I took a seat on a bench and fished a treat out of my pocket for Bryce. Stretching my legs, I breathed the crisp air deep. Bryce was pretty naughty that day. The entire jaunt consisted entirely of either pulling me ahead so he could get his nose on some sweet spot on the grass, or holding me back, forcing me to drag him for the same reason. It was irritating, but not really all that unusual for Bryce.
People were out that day, milling around the park on casual strolls, out enjoying the early fall weather just cool enough to promise the last vestiges of comfort before the snow arrived. Anyway, Bryce had plenty of wiggles to get out. I suppose I had a few wiggles of my own. Sitting at a computer five days a week and one builds up a lot of tension. In spite of Bryce being a pill, and the crowds I was breathing deep, feeling the blood flowing, and enjoying one of the last nice days of the year.
Kids were playing on the nearby toys, and I smiled. I won’t deny it had an edge on it. Sandra and I had been trying for about five years with no luck. It didn’t seem to matter how much we tried, or how much money we threw at the problem. I listened anyway, and tried to just enjoy the sound without wondering about whether or not I’d ever have any kids of my own. To me, the screams and prattle were musical. Most of the kids sounded like they were older, maybe ten or so. A few were much younger.
I closed my eyes, listening, and breathed deep. Bryce settled down and finally quit tugging on the leash. After a few deep breaths, I was almost in a meditative state. I focused on the sounds of the children, letting the random shouting and squealing overcome me.
I needed this.
Then there were new voices. Two women had sat down on the bench nearby. They were talking about baby clothes. I tried not to let my concentration slip when I started hearing the coos and gurgles of the infants they had with them. It was more than two babies, though; it was three. One of them had twins.
The three made a beautiful, random chorus of little voices, and song-like vocalizing. I deliberately relaxed my mind. The sounds washed over me as I focused on the noise, tuning out the mom’s chatting. The breeze troubled my hair, and the sun warmed my closed eyes. My mind was clear. I was noticing my sensations, almost as though I wasn’t myself, watching the sensations I felt as though from a great distance.
Then thoughts drifted through my mind. The thoughts weren’t my own. I was reacting to ideas. Then I realized baby’s babblings were babblings no more; they had meaning.
“What do you think? I’m feeling inclined towards accounting, but I’m not sure.”
“Do you think you’ll have the right head for numbers?”
“I really can’t be sure, of course. How sure are any of us. We’re supposed to know though, right? This won’t last forever. Childhood will be here before we know it. The only way to secure anything for sure is to make a firm decision.”
“I know. I just hate the pressure of it all.”
The third spoke up. “We’ll be speaking before you know it. It keeps me up every night.”
The meanings slid through my mind at first. I didn’t add them up. It wasn’t unlike the times my wife goes on and on about the details of her day at work, full of jargon and research terms all of which I tuned out, focusing instead on her feelings, reacting to those rather than the words themselves. Then the babies’ words strung together and I tried to make sense of them.
“Do you think your mom will be a lot of help?”
“I’m concerned she’s a little too rigid. She hasn’t expressed any plans for my future, but dad keeps talking major-league baseball. There might be trouble when I tell him I intend to be a bookstore owner. But you know how it is. You have to pick what’s right for you.”
This coherent idea woke me right up, no longer meditating. How could I help but listen intently to the conversation?
Something had happened in the moments of my reverie, as though I had tapped into something secret. Did all babies plan their own futures like this? Did people plan their lives while they were babies? I certainly can’t remember anything about planning my own future, at least not at that age. If all babies could do this, then there was a secret about human development nobody had yet discovered. I could hear everything they said as clearly as I could hear what their mom’s were saying. I decided to do some casual tests.
Did my hearing them depend on how close I was? I decided to move a little closer. I slid over on the bench about a foot to the right: no change.
I got up, walking further away, trying my hardest not to look like I was listening. Of course, the mom’s would be worrying that I was listening in on their conversation. How would the looks on their faces be if I told them I was actually eavesdropping on what their children were saying? I stopped about seven or eight feet from the bench. Bryce was as confused as anyone looking on would be. I still heard and understood the infants and their conference.
I stepped a few more feet away, hoping Bryce would take the opportunity to take a dump and make me look a little less like a nut. Of course, the little poop wasn’t going to play along. I tried to find something logical for me to look at, looking around at the trees, the leaves on the ground, the cars in the parking lot. Hell, I’d even have taken a good-looking jogger to gawk at. No luck. I had to face the fact that I was acting very strange.
And why shouldn’t I act strange? Something strange was happening. Nobody else seemed to notice that these kids were talking coherently, discussing their future career paths like a pack of overly-serious high school seniors. Why was I the only one that could understand what they were saying?
I walked on another thirty feet or so. Their voices were small, and I could make out very little at that distance, but I could make out a few words. How long would this last? Was it just my meditation? Was I imagining things? Did somebody slip something in my zoloft?
There seemed to be no easy answers. I decided to keep following the direction I had been heading, entertaining the idea of just going home and forgetting about the whole thing. My mind raced with the confusion. I barely noticed Bryce continuing to be a stinker. Bryce has a talent for detecting when I’m distracted or otherwise occupied, taking advantage of any excuse to misbehave and get away with it. Well, that day he could’ve chewed the leash off and I might not have noticed.
What would I tell Sandra? “Hey honey, you wouldn’t believe what the infants in the park were talking about today!” I couldn’t go home now. I needed a little more time.
I decided to do a lap around the park, keeping an eye on the two mom’s and their strollers. Bryce and I crunched through the leaves while I tried to slow my mind down a little, and not look over towards the mom’s and their strollers too often. They seemed to have settled in for a while. I could probably afford to come around them again, listening to see if it still held up. Better yet, I just might run into another babbling baby or two on the way over there.
I turned the corner, trying not to fret too much. If I got over there, and the mom’s had left, ah well: no big deal. I would see what would happen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear those babies talk again or not. Part of me wanted to have just had a wild flight of imagination, or a misunderstanding. I almost convinced myself that I would pass the babies again -- that they’d babble normally, the way they would if everything was in its right place with the world.
I couldn’t begin to interpret the implications if what I had just heard was real. Maybe these three were all just geniuses, but then other people would be able to hear their conversation too. What if their powers extended beyond communicating with other babies? Was this a new genetic mutation that we should fear? Were there other mutations manifesting themselves in other kids? Were other people’s babies talking to animals, or shooting deadly venom out of their mouths?
There was my imagination running away again. It’s too bad I don’t have a leash for that like I do for Bryce.
Coming out of my reverie I realized Bryce and I were getting near the path the mom’s had been sitting by. I looked over and didn’t seem them. I kept walking down the path, striding faster now.
If I could hear those babies talking again, I could at least confront the problem from there. Having only had that brief moment of attention and listening, it was simply too easy to dismiss it and never mention it to anyone again. I dearly wanted to pretend that nothing had changed with the world, that everything was always as it had been, that babies babbled until their little brains had developed enough to grasp speech.
I lead Bryce down the path towards where the mom’s had been, hoping to get past the line of Maple trees that obscured the view. Getting closer, I realized that the mom’s had left. Part of me didn’t want to believe it, and I looked around hoping to catch them somewhere else.
They were gone. No other babies to eavesdrop on either. In fact, it was getting a little late. I checked my phone and saw that it was about time to grab some dinner. No messages from Sandra, though. That was considerate of her, knowing that I really needed some alone time. She’s always been good about that.
The next morning was Sunday. Sandra and I slept in. She woke bleary, her hair tangled, her smile lazy and pretty. I kissed her good morning. Then I did what I had promised the day before I wouldn’t do; I told her about the talking babies. I chickened out though really, because I told her it was just a weird dream. Part of me knew this was a lie, but it wasn’t a very big part.
Denial: it’s a talent.
She began telling me about her own dream, something to do with her mother and a big railroad car full of donuts. I honestly didn’t listen too carefully. My own denial must’ve been taking too much available RAM. She didn’t seem to notice my distracted state anyway. She gave me another good morning kiss, went into the bathroom and closed the door.
A few minutes later she was still in there. I threw on my robe and grabbed the paper from the doorstep. I started the coffee going, and padded back to bed. I had just winnowed out the sports section and the funnies when the bathroom door opened.
Sandra stood in the doorway and sobbed silently. She smiled through her tears, holding up the small plastic pregnancy test.
The first trimester flew by, and it was already time for the ultrasound. Following the small talk, Doctor Duffy started with the stethoscope on Sandra’s belly. She gazed into space as she listened.
“There it is,” she said. “Good strong heartbeat.” She looked up at me, her eyebrows raised. “You want to hear?”
“Uh . . . yeah! Can I?” I had the awkward-out-of-place-husband-in-the-OB’s-office routine down cold. She sterilized the ear buds and handed it over to me. I put them on as she held the chest piece just so on Sandra’s belly.
And there it was: a healthy, strong little heartbeat. It was unmistakable. I closed my eyes.
“Hello, little one,” I said, my voice low and soft. Then through the stethoscope I heard something else.
“Hey, Dad. Can I have a chemistry set for my birthday?”
I had always pictured the little one following in Sandra’s footsteps.