Baby Fever

There was no addressee on the cover of the catalog, not the foreign names of the previous tenants, nor the initials of her boyfriend’s ex, who had been living in the apartment just a few months before she had moved in. It must’ve been her who sent this, she thought. It was like she was taunting them with the promise of being perceived as a real couple, as responsible adults, as people who were financially stable. She had just turned 32, old enough, the glossy pages seemed to suggest, to take on motherly responsibilities.

She skimmed the little booklet as she slowly ascended the front steps. Beady eyes looked up at her longingly, rows and rows of custom flesh in various tones, their human-like skin rendered into uncanny perfection. She flipped through the catalog, her eyes drawn toward flushed cheeks tinged green to resemble a newborn’s. They reminded her of the way her cousin had looked when he overdosed six months earlier. Like him, they were flesh and blood, yet there was something unsettling, almost cartoon-like about their appearance, as if they existed in a liminal space between life and death. 

Each baby had a name and a personality one could build on. There was Pretty & Petite Presley, a tiny girl with thick lashes; Little Livie, an infant with alabaster skin and blonde hair; and Cute and Cuddly Charlie, a baby boy with azure eyes and a miniature sailor’s hat to match. His blue pools promised a life of serenity, like an everlasting vacation that photographed well and guaranteed attention online, and affection IRL. She studied his face, the soft curvature of his nose. It was an insignificant mound that she couldn’t help but compare to her own. If he didn’t look like her, he would certainly look good next to her, his saucer-like eyes mirroring hers.

She was unpacking the groceries she had bought that morning when her boyfriend finally woke up. “This yours?” he mumbled as he picked up the catalog and assumed his position on the worn corduroy sofa.  “How much do those things even cost?”

“It’s like a payment plan,” she felt her voice shrinking. “It’s only, like, a couple hundred dollars each time.”

“You actually got one?” He let the catalog slide out of his hands and onto the dusty carpet.

“My money, my choice.”

“Our money,” he corrected her, powering up his console.

That day, a cloud of doubt hung over her like the smog of her boyfriend’s ever-present vape pen. She couldn’t really afford the baby, or the outfits she wanted to buy for it. But they needed this, she reassured herself, remembering her mother, his conniving ex, and their happily married friends. This child could be their ticket to barbecues and birthday parties, to a better relationship, to marriage even.

The package arrived the following Tuesday. “Bringing You Children of Irresistible Value” the box read. It was larger than she had expected, and more luxurious looking. She opened the perforated coffin slowly, careful not to startle the baby. Her heart started to race as she lifted the lid to reveal a cherubic face, a neck kept straight in a foam brace, and a little body adorned in the nautical romper she recognized from the catalog. She squeezed his cheeks together with her thumb and forefinger so that his lips puckered like a fish. As she pressed down on the round white button on her iPhone screen, a confident smile crept across her face. “You’re perfect,” she whispered.

The child didn’t solve all of their problems. Money was still tight, and her boyfriend continued to come home long after his shifts had ended. But she was feeling affirmed in ways she hadn’t before. When he remembered, her boyfriend would complement the outfits she had put together for the baby, mimicking the accolades she’d received from acquaintances online. It was as if some mystical force had changed people’s perceptions of her. As if they had finally accepted her as someone with purpose and good taste.

Her productivity had increased too. On weekends she would put the baby in his Jolly Jumper while she folded laundry and swept the floors, before walking to the bakery where she would drink iced tea and gently rock her stroller back and forth with her foot as she had seen other young mothers do.

“I love your carriage,” a woman dressed in beige told her one morning, her latte-laden hand gesturing to an identical stroller parked next to the coffee bar.

“He’s sleeping,” she mouthed quietly, pulling the shade down to conceal her mail-order child.

The woman gave her a commiserating smile, as if motherhood had created a secret bond between them. She smiled back, imagining what the woman’s home might look like. A white sofa, a closet full of minimal clothes. It was only when she was almost out the door that she got a good look at the baby. Like hers, he sat slumped with his eyes closed—a small birthmark on his left arm the only discernible sign of the child’s uniqueness.

The next morning, she dressed herself and the baby in matching beige outfits. “You two are posers” her boyfriend jeered as she snapped a selfie on the sofa, the child seated next to her as if he were growing into a toddler of his own volition.

“You know us,” she cooed, returning her attention to her iPhone. #Familygoals she typed and hit the post button, readying herself for praise.

“Obsessed with them,” someone commented.

“That baby looks weird,” said another.

“Are you guys for the barbeque?” her boyfriend interrupted.

The stroller vibrated as she did her best to maneuver down a pebbled path at the side of the exes house. She spotted her from across the yard, her glossy hair tied in a neat knot at the top of her head. Remember your talking points. She thought to herself as the blonde bun bobbed towards her. “Look at you guys!” the ex squeaked, lifting up the visor of the carriage, her newly acquired engagement ring dazzling in the sun. “Oh my God. Is that cute and cuddly Charlie? I have the same one!”

That night she propped the baby between her legs in the bath, his skin no longer sticky but slippery, like hers. She pictured their faces glowing red in unison, a shared burst of oxytocin bringing them closer together, and her closer to the youthful glow she had felt slowly slipping away over the past five years. The water was scalding hot, and the detoxifying combination of Johnson's baby bath soap and eucalyptus Epsom salts had put her into a euphoric state. Her mind scrolled. She thought of her feed, the grid of neutral colored squares—perfect cubes stacked on top of one another. Beige for infinity.

Taylore is a writer and senior editor at Interview. Recently, she's been blogging about fashion and writing short fiction about self-absorbed millennials.

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