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YOUNG ARTHUR SCREAMED.
The baby arched his back until he became a rigid bow, his yoga pose. But nothing of yogic calmness registered in the small body. Flushed, sweaty, distorted – he screamed. His mouth opened bloodlessly like a cadaver's wound. Inside lay two wet, pink ridges of gum, mottled with the white promise of milk teeth.
The Yogi screamed. It was a sonic scream. It was a call-the-police-pit-bulls-are-eating-the-baby scream. It imprinted on the cellular level of Dee’s body so that she vibrated in painful sympathy. Arthur was ten weeks old, an infant, her second child, and he was killing her.
“Shut that kid up. I don’t care what you do,” Roger said, and a humorless part of him meant it. He’d become acquainted with that part since the birth of his son.
“Babies outgrow colic. Babies outgrow colic,” Dee murmured over the Yogi's bald head, her words lost in his racket. He thrashed against her arms. "Shaken baby syndrome is the danger. More dangerous than the crying."
"I’d like to shake a baby or two," Roger said.
Dee was a good mother, and Roger appreciated that. She was a saint with the kid. After the fourth baby-sitter deserted, Dee took a leave of absence from her job. Family finances were tight. In six months they would be more than tight. His wife assured him she’d be back at work by then.
Dee breast-fed and, for herself, ate little more than oatmeal gruel. The La Leche moms blamed Arthur’s distress on food allergies and energy imbalances. Roger considered them loonies, but doctors had stopped being helpful weeks ago. Normally a hard-science woman, Dee was resorting to healing massage. Prayer beads. Flower essences. Homeo-therapy. Magnets.
Diet didn’t change anything. Nothing changed anything.
“Perhaps he’s remembering pain from a past life,” Dee offered in a flat voice, and like Roger her statements were devoid of humor regardless of the content.
“I’m going to the store,” Roger said. “We need bread.”
“That’s your tenth loaf of bread in two days,” Dee said. “Take Alice with you. She needs bread.”
Alice, almost three, had regressed to diapers. Still, compared to her brother, the toddler was a model of restraint and maturity. She shrieked intermittently and in response to recognized stimuli.
“That baby is a mess,” Alice said, hands over her ears. “Put that baby back. Where he came from.”
A family joke, but they no longer smiled.
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