Bring the baby with you because your sister just wants some peace and quiet, just for a few minutes, please, goddammit. Sling him across your chest in one of those bamboo-fabric hippie slings and put on her extra-large maternity parka and zip it over both of you. Go out in the snow and see the orange shine of the streetlamps hitting the white-gray of the dirty snowbanks in that way that makes everything glow in a murky greenishness. Feel how the air is clear and cool and look up at the snow coming down against the dark sky so it sort of feels like you’re flying. The baby will stay sleeping, his warm breath steaming up your chest from beneath the parka.
Toddle down the sidewalk in your boots, some of the way shovelled, some of the way left to melt and freeze back into a plaque of ice. If it’s too icy, step up onto the snowbanks on the boulevard into other people’s deep footprints. Your baby sister’s baby will weigh heavy on your chest and your mind. If you fall, he might get hurt. Say: okay baby, no falling here. It’s a terrible feeling, that responsibility. You never wanted it. You were never cut out for it. Your plan was to ease from Maiden right into Crone. Skip Mother all together. Too late now anyway, right?
Find yourself at a strip mall sitting dustily on a corner, tucked away in a dirty parking lot. In your mind, list the businesses: a rotting FabricLand, an abandoned pay-day loan place, a hairdresser’s, a gaming store, a Chinese-food restaurant, glowing red and yellow in the night, pumping the air with the scent of fried rice and ginger beef. And the liquor store. The automatic doors will slide open with a tropical gust of air. The whole place will be quiet and white and bright and fluorescent. It’ll smell like glass and wine and beer and wet metal. They won’t card you like they used to, maybe because you’ve got a baby with you or maybe because you just look over twenty-five now. Well. Forty-four will do that to you.
Appraise a mid-price Pinot Noir as the baby burbles awake, grasping his tiny fingers in the ends of your hair. You’re supposed to feel something when he does that but mostly you feel about the same way you would if a friend’s poorly trained cat got its paws in you. Remind yourself: It’s a baby. Wonder where your tenderness went. He’ll squawk a bit, so coo at him, bounce him up and down. He won’t feel real. He’ll be so brand-new.
Hear a crash a few aisles over, a loudly whispered shit. The baby will cry out, a wailing that’s supposed to make your ovaries lurch in panic but really just makes you embarrassed. The cashier will be just a kid, not more than eighteen, and he’ll look at you passively like he could die from boredom. He won’t move to investigate the crash, so you have to. Your snow boots will squeak on the linoleum floors. You’ll find another attendant on the ground, this one a bit older but still so young, kneeling in a huge puddle of golden liquid, picking up the broken glass that once was a row of Crown Royal bottles from the floor with his bare hands. He’ll breathe heavy and quick, panicked. A few golden caps will roll around the floor. He’ll be on the verge of tears. Don’t do anything, just stand there, frozen in place while he grasps broken glass between his fingers. He’ll mutter under his breath, hands full of glittering shards. Shit, fucking idiot, shit, shit, shit. He’ll pause his frantic cleaning efforts to sigh a heavy breath and you’ll hear the sob lodged in his chest, practically feel the tight-muscle-burn in his throat. He’ll clench his hands in frustration and let out a gasp. He’ll open his fists, glass stuck in shards to the pink of his palm. He’ll look up at you. You’ll be brought back.
Remember: you and Him, twenty-two, so young, so very, very young, making plans. Remember what he looked like – this part will be easy because this guy in front of you, dripping blood and liquor onto the linoleum looks so much like Him: same cupid’s-bow lips, same nose. The eyes will be wrong, not the same colour, but they’ll have the same look in them. If he stands, it’ll be in the same way, even, like he’s a little ashamed of how tall he is. If he speaks, it’ll sound the same. Remember going on long walks and long coffee dates and long nights at some bar and even longer nights in, together. Remember feeling known, seen, heard. Remember feeling, every day, so scared, like you were at the top of a great cliff, standing on the precipice, wondering what would happen if you fell.
Remember the way you’d tell the story differently every time, how you couldn’t remember the first thing he ever said to you, so you’d make it up. The easy version: he had you at hello. The soppy version: did he know you? He felt like he’d seen you before. Maybe in his dreams. The funny version: did it hurt, you know, when you fell from heaven?
Remember the sex, how it wasn’t so much like being completed like they say it is, how it was more like being continued. How when you’d ride him or he’d kiss you down your neck or when he’d cover you with all his wonderful weight, all you’d be thinking was that he felt like the rest of you, like you were creating a loop, like an ouroboros. How you felt like that even when it wasn’t particularly good, how you’d remind yourself that it felt like that when you weren’t in the mood, really, but gave it up anyway, for him. Remember the first time he made you come, exactly where his hands were, exactly the way the shadows fell on him, exactly the way he smiled, satisfied, when you came down from it, how you said, get that grin off your face, and he just kept grinning till you laughed, the way you curled up together after and you couldn’t tell his limbs from yours.
Remember why it ended. You won’t want to–you’ll want to let that memory slip by. Forget learning anything, forget how gutting it felt. It ended because you were young, because you were so young when you were together, but it was the oldest you’d ever been, the oldest you’d ever felt, so you thought you knew everything; because you thought you were already who you were always going to be and then you went and changed. One of you wanted kids and the other didn’t. People asked: did you have some big fight? Did it end easy? Did he end it? Or did you? You told your friends it was mutual, so they’d leave you alone about it. Really, there a limit to how much ouroboros sex could distract you from all the ways you were really, fatally, different. Remember that it hurt. Remember that your life kept going. Think: but this bleeding boy in the liquor store could’ve been mine. If he’s His, maybe in some way, since you were once a continuation of Him, maybe in some way this boy really is yours.
The baby will pull on your hair. Feel his hands on the bleached-blonde split ends, feel the pull in your greying roots. Remember where you are, who you are. Don’t do anything. Don’t ask the attendant if he’s okay, don’t say a word. The guy from the till will come around to help him, say, go get cleaned up. Watch your boy disappear into the bowels of the liquor store. Bounce the baby up and down, up and down, up and down, feel him falling back asleep against you. Feel your tenderness sprout a little bit, like a crocus after winter, deep inside the pit of your stomach. Wonder why you didn’t do anything. Reach down and clasp a piece of broken glass in your palm like a souvenir from a memory.
Buy the mid-price Pinot and watch the cashier wrap it in its paper bag and tuck it into the sling beside the baby and ignore the cashiers strange look, and go out into the dusty parking lot and look in every windshield on your way home to see if it’s Him, coming to pick up his son. Hope you see him, see how he’s grown, gone grey like you, gone soft like you. Hope you don’t see him, never see him again, think that your veins couldn’t handle it, feel them burning up with love and grief and shame and excitement.
Step into your sister’s warm kitchen and set the wine down and hand her the baby, who she holds like a continuation of herself; like he is still a little bit within her. Tell her: I think I saw His son at the store. This boy looked just like him. Hear her say: you still hung up on Him? That was years ago. Shrug, say, when I saw him it felt like yesterday. Hear her say: I think you’ve gone crazy; I think you’re just projecting. Say: you’re probably right.
Pour yourself a glass of the wine even though it’s really for the stew bubbling away on the stove. Watch the snow come down outside the window, watch the sky darken, hear your sister singing to her baby, think of all the lives you could have had, all the things you could have been, all the boys in all the liquor stores that could have been yours.