Between Two Strangers

By Ana Prundaru

1 - The reborn baby group is a dark house. Babies do impossible things, like talking in complete sentences. There are members who have real children and devote all their time to the reborns. Some have Walmart versions, but most own hand-made dolls. Vampire and demon babies exist too and all share a fantasy.

2 - Sutton Lane arrives in an enticing silver box, with a red ribbon lacing through the lid. She feels heavier than a baby her age should. Her hip-length hair is a beautifully artificial ash-blonde. The unblinking eyes are bright and clear, the highest quality of acrylic. They empty their pockets at Baby Dior.

3 - The tongue-less baby gets a diamond studded pacifier. Sutton has love in her eyes, she says. He looks into baby Sutton's eyes and sees a strange thing, but she sees the promise of better things to come. Like most parents, they share pictures of their pride and joy on Facebook.

4 - The day starts with brushing Sutton's hair and posting a morning update to the group. By the time he gets to work, she has Sutton washed, dressed and camera ready. She carefully plans each day in advance and every plan degenerates into a nightmarish mess, which she leaves for him to clean up.

5 - Nearly all the time, he comes home to her crying on the couch. That is the only constant. He never knows what else awaits him in the house. There are days when he finds flour and sugar scattered all over the kitchen from baking with Sutton. Once, the bathroom is trashed and the floor covered in a dozen or so lipsticks broken in half; the result of Sutton playing grown-up.

6 - After she calms down, they choose the best pictures of Sutton to share with the group. When he joins her in their bed, he strokes her hair and she almost always says: They grow up so fast. Don't they grow up so fast?

7 - They drive to the beach. She covers Sutton's stiff little toes with sand. He makes a sandcastle and creates an instagrammable picnic scene next to it. She pretends to look into the distance, holding Sutton to her chest. He zooms in to get a good shot of Sutton's new sunglasses. Then he zooms out to catch the surrounding fruit and wine, crackers and freshly cut flowers. She rubs sunscreen on her baby's matte body. Later, she captions that photo: Sutton Lane! What have I told you about not getting into Mommy's expensive sunscreen! You' re lucky you are so cute! Strangers reply with a cartoon of niceties.**

8 - A year passes. Then two. Then a few more. Sutton wears a wig and she is now diagnosed with ADHD. Underneath the wig, her hair is thinning from all the washing and brushing. His hair is thinning too. One day, while she is out, nursing a cup of earl grey with her mother, he takes Sutton from her crib, drives her to a truck stop and tosses her in a trashcan.

9 - She is mostly on autopilot. She clings on to him, but she looks at him like he gave her a death sentence. The eyes matter more than lungs, she tells him over and over. He is there when the pendulum of heartache torments her. Love. Loss. Love. Loss.

10 - It is Sunday morning, four o'clock. They lie awake. She hears the floorboards creak and resists the urge to get out of bed to check if Sutton is back in her crib. He thinks today is a good day to work against tragedy. Then, almost simultaneously, they drift off to sleep, the little light left between them, flickering on.

THE END

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