Colton Sparrow Waters
The helpless little thing looks at me and I look away. I have pushed it out of my body, wrecked my vagina, wrecked my skin, wrecked my wholeness and there it is, an alien. Once transferred from inside to outside and materialized on more than black and white photo paper, I hate it. It has a name because that is necessary. Colton. The father insisted on Sparrow. He is an ornithologist, and I have no recollection of how many Singapore Slings it took to meet him and of how many fallen gold stars it took to pick him. But the number of Singapore Slings I had was slim compared to the amount of citrus, salt and Tequila the ornithologist sucked, licked and drank. He had just handed in his thesis. His friends told him this was a reason to party. The ornithologist, not as enthusiastic as his sperm, was reluctant. They fed him shots and put rose glasses on his face that knows no glasses. I forgot what I had done but Colton Sparrow Waters, a bomb timed precisely, had not. The baby squeals and squeezes my hand. My fingers retreat. My partner of nine years broke up with me. I slept with the ornithologist. I got pregnant. I do not want to argue about cause and effect. Blame the hormones or the alcohol. Blame my partner, the ornithologist or me. Blame anything you want; Colton Sparrow Waters exists. Some might say it is a miracle, the miracle of life. I say, it is not a miracle. I say it is a trap and you, you twist, twirl and turn but in the end, all you run from is all you run to. Colton Sparrow Waters.
When I get out of the hospital, the ornithologist insists on being there. I can’t march to the baby hatch. The river is too far away and the story about Moses is not necessarily a favorite of mine. Dropping it onto a concrete street seems a little too radical, even for me, and so it rides home with the ornithologist and me (not us) and sleeps on the ride.
“How are you doing?” the ornithologist asks. His favorite bird is the sparrow. However, he also likes robins and bluetits. If Colton Sparrow had been a girl, he would probably be called Blue Tits. I would have intervened, though. Maybe.
“I need a coffee,” I answer. I am good at voicing my emotions.
We stop at the next Tim Horton’s and I order a black brewed coffee. He likes Pumpkin Spice but I can’t figure out what that is supposed to be. Since I have been a responsible and good pregnant woman, handbooks conquered previously empty shelves, cigarette packages turned into gift boxes and bottles cried into the kitchen sink, my simple black brewed coffee sows Satan in my stomach. An abyss, a pit, rising and its anthracite waves against my villi make me look at the baby in the Maxi-Cosi. It smiles and I make a grimace. It smiles wider for some reason.
“Colton Sparrow just smiled,” the ornithologist says.
“I don’t know if babies can smile.”
“But he smiled! Just now!”
“He has probably not learned to control his lip muscles.”
“Our Colton Sparrow has gorgeous uncontrolled lip movements,” the ornithologist says when he pays for his Pumpkin Spice and the cashier woman moves her lips at him. The ornithologist then wants to go on a walk, show Colton Sparrow his surroundings: The pond with the ducks; the trees with the woodpeckers; the fields with Canada geese; the sky full of wings and the grounds full of shit. We go and it wiggle wiggle wiggles in its seat, reaching out with little hot dog fingers.
“Did you hear that?” The ornithologist asks.
“In his little belly. Bubbly somersaults.” He looks at me proudly underneath empty clouds.
I wish for geese to fly by: “It’s probably a hiccup.”
We walk around the pond, past the trees out to the fields. Houses rise in the framed distance and couples, approaching, overtaking, ascending, nod at us with their dogs tongue-tied in tow. The ornithologist nods back.
“Are you sure that you don’t need me tonight? I can stay at your place.”
“Go home. Say Hi to your girlfriend. I’m fine. ”
He drives the baby and me home and coos at Colton Sparrow, promises him he will stay, just not right now. Before leaving his parking spot in front of my door, he waves but drives so slowly that my fingers freeze to the door handle. Inside, I set the Maxi-Cosi down in my dark apartment and make a Cinnamon-Apple Oatmeal. Then I prepare Chinese baby formula because I will not breast feed. I will not give more of my body, more of my insides, more of who I am. The more will be less and the less will turn into nothing. I do not want to be nothing. I tell my breasts that they are confused and should go back to where they came from but they are rebellious and do not listen. Women at breathing class told me they would not breast feed in the hope that their breasts would stay nice and round and their nipples tight and pointy. For sex, I said and understood, but they stared at me, blessed Virgin Mary after blessed Virgin Mary, and said, no, no to get our children into kindergarten. Think about your future, these mothers told me, available places are limited, competition is fierce and your baby needs to be independent. I watch the sun recede further into its shell behind the horizon, apple trees growing on my tongue and cinnamon falling like snow, and I do not think about the future. I think about the past when my best friend counted bricks randomly, her fingers jumping from stone to stone while she spoke the numbers out loud. I stood next to her and watched, confounded. I asked what she was doing but she just smiled. Years later, she told me, holding a glass of white wine in her hand, that she did not know what she was doing. She simply kept counting bricks for my glistening gaze. The baby and I are in a staring contest now. It does not care about my past. I will be ‘Mommy’ or ‘Mom,’ the birth giver, the money dispenser and the tissue against tears. The staring contest becomes more competitive. It clearly wants to sleep, drooping eyelids without lashes, and I want to sleep, too. But I stare and it stares and for the first time, it is ‘we.’ We stare. I do have practice in hating parts of me so it is not too hard to hate parts of ‘we.’ I sneer. Then, it just gives up and falls asleep, does not even snore. Everything is quiet. My microwave blinks the time. Footsteps walk over my head and I count them back and forth. I have a desire to look at my stitches but I do not get up from the couch to walk to my bedroom mirror and undress. The footsteps continue. My neighbors must have made a deal about playing musical chairs and then having sex on each chair. So much movement above, so much baby stillness below. I wish someone would show up, burn a candle and hold a vigil for the person I had been.
Everybody gushes about a baby in a stroller. I buy a pink one in order to entertain myself and the world comes up to greet a girl and they meet Colton Sparrow Waters. Sometimes, I place a purple ribbon in his sparse hair, sometimes it does not stick, and then they bubble about this cute little ribbon girl and Colton Sparrow shows his gum and laughs because nobody knows that he is a cute little ribbon boy. He is probably going to be a fun guy, dimples live on his cheeks, but I wish he would just leave. Climb out of the stroller, explore the world to the West and the East, to the North and the South; you are a man and you can. You can on wobbly legs and baby fat, go touch and turn. But he is so soft, so helpless, so small and he can’t. So I push him, and he looks up double chins that peek into his window and cloud his stroller world, and he grabs greasy fingers, bites into them but it does not hurt. He is so soft, helpless and small, his bites are love.
He scares me. I distrust his tiny toes because they contain a world of woven paths and stuck sand. I distrust his beating heart against my chest, because once the muscle had been carried underneath and I dreamed I would never have to meet the face to the beat and the fingers to the kick. I tell the ornithologist that Colton Sparrow poops, cries and eats too much but the ornithologist is so proud of his pooping, crying and eating. Each Sunday, he brings his girlfriend and their two shining smiles of pride along, and each Saturday I bake a cake.
The first cake we ever ate was chocolate chip cookies. I had bought the dough. Out of the fridge, sliced into semi-round shapes, into the oven, wait, but not too long. They did not even notice because we had such a blast getting to know each other. I threw ginger candy into my mouth with the regularity of an addict feeding slots in Las Vegas. In spite of the ginger, I spent most of the time in the bathroom and the ornithologist felt obliged to hold my hair until I ripped it from him, yelling, “I can hold my own hair!” He then felt obliged to tell his girlfriend that I was usually friendlier; the morning sickness just did not end and was afternoon and evening sickness, too. He had read up on it and I had nobody better to ask. All my friends sided with my partner, ex-partner, and I could not even blame them. They were business people. They did not understand the isolation of the white screen. They knew hotel shampoo and coffee breaks at 10am. On a minor note, I had cheated. Repeatedly. I told my partner, “I love you.” when my first pair of leather jackets hit my face. I screamed, “I love you! I love you! I love you!” but it was too late. The stitches of our relationship flew open and I could only flee. I was good at that. The girlfriend, thus, met me on the pinnacle of my character development. “It can only get better,” the ornithologist said and I answered, “That would be preferable.”
After each coffee-and-cake session, we walk off peppermint calories and cinnamon rolls on our stroller strolls around the pond. We see the same couples and the same dogs but they do not nod at us anymore. I nod. I nod at squinted eyes, pursed lips and Labrador fur that carries golden suns on expanding January days. The baby stretches its fingers, hiding in miniature gloves, and wants the world to glow. The girlfriend gives him her thumb and he sucks at it. But I dislike Colton Sparrow because he has belonged to the world since his first hazy halo coos. “Roucoulement,” as the ornithologist likes to point out when I imitate the sounds his son makes upon gurgling Chinese baby formula and spilling it all over his ribboned bibs. The ornithologist also likes to point out that Colton Sparrow might be more willing to drink-eat-gulp-gurgle Chinese baby formula if the ribboned bibs would not tempt him to destroy them with as much oil spilling as possible. The baby is never successful, though. I buy atrocity after atrocity of ridiculously-ribboned bibs. When I have wrestled my dislike because he belongs into the world, I dislike him because he does not belong to the world entirely. I ask the ornithologist about nestlings and he provides dunnocks and blackbirds. The baby is one of them; I want him to fly. Bald eagle, yellow beak, white tail, I want him to circle me, small, on Earth and decide that I shall be left standing and staring. Then, I want him to beat his wings with meaning and fly away so that I can go out into a bar, pick up a stranger’s whiskey and wishes and breathe onto bedsheets. I just want to count bricks, randomly, and let my fingers jump the little creeks of mortar. The ornithologist suggests that he and his girlfriend take Colton Sparrow after I tell them but I hate him so much that I can’t give him away into a crib carved out of beech when he knows the smell of ash. I can’t and I hate that I can’t, held stable by tiny fingers that never crush. Maybe I need to fly, yellow beak, white tail. I fly and fall, my feet slugging ground.
This Sunday, we have Black Forest cake. I do not even know why. Colton Sparrow spiraled in the supermarket cart and pulled me toward cherries and chocolates as if he were the sun and I simply orbited. I told him “No.” but he decided not to listen. As always. I inform the ornithologist to teach his son how to be a good listener. “You can do it,” the girlfriend agrees. She repeats that I missed my one chance at married bliss. I reply, “Good.” and the ornithologist nods his head, “We’d be miserable.” The girlfriend stuffs Black Forest cake into her full, grinning mouth, accidentally eating her hair. The black coffee pot is empty and the ornithologist stands up to brew new black coffee.
“Where did you put the pumpkin spice?”
“I ran out.”
“You didn’t buy a new one?”
“Forgot.” On purpose.
Colton Sparrow rests on the ornithologist’s hip; he knows how to nest on a steep cliff. I tell him to watch the baby’s egg-shaped head.
“That was my advice to you,” the ornithologist says.
“Now, I can tell you. It’s called co-parenting.”
“One day, I’ll find you in a flowery dress, listening to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and you’ll swing Colton Sparrow to sleep.”
“No. Never. This baby likes Darkthrone, Sub Rosa and Stomach Earth. Trust me. Savages and Sabaton. Giles Corey. Nightwish. No Fuzzy Wuzzy.”
“You actually listen to the CD we gave you,” the girlfriend laughs and gives her boyfriend a smile.
I can’t believe my life and bite into my second piece of Black Forest cake. We’ll have to go on a long walk.
“We can’t make it today,” the ornithologist says through the phone. The baked bread looks at me with drooling jam eyes and the salad on the sandwich turns brown on the spot. Colton Sparrow giggles for more––attention? Cuddles? Dynamite Chinese baby formula? Correct breathing techniques? I tell him, us laughing was a one time thing.
I laugh. The baby chuckles more.
“There must be something in the pumpkin spice,” I say.
“We used contraception!”
“Sorry. I had thought you wore the condom.”
“And I thought you took the pill.”
“Why would I?”
“What did I know about you then!?”
The ornithologist had known nothing. I had known nothing. Colton Sparrow, though, had floated somewhere through the universe, through our bodies, and he had decided we were the branch he would land on. How incredibly ridiculous. How incredible...
“Anyways, we won’t come today,” the ornithologist confirmed.
“You want to keep it?”
Colton Sparrow claps his hands and his feet. Then he sucks on his toe so he could not possibly want to applaud.
“I love her.”
“I know you do,” and I know. “You’ll have two. Two babies. Two children. Two lives.”
“We’ll come next Sunday, I promise.”
He will come. He is a bird that does not know the pull of magnetic earth to wander and lust after more than binoculars, Wellington boots and baby steps. For nine years, I fought the weather vane and I lost. I lost all; all the breeze, all the rain and all the wind songs that once were butterflies in my stomach. My partner hates me. Finally. Nothing in this world can explain her nine-year love for me. Nothing. She, in her stiletto heels, white blouse and grey skirt. She, with the line between her eyes that dug deeper and deeper into her brain the more I pushed. My ex-partner hates me. Justifiably. Sometimes, when Colton Sparrow trickles snot onto his upper lip while sleeping in his little dream bag next to me, I wonder why she stayed for nine years. Nine years of her life wasted on cigarettes and alcohol. Nine years of addiction. Then, I remind myself that I have robbed from memory to memory and that I have decided to shut that door. I do not want to remember her short skirts in the breeze, the lack and the loss. I do not want to remember the Singapore Slings. I got pregnant. Congratulations. The end.
“I baked bread and made sandwiches,” I say.
“Give Colton Sparrow one, he’ll love that.”
“He’ll choke. I don’t think he knows what chewing is.”
“I read that after four to six month, babies can eat solid food.”
“He doesn’t even have teeth.”
“They should grow soon.”
“He should also know that he should cry less. I tell him every day.”
“You know, it’s probably all ribboned bib revenge.”
I laugh at all the Singapore Slings and Tequila, at all the chance and coincidence. The baby grabs the bibs, bumblebees and spring trees. He actually likes them.
A call from the other end of the line. The ornithologist has to hang up. I put the phone down, thinking that I did not ask him whether he loved us.
The girlfriend and Colton Sparrow grow. Both are a bit fat. Colton Sparrow looks cute, I am told by stroller strangers. The girlfriend looks rather stretched.
“Soon, you’ll have a little baby brother,” the ornithologist tells his son.
“Or sister,” I add, hoping for the sister. I would buy a bulldozer for her birth. A toy bulldozer, of course. The girlfriend will shower her in lavender and pixie wands, I will be the gender-bender woman who quit smoking but can’t get the smell out of her clothes. I will refuse to be called Aunt. We will teach the two that they can choose their family and distort history just a little bit. Leave out the Tequila, replace it with willingness. Mention the unhappiness and the sounds squirrels make when they hear hazelnuts crushed under autumn feet. I sip from my coffee cup. The ornithologist and Colton Sparrow play construction site with red and green Duplos and I could make a joke about how it is more a destruction site but I do not. Instead, I take another sip of cooling coffee and wait for the girlfriend to talk.
She asks, “How was your pregnancy?”
I debate telling her about the time my parents urged me to have an abortion after 29 weeks. That was a really good day; the cash was already in their hands and they had bought the bricks to build a sheath of silence around their house. Their punctuality was unmatched, but that day, they were too late for the first time in their lives. I decide against it, though; she likes my parents. I could disclose the nights I wished Colton Sparrow was a cancerous tumor or sperm were filled with STDs instead of genes or how I had puked, infinite finger in my throat, when I saw the positive pregnancy test. I wanted to empty my uterus, but the more acid I tasted, the heavier I weighed. I found the ornithologist’s number saved under ‘The ornithologist’ and called. The phone rang, he could not understand me. I had forgotten to take my finger out of my mouth. I told him, he would be a father. He told me, I would be a mother.
“Fine,” I say.
She spits carrot cake into her volcanic water or whatever women are supposed to drink nowadays for poreless skin. Apparently, “Fine” is not a convincing answer.
“Come on, I was there most of the way. I was just too star-struck to ask how you actually felt.” The girlfriend is curious today; next time, I should put less sugar in the cake. Or do we like each other?
“You were probably scared of the answer.”
I look at her belly, so much bigger than mine. I do not know what she is carrying around but that baby is at least going to be a wrestler or a bulldozer driver.
“I never wanted to be pregnant. I was depressed. I hated it. All of it,” I look at the men in pants and pampers on the ground. They build a tower of Babel and count the bricks, crashing and crumbling. Colton Sparrow, too young to speak but excited, fills the room with rainbow bubbles and tiny farts. “Why did people think they were allowed to touch me? Why were clothes so floral and pink? Why was everybody asking when we would marry?”
“They’re asking us the same.”
“What do you say?”
“Someday,” the girlfriend answers. “What did you say?”
“Have you told your partner about Colton Sparrow?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Why, always why. Why the ornithologist? Why a cuckoo baby called Sparrow? Why sweating in breathing class? Why staring down a baby? Why are we humans and not flightless birds? Why?
“There was no love left.”
“Where did your love go?” she asks and I know what she wants to hear.
Rebekka Hochrath currently lives in Mannheim, Germany where she is pursuing a master’s degree in American and British literature at the University of Mannheim. She is a firm believer in feminism and equality and likes to let her legs dangle, although she is too tall to do so. To spend her free time more successfully, she likes to cut the cellophane from unopened Nutella glasses.