by Jack Byrne
It’s my fifth night like this, or, rather, morning. It is 2:26 in the a.m. and Kelly is asleep beside me. I roll onto my right side and sit up. Already, Kelly is instinctively stretching out so each of her limbs conquers another inch of where I have just been. She is so calm, it seems. So in control. Our blinds are drawn, it is a full moon, and her skin looks like milk. I could just drink her. Instead, I gently run my hand along the surface of her buzzed scalp. She feels like peaches. I cover her up with my share of the duvet and tiptoe down the hall to check on Billy. The wooden floorboards creak beneath my feet but less so these days. These days, I am up so often I have memorized which boards creak louder so even in the dark I can avoid them or shift my weight to reduce the noise. Sometimes I do this during the day too when Kelly is resting.
Billy’s door is ajar, exactly how we left it. I move with economy, sure to avoid any excessive movement that might wake him. Kelly hates it when I call him that. Billy. She says William is what it says on his birth certificate and that it is a dignified name. “Billy is what you expect the villain in some Clint Eastwood film to be called,” she says. But I don’t think so, and even though he is mostly just a 7lb 11oz sack of poop and water, I know he’d agree he ’s more of a Billy.
I look inside his crib. He has not been devoured by the stuffed lion, nor has he been trampled by the elephant with the button eyes. Instead, he is sound asleep. His hair, the few little silver threads, have not been buzzed and I make a note that that’s good too. A Star Wars-themed mobile hangs above his crib. As opposed to the usual nine, he will grow up with Tatooine, Hoth, Coruscant, Dagobah (my personal favorite), Dantooine, Kashyyyk, and a few others I forget the names of. Kelly’s mom says we are going to give him a learning disability. Kelly tells her, “No, Mom. Not as long as we aren’t cousins,” and I think that’s pretty smart. That’s part of why I love her. Why I married her, I mean. I want to say that to her mom. I want to say, “Hey Mrs. Walcott, see that, see what your daughter just did. That’s right, we’re gonna give him lots of brains.” And I will feel pretty big because I will know I just said love in a really intelligent way.
His left foot sticks out of his blanket and it looks so cold and lonely. I answer its demand and stick it back under the blanket while I tell myself not to be afraid. When he first came into our lives his blanket was the enemy. Along with every table edge, every bit, piece, or bob small enough for him to swallow—even our couch cushions were subject to my suspicions. In each thing lied potential to take him from us. Myself included. Sometimes still, I hold him and am a little terrified I will drop him, or worse, some evil unknown force inside me will break through its carapace and I will throw him into the ground like a touchdown. Or maybe it will be something more sinister. Like, one of these nights after Kelly has gone to sleep early, I will sneak into his room and turn him over onto his little face so when it breathes, as it only knows how to breathe (and get sick, I guess), it will do so into his bed until it can’t anymore. But what can you do? Worry. Fear. I suppose they’re just other intelligent ways to say it.
I check that his window is closed. I count that there are a total of six board books stacked neatly beneath his crib. I make sure everything is in its place. A place for everything and everything in its place. Mom’s voice often fills my head with these short pithy remarks. I usually only hear her if I’m doing something I know I shouldn’t or if I’m having trouble sleeping. Lately, I hear her most when I’m with Billy. It is a nagging voice but a guiding voice. Her words, not mine. I’ll take what I can get.
I walk down the steps to our kitchen and pour myself a glass of milk. It is 3:00 am. In a few hours, I will have to get ready for work via making coffee and stepping onto the porch share a cigarette with Kelly. Kelly says she will quit soon. But she’s been saying that before we had Billy. I guess it won’t matter in a few months anyway, she’ll have to quit one way or another. So will I. In the meantime, I tell her there are worse things she could do and to not feel so bad, that we all deserve a little something. I don’t know, maybe I am the bad person for telling her that.
I think to crawl back into bed with her until my alarm goes off but I can’t help that I’m not sleepy. I know we won’t make love either. I down my milk and place it in the sink. Then I grab a peach yogurt from the refrigerator and take a seat on our couch in front of my laptop. Two tabs are open: “Google: How to love someone who is dying?” and Facebook. I click on Facebook and type in the names of the kids I can remember I went to school with. Lisa Adams is teaching English at Claymont Middle with twins on the way. Daniel Ward has been engaged to Tyler Hedford. Harlee still looks like Harlee. My ex-girlfriend, Brien is also married and now has tattoos along both her arms. I type in Dean Mathers and pretend I am someone else.
I finish my yogurt and quit Facebook. When I do, I accidentally close the window instead of just the tab and exit, “Google: How to love someone who is dying?” as well. I open a new window and type, “How to love” then backspace and type in, “blonde tits,” instead. Though I tell myself I will be quick about it, I know it will be nearly a quarter to six when I am done. When I am done, I do into my sock. The sock is white and I decide it’s best to take the other off and throw them both away. I stuff my socks into the bottom of the bin and ignore Mom calling me disgusting and wasteful. Then I wash my hands, piss, then wash my hands again. I don’t go back to bed but turn the kettle on and set two cigarettes on the counter for later. My alarm will wake her up soon and she will wonder what I’ve been up to. Or she won’t and she will knock my alarm off and be thankful for the extra feet of duvet. She is like that. That’s another reason. Mom reminds me to allow for sadness and to laugh. Most importantly, together. I tell her we do. I explain how each day we spend some time mourning just a little bit. Everything is practice, right? Then we laugh. When we do, we really do. We laugh so long sometimes my side hurts and that makes it funnier because that is the kind of thing you hear about in movies and we feel so much like we are in a movie right now it is unbearable. Once, she told me she didn’t want to make plans for the future. I pointed to Billy’s crib and told her, “too late.” She smacked my arm for calling him Billy in my head and we started all over again with the terrible crying, then the terrible laughing.
When I leave, it will be for the day and I suppose that makes me lucky somehow. Billy and Kelly will have plenty of time to figure out where we are supposed to go from here.
Jack Byrne, 25, studied viola at the Eastman School of Music and pursued a Take Five Certificate in world literature at the University of Rochester. He spent the last year living in Dublin, Ireland, where he worked at a village bookshop and wrote in his free time. He looks forward to returning to Rochester after the pandemic settles.