Fun Times as an Adult
Sara stood there, in the entryway to our brand new house, infant welded to her hip like she’d carried him there God’s own number of years.
“Where’d the baby come from,” I asked.
“The arboretum,” she said, “I was out enjoying the early Dogwoods and found him at the end of one of the rows.”
“Well take him back. Somebody’s bound to be looking for him.”
“Who? The same people who put him there in his stroller, all packed up with diaper bag and suitcase stuffed with all kinds of baby things? He was practically up for adoption.”
“He’s not ours though.”
“I couldn’t leave him there.”
Sara closed the door with her heel and went to deposit the baby on the living room carpet. Without turning to where I was in the kitchen, she said, “You can get his stroller and stuff into the garage and I’ll get to it later.”
And so the baby came to stay with us.
He’d been with us for about a week when I brought it up. “He needs a real name.”
“I like Junior,” Sara said.
She was sitting with him in the living room, him between her splayed legs. She was reading to him out of a promotional newspaper, “The Star”, that some skeezy looking guy had thrown into the driveway a few days past. “Junior” was what she’d latched onto as his name the first evening in the house. She had claimed it fit because, in a certain light, the baby favored her a little, inasmuch as any baby did.
“You want to set him up for failure? What kind of legal name is ‘Junior’? You want him to grow up and be what exactly? At best, shady mechanic and worst, professional simpleton?”
“You’re worried about his future now?”
“If we’re going to keep him he’s going to have to carry our names with him too.”
“We’re keeping him,” Sara said and the cut to her voice warned me off trying to re-argue my case for turning him into the Catholics down the way again, or giving him to the Jains across the street, or, as she’d most recently shot down, dropping him off at the firehouse where those bears of men could raise him to be a firedog like themselves.
“And if we’re keeping him, he needs a sensible name.”
Sara raised up the boy and studied him like some kind of foreign meat-roll. After a while, she nodded. “Sonny,” she said.
“Great. He’s moved up from shady mechanic to used car chiseler.”
“Don’t be a dick, Randy. We can’t all be high and mighty wastewater plant jockeys.”
That one stung and she knew it. It was her way to win arguments when I wouldn’t roll over for her. Not what I’d call “healthy," but it was the best style of arguing we’d tried and looking for a replacement at that point was out of the cards.
After a few months, Sonny became a regular fixture around the house and I stopped noticing his newness. Sara stuck with calling him “Junior,” but I liked “Son” as a shortened form of “Sonny,” not out of any kind of ownership. Truth told, I found “Sonny” to sound over-girlish so I steered clear of using it as much as I could. Mornings, he woke before I had to go to the plant and Sara would bring him into our bed from the makeshift crib I’d made him out of old warehouse pallets. At dinner, he sat in an improvised high chair I’d made from a metallic fold out chair, stacks of magazines, and a pair of my suspenders that served as a jury-rigged seatbelt.
Evenings, he rolled around in the living room while Sara read to him from whatever was on hand– political flyers, the expired phone book, take-out menus. Sometimes I gave him blunt kitchen tools for toys, which he seemed to like. Sara complained, but no matter how much she’d railroaded me into keeping him around, there was no way I was ever going to shell out real cash for all that “baby” garbage with its pastels and plastic coated edges. Sometimes, when he’d wake in the night, I’d take him out to the living room and feed him a bottle of formula while I watched the street plunge farther into night. I had never been one for sitting and staring, but there was something about holding that feeding lump that made me feel all empty, like the only thing I could bear to do was watch the world as it passed.
One night, I looked down at him while he sucked at the bottle. He returned my stare and for a long time we sat like that until he slurped away from the plastic teat and ghosted me a faint, passing smile.
“Who the hell are you,” I asked even though I knew he couldn’t answer then and maybe wouldn’t ever.
Mid-shift at the plant and I was both elbows deep in the solid waste reclamation tube at maintenance station four when my cell in the top pocket of my coveralls blew up. I let it go to voicemail but as soon as the ringer stopped, it started up again, all tinny under the hissing industrial noise of the plant. Karl, the new apprentice who was shadowing me, kept looking at my pocket like somebody should do something.
After the third call back, I said, “Answer it if it’s bothering you so much.”
He was sheepish then, but by the the fifth call-back, he reached into my pocket and answered the phone. He listened for a minute after saying hello, then he put the phone to my ear without asking.
“It’s me,” I said.
“Randy? Who’s the asshole that answered your phone? What took you so long to pick up? Don’t you know how worried I was? Do you have any clue what is going on here?”
“Jesus, Sara, you sound hysterical.”
“Fuck you, I’m hysterical. You’ve gotta leave the shithouse and get home. Now.”
“I’m a little busy here.”
“It’s just crap, Randy. Believe me, it can wait for this.”
“What’s got you so amped?”
“Junior’s talking,” she said and sounded like her vocal cords were about to pull themselves free of her throat.
“Yeah? It’s about time,” I said but I found myself grinning all the same. “What’s he saying? ‘Mama’ or something?”
There was a sound like Sara handing off the phone to someone else. The voice was thin and lispy, but strong enough so that I had no trouble hearing it over the plant’s racket. I had apparently joined a speech in progress.
“... not a simplistic Freudian dichotomy, viz., the competing desires of the thanatotic and erotic, but a more robust construct that necessitates the merging of those concepts into a unity which implies the deeper, more fundamental truth that I must destroy you both, lovingly, regardless of your protests. Sara and Randy, you have in fact willingly permitted the agent of your very annihilation – bodily, spiritually, mentally, emotionally – into your midst...”
The phone sounded fumbled again and Sara came back. “He’s been going on like this for
the past fifteen minutes. Get your ass home,” she hissed and killed the line.
I shlorked my arms out of the solid waste tube, peeled off my gloves, handed them to Karl, and took my phone. “You can finish this simple enough,” I said.
“Where’re you going,” Karl asked.
“Family emergency,” I said.
Late fall weekends, I’d taken to bringing Sonny to the nearby Lions’ Club sponsored park. One Saturday in November we were headed out into the kind of day that, despite the gusting winds, any old fool would call beautiful. Sonny and I, after the last half hour of my dressing him in his new outerwear, were ready. I’d actually sprung for retail Carhartt’s for a child barely toddling, evidence Sonny was degrading my brain on a deep level. As soon as I got his boots on, he crapped his pants so smelly that I had to change him. Even with having to undo everything, he was happy enough, cooing and giving raspberries and sucking his toes as I wiped him up and clapped on the fresh diaper. I was glad Sara had opted, even at the greater cost, for disposables because ever since Sonny started solids, his diapers were a mixed bag of paste-like chunks. Working at the plant, I was pretty used to massive amounts of strangers’ shit, but the personal nature of Sonny’s crapped diapers put me on edge for reasons I couldn’t explain.
“See,” I told him as I was putting his boots on again, “boots. You can say boots, right?”
Apparently he thought the word “boots” was high comedy because he lost his mind with laughter so I kept right on with the word but in different voices as I worked, “boots, boooots, boot, booties, boot-a-boot.” He giggled so much I couldn’t help but smile. Both boots tied, I carted him out to the living room.
“I’ll get your stroller,” I said as I set him on the floor.
I walked from the living room, through the kitchen, and to the garage where I stored his stroller. You’d have thought I was leaving him in a pit of wolves with the racket he started up. After I got his things ready in the garage, I went back in to collect Sonny. He’d followed after me and stood in the middle of the kitchen, in his new duds, wool cap jammed over his ears, mittened hands held up to the doorway where I’d gone. His face was a wreck and I scooped him up in my arms.
“What? What happened?”
He kept squalling for a bit until he realized I had him. When he calmed enough, he laid his head on my shoulder, like all was right in the world, like when I repeated “boots” just minutes before.
“Come on,” I said, “let’s head out.”
Sara stood at the living room’s picture window looking at the heavy, mid-winter snowfall and something about the tilt of her shoulders told me she was “upset.” I had just come from the back where I’d put Sonny down for the night. The lights were out and I walked over and stood behind her in the twilight. Never one to beat around, I asked her flatout, “You going to tell me what’s eating you?”
She shook her head and I moved closer to put my arms around her waist. She’d always been thin, bony almost, but since Sonny arrived, she’d put on a smidge of pot belly. Not anywhere else, just the belly. I rubbed it, as if for luck. “Stop that,” she said.
I didn’t and hugged her to my chest. “Tell me.”
“I said stop.” She squirmed but I clamped my arms tighter.
“What is it?”
She grunted and twisted around so I could see she’d been crying.
I eased my grip and she turned back to the window. “What? You’ve been weird since the
equinox. Before that even. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say since I started hanging out with Sonny more.”
“Junior’s getting so big,” she said.
She shrugged. “It’s like he wasn’t little at all.”
“None too soon either.”
“Do you work at being an asshole? Or does it come naturally?”
I let her go and she turned to face me. “You want me to stand here and tell you I want him to be an infant the rest of his life. Hell, do you want him to be in diapers when he’s 30?”
“He could need me a little longer.”
“He needs you plenty right now. All signs point to that being the case in the foreseeable future. I know him needing you isn’t the issue. Why don’t you just say it?”
She looked out the window again. I could see her reflection in the glass, all shadowy against the falling snow. “I want another baby,” she whispered.
Of course she did.
Spring that year was late in coming and raw in execution. By first of summer and all its local fanfare (4th of July, founders’ parade, Friday farmers market), Sara and I were about done with trying for her baby. By then, we had the process down to an 8 minute routine that we’d act out, once every other day, after I got home and showered. Sara would put Sonny in the other bedroom with his toys and we’d turn to. Something about making sex “goal-oriented” took the fun out of it for us both and somehow, despite all the extra attention, we ended up like strangers living in the same house. After one of our sessions, we re-dressed and went to the kitchen where Sara started rooting through the refrigerator for dinner.
Her head still in the appliance, she said, “This isn’t working.”
“What,” I asked, like I didn’t hear exactly what she meant.
“The baby,” she said as she closed the door.
“Don’t act like you didn’t notice.”
“I don’t know what to say.” That was the truth and one of the few times I’d used it in a long stretch of memory. Not that I’d given over to outright lies, but I kept quiet about most things. It made the time roll smoothly between us, so I stuck to that strategy. Sara started to say something but, in a rare stroke of good luck, Sonny tore ass into the kitchen and she stopped.
Sonny saw us, me at the island, Sara at the fridge, and pulled up with a huge grin. He had one of my crescent wrenches in his right hand and the screwdriver from Sara’s glasses repair kit in his left. He yammered and started a sort of dance, stabbing with the screwdriver and swinging the wrench like a club.
I looked at Sara. She watched Sonny with the weirdest smile but him bouncing all over with the tools made me nervous. I could see it – screwdriver in the eye, wrench dropped on a foot. Sara seemed unconcerned and that she couldn’t see these dangers made me wonder what effect exactly Sonny had had on her brain. “Dammit Sonny,” I said, “knock it off before you hurt yourself.”
I made a move toward him for the screwdriver but he jumped back. “NO,” he belted and darted back down the hallway.
I looked over at Sara who was still smiling. “You’re sure you want another,” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “The only problem is I’m not sure it’s with you.”
One afternoon during the second winter Sonny was ours, he and I were waiting in line at the supermarket. Things were slow because we were stuck behind the one-legged Buddhist monk who was paying for his groceries with the crumpled bills and loose change he’d begged for that morning in front of the store. We stood there, looking at the rack of magazines and toys and candy. Sonny had his eye-hands on a Matchbox truck, an F250, while I skimmed the magazines’ features. “Jesus,” I said when I came across, “FOR GUYS: What’s She Really Thinking: Top 7 Breakup Reasons!” I chuckled but picked up the magazine and searched out the piece.
According to the editors of WOMEN TODAY, the number one reason women stepped out on their men was nothing I’d have considered a major problem. To them, the worst sin wasn’t him cheating, or boredom, or money problems, or parenting, but that the couple “grew apart” and “stopped speaking each other’s language.” I lowered the mag a bit. The Buddhist counted out his change like every piece was the first and last coin in existence. I dropped my arms and looked at Sonny who by that time had the toy in his physical hands. I gestured at him with the magazine.
“Can you believe this shit?”
He didn’t look up from the toy truck.
“Growing apart? Not speaking the same language? What does that even mean?”
“Da,” Sonny said and he held up the truck to me.
I shooed him away with the magazine, “Last thing I need is something else to step on in the night.”
His face cinched like he was about to rip a monster squall.
“Fine, fine. You can have it.”
He grinned and tossed the truck onto the grocery conveyor just as the monk bowed to the cashier, collected his bags, and crutched out of the store into a new-falling wintry mix. The conveyor beeped and we moved forward in line. “Just don’t tell Sara I caved so easy.”
“Da,” was all he said.
We shouldered into the disappointment of New Year’s and into the spring and summer. Trying for Sara’s baby petered out sometime during the winter and instead of rushing home from work for a session with Sara, I started staying at the bar until about dinnertime. The extra time alone gave me plenty of time to think and, looking at our situation, my life seemed to have shifted into a weird time dimension. Most days passed in slow motion until I looked around and found that the season had changed. Just like that. No warning. I’d go to bed after being stuck in the same routine forever, only to wake up with time accordioned together, squishing me into a sped-up world where everything was different and I was helpless to do anything about it. Sonny started daycare at some “Montessori school” place we could barely afford but Sara had made a bunch of noise about it so I went along. He only went three days a week so Sara could “get back into the workforce.” I don’t know why, because about all she earned at the Hotel Diner went straight to the school. I brought that up once and she rolled her eyes and huffed out of the room. Despite that atmosphere at home, I decided to spend nights after dinner playing with Sonny instead of heading back to the bar like I wanted.
One evening, so late into the summer the state fair had come to town, I was on the carpet with Sonny, rolling a ball back and forth between us. Sara came from the back, dressed to go out.
“Hey there foxy,” I tried.
“Some of the girls from work are meeting for drinks.” She squatted and gave Sonny a hug and a kiss. I wondered how she kept balance in those ridiculous heels of hers.
“Oh,” I said.
“Don’t wait up?”
The question mark sounded a klaxon in my head but I kept my face solid. “Sure. I’ll just put him to bed.”
“At eight. Sing him his song.” She stood and bent at the waist to peck a kiss on the top of my head. I saw she had gone without a bra and my guts went chilly. With no other words, she left Sonny and me on the carpet.
As soon as Sara’s car was out of the driveway, I looked at Sonny. “Your mother and I are getting a divorce,” I said.
He rolled the ball to me and laughed. The sound cracked something inside me I hadn’t noticed was unbroken.
When the dust settled, it could have been a lot worse. I wasn’t happy with the visitation schedule: one weekend a month and ten consecutive weeks in the summer. I agreed because Sara didn’t want the house and took it easier on me in child support than she could have. Since I wanted things to be okay between us, I kept my mouth shut.
Sonny’s first summer with me alone, I picked him up from my ex-mother-in-law’s place where Sara had been staying with him. The afternoon was clear and bright and he stood at the end of the driveway with Sara. Sara held one of my old backpacks and Sonny squeezed a stuffed animal arctic fox to his chest. Sara petted the top of his head with her free hand as I pulled up. I had the windows down on my new-to-me Datsun pick up and I called out to Sonny. “Hey there Son.”
He looked at me but didn’t say anything. Sara nudged him forward and he took two steps toward the passenger door. He stopped and turned to her and held out his arms. She came over, squatted, and hugged him, long and hard. She pulled away I could see her mouth moving but couldn’t hear her over the engine idle. Sonny climbed in and, while his face was awful, he didn’t cry.
I slapped his leg. “Getting bigger by the day,” I said.
Sara came to the window, arms crossed, and stooped to see inside. “Ten weeks and not one second longer. If I can’t reach you at any time, I’m calling the cops,” she said to me, then softer, to Sonny, “I love you Junior.”
He kept quiet and stared at the floorboard.
Sara righted and I pulled out of the driveway. We were out on the road, toward my house, before I could find something to say. I reached over and slapped his leg again. “We’re going to have so much fun this summer, Son.”
He didn’t answer and the air rushing in filled the cab, sounding like water, drowning us, with no hope of rescue.
Benjamin Toche is a baffled man who can be seen wandering the streets of his current hometown and talking to birds. He received an MFA in creative fiction writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage and his work has appeared online in some places, in print others. Internet him for further details or visit wordsworthing.com for a better look.