She was tired, so, so tired. Her eyelids dragged, but she’d made it. She’d buckled the twins into their car seats, one and then the other; it took so damned long with two of them. She’d gone to the store and bought three bags of groceries — oh, god! She’d forgotten dish soap. Oh, no. Oh, no, oh, no. She’d have to do this all over again! Okay, but not now. Get a grip, for heaven’s sakes. Now she could drive home and take a little nap, or at least, well, the babies were asleep now; that meant they’d wake up when she stopped the car. They’d be hungry, too. They’d fuss while she fixed formula. She could never remember how much to measure, so that was getting down the powder and reading the directions in that tiny print, and measuring and mixing it up, and they’d cry, hungry, the entire time. She thought they were big enough to hold their own bottles, but they refused. They’d rather kick and fuss. She’d have to sit there holding them, which always made her angry.
She’d feed Timmy first. He was the loudest, his pitch strumming her nerves. She’d give Timmy his and then Tammy. With luck that would hold them for a few minutes, and she could rest before strapping them into the high chairs and shoveling baby food into them. What should she give them today? Oh, whatever. It was all government approved, right? God, it would be at least an hour before she could put them on the floor.
Their toys were still scattered from this morning, so maybe they would play and she could lie down on the couch. She wished their faces lit up for her like they did for Claudia when she came to babysit. They had each other, though, so maybe they’d play. But they’d want the solid food before she could sleep. Oh, for an uninterrupted hour.
Nathanial was always mad at her. “You can’t sleep all the time!” he yelled. “You sleep all the time! Can’t you damned even fix dinner before I get home? I’m tired, too, you know! I don’t want to hear about this baby depression stuff. There’s two babies, and I’m tired, too! You don’t want to get up with them at night, and you don’t want to get up with them in the morning. Do you want them at all?”
Did she want them at all? Had she ever wanted them? Well, she’d wanted one once. Years before she’d had Nicky, and that had been fine. She slept when he slept, just like they said to do. He was cute and chubby and happy, so she’d wanted another. Carl, well, that wasn’t so good. When he slept, she’d had to take care of Nick. She’d been tired and depressed. No more, she’d said, but just one careless night, and there was Alex. A “surprise.” Surprise sounded better than “accident.” At the time, she’d thought Alex was an accident, but later she found out how bad accident could mean. She’d been tired, and that had made her sad, although maybe being sad had made her tired. Anyway, after Carl, she’d never gotten over being tired and sad, and it got worse with Alex. It was too hard, too damned hard. One day it just became easier to move out.
She slowed as the car in front of her turned. Gotta pay attention. Gotta keep my mind on the road. At least the babies slept in the back. Maybe they would sleep after she pulled into the driveway. She could just sit on the step while they slept on in the car. Slept on and on. That would be so good, if they just slept on and on.
She should have felt sad leaving Nicky and Carl and Alex, but it had been too much responsibility, and the divorce came easy, no fighting over custody. Paul wanted the boys, and she didn’t, as easy as that. No fighting over property either; there wasn’t much. Sign the papers, thank the judge, leave the sad behind.
One night she was out having a drink, and she met Nathanial. They had fun together! Then he wanted a baby, and she thought, well it would make him happy. She knew she could handle one. Only it wasn’t one; it was Timmy and Tammy, one always crying, one always hungry, one always smelly.
A horn blasted. She slammed on the brakes. The babies woke up. All at once, in one blink of an eye, horn, babies screaming, a car racing across the intersection in front of her. The driver gave her the finger. She’d missed the stop sign. The babies, jarred awake, wailed. She began to shake, clammy with fear. She hadn’t seen the sign at all, wrapped up in her thoughts. Her stomach clenched. “It’s over,” she told herself. “It’s over. You stopped in time. That last time, you tried to stop, and this time you did stop. You have pay attention! It was hard, though, with all that noise from the back seat. “Hush!” she yelled at them, but they kept on.
It could have been a kid in the intersection, not a car. It had been a kid in the accident. She hadn’t even run a stop sign then or anything. The police investigation showed it wasn’t her fault. Witnesses saw the boy swerve his bike into the street. They said he’d been goofing off, riding no hands, and that even though she’d been going slow, there was no way she could have stopped.
But she had hit that kid. It didn’t matter how slowly she’d been going or that Tammy and Timmy hadn’t been crying then. She wished they shut up now. She would always remember the thunk of the body against the car. She’d hit him, and he’d died.
Thinking about it exhausted her. The howling from the backseat was all that kept her awake. “What did I tell you?” she screamed. She flailed a hand behind her seat, and hit Tammy hard on her fat little leg, smearing her hand through gummed cookie on the car seat’s edge. Usually the more docile of the two, Tammy belted an outraged scream.
She shrank in shame. She’d hit her baby girl. Tears trickled down her face. She couldn’t take care of two babies. She’d left three little boys. She’d killed another, and that wasn’t even her fault. Shame turned to anger, and now she wanted to rip those car seats out so it would be quiet back there. How could she drive when they distracted her? How could she drive when she was always wiped out? She wanted to sleep.
“SHUT UP!” she screamed. She jerked the car to the curb, the sudden movement causing them to shriek louder. She flung around to hit them again but was pulled in by the seat belt. She wanted to hit them both until they were quiet. Oh! That was terrible! She was terrible. She’d left her boys. She’d killed a kid. She wanted to smack these babies so they’d just be quiet! She sat, strapped in, shaking.
She looked at the goo on her hand in revulsion and wiped it off on her jeans. The car seats needed a good hosing off. Nathanial said so. He said they were disgusting. She thought of herself, rested after a nap, babies asleep in the house, her with the car seats out in the sunshine, the water sluicing over the plastic, everything shiny and clean. How spacious the back seat would be without anything car seat and baby gear. How nice it would smell without dirty babies and moldy snacks. How nice that would . . .
Timmy’s screech roused her. She forced eyelids up. “There, there,” she said, but it didn’t sound convincing, even to her. Tammy’s voice rose, then Timmy’s overrode it as if they’d suddenly learned to take turns to annoy her. She’d never wash off the car seats. She’d never make dinner. She’d never get a nap, not with the two of them. “Please,” she pleaded, “please shut up.”
They didn’t shut up. By now they were stuck in it, stuck in the sobs and keeping each other going. They needed somebody who could rock them and sing to them. They needed somebody like Marilyn, Claudia’s mom. How did she do it? Marilyn had ten kids; count them, ten, and all as happy as the day is long. Even Claudia said she loved having all those brothers and sisters. Timmy and Tammy needed a mom like Marilyn.
She thought about that, and she thought about wanting to hit her babies. She knew in her head it was awful to want to hit them, but she really wanted to. She’d do it, too, if they didn’t shut up!
She was only four blocks from the beach where Claudia took them when she babysat. Claudia went there all the time, she said. She and her millions of brothers and sisters went to play on the beach.
She carefully made a turn, then found a parking spot right at the access walkway, first little happiness she’d had all day. She grabbed a dirty receiving blanket from the back seat, unbuckled Timmy and hauled him down to the sand, plopping him down on the raggedy old thing. She trudged back for Tammy, slow going and hot in the sun. She sat them side by side, settled so their faces were in the shade. She did that for them even though she thought they looked ugly with their faces lined with tears and smeared with snot. The rocking of being carried had lulled them, but now they began crying again, little sobs enraging her. What did they want from her? She’d put them in the shade! Spoiled little brats.
“Hey!” She snapped her fingers gaining momentary attention before they began kicking again. “Hey, cut it out; it’s Claudia’s beach!” Tammy’s siren wail split her ears. Tommy was angry and red in the face with it. “Shut up!” she screamed at them, “Shut up!”
She turned and raced from their screaming and their sniveling and their smells. She slid into the driver’s seat, slammed the car door, and, in a convoluted combination of guilt and relief, put her head down on the steering wheel and sobbed. Finally she blew her nose and, without one look back, headed home for a nap.