Chapter Description: Clark faces emotional repercussions and fights with his Mommy
Janet shut down the next day. I expected her to be extra clingy to me after her date went wrong with Douchey Horseface Pukerton, aka. ‘Mark’. I automatically expected her to do terrible, horrible things like cuddle me harder, or impulse buy some Amazon gadget or gizmo that would ‘accidentally’ reinforce her view of me as a baby or whatever.
But no. She picked me up out of my crib. She laid me down. She changed me. Then picked me up. Super quick. No declaration of “All done” or any of those stupid songs she’d memorized from Little Voices meetings. And she didn’t talk.
I was anticipating another condescending condemnation. Some speech about how I’d crossed a line or needed to accept things as they were and she was my Mommy and that she loved me, but I needed something adjusted for my own good. Maybe she’d take away my shirt and shoes, and just leave me in Monkeez that she’d drawn numbers on the back so that people would know how many diapers I’d used that particular day. Seemed like a twisted but logical step.
That didn’t happen. She put me in the kitchen highchair and locked me in. She went to the refrigerator, took out a carton of goat’s milk that she’d had delivered, and filled a baby bottle up. Then she tightened it, and filled a bowl of cereal, that badly needed some raisins or banana slices, with the same carton and put the milk away.
“Here,” she said, handing it to me.
“Thanks,” I replied.
None of the chirpiness or cheeriness was in her voice that was normally present in our interactions. Everything was flat and robotic. Fuck ‘robotic’, I’d seen UsBox prank videos of malfunctioning nanny robots that had more inflection in their soundcards.
I downed the bottle of goat milk, while Janet ate her cereal at the table. She looked at me, taking her time to eat the cereal, but the way she looked at me: It wasn’t hate or fear. Not really. Even now I struggle to put into words what I saw behind those eyes. It was like her mouth was chewing slowly, but her mind was replaying and reliving last night.
More than that last night. More like she was silently going over every interaction we’d ever had, and quietly reviewing and puzzling out what was sincere, what was manipulation, what was emotion, what was impulse, what was calculated lies, and so on and so forth; literally questioning everything and very likely coming up with so many frustrating conclusions. Probably silently chewing me out.
In short, Janet looked how I felt most days.
Silent and brooding, Janet finished her cereal, rinsed her bowl out in the sink and approached me. “All done?”
“Yeah.” I made my voice almost as monotone as hers.
“Want any more?”
“Not right now, thank you.”
She took me out of the highchair, set me down on my feet and said, “You can go play.”
And that was it. No suggestions. No annoying pat on the butt. Not even a smile. Her lips just kept fidgeting and twisting like it couldn’t decide, kind of like when someone is on the verge of laughing and trying to stop from bursting out. No laughter though…
So I went and played. I fiddled with the toys that I was physically able to fiddle with, made up imaginary stories where I was taking my vengeance against Beouf or the therapists or Brollish. I thumbed through some garbage ‘baby books’ in the nursery so that I could scoff at them. Played on the indoor playset.
Really boring, really. Really boring without Janet trying to coax me into something or being ever present so that I was conscious about what she was seeing or what I was doing. She was leaving me alone. Not entirely, mind you; every twenty minutes or so she’d poke her head around a corner to make sure I wasn’t doing anything she considered bad, but she showed no interest or curiosity in my activities beyond that.
No diaper checks, either.
At eleven that morning, I waddled up to her cutting up fruit and putting it in a bowl. “Janet,” I said. “Can you change me, please?”
She didn’t so much as bend over. Her eyes glanced over my padded crotch. She lightly sniffed the air. “No. You’re okay,” she said. “I’ll change you after lunch.”
So much for ‘please’ having magical properties. Fine. If she wanted to play hardball, so be it. “If I need to go to the bathroom and tell you, will you take me?”
“No.” Janet had already turned back to her cutting board and was slicing up strawberries.
“Why not?” I asked.
“You know why.” And that appeared to be that.
Lunch was fruit salad on my tray and goat milk in my bottle. True to her word, Janet changed me as quickly and efficiently as before. No talking or singing. No nothing. The afternoon went the same as the morning. Not once did she pull me into her lap on the couch or try to entice me with Muffet reruns.
It was…odd. The quiet was disquieting.
It’s not like she was abusive or neglectful or anything. Technically, she wasn’t even being mean. She was just on her phone. Or in her head. Or flipping through a teacher guide, jotting down lesson plans. Just quiet.
“Can I help with that?” I offered. If I knew what subject she was covering in Math I might have a better way to cover up my meddling.
Her eyes didn’t even reach me. “No thanks. Go play.”
So yeah. That was that. That was Sunday. So-called playtime. Another change. Dinner. Bath. Bed.
“Night,” Janet said once she’d plopped me into the crib.
“Janet?” I called out. She stopped in the doorway and turned back around. Laying in the crib and looking at her through the bars, I took a deep breath. “About yesterday,” I said. “I’m sorry.” A strange feeling of cognitive dissonance rang out inside me. I was definitely lying so that she’d relax and forgive me, but for some reason it felt wrong. Like I was lying about something else. “I’m really sorry.”
She turned off the lights.
I sat up. “What do you mean you know?” It wasn’t quite that monotone that I’d heard all day. Sounded sadder, yet there was a not-quite alien undercurrent to it. Like her definition of ‘sorry’ and ‘mine’ were different and only one of us knew it.
The quiet didn’t stop on Monday. Janet got me up, got me dressed, and took me back to Beouf’s room with nary a word.
Just “Morning, Janet.”
Then “Morning, Clark.”
Then off to school.
Dropped me off and left me without so much as a goodbye. When she came into Beouf’s room later that day, her mind was clearly somewhere else. I kept catching her staring at the clock. She loomed over me, but didn’t hover or participate in any of the activities. At the end of her time, she just left.
That afternoon after school, I thought she was finally starting to get over ‘the Mark thing’ as I was beginning to think of it, when she picked me up and started talking to Beouf.
“He was a little bit mouthy with some of his friends today, but he only needed one reminder each time,” Beouf reported. “That's an improvement.” Beouf hadn’t let her professionalism slip, either. I now had two ex-friends that were holding back on me all the time.
The first smile I’d seen from Janet in close to forty-eight hours blossomed. “That’s good,” she said. She sounded happy. Relieved even. I allowed myself a big cheesy grin, too. I’d been ‘good’, but it was mostly because my mind was on other things.
They started walking towards Janet’s room, continuing the conversation with one another and me just along for the ride. They made small talk about television that was on after I’d been locked away in my crib, and about Beouf’s granddaughter, Emma. Nothing much to report there, she wasn’t quite two months, so very much still at that newborn blob stage of life.
Janet opened the door to her room and Beouf followed us inside. “So, picture day is Friday,” Beouf said, “I wanted to talk to you about it real quick.”
Janet didn’t put me in the playpen, right away. She held onto me, holding me like I was the one who didn’t want to be put down. “Okay,” she said. “What’s up?”
The existence of Picture Day itself wasn’t a surprise. Of course Janet knew it was coming. Every teacher in the school knew picture day was near. No doubt half a dozen emails had already gone out as reminders for teachers to sign their class up for a listed time slot. That and the Fall Festival were constantly being harped on this time of year.
Janet had her own students to shuffle one at a time in front of a photographer trying to get kids to sit in uncomfortable, unnatural poses and smile at the same time. Who the heck sat with their legs in profile but turned their upper body so that it was facing forward? I never got that. Nor did my students…literally.
“Nothing much. Just a quick aside. I know this is your first year with me,” Beouf went on, “but I suggest sending some extra clothes with him on Friday. My class always goes first and fancy baby clothes look nice, but they don’t play nice if you know what I mean. So we always get them lined up, take the pictures, and then dress them in something more comfortable for the rest of the day.”
Janet bobbed me up and down like I was a fussy toddler, even though I wasn’t trying to say anything. “I was thinking the sailor suit he wore on his first day.”
Great. That monstrosity.
Beouf squealed a little bit. “Oh that would be so cute!” She looked at me, and then seemed to catch herself, embarrassed. She’d let her guard down for a second and she knew it.
“Shorts or no shorts?” Janet asked.
My old mentor looked at me and sized me up. She remembered herself, and adopted that more formal, more detached demeanor she’d been presenting lately. “Honestly? If he continues to show improvement this week, I think he could come to school with the shorts on. We can evaluate more from there.” Beouf cocked her head and eyeballed a stack of graded papers ready to be handed back, on Janet’s desk.
“Okay…” Janet seemed hesitant, like she was hoping that Beouf would have definitively forbade me from having even a bit of modesty back. Beouf clearly still thought of me as a toddler. By the time Friday rolled around, my legs would have been bare for a week and a half; an eternity in toddler time.
“But it’s your call, really,” Beouf looked up from the papers. “He’d still look fine in just the top half. He wouldn’t be the first Little dressed like that on Picture Day. Just don’t put him in a diaper with a wetness indicator and he’ll be fine.”
“We’re almost out of those anyhow,” Janet said. “We’ll definitely be out by Friday unless we get some more.”
“Great,” Beouf said. I exhaled, suddenly realizing that I’d been holding my breath. “Okie dokie. I gotta go put my room back together and set up for tomorrow. You know how it is.”
“Mmm-hmmm.” Janet agreed. She started lowering me down into the tiny playpen by her desk. Beouf was already out of the room by the time Janet stood back up, but I caught sight of the older of the two women stopping and looking back. At Janet? At us? At just me? It was hard to tell.
The moment Janet heard the door click closed behind her, she stiffened back up and went back to her desk. “Hey, Janet?” I said.
“Mhm?” She was already typing stuff into her computer and shuffling papers around.
“Grading papers.” Her voice regained the same melancholy coldness of Sunday. “Trying it day by day instead of all at once over the weekend.”
Uh-oh. That meant no papers for me to grade on the weekend. “Can I help?”
“Why not?” She didn’t answer me. “Why not?” She was actively ignoring me. “Why not?”
Janet rotated in her chair, scooted over to the playen and grabbed the pacifier dangling from my shirt. “Quiet, baby. Mommy is trying to concentrate. Okay?”
“I was just trying to-”
The pacifier went in. “Mommy is trying to concentrate.” She didn’t sound much like a Mommy just then. Or she sounded exactly like one…
The bulb couldn’t inflate. There was nothing preventing me from spitting it out and continuing to pester her. I just decided not to.
The quiet continued into Tuesday. I was half expecting Janet to completely snap and go full Typical Amazon on me. There were no enema bags waiting, however. No pacifiers that were anything other than fake nipples to suck on. No new hypnotic cartoons.
If there was anything she was putting in the milk- that she was clearly drinking herself- it didn’t seem to be affecting my continence in any particularly drastic or noticeable way. Just because things weren’t getting worse down stairs, didn’t mean they were getting better.
“Wipe, wipe, wipe!” Zoge half-sung half-talked, while she did the dirty work of cleaning me up. “Cleaning up the baby. Cleaning up the baby.” Oh, so that’s what I was supposed to be seeing reflected down at me from the ceiling instead of me getting stripped down and degraded like it was normal.
Those of us in class who still had enough wherewithal and pride to not shit ourselves the moment the urge hit, tended to wait until we were hidden safely in the alcove of Beouf’s independent reading area. The routine was: grab a book, huddle up behind a bean bag or face the wall, then pretend to read and not think about what was really going on.
The bitter sweet part of the equation is that Zoge’s station was next in rotation and she’d check and change as soon as she got so much as a whiff. Bitter for obvious reasons, sweet because getting changed could be a form of stalling.
“Bye bye old diaper,” Zoge narrated, tossing it into the trash. “Hello new one.” I hadn’t even seen her get the new one. She’d done it one handed, too, using her other to keep my legs crossed and up. Lady could make a killing out of being a magician. “Powder, powder, powder. And all done.” I stared up at the ceiling mirror, fresh Monkeez snugly taped on. Embarrassing to admit, but I was starting to notice subtle differences about the way the various giants in my life changed me. Zoge was still fast, but she had an element of playfulness to the routine. “You’re getting very good at this, Clark. I’m so proud of you.”
Getting good? What did that mean? Should I be struggling more? She pulled the pacifier out of my mouth, and I said. “Um…yeah…” It wasn’t a compliment that I wanted. At all.
Finally, Zoge did what she almost always did after wiping my butt for me. “I love you.”
As always, I remained silent on that front. It never stopped her from saying it. Not once. Something didn’t feel right in me. My stomach flipped and it had nothing to do with digestion.
Yikes. That line hit harder than I’d anticipated today.
Janet was quiet all that afternoon and that night too. She just shut down. All the while, Zoge’s voice kept running on repeat in my brain. I even forgot to do my whispering into the baby monitor.
Wednesday night I waddled up to Janet. She was by the sink, washing dishes. Pre-washing actually. She had a dishwasher, but she was the type to scrape food and spray sauce off of things before racking it up in the machine. I always loaded everything in and let the washer sort it out, personally, back when I was allowed housekeeping duties.
It wasn’t a lot to wash. Plates, glasses, bottles, and Amazon scaled cutlery. I was dieting strictly on bottles and finger foods; no spoon feedings or stuff mushy enough to need a bowl or jar.
“Janet?” I asked her, tugging on her skirt.
She didn’t look down. Something in the kitchen window had evidently entranced her. “Hm?”
“Do you still love me?” I asked.
“Why? What do you want?”
Whoah! I didn’t have time to hide the surprised shock on my mug. “Nothing right now. I was just wondering.”
Immediately Janet’s face softened and she looked at me. I got a glimpse behind the mask she’d been putting up. At least I hoped the quiet face was the mask. “Of course I do,” she said. “Absolutely.” There was surety in every syllable.
“Do you like me?”
The quiet came back to Janet. She kept washing dishes. I walked away and wandered through the house unescorted. Things were beginning to make sense. Longingly, I waddled into the bathroom.
There was no way I was getting the diaper off. It didn’t stop me from envisioning several amusing scenarios involving dunking myself ass first and seeing what mischief I could make from there. Nah. Not worth it. Janet could just put a lock on the lid and she’d still have access to her own bathroom. I could probably do better.
Next to the toilet was a wastebasket, meant primarily for empty toilet paper rolls and wet diapers Janet didn’t want to go all the way to my room to toss out when she was stripping me down for a bath. Something else was in there that night, gleaming in the light: Torn up pieces of paper, colored and glossy. Like a brochure.
The balled up waste didn’t bother me. It was mine, after all. It was nothing to reach in and pluck out the curiosities. It didn’t take long for me to piece it together. The Little Voices Logo of the two outlines walking hand in hand had already been seared into my brain.
Janet was tearing up Little Voices pamphlets.
“Janet?” I asked Thursday night. “Why aren’t we getting ready to go to Little Voices?” The clock was fifteen minutes past the time we normally left. I was as dressed as I was going to be, yet Janet made absolutely no moves to leave.
Janet sat on the couch, sighing to herself. “I don’t feel like going tonight.”
I heaved myself up onto the couch ledge and joined her. “Why? Are you sick?”
“Oh…” I sat there in the silence with her, hoping my own would unnerve her. It didn’t.
I actually wanted to go to Little Voices now. It was important that I did and suffered through the bullshit opening and the lap games. I had a lot of things to do there, and not very much time each week to do it. “We could leave late,” I suggested. “You could still go to the sharing time and I could get to play with the others.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Because you don’t trust me?” Might as well just come out and say the quiet part out loud. “You think that because it’s something I want it must be something specifically meant to defy or embarrass you?” She’d be right to think so, and it was kind of true in this case, but still…
And to my surprise, she answered, “Yes.”
Ow. That kind of stung hearing it out loud. I genuinely wasn’t expecting that response. Heaven forbid an Amazon speak so plainly and tell me what they actually thought. Wow. It was a dream come true in a twisted way.
I’d connected the dots. I’d broken Mark. I’d broken Janet, too. She was just too deep into the sunk cost fallacy of this forced relationship to do anything about it. After two months I’d finally reached the point of making her suffer around me as much as I’d been suffering around her. She was hiding it where she could in front of other Amazons to keep up appearances, but she was genuinely miserable in this moment.
That was good. Then why didn’t I feel good about it?
I sat on the cushion next to her, giving her the same cold tone she’d been giving me for nearly a week. “Whelp,” I said. “This is bullshit.” My own face was a placid, nearly dispassionate mask. I didn’t make eye contact; didn’t even look directly at her. I picked the same spot on the wall she’d picked and drilled a hole in it with my irises.
“Yup.” she said.
“You drag me around everywhere and I have to behave exactly how you want me to behave.”
“But the one time I want to go somewhere, somewhere you like too, it’s a bad idea because it was mine.”
My voice was clear. My vision focused. “You cosseted me. You wanted me even before I…” No. I wasn’t going to so much as dignify the idea that Maturosis was real. “You wanted me even before this. And when you couldn’t get a kid you went straight to me.”
“Yeah. I did.” She wasn’t even defending herself.
“Well you got everything you wanted,” I said. “You got Clark and you got a baby, all in one package, right?”
“Right.” She sounded bored now.
“You tried to trick me after your marriage fell apart. You probably poisoned me too just to make sure I’d be stuck with you.”
“If you want to think that,” Janet said, “there's nothing I can do about that. I’m sorry.” She didn’t sound sorry.
We were fighting. Neither one of us was shouting or crying or pointing our fingers. Our voices were completely calm. Our body language was damn near animatronic. It was still easily more intense than any other interaction I’d yet had with someone.
“Well, Janet, you’re stuck with this too.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her nod. “I get that.”
“It isn’t going to get better, Janet.”
“I’m not your fucking baby.”
Silence. Two minutes of silence. I counted the seconds myself. Saw the digital clock on top of the television change twice.
Janet stood up, fists clenched. She towered over me but still had her back to me. She hung her head. “I’m going to go to my room for a few minutes. Are you going to be okay on your own?” I kept my mouth shut. “I’ll be back to give you your bath.”
The bitch trudged off, leaving me by myself on the couch. That certainly could have gone better. I wasn’t angry or outraged though. My feelings sunk deeper than that. Like going into shock, I just felt numb and cold and analytical, unable to feel any number of complex but ultimately painful feelings.
No time to be angry. No time to be sad. No time to be guilty. Little Voices wasn’t on the menu for tonight’s mayhem. Time for Plan B, never mind that I didn’t have a Plan B until right that moment. The gears in my mind turned fast enough to whip up something else.
I walked over to the kitchen and pushed a chair up against the kitchen counter. Giant furniture isn’t easy to move, but not impossible.Amazon society invested research into restraints and adhesives that Little hands couldn’t undo. Wooden furniture? Not so much.
The groan of the wood scraping against the tile made me have to work fast. My captor was tired and broken and now I had an opportunity that I hadn’t had before. Didn’t mean she wouldn’t come running to see what the noise was. Clambering up onto the kitchen counter, I bypassed the knives entirely. She’d miss one of those. Instead, I crawled over to the spice rack and grabbed one of the containers.
Ungracefully I climbed back down to the kitchen floor, trying not to pant out of ego more than any practical reason. I toddle-ran over to the diaper bag hanging on a hook by the door to the garage. I’d move the chair back over to the fridge in a minute, let Janet think I was trying to get something from there, but I needed both hands and a near running start to get that thing going again.
The bag had a long enough strap that I could just barely reach it if I stretched on my tip toes. It was easy enough to stand as tall as I could and dump my weapon of choice right into a shallow side pocket normally reserved for teething rings and binkies. If I played my cards right, I’d get it out easy enough. If I didn’t, it’d likely be forgotten until Janet thought to check days or weeks later and then wonder how my little piece of contraband got in there.
This week sucked. Way too quiet. Not enough to talk about.
Tomorrow, Picture Day, however, would be very, very fun. Lots of noise. And oh, I’d give them something to talk about.