The Feeding-the-baby Hour
In the throes of middle age, I lie bewitched at night. If that word conjures up too much of an air of magic and fairy tales, it is because I shy away from its alternative – “cursed”. It is not quite a case of dark ladies on broomsticks, but it is just as vexing.
Night sweats and hormonal roller coasters no longer keep me awake. That inconvenience has been exorcised (and here I do confess to some ritualistic wand-waving) and buried with the dried-up dreams of my now defunct ovaries.
I call it the feeding-the-baby hour.
Perhaps it is a curse, the universe demanding payback for my baby-free youth, during which I slept like, well, like a baby. Or a log at least. What is certain, a fact proven by the dark-night dabblings constituting this piece, is that my nights are broken by hours of wakefulness. I can rely for my nightly assignations on an hour or two where sleep retreats like an ebbing tide, leaving me on the exposed mud flats of existence, alone with my thoughts and the baby I have to feed.
It is a foundling and an impostor. It is a cuckoo chick in the nest of my mind.
It slumbers on the edge of my consciousness and as I surface out of deep dreams to take a breath (or a leak), it rolls to face me and I’m awake.
Sleep tugs at me. I am here, it says. I roll onto my other side. I am also here, screeches the baby, and sleep retreats. By now I know I do not have a choice. The baby needs a feed.
Its unfocused eye is a globe, a dying planet grown cloudy with greenhouse gases. It blinks and another species dies, spilt like tears of acid rain. The sparse threads of its hair are remnants of a rain forest that will never recover.
The baby squints and cries. Its hungry throat is the colour of disease as it swallows my concerns, gulping down statistics on cancer and pollution and viruses. I feed it drops of worry, filling its gut with shredded bills and bank statements, the checks and balances of my life. It spits them out again, burping half-digested untruths.
In the tiny hands that grab hold of my clothes and hair I read both past and future. The actions and reactions of the past day replay endlessly in each tiny whorl of its fingerprints, and in its palms I see predicted the follies of the next
As the baby settles, I sing it a lullaby, a new song from the ramblings of my tongue. Like a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin I weave my word straws into silk and tuck the baby in. As the witching hour approaches, we both fall back asleep.
Until tomorrow night. Because the baby needs a feed.