Soon the baby will learn to speak, to move away from the Mother, to say no. The Mother thinks of these things as she squeezes the fleshiness of the baby’s thigh and pricks the needle in.
Each week, the baby changes, shifts in heft and length, becomes a stranger once again to the Mother. She runs her fingers across the baby’s gums, feeling for the sharp ridges of growing teeth. She tries to imagine the baby as more than a baby, as a child, someone with skinned knees and broken bones, all the realms of earthly danger she cannot protect against, and finds that she cannot imagine anything close.
“You’re bleeding,” her husband says to her as she stands at the counter, ripping lettuce into smaller and smaller pieces, whisking oil into vinegar. He swipes his finger across her cheek. It is old blood, crusted over, and it flakes off her face easily, like a snake molting its skin.
“I cut myself shaving,” she says, and turns away from him.
“Your beard?” he asks.
The Mother does not answer. Oh, the secrets we keep, even from those who share our bed.
“Are you hungry?” she asks then. She balances both plates on her open palms. She takes a step. She takes another.
“Starving,” he answers, and wraps his arms around her waist.
They sit at the table with the monitor between them, watching the baby sleep. The husband jokes that the baby only sleeps in three positions—croissant, reverse croissant, and murder victim. When he’s not home, the Mother holds her fingers under the baby’s nose, just to be sure, just in case.
Here is what the Mother does not anticipate about this endeavor—that when she stops, which she does just before the baby turns eight months old, she will age fiercely and rapidly, not so much in flesh but in bone itself. She carries a new exhaustion, a phantom weight always pressing down on her, even in the odd moments that she is alone. The baby now sleeps through the night but the Mother has stopped sleeping entirely, and spends the hours listening to her husband breathe. One night, she pulls her body over his, knees around his chest. Her joints click like the flickering wings of beetles. Her hands on his skin are cold.