by John Colt
He named the boy Haste. The mother and child were still lying in the other room, screaming and bloody, as he wrote the name on the forms, right next to the blank space where they'd press the baby's inked up foot. He left the last name empty. Figured the mother would want to use her name but hoped she'd use his. Either way he was gone. He knew exactly how long it'd take to get out to the car, crank her over, and be on the highway. Minutes. That's what it would take. That would be the sum total of his entire life with the boy, a few seconds really, he was sure it'd speed right on past and be over with.
The boy sprung from his mother's womb with a preternatural consciousness, a sensitivity if you will. He immediately understood the situation and felt the loss of living a life without a father. Sure, his mother may marry another man, but in the back of his mind, forever and ever, will be the emptiness left by the man who had sired him. The trauma of childbirth aside, he was screaming now for the desperation of those who will always feel different, knowing that, in a way, they never knew a part of themselves.
The mother was oblivious to the thoughts going through the heads of either of the men in her life. She was content if not a little sore and worn out. And hopeful.
In one life the man, the father, bolts through the door, takes the stairs by three's and makes it onto the highway just as she comes back into herself and starts craning her neck to look past the doctors for his face. He buries the accelerator in the floor, listening to the rumble of the engine mix with the air splashing in the open windows. He braces himself against the cold, hoping the air will cleanse the car of her smells and all traces of the baby. There could be the squeal of tires as he meets a semi head on, but there isn't. No, in this tale he gets away free and clear, never really devoting any time to regret or thoughts of what might have been.
In another, she meets his gaze before he can turn and run. She holds him long enough for the doctor to walk out and take him by the elbow, leading him wide-eyed and shuffling into the room where his son now sleeps. There is a whisper of gowns as the hospital staff funnels out through the door, leaving the new family alone together. Even though he swore he never would again, he cusses at her, uses the foulest words he knows to drive her heart away from his. He wants her to cry and cry hard. To sob and close her eyes. He doesn't want her to watch him cross the room and leave. In this story the baby stays eerily calm. The baby counts the seconds in its small brain, hoping that its silence will help the situation. He tries not to look at the child, but eventually gives in, taking the small boy in with his eyes. He leaves then, shaking his arms to pull off the weight of their expectations. Perhaps in this life, he regrets some of it, but we could never tell for sure.
In the third, he signs the name, smiling a secret smile. He's hid his intentions much better this time, the woman has no clue of his plan and the baby, sensitive to such things as it may be, expects nothing. But the doctor, with a joyous clap on the shoulder, thrusts him into the crowd of movement, in between blue gowns stained dark with blood and wet. And, unexpected by all, he catches something in the eyes of the baby. There's no overly sentimental moment where the newborn clutches at his father's finger, melting his heart. It's simply a choice. The man decides for himself what he should do even though it may seem to be the opposite of what he wants to do. He decides to stay, to work at making the woman happy and knowing that she makes him happy. He decides to love the boy as much as he knows how. He buys a disposable camera from the gift shop and takes all the pictures inside it before the child even leaves the hospital. He buys a camera of his own and snaps shots constantly. Every time the boy moves or makes a noise, the man is there to capture it on film. He starts posing the child, taking pictures of the boy behind the wheel of the car, on the back of the dog, near the stone lions in front of the public library. It becomes an obsession. He stops anywhere, anytime, no matter where they are going or coming from, if he sees something he sees something would make a good picture. It would've been easy for the mother to get annoyed by this. It would've been easy to get angry about all the time he made them late or kept them out past the baby's bedtime. But she never did. She had loved him from the moment she laid eyes on him and her heart never faltered. After a thousand pictures, he renames the boy Jacob, which means "held by the heel" and his love is compounded even more.
At night, while the child is sleeping, he slides the certificate from the envelope and traces the outline of the feet, pressed black to the page, and marvels at all the potential of this life.
About the author:
John Colt didn't sleep very well last night. He was going to call you, but he thought you'd be asleep and he knows how you hate being woken up in the middle of the night. Mostly he just needed somebody to listen.