As she walked home from dropping the kids off at school, she imagined checking her email to find something. What would it say? Accepted? Good news? Your submission? She had no idea, which was part of the fun. Would she know by the sender of the email? Or perhaps she had already gotten something and accidentally deleted or overlooked it, along with the 54,800 other new emails that sat in her inbox. There were probably a lot of important, overlooked messages there, among the ads for J. Crew and World Market and library overdue notices and school bulletins from a handful of different schools. Surely she had overlooked many meaningful things that had been intended for her over the years.
She imagined as she hurried across a street, looking both ways, that Lauren Groff would be jealous. She imagined her neighbors finding out she had been published and that the book was good. She imagined her annoying neighbors reading the awkward stories painting them in bad light. “You have such perspicacity,” they would say, though their vocabulary wasn’t that good. Nobody she knew would actually read the book, but it would be fine. They would know about it. The friends she respected, the literary handful, would tell her, “We always knew you were a good writer,” standing, hands in pockets, at neighborhood cookouts.
Back at home, the baby had woken, and her husband handed him to her, sleepy but surprisingly happy. She fed him bits of leftover cinnamon muffin, letting him sit balanced on the kitchen island while she put away first the food that might be appealing to the cat who had thankfully not licked up any butter or drunk any leftover cereal milk yet, then the things that needed to be refrigerated, and finally the crumby plates and half-drunk glasses of water from breakfast. She grabbed items from the dishwasher, a few plastic cups, to put away when she was near it, ensuring she was still not farther than an arm away from the baby.
She thought about what they would do the rest of the morning. They needed to take the dog on a walk, so they could walk to the farther playground where there was a water fountain that the dog could drink from, and then tie her up while the baby played. The weather was still beautiful and they needed to take advantage of it before fall overcame them, She wondered if she should clean up the enormous lego village on the dining room table or leave it for the kids to continue working on after school. It was a huge mess, but she didn’t think anyone was going to be stopping by today. And the floor–she needed to sweep the floor which was covered with the debris the dog had not licked up from dinner last night and some sticks she had chewed up instead of gnawing on the couch.
“Yes, yes,” said the baby, putting a handful of muffin in a half-drunk glass of water she had not removed yet. Should she grab it out with her hand and dispose of it in the compost container, or should she dump it all into the sink so the drain would catch it? This is when a garbage disposal would be useful, she thought.
“Do you need to go potty?” she suddenly remembered, asking brightly, as she touched the baby’s diaper to see if it was still dry as it had been the last few mornings. She whisked him to the toilet, shoving her boob over the top of her bra and tank top into his mouth to get his pee to flow. She thought about the fact that he would probably be her first to be potty trained before he could talk. That, now that, was something to be proud of.
As she held him on the toilet, staring over his head at the magazines that sat behind the toilet, she thought about all the dumb things that people wrote and the dumb things that magazines published, sometimes just to fill pages it seemed, since nobody probably ever read them anyway. The baby was done, and she carried him over to the table where her lukewarm coffee sat. She let him nurse some more, naked on the bottom, while she checked her phone. So many text messages. So many things that people needed from her and things that people were waiting on her for. A friend was going to visit with her children, basically uninvited. An old friend, a friend with which she had history, a pushy friend. Her daughter texted that she did not have a lunch to eat today, and she was worried she would be hungry for her basketball game. Eat the fucking hot lunch at school, she thought. It’s taco salad. You love taco salad. You’re just trying to make me feel guilty for not driving you to school this morning. I need to be home working so that I can order you the items from your birthday list and then book a birthday party for you, ungrateful child. But then she remembered how hard the daughter worked and how loving and good she was. And she probably did have some emotional baggage, some neediness and abandonment issues because of life’s unavoidable trauma.
Then she checked the news on her phone, so many news stories about so many things, so many rabbit trails to go down. Who was Mueller? What was this investigation? What had Fox said about Kaepernick? Why had Denise Richards’ new husband divorced his previous wife? What exactly were the two things you could do to avoid stress in your life? These were all things that she should know, things the others, other successful writers, had investigated, written, and published about. These were important, interesting questions and facts to dissect and discuss, not foolish stories.
Her baby was done nursing, sitting up now, trying to tap at the keyboard on the laptop she had opened, just to check a couple things. There was a poem from a friend, a writing prompt. She read the words, lyrical, mesmerizing, enchanting, with the names of far off places and historical figures in mysterious religions and images of death and light and beauty. This was writing. How did one go about writing a poem anyway? And what was the meaning? She would need to read it again a few more times to try to understand.
Now the baby had tapped the computer precisely enough that the email disappeared and a large search engine logo appeared. She snapped the cover shut, and set the baby, bare butt still, on the wooden planks of the table. She stared into his face and then buried her face in his belly, blowing. He laughed and grabbed her hair, pulling it out of the ponytail and getting it stuck in his fingers. He was hugging her head with his fat, soft arms. She stood, picking him up with her, and they walked back to the kitchen.
Her husband came down, late leaving for work after sleeping in with the baby while she took the middle girls to school. “Is he the cutest baby ever?” he asked. They asked themselves and their daughters this question all the time. It should have gotten old, but it didn’t. They never even felt like they were bragging or exaggerating. To them, he was the very most adorable baby who had ever lived, even though they had already had five others who were the most adorable babies who had ever lived. It did not make sense mathematically or by any logical explanation, but they all knew and understood that it was true. He was the cutest of them all, ever. He began wandering around with an orange plastic gun he had found on the coffee table, a toy she was ashamed to own. He made gun noises as he held the gun exactly as guns were held in movies, running around and around the center of their foursquare house, shooting.
“Did the girls play with guns like that?” asked the husband.
“I don’t think so,” said the woman, though she felt she was betraying something she deeply believed about the lack of difference between male and female. She walked further into the betrayal as she said, “You should see him play with the cars.”
At the word “car,” the baby discarded the gun and ran to the top of the basement steps, gesturing down the stairs as he made desperate grunting noises. “I think he heard you,” said the husband. “He wants the cars.” So the wife made her way down and grabbed the yellow bin of cars that a neighbor had given them for their boy. She set them on the grit-covered dining room floor, and the baby began to take them out, setting them up with precision side by side, as his older sister had showed him how to do. For a baby who could not speak, it was a comforting sign of intelligence.
The woman and her husband smiled, watching him. “Do you want the rest of my coffee?” she asked.
“Nah,” he said, leaning with one arm on the counter. “I should go.”
“Okay, have a good day,” she said. Then he finished the cup of coffee, before leaving the house.
As the wife turned to the sink to begin washing dishes in earnest, she took a lingering look at the baby, making zooming noises as he stretched out his arm with the car. This is what matters, she thought. This, this, this. Not the other things I worry about. I need to be present, here, now. I need to enjoy every moment before it’s gone. She knew from the older children that this stage would once again slip through her fingers, as all the others had. Or that it would be gone suddenly, over too soon, as it had with one child. But there was so much to be done, and she couldn’t deny her own desire to create and be successful. Couldn’t she just force it all down–all those other hopes and wishes–until he was older and she had all the time in the world? But then she might forget these things, all of it. It would be lost and she would be a still older, more boring writer.
Then she felt guilty, as she always did, for all the women who would love to be in her shoes, able to stay home and care for their children and write at their leisure, women for whom the question, “Should I write or should I make the beds and put away the laundry?” would have been a ludicrous, thoughtless idea. They had to wake up even earlier to get out of their houses and take their babies to daycare and make money at dead end jobs so that they could have food to feed their children at the end of the day. What was the point of this? Who needed stories? Stories were a rich white man’s way of entertaining himself, or rich white woman’s, she thought. They did not make the world a better place or solve any problems. And trying to publish what she had written would be an act of foolish pride. Why did something need to be validated by others in order to be legitimate or true or meaningful?
When she had finally gotten the baby to go down for his nap, after going to the park and reading more books to him than she had wanted to, she sat down at the computer again with a bowl of granola. She checked her submitted stories, just to see if anything had changed. Ignoring her email and the news stories, she opened up the latest story she had been revising, a terrible, culturally appropriating one she had begun almost ten years ago. She blushed as she read over the first pages, trying to decide if it was redeemable or not.
And then the baby woke up, and they hurried to retrieve his sisters from school. As they walked home, she looked at her middle daughter’s face. Wide, freckled, pink, indescribably perfect, with a huge birthmark near her eye that had been there, albeit so tiny it was almost invisible, the night she was born, and she knew this was what life was about, not writing. The early autumn sunlight through the trees in that particular way that makes everything crisp, so colorful and real. She hoped human existence would never alter the planet in such a way that shimmering light filtered through trees would no longer be like this.