In her former life, Alice was an architect. Now, going on her second week of no sleep, she was nothing, not an architect, not even a person.
At home, Desi once again brought up the subject of sleep training. Tired too, purple pouches like war paint under his eyes, he cracked eggs into a bowl, and whirred the yolks with a fork. “They say it’s all right. It’s been proven. There is no harm in letting the baby cry. If he cries, he will learn to sleep on his own. It’s called self-soothing.”
She understood his urge, she did. Nine months old and Mario still cried through the night. All night long, Alice relented, giving herself to him. Here, a gift: my sleep, my body, my life, take it. Some days, she was nauseated from exhaustion, her stomach a garbage heap of interrupted dreams. Her skin felt like it was hanging from the bones of her face, her eyeballs heavy in their sockets. It was work each morning to lift her chin, open her lips, get coffee into her mouth. Her eyelids twitched; the nerves of her scalp felt sore.
She sludged through her waking hours, a once-award-winning architect now walking in a blind haze through the aisles of Target, impressed with herself on the days she didn’t put her underwear on inside out.
Desi was not wrong. This could not go on.
“Some babies throw up from crying,” Alice said. “If they’re not tended to, they get sick with panic.”
The eggs began to harden along the edge of the pan, crackling and brown. “We have to do something,” Desi said. “I’m starting to resent him.”
And so they agreed to try it. Put the baby down at seven p.m. Then close the door.
On the carpeted floor of Mario’s nursery, Alice picked up a stuffed rabbit, passed it to her sweet boy. He put the rabbit in his mouth, rocked on his hands and knees. His eyes were alert, so large and brown, seeming to possess a knowledge of this life, the life before this one, as well as the one ahead of him, the soul within him which would expand and take shape, congealing.
Bedtime. She put him down, just as the books and the doctor and her fellow moms had all instructed. Drowsy but awake. Let him soothe himself to sleep. This was how the babies learned. They had to learn. She dimmed the lights, kissed his warm forehead, whispered into his hair. I love you. Be strong.
She closed the door, joined Desi on the couch, sipped from a glass of wine. She shut her eyes.
In her mind: a building. A mother, she thought, was like a building. A building which always surprised you, because you could never truly measure its depth. Just when you thought you knew, yes, here we are, ground level, the limit of my love, the edge of my capacity to give, the end of myself and the beginning of you, just then the building would expand. New contractors would be brought onto the project, the budget would be adjusted, calls put into the city officials, to the mayor, bribes would be offered wherever needed, so that ten more floors could be added. And ten more floors after that.
The sound of the first cry stunned her. She blinked, realized that she had fallen asleep. Dozed off right there on the couch. Desi reached for her, put his hand on hers.
“We have to wait,” he said. “If we go to him, he will get the wrong message.”
Alice waited. The crying grew louder. From a cry to a CcRrRyYyY!! A sound with winding stairways.
Alice could not stay sitting. But what message would she send if she answered the cry? She rose anyway, went to her boy’s room. She thought of her husband, sighing, staring into his wine. She thought of the eggs they would eat for dinner for the next two years, both too tired to shop for groceries, to cook anything else, how their shells would crack night after night.
Then, she pushed open her son’s door and picked him up from his crib and held him to her and sat in the rocking chair and said, “Shhhhhhh.” She pulled down her shirt and offered up her body to her baby, just as she had every night before. He latched on at once, closing his eyes, suckling.
Perhaps they would try again tomorrow. Though she knew it was unlikely. The doors to the building were locked, and everyone was trapped inside.