“Good morning, sunshine. It’s a beautiful day!”
The sky is bright and blue outside the hospital room windows. Not a cloud in sight. Suzanne yawns and coos a restless greeting. Drool slips from her lips.
It was all very technical. Groundbreaking, in fact. Some husbands looked forward to it — used it as an excuse to go hang with the boys. But not me. I missed my wife.
But Susanne and I had agreed. The research had shown that children born to mothers who had undergone CIEA injection therapy were more inquisitive, less afraid, happier, even healthier. The studies proved that the act of mutual communication in such an alien world put an infant’s mind at ease, made them feel more welcome, a part. Suzanne and I wanted to give our child every advantage possible, so we made the leap. Twenty-three weeks into her pregnancy Suzanne began receiving the injections. By thirty-nine weeks she was babbling like a newborn infant.
“Look who’s here. Say good morning.” I lift Bailey’s arm and wave his hand for him. “Momma,” he says.
Naturally, there were concerns. The doctors assured us the treatments to the mother’s brain would not pass through the placental barrier. While the mother’s speech center would slowly become inhibited, the unborn child’s brain would continue to develop normally.
As promised, once Bailey was delivered, all our concerns turned to joy.
It was a miracle to see the two of them together. From the moment Bailey was placed on Suzanne’s chest they gurgled and cooed like lost chums. They played with each other’s fingers. They mapped the contours of each other’s face. It was the happiest moment of our lives.
The hint of a smile graces Suzanne’s lips. I pull a chair up close to the hospital bed and sit, resting Bailey on my knee. Suzanne’s eyes follow my every move. She stares at Bailey with an intense love and a horrible fear.
At three months, Suzanne and Bailey were talking up a storm. Nothing I could understand of course. It was their own private language. There were times I would come home from work and find them in the bedroom together, Bailey cradled in Suzanne’s arms. I’d peer in from the doorway and watch as Bailey cooed and smiled and sometimes cried out. Suzanne would respond in kind as if letting Bailey know he would one day be able to see everything she saw and know what the colors meant, what the sounds inferred; that he would one day understand every detail of every moment like tiles pieced together to form an ever-growing mosaic.
Suzanne reaches out and I take her hand. I can see the panic growing in her eyes, the battle waging in her chest. She clutches my fingers. Her nails dig into my skin.
At six months, the gurgling had become a soothing drone, while the babbling rose and fell based on the level of discomfort, which happened more often with Suzanne. While Suzanne had no difficulty communicating with Bailey, she grew frustrated with me for not understanding her needs. Our fights were almost comical. Suzanne’s face would turn red, her hands balled into fists. “Nananananana… babababababa…,” she’d shout when I’d hand her the TV remote instead of the magazine she wanted.
Suzanne’s mouth tries to form words she cannot speak. They come out as a series of grunts and gasps. At last, she cries out as if in pain. Bailey jumps in my arms. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” I tell her. “Try to relax. Take a deep breath.” But even as I speak these words I know they’re futile. Suzanne’s eyes roll and her face contorts.
It’s true, there were times my patience had worn thin. It was if I had two children instead of one. At times, the isolation — the distance — was unbearable. Before the treatments, Suzanne was my companion, my soul mate, my partner against loneliness. Our relationship was such that we didn’t even have to say a word to each other. Sometimes just a look or a smile would do.
But I consoled myself with the knowledge that it was only temporary. The CIEA therapy was ramping down. By the time Bailey was nine months, Suzanne’s speech center would be on the mend. By year one, when Bailey said his first word, Suzanne would be able to respond as any parent would — with joy and excitement. And words.
But something had gone wrong. Suzanne’s communication receptors didn’t recover as quickly as anticipated. In fact, they didn’t recover at all.
And so here we are.
Kurt Newton has been writing short fiction for over twenty years now. His stories can be read (or heard) at Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Centropic Oracle, Body Parts and Syntax & Salt.