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Mark McKee Jr.

Baby Talk

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When the baby emerged she knew she was ugly, said so herself, waded through the afterbirth, and climbed back in.

As the little legs disappeared inside her mother's womb, the doctor reached out instinctively, grabbed the baby's ankles, and tugged.

"No!" the baby said. It was a muffled cry.

The doctor said, "You can't breathe in there (anymore). You'll suffocate!"

"I don't care," said the baby.

It was muffled. The doctor could barely make it out.

"I'm going to try again," she said. "I'm ugly. My life isn't worth living."

She squirmed harder.

Her mother had fainted, the cervix relaxed.

The baby's ankles were slippery with sweat.

The doctor was having trouble holding on.

The baby's ankles disappeared inside her mother.

"Dammit." the doctor said. He cupped his hand under his chin. "Listen," he said, addressing the baby now. "Can you hear me in there? Kick if you can. You're not ugly. Really. Come out. You can't stay in there forever. You'll die!"

There was no response.

The doctor turned to one of the interns. "Get me a funnel," he said.

The orderly rushed out, his soles squeaking on the polished vinyl floor.

The doctor turned to one of the nurses. The nurse was ugly but he didn't tell her that. He didn't have to. She knew.

"When Jefferson gets back, I want you to talk to her."

"About what?" said the nurse.

"Just tell her everything's going to be fine. Tell her how well your life's turned out."

The nurse made a face. She knew she was ugly but she was not used to someone pointing it out. That had not happened in years.

The doctor busied himself arranging the tools on a nearby table. If he saw a way, he may need the forceps to pull the baby out. But he would need to grab the head. The forceps would slip right off the legs and feet. No way to get purchase. The forceps wouldn't do. He put them aside and pondered.

Nurse Peterson stared at the doctor. Her eyes were cold.

The baby's mother moaned, came to, fainted again.

Jefferson returned with the funnel. "I've gotta wash this," he said, racing to the sink. "Davis in custodial had it in the back of his pickup."

• • •

Inside her mother's womb, the baby thought things over.

She could hear them out there talking. She heard the doctor tell her everything would be okay. She heard him tell the orderly to get a funnel – as if that would make any difference.

Things would not be okay. The baby knew it.

She heard things while growing in her mother's womb. She knew what life would be like, even before she was born.

She knew the power of beauty. It was instinct; it was in her DNA, even if the power to generate that kind of beauty was not.

Her mother was a former Miss Georgia. She knew the power of beauty, too. Her mother would understand, but she would not understand. Her mother would question why this had to happen to her.

The baby knew it.

Until the air ran out, the baby would wait right here. This was as close to her mother as she would ever get.

• • •

It was true the baby had not yet seen herself. But she knew. During the first office visit she listened as the OBGYN ran the ultrasound over her mother's stomach.

"And see," the OBGYN had said. "There is her little leg. And her head."

He had paused. There was hesitation.

Inside the womb the baby had felt her mother squirm, her buttocks tighten, her back tense.

The baby knew.

It didn't help that her mother had gasped.

• • •

"Give me the damned funnel, Jefferson. Dirty or not, I have to get some air to her. She can't breathe in there!"

Jefferson fumbled with a paper towel. He almost slipped on his way to the doctor. "Here. Here," he said. "I dried it off."

"Never mind," said the doctor. Then: "Nurse, lube."

Nurse Peterson handed the doctor a small tube of K/Y Jelly. The doctor squeezed a handful, rubbed it on the skinny end of the funnel. "Okay. Here goes." Then he addressed the baby. "I'm coming in," he said.

• • •

The baby was feeling woozy. The air was running out. She saw lights before her eyes. Little twinkling stars of blue, green, and red. Her breathing was labored now and, involuntarily, her legs began to kick.

"Listen, honey," a voice said.

The baby blinked, angled her head from side to side.

"It's me, honey," the voice said. "It's mama."


"Yes, baby. I'm sorry. Really. I didn't know what I was doing. It's just–"

"You don't love me?" the baby asked. She was not speaking with her mouth now. She simply thought words and the voice, her mother, understood them. She knew it was a stupid question to ask. Her mother would not deny loving her. Few mothers would deny loving their children.

• • •

"Nurse Peterson," the doctor said. "Talk to her. Tell her everything will be okay."

Nurse Peterson made a face. It looked not unlike her normal expression. Nurse Peterson's facial muscles were partially atrophied.

She began to talk to the baby. She told her it would be hard at first, but that it would give her the chance to develop her character. The baby would, in some strange twist of fate, become a more enriched person because she was born unattractive. Nurse Peterson hesitated to emphasize it, but maybe the baby could even look at – she hesitated to call it a deformity – her misfortune, perhaps, as a blessing. It would take a little time to see it that way, but Nurse Peterson was sure that one day the baby would. And, if she needed to speak to someone, Nurse Peterson would always be available to her, anytime.

The baby heard none of this.

• • •

"Of course I love you, baby. Mama just – Listen, honey. I want to ask you something. Do you know what plastic surgery is? Did you ever hear mama talk about plastic surgery?"

"No, mama. What is that?"

"It's a way for people who are. . . not attractive –"


"Well, yes, I guess you could say that. Plastic surgery is a way to make not so attractive people. . . pretty."

"Could I have plastic surgery, mama?"

"Honey, I didn't want you to worry about any of this. Perhaps when you were a teenager, when you were feeling – vulnerable. But not right now. There's so much to become adjusted to. Besides there are no ugly babies, honey."

"But you gasped, mama. The doctor gasped."

"It was about of surprise, honey. Really."

"But could I have plastic surgery, mama?"

"Is that something you want, baby?"

"Mama, what would my name be? What were you going to call me?"

"Your name?"


"Your father and I talked about several. But we thought we would let you decide."

"I like Elizabeth, mama. Mama, why do I know that name?"

"That was your grandmother's name, baby."

"Was she pretty, mama?"

"Your grandmother was beautiful. She was a former Miss Georgia, too."

"Mama? If I had plastic surgery, could I be a former Miss Georgia, too?"

"Of course you could honey! Of course you could! But it's really something you want to do?"

"Yes, mama. I want to be just like you and my Gran."

"Oh, baby. I'm sorry – Elizabeth. I'm so proud of you! You're such a big girl!"

"Thank you, mama. I want to make you proud. Will this make you proud?"

"Oh, Elizabeth, I can't wait to introduce you to The Girls!"

"When can I have plastic surgery, mama?"

"Just as soon as you're born, baby. If that's what you want."

"I do, mama. I want to be pretty, too."

"You sure can, Elizabeth. You sure can."

• • •

Nurse Peterson was in tears. The small amount of makeup she wore was smeared and running down her cheeks.

"Doctor!!" she said suddenly. "Doctor, look!!"

The doctor and Nurse Peterson watched as the mother's belly convulsed lightly. It was as though small potatoes were changing places inside a plastic bag.

"What should we do now?"

"Remove the funnel," said the doctor. His mouth was a straight line.

• • •

With a few more convulsions the baby emerged, ready to try on a new face.

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