by Marshal Farren

The Mother sits on a bed inside the smallest of places. The lamp burns on the nightstand. The snow piles outside the window. The baby is asleep, and everything has stopped. There is no more madness. There is nothing but the sound of breathing.

The Mother looks at the baby. The wailing ended a short while ago. Its tiny chest rises and falls. The Mother watches. She breathes deeply, exhales. Life is confirmed by the smallest of movements.

The Mother squints and the baby goes out of focus. It could now be made of plastic. It could be a doll given to children.

This room – it is too small for two beating hearts. This room is polluted. The bathroom needs to be cleaned. The carpet needs to be washed. The flowered wallpaper is peeling. Vermin scurry underneath the floorboards. They scurry above the ceiling. They move too quickly to ever be caught. The baby’s chest rises and falls. The Mother is still.

There will be two voices inside these walls from now on. The baby will laugh and coo and cry and scream and the Mother will answer. It will be just the two and them. The snow will pile outside the window, the baby will grow, will learn to speak, will learn to fight, and the Mother will watch. No one else will watch.

The Mother walks into the bathroom. She looks in the mirror. She wears a white nightgown and a tie to hold Her hair. There are wrinkles underneath Her sunken eyes.

There is no fortitude in this face. There is no light in the eyes, no fire under the skin. There is not enough strength to care for another. The Mother reaches for the sink, runs hot water, and turns off the faucet.

She walks back into the bedroom. She passes the baby and stops in front of the window. The wind howls on the other side of the glass. The streetlight illuminates the snow and ice. There are no tire tracks, no footprints. There is no one.

There is something to prove now. The Mother strides past the baby, past Her winter coat, past Her shoes. She opens the front door and walks onto the porch, down the steps, into the night. Her bare feet trudge through the snow. The wind whips Her skin.

She passes the dark houses lining the street. They all could be empty. There could be no life in this neighborhood at all. That baby could be plastic. The Mother could just keep walking. She could walk until She collapses.

She reaches the end of the street. Cars fly past on the road. The Mother watches longingly as they zoom by. It could all be over so quickly. How easy it would be to step out in front of the headlights.

The flickering light of a candle catches her eye. It burns inside a house on the other side of the road. A family moves around inside, though the Mother is too far to see them clearly. But there is joy inside this house. It emits from the walls, sending waves of energy through the wintery night. The wind dies down, and the Mother watches the candle in peace.

Then a distant wailing commands the Mother’s attention. The cries travel through the frigid air. The sleeping baby has awakened. It roars for its Mother.

She looks once more at the house only to find that it is dark, appearing as lifeless as the rest. She turns back to the baby’s cries and runs towards Her home. The wind has returned, blowing viciously into the Mother’s face as she flies through the snow. Her feet are purple, but She will not stop.

She darts through the door and into the bedroom. She wraps Her arms around the baby and holds it close. She rocks the baby back and forth, whispering words in the language only Mothers know. There is peace.

Inside this house, there are flowers on the walls and a Mother holding Her baby. There is no wind. There is no snow. There is only the sound of breathing.

About the Author:

Marshall Farren is a student at Indiana University studying Human Development and Psychology. A writer and photographer, his work has been published in The Blue Route, Oakland Arts Review, and Mangrove.