by Alicia Oltuski
We were watching House Brothers or House Hunters in Margaret Thatcher’s parents’ living room—none of us were cool enough to go on real spring break or nice enough to go on Alternative Spring Break (we called her Margaret Thatcher because her name was Margaret and someone, maybe a teacher, had said Margaret Thatcher in class once and my takeaway from ninth grade was that a nickname was like a grab)— and I was pretty bored listening to a couple about to drop their first baby complaining about dirty carpets or something. I was always bored watching house shows—I’m sure Dom was, too—but we were at an age when it felt, I don’t know, hot to do something you didn’t want to do for a girl. I was in the kitchen taking a break. Dom kept saying, “When’s your mom getting home?” and Margaret Thatcher was about to catch on that he was trying to steal another one of her fountain pens from the den. It was my opinion that if he was going to take something, it should be money, but Dom said, did I see twenty hundreds hanging out on their table? And he was right.
I think, if I had to guess, that Dom saw it first, but maybe he wouldn’t have said anything if Margaret hadn’t. But Margaret said, “Um, Alex?” so then I came back from the kitchen, where I’d gotten too stunned by Margaret Thatcher’s family’s food abundance to actually choose a food, and the second part of her sentence was, “Isn’t that your dad’s house?” and it was.
The couple was in the living room—and it was my father’s—and one of them said, “Honestly, I think I’m gonna hurl.” It was the man, not the pregnant woman, who said this. The woman was resting her foot on one of five of my father’s surge protectors. I hadn’t spoken to my dad in a few months. Three years ago, he had convinced my mother to let him keep the house when they divorced because his girlfriend was having a baby. If they were trying to sell when the episode filmed they were somewhere else a long time ago now. I hadn’t realized I didn’t know where he lived.
Margaret’s mother had just redone their living room, is what didn’t make it better. I tried to see who would laugh first. Dom looked like he was trying to figure out if the pregnant lady was worth remembering for objectification purposes. The couple reiterated the smell. Then they chose the house, my father’s house. At the end of the episode, after the porch had been made a club room, the agent gifted them a bottle of perfume in a big blue box. I considered it a great charity that Dom said that couple’s baby was going to be ugly as all fuck-out.
He was right. The baby, when I looked at him in his crib that Sunday night, in the room that used to be my father’s drinking room, had a dimple in its forehead that I did consider ugly, though perhaps the seed that Dom had planted in my mind at Margaret Thatcher’s house would have latched on to any of that baby’s features. He was about a year. The home had a new feel to it, for sure, at least the rooms the show had tackled—something like if a king and queen were casual. And, yes, a new smell, too. It reminded me of peeing in the gutter behind school, a place you weren’t supposed to go that felt good to. I’d been quiet making my way in.
The baby’s room was hot. His forehead dimple was filled with sweat, like a gulley. I put one finger inside his mouth, and he took to it immediately. Ruffle potato-chip teeth. His room was next to my room. My brother’s and mine. We used to switch sides every once in a while—sometimes as a result of my brother’s demanding it, other times as a result of his allowing it. On the left side, we could hear my father’s TV telling him terrible things he loved to hear. The baby’s crib was in the middle of the room, between where Charles and I had slept. It made it look smaller but nicer. Charles would have killed him, probably. He used to keep a stash of pencils on either side of the room—for wherever he was—and throw them at me if I farted or cried in my sleep. I don’t know where Charles is anymore, so I can fart and cry to my heart’s content.
Someone had painted words in a circle on the ceiling above the crib. I thought about how if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t wanted to watch design shows at her house, or if I didn’t always want to go to her house, (her belly button had a banana ring in it) I wouldn’t have been there, in Charles’s, mine, and that baby’s room. I wondered what my dad would think of the baby. My dad’s girlfriend’s one is two and a bit. When she was pregnant, she looked XL-ent and I couldn’t think of anything else—even Margaret Thatcher—until she gave birth and her body emptied out, and then they got the house anyway, and I didn’t see them anymore, and I forgot her. Maybe my dad forgot her, too. I thought that in the sense of: for all I knew. Anyway, I didn’t kill the baby in the end. He’s still there, upstairs, and I’m on my way down.
Alicia Oltuski‘s work has appeared in Tin House magazine, TheNewYorker.com, W magazine, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, NPR Berlin Stories, Narrative magazine, Catapult, and, in book form, as Precious Objects, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.
Image: Dana DeVolk/Unsplash