Art by Mark Evan Walker
by Doug Crandell
The baby’s eyes were so clear the assistant fire chief thought of crystal creek water, and then the little thing kicked its chunky legs and burbled, and he noticed how dark the eyes were too, like the black coals after a fire, shiny and reflective. In the presence of fire, all things seemed to refine and clarify. He was glad they’d run a donation campaign to get the baby box in-stalled, but surprised it worked like an after-hours library deposit. The child cooed. John Handler took a step back and closed his eyes, muttered a little prayer. He called Sheila, though he believed he shouldn’t.
“Someone used it,” he said into the phone. John didn’t need to explain. As he waited for his wife to arrive, he gave the baby his index finger and she blew spittle bubbles and kicked some more, the little patch of brownish-red hair on the top of her soft head glistening under the overhead fluorescents. It had been John who’d helped raise funds for the baby box—a fish fry and 5K—while Sheila had put donation canisters at a dozen gas stations. John and Sheila were about to celebrate their thirtieth in a month, and while he couldn’t say why, something about the child scared him, so much so that he wanted his finger back. He pulled a bit, but the baby girl seemed to tighten her grip. She stopped making the soft noises and, instead, made successive puffs that sounded like they might soon turn into full-on wails. John heard Sheila’s car pull up outside. He was alone in the station, a Sunday night, and before his shift, all he’d thought he’d be doing was some boring paperwork as he watched the NCAA tournament on mute. Instead, he now stood unsettled, with his finger commandeered by a stranger child who turned her wee head and stared directly into his eyes. John’s face blushed, and he swiveled on his toes to greet Sheila, who was smiling so broadly her mouth seemed to have too many teeth. She tiptoed toward him and made the pouty face she used when she showed him a puppy or kitten video; the same expression she made when he brought her flowers, or he cooked her pasta.
Sheila’s voice was so soft, John almost had to ask her what she’d said, but he got it and listened as his wife cooed back at the baby, who’d frozen in place, which gave the child the look of one of those authentically crafted babies advertised in the country-home magazines Sheila subscribed to. She whispered, “Look how she’s taken your finger.” Sheila nudged him. “Let me hold her,” she added. He handed the baby over and stepped back, put his hands in his pockets. A strange coldness centered in his chest and he thought of how he felt when the anesthesiologist instructed him to count down from one hundred. John had gone in to have two partially blocked arteries cleared out. The gas had made him cold through his abdomen, just like now, and here, under the bright lights, with his wife giddier than when they’d gone on the Alaska cruise, the feeling lingered, even seemed to grow more frigid. Sheila noticed. “What’s wrong?” she asked. John shrugged, which she interpreted through her own ideas of him. “Don’t worry. She’s just fine.” Sheila put a blanket around the child from a bag she’d brought along. John couldn’t take his eyes off the baby bag, how completely ordered it was, how it looked as though Sheila had been at work on it for a long time. READ MORE
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
by Barb Goffman
Dear Emily Etiquette,
I recently received an invitation to my cousin’s wedding. It was addressed to me plus a guest, which I thought was lovely, especially since my cousin and I aren’t close anymore and not everyone can afford to offer plus-ones. However, I was completely taken aback by an asterisk (!) on the invitation that said “Black tie. Dates required. Sorry, we can’t accommodate singles at our wedding.”
I’ve seen demands for black-tie attire before, but a date? Seriously?
Not that I can’t get one, but on behalf of singletons everywhere, I’m so steamed about this, I’m tempted to bring a blow-up doll as my plus-one just to piss off the happy couple, which I know is not the right attitude for a wedding guest. Thoughts?
Plus-One My Ass
My dear Plus-One,
While I like your style, you are quite right. Aiming to annoy the bride and groom by bringing a blow-up doll as your date would not be proper. You’d likely infuriate the bride and distress her mother, although other people might be amused.
That said, I must note that the date requirement itself is a breach of etiquette. Hosts are supposed to make their guests feel comfortable, and I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than having to find someone to drag along to a wedding just so you can share in the joyous occasion. Has the time truly come that the singles table at a wedding is no more? A place where the lovelorn and dateless can mingle amongst themselves and perhaps find true love over chicken or fish? Emily Etiquette certainly doesn’t think so.
So I suggest, my dear Plus-One, that you decline this gracious invitation. I’m sure you and your inflatable friend can find something better to do that evening. Perhaps involving your back massager.
Dear Emily Etiquette,
Thanks for responding to my letter regarding the asterisked wedding invitation. I took your advice, RSVP’d no, and planned a fun evening instead with a back massager and DVD of Fifty Shades of Grey.
But it seems it’s not to be. I got an angry call from the bride, demanding to know what I had going on in my life that could possibly be more important than her wedding. Her highness insisted I attend, calling me selfish for wanting to ruin her day. How would it look, she screeched, if her cousin didn’t come?
Long story short, I felt guilty because we were good friends when we were kids—before she became incredibly selfish and materialistic—so I gave in and said I’d go. (And yes, I’ll have to bring a date.) But I’ve found myself so aggravated that I just went online and nearly posted an embarrassing picture of my dear cousin from a sleepover when we were teenagers—can you say bed head, retainer, and a face full of zits?—with the comment, “So happy for Cuz! Who knew she’d grow up to be a beautiful bride?” Knowing that I should be better than this is all that kept me from hitting post. READ MORE