Fiction

Magic and Dread

Jenny Offill

My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his umbrella. Véra licked his stamps for him.

 

Each day when he left for work, I would stare at the door as if it might open again.

 

The only thing the baby liked was speed. If I took her outside, I had to walk quickly, even trot a little. If I slowed down or stopped, she would start wailing again. It was the dead of winter and some days I walked or trotted for hours, softly singing.

 

What did you do today, he’d say when he got home from work, and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote out of nothing.

 

I read a study once about sleep deprivation. The researchers made cat-size islands of sand in the middle of a pool of water, then placed very tired cats on top of them. At first, the cats curled up perfectly on the sand and slept, but eventually they’d sprawl out and wake up in water. I can’t remember what they were trying to prove exactly. All I took away was that the cats went crazy.

 

And that phrase—sleeping like a baby. Some blonde said it blithely on the subway the other day. I wanted to lie down next to her and scream for five hours in her ear.

 

But the smell of her hair. The way she clasped her hand around my fingers. This was like medicine. For once, I didn’t have to think. The animal was ascendant.

 

I ordered a CD online that promised to put even the most colicky baby to sleep. It sounded like a giant heart beating. As if you had been forced to live inside such a heart with no possibility of escape.

 

Our friend R. stopped by one night to see us while it was playing. “Wow. That is some bad techno music,” he said. He sat on the couch and drank beer while I paced with the baby. R.’s job involved traveling around the world, talking about the future and how we might rush toward it. I walked up and down the hall, listening to him talk about the end of everything. The invention of the ship is also the invention of the shipwreck, he was saying.

 

Twenty steps forward, then twenty steps back again. Thump, thump, thump, thump went the music. But the heartbeat song only enraged the baby. On and on she screamed. “This is intense,” R. said after an hour or two. R. who is not our friend anymore and began not to be on the night in question.

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