Mother is desperate. Baby will not stop crying. Her toothless maw quivers, her eyes slit, her cheeks squinch red.
Mother is desperate. She tries everything Doctor recommends—bicycling Baby’s plump legs, massaging her rotund tummy. She pushes Baby in the stroller. Drives her round and round the block. Parks Baby on top of the dryer so the humming will soothe her.
Baby still shrieks.
Mother is desperate. She orders a set of butt whistles touted as single use, safe, and sanitary (although multiple consumers have posted on-line questions: is this product ok to reuse? can I put it in the dishwasher?).
I’m so sorry, Mother tells Baby, as she inserts the whistle up Baby’s colicky rear end. Air rushes out. Baby sighs. The silence that follows is so profound that Mother brings her hands to her ears to make sure she hasn’t gone deaf.
Mother no longer is desperate—until she realizes she probably will remember this moment many times in the years to come, when she no longer will have the magic to salve her daughter’s tears.
At home her father’s word was law. At school the boys spoke over the girls. At work men interrupted her in meetings. The Wife grew so angry she feared she would commit a heinous crime that would land her in solitary confinement.
She once had laryngitis so badly she couldn’t even eke out a whisper. She considered joining a religious order and taking a vow of silence. She wrote poetry so she could cross things out. She shuddered—and remembered her angry mother sticking green soap between her tiny screaming teeth—as she stuck a pacifier in her own daughter’s wailing mouth.
The Wife was born chatty as a parrot, raucous as a seagull. Now she has turned into an old woman who presses her wrinkled lips together, silent as an owl huddled in a tree, waiting to soar one last time into the night.
Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and four award-winning story collections, Female Education, Second Wife, Sometimes I Dream in Italian, and Mother Rocket. She is professor of English at the University of South Florida. Visit her website at www.ritaciresi.com.
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