The Big Issue : Edition 568
THE BIG ISSUE 2018 41 FICTION EDITION amazing massages. But who can think about sex when there’s a newborn in the house? Tom’s eyes droop. A foot rub, a hot shower and a lie down in a dark, silent room. To think he used to have energy for sex. Energy to read a bloody book. There’s a knock at the front door. With a groan, Tom rolls onto his side and heaves himself up. The knock again, so loud. “Hey!” He yanks open the door. “There’s a baby sleep...” Standing under the floodlight is Marina, Catie’s best friend. Tom sees Marina’s car in the driveway. She is dressed like she’s just come from yoga, or maybe she’s been to a five-star restaurant, who can tell with girls these days. “Marina.” “Yeah, hi, Tom.” She smooths her eyebrows, one then the other. Her fingernails are painted black. Her whole face looks bright and polished, Tom thinks. So well rested. “What are you doing here?” “You’ve got my baby. From school? From Isaac’s party?” Tiny fragments of Tom disintegrate with those words: my baby. No no no, he thinks. Sherri’s small mouth. Her perfect mop of brown hair. Tiny curls near her ears – just like Tom’s. The rolling nightmare that comes from the computer in her belly. “I’ve just got Sherri,” Tom says softly. It’s cold. Marina is hugging herself, cupping an elbow with each hand. She leans in. “You named it? Is that what you said?” Tom wills the baby not to wake up now. He clears his throat. “She needed a parent.” “Look, mate, I left it to sleep in its carrier in Isaac’s mother’s craft room. Where it was quiet and safe, while I got a drink. One drink.” “She was stuck under a chair.” “Hardly,” Marina says. “So you just go around taking other people’s babies? Mrs Tribby’s going to have a fucking fit. I have her in period one tomorrow. They cost like two thousand dollars.” “She was clearly being neglected while you got your vodka Red Bull.” “That is so judgemental.” Maybe it is, Tom thinks, but why not? Sherri could have been trampled by teenagers or drenched in rum and coke. Or Isaac’s mother’s sewing machine could have fallen on her from a great height. “I couldn’t just leave her there,” he says. “Yeah, well, I can’t just leave her here, can I? Unless you want Mrs Tribby to send you a bill for two grand?” His heart breaks but he knows Marina is right. As much as his parents say they love Sherri, Tom suspects they would find a way to not give him two thousand dollars when they get home from dumplings. Tom tries to slow his breathing. “Do you want to come in?” Marina does not. Tom heads back through the lounge room alone and upstairs to his room. He tiptoes in, although what does it matter now if she wakes up? What will she remember of this moment, this handover from one parent to another? Which words will tuck themselves around her only to later come loose as trauma, as delicious stories to recount about her deadbeat dad? An audience of university mates at an open-mic night, the incandescent condemnation of a studio audience on live TV. Sherri’s a bright little thing, that’s for sure. He packs up. He checks in drawers. He fishes a tiny sock out from under his laptop. He lifts her out and kisses her cheeks. Downstairs, when he goes to pass the baby and all her things to Marina, Tom is smacked with a searing emptiness. He cups the back of Sherri’s head one last time, in a mother kind of way. Marina pulls a grey star pillow out of the plastic carrier. “Did you make this?” she asks. Tom nods. Marina’s face softens. “I wish I knew how to sew.” She holds the little pillow out to him. “Do you want to keep it?” After a moment, Tom shakes his head. “Too painful.” Marina stares at him. She strokes Sherri’s cheek with her finger. They both look down at the baby, sighing. Finally Marina pulls car keys from her pocket and unlocks her hatchback with a beep. She swings Sherri round in the baby carrier and takes off down the step, the nappy bag bumping against her hip. “She likes it when you...” Tom starts. Marina turns to face him and he stops. It’s dark out on his street. Above him, through the window to Tina’s room, Tom hears the electronic ding of the commercial oven on Fantasy Wedding Cakery. It’s time to sequester Tina’s phone and help her brush her teeth and read her some stories before bed. Tom waves at Marina and he releases the fingers of his other hand, the one Sherri used to nestle her palm in. Marina has a long night ahead of her. “Nothing,” he says. “You’ll do great.” Laura Elvery (@lauraelvery) is a writer from Brisbane. She has a PhD in creative writing from QUT and recently won the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize. Laura is the author of Trick of the Light (2018).