The baby wakes and mews, soft and persistent as a puppy. You rise from bed, lift her from a bassinet as you catch her floppy head in your palm, and nurse her. She is still uncoordinated, hands fluttering, mouth sputtering, not yet smiling. She’s fresh and new, like a warm thing pulled from the dirt. You’re exhausted, craving coffee. When she falls asleep at your breast, you set her down and fill the coffee filter with grounds. Before you finish, she’s up again.
You did not add the water, a simple oversight from lack of sleep. You smell the pot burning dry in the kitchen. The baby eats and poops while you wait to fall in love. Her eyes fix on you, and you gaze back, then down to your phone, and over to the kitchen where the pot is making steaming sounds but no drips, and back again. Her eyes are gray, like the winter sky outside. You add water to the pot and long for the first bitter sip.
When your mother calls, you can’t account for the time. Surely you weren’t feeding and changing her the entire morning, but you can’t say exactly what happened, only that you’ve barely eaten or slept. You tell her you’ve noticed new lines around your eyes in the mirror and joke that the baby is already stretching out of her clothes. She tells you babies have a way of pocketing time, maybe in the folds of their tiny skin, or their clothes. Who can say? When your mother swears that only this morning you were a newborn, you roll your eyes. Only when you hang up do you realize you haven’t poured the coffee yet, and already it smells old, like the inside of a gas station.
You pour a cup and take the first sip. It’s burned, but good enough. You notice a hunch in your back. When you stretch your arms to the ceiling, something catches and makes you wince. You sip and wonder where she’ll go to school. The steam swirls up in the cup. You promise yourself you’ll have another sip. But she needs you first.
You nod off on the couch. You dream you are on a train, rolling past a brown and white winter landscape. Trees with sleeping, bare branches slip by. You wrap your hands around a warm cup of black coffee. The smell, it seems, has worked its way into your dreams. You awaken, unable to sleep in long stretches anymore. You hallucinate a cry and realize it’s been quite some time since she’s cried. You check on her, and she is fine. You tuck a blanket around her. She looks up, barely registers you, and settles back to sleep.
You drink, finally. The first lukewarm black cup goes down in gulps. You remember long ago when you worked in a coffee shop, sipping all day at leisure, before kids. When you made out with the other barista in the back, laughed at the coffee stains on his apron, and swore you would never turn out like the suburban women who came in with baby strollers for nonfat lattes. You can swear she’s grown even in the last hours. There is a wise look to her now. You finish the cup and pour another. It’s too late for this much caffeine, but you’ve waited and waited for it, and the night will be long.
You doze briefly and wake again. She seems to need you less. The desperate mews, the quivering, are all long gone. Your fingertips are jittery, but still, there’s some coffee left, so you pour another cup. What else is there to do? You ponder the empty minutes in front of you. The house is so quiet, you can hear each tick of the clock. You grab a book, but your eyes struggle to focus. Suddenly, you need glasses. You stare at yourself in the mirror and swear you didn’t have any gray the last time you checked. And the baby you picked up this morning? That bleating being with crusts in her eyes and milk at the corners of her mouth? She’s reaching for the door. Before you finish the last cup, she’ll be gone.