I looked at my friend holding his new daughter in the crook of his arm and told myself again what I was. Four days old, her thin brown hair sparse, almost countable. He held her like a man who had become accustomed to, but not jaded by, handling the world’s largest diamond. His girlfriend, the mother, in utter serenity, looked on as he placed her down in the little seat in front of the couch. The two looked at the girl. We all looked at the girl. My girlfriend said:
‘She’s so beautiful. She’s perfect’.
Minutes earlier she’d had her in her arms, staring at the baby’s closed eyes as the new parents told us about how it had been in the hospital. My girlfriend had looked up as my friend described the delivery room, the fear, the midwife’s manner. She looked at him in awe. I sipped my drink, looking at the floor in front of me, forcing a smile when the story demanded one. The mother looked at me, I saw her from the corner of my eye.
‘Do you want a hold?’
‘No, I don’t want to wake her up.’
‘Don’t be stupid, here, come on.’
My friend put his new life in my hands. I slowly got myself into some sort of comfortable position with the baby. She was absolutely beautiful and perfect. I looked at her eyelids hoping she would wake up so her mother or father would take her off me, but she didn’t. She was so light, practically nothing, but so much. Eventually my friend must have seen how uncomfortable I looked and took her off me. The real man scooped up his child and took care of the situation. When she was in her seat she woke up. My girlfriend leaned over and said:
‘Oh, look at her eyes! Beautiful blue eyes!’
Her parents beamed at her. She had beautiful blue eyes. She stretched both her arms out into the air, one tiny hand in a tight fist, the other’s fingers outstretched. Her mother looked at us, at me, I saw her out of the corner of my eye. My girlfriend looked at them, at the baby. She was so excited. We sat for a long time and the mother and my girlfriend talked as my friend shook the baby’s hands while she looked up at him, her mouth and eyes wide. The mother had acquired some sort of power and my girlfriend knew it and revered her. I sat, sickened, and drank my drink. Eventually my friend invited me to go and have a look at the room he’d painted for the baby. I stood after him and followed him out and upstairs like a dog. In the room everything was as it should have been. The walls were a calm pink and all the gifts they’d received, some still wrapped, covered every surface.
‘What do you think?’
‘Have you spoken to her recently?’
Acting big in the pink room. Back downstairs I had another drink and my girlfriend had the baby again. The mother looked at me, I saw her from the corner of my eye. I realised that, in fact, she was sitting stiffly, uncomfortably, in pain. My friend sat back on his couch, in his home, in sweatpants and socks as we watched the television. I looked as my girlfriend cradled his new daughter in her arms and told myself again what we were.
I climbed the stairs again, this time alone, and thought about defining moments, and how they can go either way; and how a single failed test can cause more damage than all the passed examinations in a lifetime can repair. I looked in the bathroom mirror and thought that moments of self-realisation can be moments of death. I looked down at the washing basket by the sink. On top of the basket was a box of Natracare New Mother Maternity Pads. I looked down and realised I had pissed on my jeans. Fastening the buttons I pulled a towel from the rail on the wall and dabbed at the denim. The jeans were quite dark, so the damage wasn’t too noticeable.
Back downstairs the baby was in her seat and the room had a new atmosphere. The mother watched me as I entered the room, followed me to my seat and didn’t look away as I sat down. I looked at her and she looked back, malignant. My girlfriend looked at the floor in front of her. Our visit was obviously over.
photo©Stratos Fountoulis, “Self Portrait”, 2009
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