When my husband comes home he walks right by the cradle in the laundry room, still drying from its hard scrubbing. His excitement makes him more unobservant than usual. He has news for me. He rushes in, past where I stand at the kitchen counter, already exclaiming before he sees what I am doing.
“The owners took me aside and gave me a raise. It’s supposed to be secret because I’m the only one. At their last meeting they discovered I’m responsible for 60% of the revenue and decided they should keep me happy.” His hands are on his hips. He is containing his exuberance.
“That’s great,” I say, genuinely happy but intent upon my task. “It’s about time.”
“Yeah,” he agrees and then looks up, I assume, for he goes very quiet. I am not looking directly at him, having turned back to my task on the counter. I sneak peeks at him from the corner of my eye as his silence continues. He is standing next to the dining room table he has appropriated for his ‘office.’ He has dropped his wallet, keys, and hat on the table, but stands staring at me.
On a counter I have unfolded a thick towel from Russia, bigger than an American towel, and in the sink is a bowl of warm water. On the towel is a naked, anatomically correct newborn baby boy doll that I am rubbing with rose scented oil before wiping it off with a warm washcloth. I don’t mention what I am doing, so after a pause my husband ignores my actions as well. He goes on telling me about the raise, the secrecy involved, and how the validation of his work is more important to him than the money.
I can understand, but don’t agree. We can really use the money. While he talks my husband performs his homecoming routine. He removes his work shirt and puts on a sweatshirt, he removes his work boots and puts on his moccasins. He does not tidy the dining room table or put anything away, but prepares to go outside to his evening animal chores. There are horses and chickens and ducks to be fed and watered. It isn’t kind to make them wait.
But he doesn’t leave. He stands in the doorway and watches me. I’ve finished washing the doll and wrap it in an infant’s receiving towel, the kind with the little hood, gently drying it as I walk over to the sofa where I’ve left its clean clothes.
“How was your day?” He asks as I dress the doll in a tiny preemie diaper and then a footed pajama. I swaddle the baby before answering.
“Oh fine. We cleared more out of the house,” I leave the baby on the sofa to collect the cradle from the other room. My husband follows me, but doesn’t offer to help and now I know he is seriously creeped out.
As I put the cradle back together and make it up with sheets and blankets I tell him about clearing out my sister’s foreclosed house. I tell him I’ve found all the things my sister’s kids have stolen over the years and taken them back.
The frown clears from his face, his stance loosens, and he says, “That’s good.”
His relief irritates me. I’m irritated with myself. I let him off the hook too soon; the game is over before it really needled him. I begin to clean up without speaking to him. After I move the cradle to a corner of the bedroom, place the doll in it and cover him with a thin, crocheted blanket, my husband asks me, “Do you want to practice after we feed the animals?” He points to the bows on the wall.
“Yes,” I say, wanting to drive my sharp arrows into the target, each ‘thwack’ filling me with satisfaction.
He never mentions the baby doll, never even looks at it again. The doll is just a doll, a relic from my childhood. We do not talk about the reason I have clothes to fit an infant-sized doll or sheets and blankets for an actual cradle. We will not talk about how he doesn’t look in the corner of the room where the cradle and its occupant sit, eventually he’ll start throwing his clothes over it. And we won’t talk about that, either. It’s an unspoken pact that we never talk about what we’ve lost.
About Sara Marchant and this essay: This is a short essay written in a class taught by Emily Rapp at the University of California Riverside/ Palm Desert. I am a second year student in the MFA of Creative Writing program and also a housewife in the high desert of Southern California.