Piotr and the Baby

photo by SG

Piotr had never seen such a small human being up close. Stretched straight from the balls of her feet to the crown of her skull, she couldn’t have been much more than two feet long. If Piotr had a ruler or a yardstick he would have measured her. Measuring her precisely, with scientific instruments (in no way expensive or otherwise intimidating but stringently reliable) seemed important, somehow. He pictured himself recording the measurements in a log of some kind and the fantasy was immensely comforting. Piotr in a white lab coat and a clipboard, licking the pencil tip and inscribing digits with professional detachment in his tiny, neat script. The hum and whirr of machines in the background and the bright white blur of a lab. Obsequious assistants consulting with Piotr in hushed tones. Excuse the intrusion, Professor Piotr, but can you look at this data for a moment? Piotr the famous seeker of truth, fair in his dealings with underlings but impatient with the time-wasting niceties of politic deportment. Yes, that would have been him had he not become the he he was instead.

He looked around the room and mentally toured the rest of the flat and tried to imagine, objectively, being a stranger and guessing the profession of the person who’d choose to live there. He couldn’t, however…couldn’t imagine what a stranger would guess about the inhabitant of such a dwelling by the clues of the dwelling’s contents…and he realized what was throwing him off.

The baby on the blanket on the floor in the middle of the room.Did Piotr, in his library, have some sort of measuring device, or a straight-edged object of a known length? He used up a certain amount of time on that question, without, however, getting up and venturing into the library to settle the matter. Instead of moving from the spot he peered out the little window over his bed, and guessed from the quality of light on the wall opposite that it was late afternoon. Which would mean he’d been staring at the baby for hours. Then he had an amusing thought: yardstick? The last time he’d seen a yardstick was in grammar school! Had he known anyone in all his adult life to have possessed a yardstick? A bright orange yardstick for measuring what, exactly?

He stared at the baby but the baby did not stare back and it seemed to him that she was strangely unobservant of her surroundings, glazed eyes scanning with a sparrow’s nervous methodology a few cubic feet of the middle distance. Staring vacuously into space whereas Piotr, had their positions been reversed, would have been without a doubt immensely interested in the giant kneeling on the floor nearby. If Piotr had been a baby in Piotr’s room, the last thing he’d do is take his eyes off Piotr, or any adult, or any living thing bigger than a fly, for that matter. Was her obliviousness the natural arrogance of the baby in its exalted ignorance, or the sign of a subtle defect? Some sort of recent trauma, possibly. Weren’t babies famous for wiggling and crying and generally making noise? This one simply lay on her back, breathing. The rise and fall of her ruddy little chest. Breathing and scanning the middle distance with both hands balled in fists and held to her mouth. Like an old woman in shock.

If you squinted and forgot you were looking at a baby it was easy to imagine that in all of her soft smooth heat and pinkishness she was some adult’s large-ish, heavy, temporarily-removed organ. Especially in that throbbing, docile state. She probably thought of herself that way, in fact, and was still in denial about external existence, the harsh lights and cold dry sounds, waiting to be stuffed back in and hooked back up to cozy wet infinities. Piotr was dying to go to the toilet but he dare not leave the room. He rocked a little on his haunches.

A breeze pushed at the curtain and he remembered that it was spring, albeit in a tentative way. Spring this year was like a machine with a faulty switch, a machine that sputters before coming fully on, mixing bits of winter, still, with the flicker of warm days Piotr had been so desperate for. He’d barricaded himself in his flat with November’s onset, ordering food to be delivered every Monday and reading his books morning, noon and night while the weather clawed at the city, leaving white scabs on the streets and bleaching the days of purpose. He’d passed the months in bookish hibernation, and what he longed for now was a park bench, some late-morning sunlight, a warm breeze laden with the sweet obscenity of flowers. Girls would traipse by in their short skirts and invincible legs and Piotr, as he did every year, would distinguish himself by not leering.

The baby had a swirl of thick black hair on her head like a calligrapher’s sable brush laden with ink. That would indicate Asian, or Mediterranean, parentage. Possibly.  Piotr felt the sudden urge to curse his luck: stuck in a room with a helpless creature relying on him for everything but the air it filled its small lungs with, what could he hope to accomplish? He was no longer even free enough to void his bladder, a freedom the scruffiest dog takes for granted!

Piotr sighed the sigh that meant that work on the novel would be indefinitely postponed. The need to urinate was another matter entirely. Piotr and the baby both knew this.