Tomato Child Beneath the Stairs
Ratchet’s Dream Diary — May 15, 2008
I unlock the door to my apartment building, exhausted after a long day at work. As I open the door, I find that Bonnie, my upstairs neighbor, is standing at the bottom of the stairs, her young daughter at her side. She is holding a strange bundle. She asks me, “Is this your baby?”
The baby clings to her breast like a monkey and looks like a tiny, emaciated old man with wily eyes and hollow cheeks. The child is mine, but I am loath to admit it. It stares at me with a look of indifferent recognition, its eyes alert and intelligent. I stare back, narrowly, silently.
“I found it in a crib back there,” Bonnie continues, pointing with her thumb to a nook beneath the stairs, “Do you know where it came from?”
Of course, I know. But I am not going to tell Bonnie. As far as I know, the child is half mine and half alien. The aliens stole my eggs, made a hybrid baby and then dropped it on my doorstep, expecting me to take care of it. They never asked me, never gave me a choice.
“Yeah, it’s mine. You can just leave it back there,” I say.
Bonnie looks concerned, pauses, half-turns, then, with a grave look, asks me, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes, it’s fine. I’ll get it in a minute.”
As Bonnie — finally — turns to put the baby back beneath the stairs, I notice how well-dressed she and her daughter are. Bonnie is wearing slacks and a brown sweater, sort of classy business attire, and her daughter is wearing a clean pink dress. Her hair is done up in a bow…it must have taken Bonnie forever to get it like that…such a perfect little girl.
I have not moved since I closed the front door behind me, and I stay still as Bonnie emerges from beneath the stairs, sans baby, takes her daughter’s hand and walks up the stairs to her apartment. I watch them as they ascend, making sure to look Bonnie in the eye as she looks back at me uncertainly.
When they are out of sight, I make my move, dashing behind the staircase. Before I turn to the nook where the baby sits in its crib, I pause and lean against the wall.
I would like to love this baby. I would love to hate this baby. Neither emotion manifests. The child was forced upon me without my permission, and I know that I ought to kill it, but it is still half-mine, therefore half-me, and I cannot bring myself to do anything violent.
But I cannot take care of it. For one thing, my boyfriend would never put up with a baby in the house. Or maybe that’s just the excuse I use to make myself feel less guilty for neglecting it. It has occurred to me to kick the boyfriend out, explain to him that I have responsibilities, and bring the baby upstairs.
I finally peek behind the staircase. The baby looks different…it’s fat now, and red like a tomato. It sits in a small wooden crib with bars on the sides. It has a shelf above it, just out of reach to its little hands. On the shelf is a candle. I must have put that there so it would have some light. My boyfriend’s cell phone is also sitting on the shelf. Maybe he came down here to check on the baby and left it here.
My boyfriend is not the problem, and I know it. I do not trust this baby. I won’t have it in my home. But I can’t give it up…how could I put a thing like this up for adoption? And, of course, it is still half-mine. Half-me. So, I suppose, I half-love it.
I am struck with a motherly urge to hold my baby. I reach down — almost — and then I notice its skin. The baby looks like an overripe tomato, its skin so thin that I would surely break it open if I tried to pick it up. An invisible membrane over a clump of red.
The baby points to the shelf. Is it pointing to the cell phone? Does it want me to pick it up? The baby stares at me with tiny black sphincter eyes. I shudder, pull my hands away. I have to leave it, have to go upstairs.
Guilt creeps over me and I turn away. I can’t touch it, I don’t even want to reach over it to get the cell phone from the shelf.
I look back at it…it’s reaching for me now…it wants to be held. I know that if I pick it up, I will break its skin. I back away.
I turn, walk back, up the stairs to my apartment. I leave the cell phone with the baby. If it needs anything during the night, I’m sure it will figure out how to call me.