I know where to step. I tiptoe from plank to plank. The hallway and stairs are the trickiest spots in this old house, but I’ve mastered how to avoid the areas that creak and crackle and pop and whine.
But sometimes I miscalculate. The stair creaks. Shit. I freeze, listen. My daughter wails.
I change her—the consistency of her poop is good. I snap a picture of it, text it to my wife, and she texts back a poop emoji followed by an exclamation point.
I dress her, feed her a bottle of formula mixed with a little prune juice to keep her regular.
Time for our midmorning walk. I unfold our stroller and get her click-locked in. Then we head to Baldwin Park. The carpenters will be on their lunch break soon, and I like to watch them eat.
The park is a block away. Massive live oaks bearded with Spanish moss stand in every yard, their boughs plaited over the street. The houses are old. I think about the trees that were felled, milled, transported, sawed to size, and nailed together to build these beautiful homes. I think about all of the hands used to carry out this process—about all of the calluses formed on those hands from hours upon hours of arduous labor. A plumber came to our house the other day to fix our garbage disposal. He was tall, had a big beard, very blue eyes. Our wooden floors whined under his weight. He clamped his plate-sized hand in mine, and the calluses on his palms bit into my skin. I couldn’t stop staring at his hands as he worked.
I squeeze the stroller’s soft handle as hard as I can.
We arrive at the park. We take a few laps up and down the promenade. The palm trees that line the promenade drop hard berries all over the sidewalk; they feel like ball bearings under my Red Wing boots.
Everybody’s looking at me. Even the muscled runners who whisk by briefly pitch their judgmental eyes my way. An old man with a long cigar saddled between his fingers says, “Looks like you got stroller duty today.” Skinny women wearing yoga gear and pushing fancier strollers than mine mall-walk by and smile smiles that make me feel stupid. Two old women with Eastern European accents stop me and ask if there’s a baby in there. I tell them there sure is, and they melt at how pretty she is. Their husbands hang back, no doubt trying to figure out why I’m not at work.
Maybe I’m projecting.
I sit down on a park bench under a cypress tree. I open Don DeLillo’s Underworld, but nothing registers. I pick at a callus on my palm. I peel it off easily. Under it is soft, delicate, new skin. I drop the callus onto the ground just as a cargo ship sounds its horn up the Savannah River. I imagine the captain of the ship, the captains of the tugboats, all those furrowed brows navigating the ship through that narrow waterway. What a feat.
My daughter loses her pacifier. I gingerly maneuver it back into her mouth.
At noon, the carpenters file out of an old white house they’re remodeling. They gather around their dually trucks. The brims of their caps are heavily curled. Knife-sharpened carpenter pencils are held behind their ears or up under their caps. Their shirts are soaked in sweat. Their Wranglers sag.
I watch them wolf down sandwiches, burgers, and tacos, licking their dirty fingers, slugging their drinks, laughing, bantering. I remember how I used to get cuts all over my hands when I worked—I didn’t like to wear gloves—and when I’d eat lunch, salt from my food would get into the cuts and burn like hell.
The carpenters file back into the house, and we head home.
I change her, feed her, spend the rest of the afternoon doing anything and everything I can to keep her from crying.
She’s tired of me. She wants her mom.
Her mom rushes through the front door drenched in sweat. She drops her computer bag and takes her from me. Our daughter melts onto her chest. My wife looks like she just injected a shot of heroin that she’s been jonesing for all day.
Time for a beer. I snag one out of the refrigerator and collapse into my chair. My wife wants me to ask her about her day, but I’ve only spoken to my six-month-old all day and feel like I just can’t put adult words together.
Graciously, she talks.
She tells me about the baby shower she went to the other night. The women were discussing breastfeeding. One of the women is just now—at thirteen months—transitioning out of breastfeeding. Tears gather in my wife’s eyes when she tells me about the judgmental look she got from this woman when she told her that I feed our six-month-old formula while she’s teaching all day.
Maybe she’s projecting.
I remember my wife standing by our bed a month after our daughter was born. She was naked. Her long, curly hair was draped down her body. Her hands were cupped under her breasts, and milk was dripping through her fingers onto the floor. She was hopping from foot to foot and telling me to “give her to me, give her to me. Hurry, please.” She was smiling, glowing. I’d never seen her more beautiful. I gave her our daughter, she latched, my wife squinted in pain—her nipples raw—and her body melted.
Not a month later, when our daughter was just two months old, my wife’s milk dried up while she was on a trip to Savannah for a job interview. I remember the tears streaming down her face when she got home and realized that she’d never breastfeed her only daughter again. I think about how that salt burned in the cuts on my hands. How I miss it. I think about her raw, burning nipples. How she must miss them.
Start Sunday morning with a flash essay in your inbox. Enjoy short works hand-selected from the Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Diagram, River Teeth, and Sweet Literary archives, as well as the occasional original work.
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