’s dead, Ariel thought. I’m sure she’s dead.
And Ariel cried, even as Carla howled on her lap. This is how Summit found them when he returned from the store with three boxes of diapers, three cartons of baby wipes, and two apples.
“What happened?” he asked. “Is Carla all right?” Summit crouched in front of them.
“She’s dead,” Ariel said.
“No, she isn’t,” Summit said. “She’s right here. Ariel, she’s right here.”
“The blind woman,” Ariel said.
“Who?” Summit said.
“You don’t know her.”
He looked up at her. Ariel saw something dance in front of his face. It was a tuxedoed puppet on a string, bobbing left, bobbing right, collapsing. Bobbing left, bobbing right, collapsing.
“We need some help here, Ariel.”
“We’re doing fine, Summit,” she said. “Once Carla is over this colic, everything will be grand. We’ll have the baby-raising experience we’ve been promised. Stop telling me I’m a bad mother. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Susie Beth or Greta Jane or whoever brightened your nights in high school could do this with one arm tied around her back and one hand down your pants.” She paused. “And I know you’re talking to your mother about all this. And I know what she’s saying.”
“I haven’t told anyone anything,” Summit said. “We’re both tired—you’re more tired than I am because you have…” Summit paused. “Hell, I’m too tired to finish a sentence.” He began to laugh the way he did when he’d had too much to drink.
Carla’s screams resounded off the wall.
Ariel’s mother had left her, dragged out the door by cancer, but Ariel wasn’t going to leave her daughter. She was going to stay by her side, even if Carla’s cries were louder than airplane engines. To allow someone else—a stranger—to do what Ariel could easily do herself and, moreover, should want to do herself seemed un-motherly.
Normal. Carla’s pediatrician, Ruth Wendell, a 1970s graduate of the Harvard Medical School, had called colic normal. “Normal in the sense that a relatively high percentage of babies get it,” she had said. “It’s miserable, but it ends, usually at six weeks. You know this as much as I do. Just hang in there.”
Ariel was hanging, although her grip was becoming increasingly precarious. Sometimes she thought only her left pinkie was keeping her attached to the ledge. She had three months of maternity leave from the Boston Children’s Care Center, and she had planned to use this gift to spend as much time as possible with her daughter. Three months of nothing to do but look after a beautiful baby? It had seemed so easy. She had thought of a hundred things she and Carla could do together. But she had accomplished none of them; worse, she had forgotten what they were. It was all she could do to move through the next hour, the next minute.
Could Summit be right in suggesting they needed help? she wondered.
But what help did he have in mind? Would she be hauled off to a psych ward?
Summit couldn’t be trusted.
I can’t let them take Carla, she thought. I can’t, and I won’t.
Was it feeding time? Carla was howling. Summit was in the kitchen, working on his résumé or staring out the window.
The window. She glanced out of the window. Ariel hadn’t seen the blind woman since she’d come home from the hospital. Ariel felt herself start to cry. No, I can’t cry. Summit will think I’m crazy.
Carla was howling. Is it feeding time? Ariel wondered. She felt too weak to lift her baby to her breast, but she did. But Carla turned, howling, from her breast. Rejection. Even Carla didn’t think Ariel was a good mother.
What the fuck is wrong here? Ariel thought or said, rising to her feet. “What the fuck is wrong with my goddamned milk. Stop crying and start drinking, you…you goddamn…”
The apartment bell rang as Summit sprung, or stumbled, into the living room. He looked at Ariel, who looked at how she was holding Carla—out in front of her, under both armpits, like a ragdoll. She felt numb, coated in Novocain. She glanced at Summit. His face was filled simultaneously with fear, horror, and pity.
Ariel brought Carla to her chest and held her gently.
Summit went to the intercom and asked who was at the door. Ariel didn’t hear the voice. She only heard Summit say, “Thank God,” and begin, quietly, to cry.
They’re coming to take my baby from me, Ariel thought. And I deserve it.