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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Baby
by Alex Baratta

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Louise sat in her chair, once again refusing to eat. For one so seemingly helpless, she actually had powers at her disposal that most could only dream of. If she didn't want to eat then with one swoop of her arm, her food, such as it was, would be on the floor. She never had to pick it up though, that was their job. Likewise, a scream alerted them to the fact that there was a diaper in need of changing, a stomach that was empty (even though most of the food was despicable) and/or something was out of her fragile reach. For all her powers, however, Louise longed for powers that only they had. The power to speak, walk, feed herself and relieve her bladder and bowels in a more appropriate manner; such powers would be gladly exchanged for the only power that Louise really possessed: the power to be as annoying as she desired, be it with cries, screams or plastic feeding trays flung to the kitchen floor. Louise was 6 months old, they were in their late 30's, and as mom and dad, they had to do everything for her. Louise couldn't wait for the day when all that would change.

Each day she would endure their silly baby talk, mostly of the 'cootchy-cootchy-coo' variety. She would have to listen to dad come home swearing about his manager who was 'driving him %#@ crazy'; didn't dad know that babies can understand words, especially the bad ones, even if they can't form them? Then there were the idiots from next door, an older couple who were apparently brought in to give parenting advice for mom and dad, having a three year old son of their own. Predictably, mom and dad were stupid enough to think that a boy can be used as a guide for how to raise a daughter! How %#@ (thanks dad, I learned that word from you!) gullible they were! Oh, another thing Louise hated that damn babysitter who came around every week. While mom and dad went out to enjoy steak and lobster and see a movie, Louise was left with a bowl of mush and a teenage girl who spent more time on the phone (someone called 'Brian') and watching TV than actually taking care of Louise, apart from sticking her fat head into the crib once an hour.

If only Louise could speak! Then she'd tell mom and dad about all the crap the babysitter had to say about them once they had left the house, even commenting about mom's tacky (was that the word Louise had overheard?) painting of a clown hung over the fireplace. To be fair, dad hated it too. The list could go on and on, but this was a lot of thinking for a brain so small, yet nonetheless sharp as a tack. Yes, it's true: babies know but they can't let you know until their linguistic capabilities have caught up with their brain development. Just wait 'till I can speak mom and dad! I've got so much to tell you!

For now, however, on a Friday morning with housewife mom, Louise had just knocked her aforementioned food (a mixture of peas and carrots) to the floor and considering she had just filled her diaper, she had a lot to scream and cry about all in all. Which she did. At the top of her lungs. Mom placed the food tray in the kitchen sink, wiped up the green mess on the floor and then retrieved Louise from her high chair; if the stench from her diaper hadn't done the job, the crying always did: instant attention. Louise had to comfort herself as she went through the humiliation of having mom wipe her nether regions upstairs, with the thought that until she had 'adult powers', she at least had the power that all babies had. Cry + scream = whatever you want. Little did adults know, however, that sometimes babies just cried 'cause they were generally pissed off at the situation of soiled diapers, bad food and being dependent on adult assistance. Even adults needed a good cry too sometimes for no apparent reason other than to let off steam. How many times had Louise heard mom say to dad, or vice versa, "I'm sorry honey, I had a bad day and I was taking it out on you!" Adults are babies too it seems. Still, Louise had her better days, when she took comfort, or at least tried to, knowing that adults can't cry all the time when they want something; they have the power to do it all for themselves and being called a 'baby' when you're in your mid 30's wasn't good. For Louise, however, a baby is what she was, at least for the time being. Waiting for her powers of speech, mobility and body function control to all arrive, however, would be, according to what mom and dad had said, up to a three-year wait. Three years. Three years to a baby is probably three times as much in adult years. But for now at least, Louise had to admit defeat, not least because there was no denying that she felt warm, clean and fresh, and enjoyed this woman called 'mom' holding her in her arms and singing her a lullaby, although Louise resented this song being called 'her favorite', having heard it every day for the past six months. Time to change the record mom!

Louise was a stubborn child and for one so independent it was sometimes extremely difficult to be dependent on others for all your needs. But time would eventually change that.


ADOLESCENCE

Louise had matured, at least by teenage standards, into a beautiful young sixteen year old girl, with a crown of long dark hair and, thankfully, near perfect skin. The rebellion she felt as a baby had long since manifested itself into an out of control urge to challenge authority at every turn. The days of being pushed and pulled according to someone else's whim were long gone; kinda. Nowadays, Louise busied herself with planning her escape from home, spending time with like-minded friends, more so because of the influence Louise exerted over them, and chasing the boys, usually a particular boy for each year in high school. Surprisingly, education did not necessarily take a back seat for Louise, as she did have plans that included college (one thing parents were good for would be paying for it all; she heard as a baby several times about 'investments for her education' and pretty soon, she'd be collecting). The only issue with study was that Louise seemed to be so much more ahead than the other students in her knowledge, of, well, everything. Dare she say she knew it all?

Once again, however, Louise was not completely free. She'd taken her first steps at two, uttered her first words shortly thereafter and the days of toilet training were long behind her. However, she had much bigger plans now, many of which were usually thwarted by them. Sure, Louise spent time with friends, but only on designated nights and until certain times; dates with boys had to be hermetically approved first and then there was a 10:00pm curfew to deal with; then there were the restrictions which precluded any fun time: know it all that she was, Louise still had to spend a portion of each school night studying, even if there was nothing left to do but read her textbooks (again). So the plotting and the planning and the scheming was left to the recesses of Louise's mind for the most part, as the free time that was doled out to her, like her weekly allowance, was not usually sufficient to plan one's escape. Besides, she wouldn't be surprised if her room was bugged and she acted sometimes as if it were, but there wasn't much time out for good behavior, not on weekdays. Therefore, Louise's life revolved around parent-imposed study and rules for this and that, all wrapped up with the "you'll understand when you have kids of your own" speeches. When Louise was in her first three years or so of life, the word 'baby' was a noun; now at sixteen, it had become a verb.

Her parents' love was stifling and hadn't changed since the days of lullabies and babysitters. At least they weren't divorced like so many of the other kids' parents but couldn't they just lay off once in a while? Louise wasn't even allowed to get a part-time job, having to focus on being a full-time student instead and waiting for weekly handouts from mom and dad, which she felt she more than earned with the help around the house she was expected to give, on top of preparing for college, which seemed to be the be all and end all for her parents. Maybe it was even more intense being an only child. But Louise couldn't deny (although she usually did) that mom and dad loved her and that this love was something she would one day share with kids of her own but of course she'd do it so much differently. Her kids would be allowed a more generous curfew, if they had a curfew at all, boys would not be forbidden in the house if Louise had a daughter, and if a son, then girls could come into his room to study, as opposed to having to be together at the dining room table under the watchful eye of mom and dad.

Until then, Louise would have to remain trapped once again, desperate to escape from the powers that be.


MIDDLE AGE

Her 40th had come with a bang; Louise had never been told about this one by mom and dad and had felt cheated. They focused on all the usual things, such as education, career, finding that ever elusive Mr. Right, etc. But she couldn't remember a talk about what happens when you turn forty, a time which Louise called 'middle-aged adolescence.' Louise was now forty three and talks with mom had ceased for some time. Louise's mom had died a few months after Louise's thirty eighth birthday, and just before her seventy third; heart trouble. Louise couldn't quite manage to resolve the guilt she had felt based on what seemed like a lifetime of misunderstandings, mostly regarding her need to complain about parental suffocation as opposed to parental love and guidance. But Louise's mom knew all this, as she had been down that road before with her own mother. Louise's mother had spent the last few years of her life with contentment, having seen Louise marry Mr. Right, aka Timothy Sanders, bring two beautiful children into the world, a boy and a girl, and maintain a successful catering business. All in all, the daughter had turned out just fine, and Louise knew that she had her parents to thank, but Louise's mother wouldn't take any credit as "that's what mothers (and fathers) do."

As for Louise's father, he got on the best he could after the death of his wife, now living not too far from Louise in the house she grew up in, as she herself had settled not too far from her hometown. She would take the kids to visit their grandfather now and then, occasionally leading to fights with Tim, who perhaps didn't quite understand what he saw as Louise's need to be with her father so much. Still, fights were few, money was in the bank and Louise had managed to successfully break every one of her promises that she had made to herself as a teenage girl, promises regarding how she would raise her kids. Curfews, study and laying down the law, and an occasional smothering from Louise and Tim, were all part of the Sanders' game plan, leading two pre-teen kids to complain, usually with the opening lines of "It's not fair, all the other moms..." and of course "I'm not a kid anymore!"

Louise found herself on many occasions trying to explain how it all worked and even gave the occasional 'I know best' monologue to her kids, whose protestations echoed Louise's own adolescent rumblings to her mother and father. Tim was always on hand to help Louise which only served to create the 'us versus them' mentality between a brother and sister with a two year age gap, a gap that was soon bridged, however, whenever they called a shaky joint armistice, in agreement at least that their parents didn't understand a damn thing

Louise at times found the whole experience equally tiresome, feeling unappreciated considering she had a business to run, food to cook, cleaning to do and ungrateful kids and at times, a jealous husband who resented attention spent on anyone but him, Louise's father in particular. However, Louise's father passed on a few years later, when Louise was forty seven. She found herself truly isolated at this time and although there was comfort all round from Tim and the kids, who respectively, felt guilty that he'd complained about 'pop' and were sad to say goodbye to granddad (who had kept the kids in stitches with stories about the adolescent Louise), it took time before Louise had truly said goodbye to the two who had given her life. Later on, her inability to conceive life came with the dawning of her fiftieth year on the planet, prompting her to recall a card from her most recent birthday. On the outside of the card was the wording of 'When you're young, you want to be old and when you're old, you want to be young', with the inside caption reading 'THINGS ARE FUCKED UP'.


OLD AGE

Tim had died a few years back, and the kids had long since moved away with families of their own, but this time far away from the town in which their grandparents and parents had settled. Seems they got a double dose of Louise's rebellious spirit. They said they wanted to get away and they must have really meant it. Louise didn't see them that often. As for Louise, she was now a full-time resident of the Indian Meadows Nursing Home, and was referred to by the staff as Mrs. Holland, her maiden name. Louise had done her best in life: raised two kids, made a living, provided a good home and offered to be there for her children who had made it clear in their college days that they would no longer be requiring mom and dad's services. Tim and Louise had then decided to do the best for themselves, and took off on a journey across the United States, state to state.

Louise was now eighty five and following a stroke a few years back, was mostly confined to her chair, having lost a great deal of her mobility. Unfortunately, Louise's mind refused to follow suit. It's a cruel trick of nature to take away a person's ability to move at will, not to mention their speech the stroke had robbed Louise of that too while that person can only imagine how it was or how it should be. 'Old Louise', as a few of the fellow residents called her when referring to her independent streak, would not go without a fight. With every breath she wheezed defiance at her captors. If she could, there was no doubt from staff and residents alike that Louise would get up and walk out, but not without first smashing a few windows and taking a staff member or two hostage, recalling the movements and purpose of an angry, rebellious and free spirited teen, which perhaps Louise would always be in her mind, but this was a mind that Louise could no longer speak, literally or figuratively.

Louise winced as Mrs. Parker, a young whippersnapper in her thirties, now approached with a tray on wheels, announcing with her usual forced sweetness that it was feeding time. Friday; must be chicken and potatoes, which for Louise became a kind of makeshift hash, a concoction more conducive to her false teeth. Mrs. Parker tried to start the ball rolling by spooning up a portion of the meal, in preparation for its assault on Louise's dry mouth, with Louise's face only able to approximate a weak grimace. She let out all her anger the only way she could, by belching out the dull yet audible scream that only a stroke victim can, relinquishing her food at the same time by pushing the plate to the floor with her right hand, the one part of her body which nature had mercifully allowed her to retain control of, for just such an occasion. This was Louise's only attempt at mimicking life. After the customary evil glare from Mrs. Parker, who busied herself with picking up the food, cutlery and plate, as the other residents gave a silent approval to Louise, Louise was planning her next move.

Louise sat in her chair, once again refusing to eat. For one so seemingly helpless, she actually had powers at her disposal that most could only dream of. If she didn't want to eat then with one swoop of her arm, her food, such as it was, would be on the floor. She never had to pick it up though, that was their job. Likewise, a scream alerted them to the fact that there was a diaper in need of changing, a stomach that was empty (even though most of the food was despicable) and/or something was out of her fragile reach. For all her powers, however, Louise longed for powers that only they had. The power to speak, walk, feed herself and relieve her bladder and bowels in a more appropriate manner; such powers would be gladly exchanged for the only power that Louise really possessed: the power to be as annoying as she desired, be it with cries, screams or plastic feeding trays flung to the kitchen floor. Louise was 85 years old, they were in their late 30's, and as "mom" and "dad", they had to do everything for her. Louise couldn't wait for the day when all that would change.

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