In six weeks she should be sliding out of her mom's canal. It's really that passive, sliding - at least from the perspective of the baby. Newborns don't crawl or claw. They're not wildly active or intimidating. King Herod feared the birth of Jesus, and ordered the assassination of all newborns in Bethlehem. And though no records indicate what Jesus craved after birth, it certainly wasn't divine - just biological reflexes to ensure survival. Savior or not, infants just aren't that unique. Some babies have been mixed up at the hospital you know? Meticulous admins make it right. But a newborn in a less organized hospital ends up raised by another set of unsuspecting parents. Point is that being a child isn't at all like being a person. Nothing is quite you, yet. Maybe that's why babies cry.
Scientists claim that the crying is evolutionary. That a baby must scream as to not be forgotten. As if after dropping out of a womb, a mother suffers a horrible bout of amnesia and ups and showers. That would be an unbelievable sight. A mother abandoning a baby for the spa because the baby forgot to cry. The real reason is a bit more disheartening. We cry for the same reason at birth as we do in our thirties and fifties. We're overwhelmed with reality, and underwhelmed with our role in it. And it's hard for a newborn, having freshly exited the stars, to cope with the mundanity of infancy. Have you forgotten your time in space? By the time you learned the words to talk about it you were instructed to instead recite the names of colors and shapes and figures of an alphabet. And, soon, the memory of existence before being named and swaddled evaporates. If you ever feel at home when staring at the stars, it's because from them you began.
When Avril Lummox was still among the stars she possessed all the classic characteristics of a superlunary entity. Her core was composed of a neon-brushed mist of celestial minerals, which without a skeleton, or skin, floated freely and without form. What made Avril exceptional was her brilliance. If there were seven million known colors, she illuminated with seven million and one. A sight that vibrant and pure cannot fit into the neatly defined boundaries of a body. In a way, this made Avril featureless. Like a gust of wind, with a measurable beginning but lingering end. As if the totality of her existence still in flux. Indeed it was. But that was all about to change.
Avril must have been two or three million years old when two other orbs of celestial dust gravitated her way. She'd seen them before, passing back and forth through the ages, like they were caught in an unseen gravitational vortex, swinging from galaxy to galaxy. Unlike Avril these two shone monochromatic palettes. The one of every imaginable red. The other blue and clear as the Caribbean Sea.
"Who are you both?" Avril asked.
(Pause. Two things to note. Avril possesses no vocal chords or lips. And even if she did, they would be useless. Space is silent - totally, absolutely, silent. So all recollections of her speech are translations. She had never uttered a word, like me or you. Rather she spoke by the rapid rearrangement of her dust. A superterrestrial morse code, which the orbs also spoke.)
"We're seraphs," the blue orb said, "you have a match."
Avril stared at these angels, speechless. This was the first time she'd been approached in space - ever. She'd never before felt the eyes of others. Never before believed that she had to justify any of her parts. She just was. But the gaze of these two suddenly awakened Avril to her own characteristics, qualities she'd never before criticized. To which she looked to herself, and asked aloud, "what am I?"
"That is not a question of space, but time."
"Yes," the red orb added, "for why we come is to offer you another form."
"Another form?" Avril asked.
"Yes, there's a body on earth for which your spirit would perfectly match." Said the red.
"What," Avril wondered aloud, "what if I want to remain here?"
"There are two paths for us. Wait enough years and your dust catches fire and you burn for billions of years. All in hopes of attracting another earth, a hoard of people, to relish in your warmth. Or accept a match on earth and experience the short, wondrous life of a human."
"Is living truly that wonderful?"
"The most marvelous experience," said the orb that shone blue, "But also the riskiest. Remain here and survival is just a matter of physics and gravity. A steady, predictable existence. On earth the possibilities are immeasurable. It's a thrilling journey, one that should not commence unless one is absolutely certain they’re ready for personhood. The days will be tough. Days when you wish away your own life. I know that's hard to imagine. But you must remember this moment in those moments, that long before you were born you chose yourself - and that each struggle brings with it a most sensational minute."
"You're talking in circles again," the red orb said to their partner blue, "Avril, you've been identified as a perfect candidate for an upcoming birth. The body is still without spirit. But we're confident that this is your lot."
"Is that what you all do?" Avril asked, "wander the galaxies?"
"We consult the stars on their fates - yes."
Avril contemplated what it meant for her to be a subject of time. She had never before imagined herself aside from herself - that there was some unseen force morphing her essence. This revelation flashed to Avril like a collision, propelling her into directions she'd never before flown. She'd, in a moment, been made aware of the discomfort of another's gaze. She'd been confused by the burden of choice. Yet, still the scariest contemplation was the unending galvanization of time. For in the stars, seasons cycle with the millenia. What is one second, among trillions? "What," Avril asked aloud, "could be so temporarily joyful to rob me of this eternity?"
"Life," the blue orb laughed, "life!"
"There's another thing," the red orb said, "here, in space, with all its grandeur, is the saddest sound of all. For nowhere in all these galaxies can a single chord of music be heard. And even if, say, the vacuums relinquished and sound could again travel through space it would not be music. For in space, where a year to man feels like a second, there would be no meter, nor beat, no rhythm or means to dance."
Avril's colors dazzled at imagining the sensation.
"I hate to rush this," the red orb said, "but we're on earth's timeline and a decision has to be made in six weeks."
"Six?" Avril flashed. "How long is -"
"42 spins of the earth."
"That - that's Nothing! How can anyone decide anything in that amount of time? Can't I have more time?"
"Some have that option," The blue orb said, "if you're really hung up. We would never go beyond 57 spins from now. But, you'll see, a lot changes in six weeks."
"Fine, so who am I next?"
There were a few times when the orbs had been close to visiting Avril with an opportunity at life. None which Avril had ever known. Those situations were too dire or privileged. Perfect for a Caroline, or Charlotte. None that seemed to fit the temperament of Avril. None until now, in this moment.
A moment, how comical the definition of that phrase felt after so long believing in everlasting. Avril was fine to wait. She had been waiting for thousands of years, without the knowledge of time. Just an entity, programmed for a life it patiently awaited.
"Okay" the blue orb continued, "before we continue, Avril, I need to tell you something else."
"We now only have five weeks."
"Time is that quick?" Avril's colors shimmered. "I don't care about the particulars - of what hardships I'll face, or what status I'm born in. Just tell me one thing," Avril asked, "Am I wanted?"
The angel's colors dimmed.
"Yes," said the red orb, "of course. Your mother excitedly awaits you."
"And my father?"
The blue orb illuminated, and said, "He's going through a lot, right now. Here, let us show you them now.”
In their 20th century colonial style home outside of Cleveland, Damien and Claire Lummox prepared their home for this afternoon's baby shower. Claire stacked colorful, bite-sized, baked goods atop marble slabs. Next to her, Damien wrapped uncooked meats with foil. Neither spoke. Not now. Not in the past two hours. Both worked tirelessly, without a word. Upstairs, the child's room was finished. They'd painted the space a pale minty green. It’s what they needed in their lives after all, color. And this room resembled their unspoken needs. It was a safe haven without blemish. Like their unborn child, just a shining dream. A reason, finally, for them to stay together.
Claire's mother and father were the first to arrive. Claire and her mother burrowed themselves into the kitchen, constructing castles of consumables.
Damien and his father-in-law, Ted, walked to the grill, and sipped stale tasting beer. The flames sizzled as Damien draped cool meat over its hot grates. Ted shifted his beer from his right to left hand, and asked, "Damien - are you ready to be a father?"
"Is anyone ever?"
"No, I mean it. Mary's told me about you two. Bringing a child into it? Fine distraction. But it won't fix a thing."
"It's just a season," Damien said, as he flipped the meat so hard that he dropped the tongs onto the algaed patio.
"Nothing wrong with therapy. Liz and I -"
"Can you grab me another pair of tongs - inside?"
"Sure," Ted said, stepping toward the house. After a few paces Ted turned back toward Damien and said, "you can't keep avoiding these things."
Ted never returned to the grill. He had become distracted by the trickling of merry guests. But that didn't matter much to Damien, because he was so eager to busy his mind that he began to flip the dogs with his bare hands. What bothered Damien was watching his family and friends pile inside his home, unconcerned with his whereabouts. Like they'd rehearsed this a hundred times before; gathering around his kitchen island, drinking his beers, laughing with his wife. A preview of their lives after his death. He hated them for it - that life looked so effortless in his absence. And it was at this moment Damien felt that he finally, whole-heartedly, loved the baby.
Damien loved it because he knew he could make it love him. That maybe therapy would do no good and he’d be a fun getaway from mom. A weekend father, who’d be there for carnivals and candy and road trips to lakes. Never known for his brokenness; because he’d never be fully known. But that child would think the world of him.
Damien finished cooking the first round without another pair of tongs. He couldn't stand the thought of entering the party without a barrier - nothing between him and the onlookers. He wanted, instead, for people to notice the food. For them to stare at a steaming tray of charcoal striped meat. He wanted them to see him as a provider. But when Damien walked in, his tipsy friend Colin, shouted, "oh wait, it is a boy!" To which the party roared in laughter.
Damien forced a smile. And if he hadn't had been staring at the ground he would have noticed nearly everyone in the room had clenched their teeth, and gripped their hands, and leaned their bodies in search of comfort. No one, not even his wife, was as happy to see him as they were the food he brought from the grill. He knew it was that way. It has been for the last year.
After the party had eaten and drank, games were played. Damien sat beside Claire, who not once looked his way. Damien's leg nervously bounced. Gifts were opened. Bottles, blankets, and books that doubled as pillows. A host of things for baby that were really for Claire. Then the confetti popped. Pink. Phones captured every angle of the reveal. Even when Damien, acting happy, reached for Claire and she pivoted away, as if an asteroid floating deeper into space.
After the events came to an end, the party dispersed throughout the house. Guests chatted in the kitchen, dining and living rooms. Damien, alone, attended to the gift packaging. Shortly after there was a natural lull in volume, So that all was heard in the entire downstairs was the crumbling of blush and yellow wrapping paper being tossed into large plastic trash bags. Colin, breaking the silence,asked "so…any complications?"
"No," Damien said, shoving a wad of trash to the bottom of the black bag, "we've been fine."
Each guest struggled to inhale.
"Not with that, Damien," Colin clarified, his tone now wavering, "I mean with the baby."
"Oh," Damien said.
"No, no," Claire said, smiling while she braced her flute filled with sparkling water, "none at all." The room erupted into a collective proclamation of "good." Anything to fill the silence. Anything to deafen the sound of Damien repetitiously punching crumpled paper deeper into a black, plastic bag. And when no one knew what to say next, Claire's friend, Tamar, turned the sink to max. Others shifted placemats atop the table or walked to pour themselves another drink. But for a moment, all that was heard at the party was the deafening swush of oxygenated water bouncing off of stainless steel.
That is, before Ted queued a record and played Marcus King's Wildflowers & Wine. There wasn't a person in the house who, if even for a millisecond, didn't close their eyes at the sound of Marcus's voice.
And when Marcus sang, "we're still here dancing, after all this time," the baby kicked.
Claire grabbed Tamar's hand, stuck it against her stomach, and said, "she wants to say hi."
Light years from their home in Cleveland. Avril debated with the two neon angels.
"And what if I say no?" Avril asked.
"You'll wait for the next selection." The blue orb said, " But remember, you only enter earth once. So wait until it's perfect. Until even your existence as a star pales in comparison to the life that awaits you."
Avril looked hesitant. Not at the life that awaited her, but at the fact that she had just recently become aware of the beauty that surrounded her; that she even had a name. And the thought that Avril Lummox would choose to exit the stars, the celestial wonder of space, felt absurd. Her existence was zen. A peaceful kind of nothingness. But what she really longed for was precision; a chance at somethingness.
Because as delighted as Avril was to know her name and surroundings, it seemed that nothing could compare to knowing the precious nature of particularity. Whatever the imperfections that coincide with humanness, there was a richness that no nameless, timeless entity, could grasp. To know the preciousness of a definite existence. There would never be another chance to live as Avril Lummox; never again a chance to shine on earth as she did in the darkest corners of the universe.
It hadn't felt much longer than a few minutes after her last question when the angel that shone blue as the Caribbean Sea said to Avril, "it's time."
"Now." The red angel insisted.
Avril's particles shone the brightest of every color. Rapidly they flashed, as she asked, "what happens when I exit?"
"It's going to hurt," the blue orb said.
"Avril," the red orb said, "knowing all of that awaits you, do you still want to enter earth?"
Her colors stilled. There wasn't a glimmer among the millions. Then, brighter than she ever shined, said, "I do."
And in that moment, the luminescent particles that once composed Avril accelerated through galaxies so quickly that all physical matter began to evaporate. Her rocks and dust disintegrated at the speeds which she propelled toward earth. Until all that transported across the stars was her spirit. She feared her dissipation, and as the elements that composed her body disappeared, Avril cried out, "No, no! What's happening to me?"
The blue and red angels who counseled her were now out of sight. But their voices were still near, as the blue orb said, shining bright as the clearest sky, "It's happening, Avril. You're okay. When it hurts, cry. No matter your age, you can cry."
In that second Avril Lummox was born. The tiniest of cracks in a broken galaxy now flesh. A sight so precious that for the first time since his wedding day six years prior, Damien Lummox shed a tear.