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Drama

What was with all these tea-kettles? 

James couldn’t understand it. One would be bad enough. He hated tea and kettles. But here, on every burner was a kettle. And one on the warmer. All of them shrieking like someone had bottled up the soul of the river. “Tom!” he shouted, holding his ears as the sound got louder. “Tom!” 

His fiancé came into the kitchen. It was very narrow, perhaps four feet in width, not really big enough for two grown men. For some odd reason he was wearing a frilly apron, which normally he hated. “Yes dear?” 

“First of all, I don’t have antlers. And secondly, what’s with all the kettles?” 

“It’s your turn,” Tom said, as the kitchen began to fade around him. No, decay. The counters cracked, the paint peeled off the walls, the stove began to rust. His face got dark, angry. Everything began to shake as if there was an earthquake. Very odd since they lived in Queens. “It’s your turn.” 

James awoke with a gasp to Tom’s hand on his shoulder. They weren’t in a kitchen. They were in bed and there were no kettles. Thankfully. Unfortunately, the sound continued. 

 “Your turn,” Tom said. 

James rubbed his face. “You sure about that?” 

“I got up last.” 

James looked at Oliver, the miniature poodle, curled up on the bed. “Oliver! Go see to Azul.” The dog blinked at him and laid his head back down. “Disney ruined me,” said James, getting out of bed. “You mangy no-account mutt,” he said to Oliver, “I’m going to trade you in for a sheepdog like in Peter Pan. And whose idea was this anyway, to have children? I hate children.” 

“Last I checked, yours.” This was an ongoing discussion. “Ask again and I’ll kill you. I can make it look like an accident. You have insurance, right?” 

“I still have to switch the beneficiary. And you’ll have to raise Azul by yourself.” 

“I’ll forge your signature. Also, I thought Jill said his name was Leroy.” 

“I hate that name. It’s Azul far as I’m concerned.  And you didn’t talk me out of it. You thought it was a good idea.” James left the room, Tom watching him go. He laid back down, sighing. 

I didn’t have the heart to say no, James. They had both looked sad at the hospital. Although to be honest all new babies looked sad to Tom. They all seemed perpetually puzzled over their bodies, the world, life itself. Tom couldn’t blame them for crying. Anyone would cry if they were helpless and didn’t know if what they felt was hunger or just a poopy diaper. Maybe they don’t realize that a stomachache will go away eventually, he thought. Could they think that’s all to life? Pain? But Azul had been off to even a worse start. James had found him abandoned in one of those new automated stores. In the middle of a blizzard, no less. Then the electric had gone off in the storm. Both had been found by some old Hispanic guy in the next morning. James had the baby zipped in his jacket. He was fine but James had hypothermia. The caseworker assigned to Azul found the mother’s family was suffering from v-addiction which was fast overtaking the opioid crisis. The new 2030 computers and the game called Virtopia had beautiful, realistic 3D graphics. The results for some people were devastating. Adults often neglected spouses, families, and worse their children for this perfect fantasy world. The mother was now in jail.  Lord only knew where the father was, and even He might not. Jill was, as is typical, overworked, underpaid, and numb from seeing far too much. She had no foster family available, so James’ offer to take the baby was a Godsend. True he had no foster training, but that was a technicality. After all, James used virtual reality but wasn’t addicted. He was breathing, his background was solid, and had risked his life for Azul. Furthermore, he was a statistician and worked from home, so daycare wasn’t needed. He also had Tom, a pediatric nurse practitioner, to help. Jill desperately needed this straw off her weakening back. So, they got the virtual parenting classes done in record time, along with the home inspections, and they were good to go. 

 Tom remembered what James had said in a hospital. 

Someone just left him, Tom. He’s too young to learn people leave you. That should be thirty years in his future not at whatever age he is. Someone needs to be an exception. 

He brings out the best in you, James. 

“Damn it, kid!” he heard James shout. “I’m coming! Do you want cold formula? Didn’t think so! Hold on or I swear I’m feeding you beer and Benadryl!” 

Unfortunately, parenting could sometimes bring out the worse in him. Tom sighed, turned over and tried to go back to sleep. Meanwhile the crying continued except now it was mixed with pleading. When James stomped back into the bedroom, Tom gave sleeping up as a lost cause. Besides, it was five am and he had to get up at six anyway. He looked over at James who had just promised Azul a sports car at sixteen if he’d just settle down already. 

“What’s wrong?” he said. 

“What does it look like? He won’t stop crying.” James put the baby on his shoulder and patted his back. Azul promptly burped and quieted down. 

“Shush, shush, there you go. It’s all right. I’m here.” 

“He seems to be better-” Tom broke off as Azul spit up all over James’ shoulder. It ran like a small stream down his bare back.  It looked like he’d just spit up the entire four-ounce bottle plus more. The yeasty, spoiled milk smell of puked up formula permeated the room. Azul started crying again. 

“For God’s sake, Azul! Really?” 

“Sheesh,” Tom got out of bed and took Azul from James. “My desk fountain doesn’t spout like that. I’m impressed, kid.” 

“Wonderful. I’m glad someone is.” James stomped off to take a shower, grumbling about storms and guilt-inducing caseworkers. 

********* 

Tom came home that evening carrying grocery bags and take out from James’ favorite Chinese restaurant. He kicked the door. No answer. Tom sighed, put down the bags, and put his fingerprint on the lock. He pushed the door open and held it with his foot as he awkwardly grabbed the bags.  

“Chrissakes, can’t a man get some help around here?” 

 He walked into the living room to find both James and Azul sleeping in an armchair. James had his head back, so he snored. His feet were up on a footrest. Azul was across James’ legs, his head just supported on James’ left arm. 

How did the kid not tumble to the ground? Tom couldn’t figure that out. A miracle of gravity here? A father’s love? 

“Oh, good God, what crap I can come up with.” He put down the bags and lifted Azul. He put him very gently in his bassinet, as if setting down a bomb on a hair trigger. Gently, gently. As slow as an elderly tortoise, he slipped his hands out from Azul’s head. The baby whimpered and Tom held his breath. Azul whimpered again and slept. Tom sighed, made the sign of the cross, and tiptoed back into the living room. He saw James was awake and rummaging through the takeout bag. 

“I love you, man,” he said. “You are a king among husbands.” 

“I know, my darling.” 

“Don’t get cocky.” 

 Tom broke a fortune cookie. The paper said, Take it one day at a time. He looked over at James chowing away on chow mein straight from the carton. “I thought you might want to heat that up, but I guess not.” 

“I forgot to eat. Fact, I didn’t get shit done. I’ve got to work, so I’m begging you to take care of Azul tonight. Thought babies were supposed to sleep all the time but not that one. Probably all my mother’s fault anyway.” 

Tom grabbed a carton before James could eat everything. “Yeah? How so?” 

“She said she hoped I’d have five kids; every one like me. You’re looking at a cursed man.” 

“I think one will be enough, assuming the adoption goes through.” Tom handed James his fortune cookie. “Jill’s still looking for the father.” 

James got two beers from the refrigerator and handed one to Tom. “Where’s the damned bottle opener?” He began riffling through drawers. “Goddammit! Why can’t we find anything in this place? It’s what 800 square feet?” He banged another drawer shut. 

“Hush! You’ll wake Azul. Here, take my pocketknife. It has a bottle-opener on it.” 

James popped the bottle cap. He took a big gulp, wiped his mouth and sighed. “Honestly? I’m not sure whether to hope we find him or hope we don’t.” 

“Why would we hope she finds the father?” Tom watched James open his fortune cookie. He read the piece of paper and tossed it aside. 

“I don’t know what I’m doing!” 

“No one knows that, James. Look you should hear the parents in my practice. They-” 

“Do they yell at a baby?” 

 Tom stared at him, but James just glared back. “He wouldn’t stop crying! Today I had to put him down and walk away. I got angry! At a…a helpless baby.” James put his head in his hands. “I’m not cut out for this shit,” he said, his voice very low. “I-I’m realizing how shaken baby syndrome happens.” He tossed the bottle opener across the table in Tom’s direction. 

“You walked away,” Tom said, “until you calmed down yourself. You did what you’re supposed to.” 

“So what?” 

“Look,” Tom took his hand. “Everyone gets angry. My father always said I brought you into this world I can take you out-” 

“Your father, pardon me, is an ass. He acts like this is 1775 and everything is a sin before God.” 

“Okay, he’s a terrible example. But everyone makes that threat.” 

“And also, we’ve only been together for six months, Tom.” 

“I told you I was in for the long-” Tom was interrupted by a wail. He held up his hand. “I’ll go, James. Get your work done.” 

You’re in this but what about me? James didn’t say it. He looked in the grocery bag and saw Tom had bought two different formulas, each saying they were made for sensitive baby tummies. Second only to mother’s milk, as nature intended, said one can. James saw the price. He heard Tom say, “Come on Azul. Let’s take Oliver for a walk.” 

So much for the trip we were planning this year, James thought. Like we could go with a baby anyway. How did my mom do it with two of us? 

**** 

“Mom, how did you do it?” 

No answers, of course since James was talking to her desk portrait. What he got was a text from his father in Florida. 

"How goes it?" 

"It isn’t. The kid cries all the time. We’re trying a new formula tonight. But he was up all day and half of last night."

The answer came back: "Like father, like son."

"He’s not blood, Dad." 

"I keep forgetting," his father answered. 

"Yeah well. We’re thinking of trying that virtual reality thing for babies." 

"What, Virtopia?"

James sighed. His dad hated the games. "Look," he wrote, "they have a baby version. It’s supposed to be soothing." 

"And what you’ll get is an addicted baby." 

"He cries all the time! It’s like he’s in pain too. You don’t understand, Dad."

"I do understand! You were the same way, son. It’s just colic." 

James didn’t answer. He read another text. "Look, this will pass. One day he’ll smile at you and you’ll know he loves you, not a damned computer." 

"Real sappy, Dad." 

"It’s true," his father wrote. "Not just saying that." 

"Yeah. Gotta go, finish my work. Tom’s with Azul." 

"He’s a good man. Anyway, still looking at flights. Maybe next month I can come up."  

"Dad you can wait until the wedding," James wrote. His father was on a fixed income for Chrissakes. Besides, who wants to hear a baby crying half the night? 

"Oh, forget that. I’m tired of these idiots at the Elks club. Besides, I want to meet the kid and Tom. Good night." 

James put the phone aside. The old man meant well. But he felt like a teenager getting married for a baby’s sake, everything rushed and no one ready. Hell, James hadn’t been ready before Azul never mind now. Tom was great but so had been the last guy in the beginning. James was very cautious about who he opened up to. He had enjoyed his quiet life where he worked at home, not bothering anyone. Getting married wasn’t in his immediate plans and children never was. Now here he was with both. 

What did we get ourselves into? 

No, what did you get us into? 

James ran his hands through his hair until it stood all on end. He went back to his work. From far away he heard Tom, “We’ll take you where you can really see the stars, Azul. Up in the Poconos.” 

Later there was a fight. 

I’m with your dad on this. No computers.” 

“Tom, I’m at the end of my rope. My boss is on my ass.” 

“Please, James. Give the formula another day to work.”  

Azul started crying again. James glared at Tom. Then he walked into the bedroom, slamming the door. Tom could hear him, “Come here, kid. What’s wrong now?” 

*** 

The winter was turning to spring when it happened. 

 James knelt at the tub, Azul in a baby basin. Tom supposedly was out looking at a venue for the reception after their wedding. James was suspicious he just wanted a beer and burger in peace. For all he knew Tom was in some strip club or watching hockey at some sport’s bar in Brooklyn. He couldn’t blame him. He leaned back from the tub, trying to relieve his aching back. At least the new formula was working. Azul had finally settled into a routine of waking up only twice a night. James was still exhausted but at least could get work done in between feedings. 

 Not exactly love but tolerance. Maybe that’s all I can hope for. 

“The formula is coming out of your college fund. Or would if we had one yet.” James turned as Oliver rubbed up against him. “Stop shedding, dog.” He turned his head and sneezed. 

Azul smiled, but James didn’t notice. “Come on dog, go,” he said softly. James lifted Azul out of the tub, wrapped him in a towel, and took him into the bedroom. He laid him on the bed. Oliver jumped up and nuzzled against James’ hand. “Down boy!”  James lifted Oliver off the bed and sneezed again, loudly. This time he heard the baby giggle. He snapped his head around, stared, and then gave a fake sneeze. Azul giggled again and kicked his feet. 

“Anyone home?” Tom called out. 

“Here! Come see this.” 

Tom stood in the doorway. James fake-sneezed again. “Ah…” With each ah Azul’s eyes got wider with anticipation, his arms moving. “Ah…ah…coo!” Azul laughed, his whole body shaking, and kicked his feet. James did it a third time and again Azul laughed, sounding like water over rocks. James laughed in return, as if he’d just seen a Broadway performance. He turned to Tom. “Isn’t that great?” he said. 

Tom smiled. “You two have issues that need addressing.” 

“And yet here you are. What does that say about you?” 

“It says,” Tom tried for a serious face, “That you’re in dire need of someone normal around here. I’ve arrived.” He tossed his head back and put his hand on his hip. 

“And you’re normal?” James fake sneezed at Azul again, who laughed as if he’d never get tired of it. “That’s right, son.” he said to Azul. “You tell him who’s the crazy person around here.” 

“Speaking of son, Jill called.” 

James stopped mid-reach for a diaper. “Yeah? What does she want?” 

Tom tossed James the diaper. “Well, Azul’s father-” 

James went very still. Then he picked up Azul. “Don’t you mean the sperm donor?” 

“Yeah. He’s willing to sign over rights. Never wanted anything to do with the mother, one-night stand, etc. I believe he’s married.” 

“A saint among men.” 

“Point is,” Tom smiled. “We can begin the adoption process. Dad.” 

James hugged the baby, smiling. “You hear that, Azul? I’m Dad.” He pointed at Tom. “He’ll be-what? Papa? Daddy? What do you think, kiddo?” 

Azul responded by peeing all over James. “Argggh!” He held the baby away from him. “Azul, what the hell was that all about?” The baby laughed at James expression. 

 Tom took Azul, laughing with him. “It’s your baptism into fatherhood, my friend.” 

“Where’s yours?” 

Tom laughed again. “I’m smart enough to always keep a diaper on a kid.” He watched James leave to clean up. Quickly he dressed the baby. “Come on Azul, let’s go get ready for dinner. Dad two will show you his cooking skills.” Tom put Azul into his swing. Then he picked up a mess of papers from the table. “These have been here since the dawn of time. Dad one,” he said to Azul, “needs to clean up after himself.” 

Azul gurgled at him. 

“You said it.” Tom began to go through papers. “We got a man going to Mars but can’t go paperless-what’s this?” 

“What’s what?” James came out, buttoning up a blue shirt.  Tom held up a small slip of paper that apparently came from a fortune cookie. He read, “’There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.’ Words to live by.” 

“We’re mad, all right.” James gave both a kiss and went to see about dinner. 





August 26, 2020 18:59

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3 comments

Keerththan 😀
07:12 Sep 11, 2020

Beautiful story. Well written. Would you mind reading my new one? Thanks.

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. .
01:43 Sep 02, 2020

Lovely story

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Michele Duess
02:01 Sep 02, 2020

thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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