The man and woman were sitting by the pond. Between them, on a towel, was the baby, a boy. The plan had been to take him swimming. But for now, he lay on his back, between them, while they discussed other things. He was their child, but that’s not how it felt to the man. It was more like he wasn’t not theirs.
The man held out his finger, and waved it in front of the baby’s face. The baby’s small hand reached up and grabbed it. Did you see that? the man said. He brought it right to his mouth.
He does that, the woman said. She held her head in her hands, and didn’t look.
Right to his mouth! the man said. I think he’s hungry.
No, the woman said. He just does that.
It was eleven in the morning. They’d been told no one else would be at the pond, and that was indeed how things had turned out. They’d parked, and walked a quarter mile from the road before the pond became visible.
What was happening was the baby wasn’t taking the breast. All night he screamed and screamed. Now he seemed content, however, to be on his back on the blanket. Happy to watch the shifting clouds above him.
I’m alone here, the woman said. I feel alone. And I shouldn’t be.
I know, the man said. His eyes were burning. He felt like he hadn’t slept in years. But he also knew that whatever he was feeling, she was feeling worse.
She stood, and shucked her shorts. We will never be done with this, she said. She gingerly pulled her shirt over her head. Her nipples were cracked and angry.
Maybe we will, he said.
No one else was around. They had the pond to themselves. It was how they’d wanted it, but it didn’t feel right. The woman reached for the baby, and brought him to her.
Do you want me to come? the man said.
No, she said.
Do you want me to take a picture? he said. But she didn’t answer the question.
The pond was thickly ringed by tall grass. She was nude, but so what. There was no one but the man to see her as she toed her way to the edge of the pond. She carried the baby in front of her, facing the water. She held him away from her own body as if he was himself coming apart. Earlier this morning, each had promised to ease the loneliness the other had begun to feel. That had been the agreement. Many people had seen them married, and had been happy about it, this large step forward. But there was no one here now. The man knew he should be walking with her, to the water, but also knew it was something he did not want to do.
She had the baby by his arms now, and dipped his feet in the water. He let out a small cry. She churned him around gently in the water, which was now up to his chubby knees, and he calmed down.
I asked you if you wanted me to take a picture, the man said. He had grown angry with himself. Or with her. He wasn’t sure. But she didn’t answer. The time for talking had apparently passed. The sun broke through the clouds. The baby, now submerged up to his small concave chest, opened his mouth and chirped in a baby-language now forming and wholly his. They held this pose, the three of them, until the baby, their baby, slowly began to kick his legs against this small, unheralded baptism.
There was no pleasure as pure as the sensation at hand, no pleasure as sweet as being held by his mother, and watched by his father. And this, I would like to tell him, is how everything begins and how it will end.
Front page image by Thomas Hole.