by Grace Lanoue
After ten years of marriage, she arrives home to find her husband, Robert, sitting on a mound of his adult clothes. He’s naked. Replacing his grown-up legs are chubby little white legs, his hairy beer gut transformed to a nude, soft tummy. His facial hair is gone and his blonde curls have been reduced to only a few delicate wisps. There he sits, a tiny baby, sucking his left pinky toe.
“Robert?” she asks.
This a stupid question, because who else could it be? Certainly, there are no babies who attempt home burglaries.
She should be shocked, but she isn’t.
“You saw them?” she asks.
Sitting on the floor next to him, crumpled and slightly decorated with drool are a set of divorce papers.
“You’re handling this all wrong.”
Baby Robert screeches.
“You knew this was coming.”
He stares at her with his big blue eyes, before they needed glasses.
“Let’s try to be civil.”
Baby Robert spits milky, yellow goo on the oriental carpet, then turns away to start teething on the television remote.
“Damn it, Robert. Not the rug.”
This is typical Robert. In their marriage she handles the finances, walks the dog, cooks dinner every night, plans all of their social outings, and cleans the house to immaculate perfection. It wasn’t a marriage anymore, it hadn’t been for years.
“You’re pitiful,” she tells him before marching upstairs.
The next morning Baby Robert is asleep on the floor, wrapped in a yellow blanket.
“So, this is how it’s going to be?” she asks.
Baby Robert snuggles deeper into his blanket and wedges his thumb into his mouth.
She buys a pack-n-play, so Baby Robert can sleep somewhere other than the floor. She orders it online, in fear of being spotted in the baby aisle at Target by one of her friends. Worse than her husband becoming a baby would be the rumor that they’re expecting one, especially since most of her friends knew about her divorce plans. She’d been working up the courage for almost year, now. “I’m independent” was the phrase she often told them.
Determined to get Baby Robert to sign the divorce papers, she finds a couple pamphlets on Google; “Appropriate Child Care” and “How to Accelerate Your Child’s Growth”. According to the guides, she must read bedtime stories, avoid any solid food until six months and slowly integrate playmates to build up social skills.
She buys Gerber’s chicken and gravy slop and a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Baby Robert cries until she orders a pizza and a twelve pack of Miller Lite.
“You are impossible.”
Even as an infant, Robert is able to raise one of his eyebrows and give a condescending look.
“Don’t think I’m cutting your pizza for you.”
Robert takes his little fingers, mashes them into the pie and smacks the sauce and pepperoni on his face.
Before bed, she takes him outside to hose him off. He has trouble standing, either from his wobbly baby legs or the three cans of Miller Lite.
On Friday, she’s had enough.
“You’ve made your point.”
She flings the copy of divorces papers in front of him.
“Sign,” she says.
“I’m not feeding you anymore. And I’m not cleaning the shit out of your diaper.”
Robert blinks a few times. Drool runs down his chin.
“I mean it.”
And she did. For the next three days, she leaves baby Robert to cry, shit himself, and find his own food.
On the third day, she comes home after work and he’s back—Adult Robert. His grown-up legs and hairy beer gut are back. His beard and full head of hair, returned.
He doesn’t say a word, just hands her the signed paper.
Once he’s gone, she spends a long time looking at the divorce papers, not the lawyer jargon but rather his signature. The curve in his “R” and the way he never could properly cross his “T”. The dark shade of the pen, from how hard he pushes down and the slight smudging of the ink, due to being left handed. She spends hours tracing the outlines of the signature. She does this until she’s naked, sitting on a mound of her adult clothes. Replacing her breasts is a flat patch of flesh. Her long brown hair, gone, her toenails so small you can hardly see the red polish.
There she sits, reduced to a newborn. At this level she’s able to see the amount of crumbs on the ground. Alone on the carpet, she begins to cry. Slow at first. She lifts her unsteady skull as much as she can and lets out a scream so powerful that it cracks her infant jaw. By the time she finishes, there is no air left in her lungs, her lips are dry, and her face is rosy.
Though she cannot see it happen, she hears the front door open.
Soon, Adult Robert is down on the carpet with her. Face-to-face, he gives her a smile and swaddles her in his arms. Holding her gently in one hand, he cradles her on his side and kisses her forehead.
Grace Lanoue's fiction has also been published in Bridge Eight Literary Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Tampa and is a native Floridian.