Fiction

Big baby

At first Andrea thought there was a problem with her eyes. She went to the optometrist at lunch. He had her read off a chart and blew puffs of air on her corneas.

“Tip-top,” he concluded. “You shouldn’t be having any trouble seeing the stage.”

But she hadn’t said the stage, she’d said the actors. She could see the stage just fine.

As she headed back to the theatre she stuffed a 7-Eleven sandwich into her mouth, trying not to choke while texting her partner How is he? Is he awake? Is he hungry?

Her partner diligently replied with a close-up of their baby’s gummy milk-drunk smile.

She’d only started back at work a few weeks ago. That was always the plan. She’d do the first six months, and then they’d swap. Andrea was a lighting designer and she knew how it went. She knew how easy it was to become irrelevant in her industry. Miss two seasons of shows and your name slipped from people’s minds and call sheets.

Every day when she got home from work she’d come through the door and ask, “How’s my big boy?” and her baby would coo and squeal. The problem was, he really was growing. Proportionately, he was still baby-shaped: round middle, big head, short arms and legs. But every time she got home he’d be larger. His head swelled to the size of a large grapefruit, then a watermelon. His blubber ballooned, his pudge puffed and puckered. His arms were like rows of brioche buns.

It wasn’t just him who was changing. Her own mum had got a little bigger, her cousin Jessie a little smaller, her friend Simone smaller still.

 

She came through the glass doors into the sunlit entrance of the theatre. When she’d been home, all those tired milk-soaked months, she’d fantasised about coming back here. Being busy again. Feeling less like a cow and more like a Creative Professional. But in her imaginings it was always a new production, something exciting and original that would push her artistically, challenge her skills, force her to experiment and take risks and be innovative. It was never yet another staging of Uncle Vanya.

“The whole cast is waiting on you.” It was Serebryakov, who was also the director and whose real name was Tim. “Where were you?”

“Lunch?”

He threw up his tiny hands and turned on his little heel and went back to the stage door.

Up in the lighting booth, Andrea tried to focus. The booth felt like home: dark and airless. Familiar. The green and red flicker of the console, the smell of spilled two-minute noodles. She’d done Uncle Vanya to death, but she’d planned a new approach for this production. She was going to use R18s to create the warm amber of candlelight, and R80s to contrast the deep navy darkness of outside.

Andrea squinted down at the stage. Dr Astrov and Sonya were discussing the suffocation of their country life, she could hear their lines, but her cues were all visual. When Sonya exits, she’d written on her plan, when Serebryakov enters and on clearance. But the actors were so tiny already, and from up here they were minuscule.

“Lights!” Serebryakov shouted. She’d already missed her cue. If she wasn’t careful, she’d lose this job. It would be humiliating, worse than not coming back at all.

She scrunched up her face, then scrunched up her notes, and spent the rest of the rehearsal using the colourless L202 and the exact same design she’d done last time. She didn’t need to see the actors, she could orchestrate it by rote.

When the day was over she packed her bags, her breasts like two boulders on her chest.

“Bravo!” came Serebryakov’s voice from behind her. “A rocky start but we’ve got it now. You captured my vision! Perfection!”

She looked around the booth, but she could no longer even see him.

 

Andrea’s keys tinkled as she unlocked her apartment door, the heater inside blasting a lovely 22 degrees after her icy walk from the station. Her partner was sitting at the kitchen table on his laptop. He stayed mostly the same size, only growing or shrinking incrementally, depending on whether he’d remembered to pack wipes or restack the dishwasher.

“How’d you go?” she asked.

“Good. Tiring. He’s just waking up I think; I got him to sleep in our bed eventually. He’s decided he doesn’t like his cot anymore.”

Andrea squeezed her partner’s shoulder, kissed his stubbly cheek and then went into their bedroom.

There he was, her beautiful baby, lying across their bed and blinking open his hub-cap eyes.

“How’s my big boy?” she said.

“Heeeeaa, haaaaa,” he replied, beaming at her.

Andrea pulled off her shoes. She climbed onto his soft, sleep-warm chest and lay down. He cooed, and she cooed back, and he wrapped his tree-trunk arms around her tiny, tired body.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 23, 2022 as "Big baby".

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Anna Snoekstra is an author and screenwriter. Her new novel, Out of Breath, will be released in early July.

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