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Sometimes it take cries in the night to interrupt a long held silence.

Nobody said it would be easy. She just didn’t expect it’d be this hard. The clock ticks the hours, the minutes, the seconds, and with each passing minute of daylight, she sighs deeply and braces for the screams.

Her husband’s arrival carries with it simultaneous relief and anguish for she knows he, too, fears the minutes, the hours, the untold time that will pass tonight, and the screams that will ensue.

She smiles at her child and looks into his big blue eyes, hoping for some kind of psychic connection, but it’s too late. The screams have begun. The routine is set, and now she and her husband will take turns holding their bundle of joy, the one who screams at ghosts they cannot see, whose eyes are focused on objects in a faraway distance, and whose body stiffens and contracts and with each passing breath seems to release an ever louder scream than the last time.

And then there is silence.

A golden hour that lasts sixty to ninety seconds until the creak of the hardwood floors echoes too loudly and a sigh of relief proves to be an unwelcome interlude. Let the screams begin. One minute. Two minutes. There, there now. Shhh.

And breathe.

“Forget waterboarding,” the woman tells her husband while swaying to imaginary music. It’s now 9pm, and the three hours of stop-start crying just might end soon. But it’s more likely that it’ll continue for another three hours. Or more. Her swaddled child watches the bedroom fan with rapt attention. “Send those terrorist prisoners a recording of this night – of all of these nights – and I assure you, they’ll confess all their secrets.”

“Nah,” her husband replies. “Hasn’t worked for me. I still keep a few secrets from you.” He smiles as he kisses her on the forehead, then takes his turn to change his crying son’s diaper, regardless of whether or not it’s dirty. It’s all part of the routine.

“Oh really,” she teases, settling into the nursery room glider. “But perhaps it’s only because you know there’s an end, and I’ll offer relief from the torture. Prisoners would have no relief, but you can take a break downstairs.” Suddenly she remembers the bowl of ice cream sitting in the kitchen. It’s likely melted by now, a delicious dessert for the cat to enjoy.

He yawns and looks at his wife kindly, the sound of their baby’s cries serve as background music to their evening together. “You should get some sleep; I’ll take this shift.”

She stretches her arms and considers the idea, but smiles back. “That’s OK, I’m comfy right here. You can keep me company sharing your secrets.” Confessions are easiest in the dark. Even the Catholic Church knows that.

“Ah yes, I’m sure you would like that wouldn’t you.” He demonstrates the recommended “S” techniques like a pro. “Shhhh….” He begins, then sways back and forth. When there is no end to this round of crying, he gently lays the baby down beside a receiving blanket, folds the corners deftly, and then with the baby’s arms tucked close to his body, he swaddles the blanket around him, then cradles the crying cocoon in his arms.

“How do you do that?” she asks softly. The glow of the moon casts a soft light on the man and his baby.

“Do what? Swaddle?” he asks. He’s now holding his son in the “football hold,” a move that scares his wife since its name is far too accurate. Then again, she was never very athletic.

“No, the patience… thing.” She signs and looks up at the dark ceiling. “You’re able to keep your cool, even when the screams are their loudest. For me, that football hold would be too tempting.” She looks out the window.

“Shhh.. don’t say that,” he whispers. The baby is catching his breath as his dad’s rhythmic dance seems to be working.

“What?” she looks at him, her voice raised a bit. “I’m just confessing. Like those prisoners. You can’t say you haven’t felt it too.”

“No, not really,” he says. After a long pause he adds, “You’re home with him all day; I understand.”

“I suppose,” she sighs. “But the truth is, during the day, he’s so sweet, it’s only at night that the crying starts.”

“Yes, when I get home. I know.”

“And yet it doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course it bothers me,” he looks at her with crinkled brow. “What makes you think it doesn’t?”

“Oh, I dunno,” she shrugs. “Maybe I’m just jealous. You’re the better parent, I can tell already.”

“Hush,” he looks at her. “Please stop saying things like that. You’re an awesome mom.” The baby’s cries begin again, coupled with a twist of his neck into his father’s shoulder. “In fact, he needs you more than he needs me.”

He hands the child to his wife and squats before the glider to watch as she positions the baby to her breast to feed.

“Ah yes,” she smiles, “Of course, I’ve got the upper hand. I’ve got the milk.”

“Hey now, don’t knock it. That’s a gift,” he stands up and walks to the changing table, readjusting items, checking the moisture of the wipes, adding more diapers to the tall stacks.

“I know, I know,” she sighs. “I probably take this parenting thing for granted. But you don’t. And that’s what makes you the better parent.”

“There’s a reason for that,” he says softly.

“Hmm?” She holds her baby in a seated position, his eyes closed, a satisfied smile between his chubby cheeks. She taps his back lightly waiting for a burp.

“I said, there’s a reason I don’t take this for granted.”

She looks up. Her husband is standing above her, looking down with anguish in his eyes.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Confession time?” he asks. Despite the lack of screams, he suddenly seems coerced into sharing.

“Sure,” she replies. “I’m listening.”

The man takes the burp cloth from his wife’s hand and places it on his right shoulder, picks the baby up by his armpits. Resting his son against his shoulder and patting firmly, he turns away and says, “He’s not my first.”

“What do you mean?” she asks. The baby burps, ushering in a new round of crying.

His voice is irritated now. “I mean, he’s not. My. First. I had a girlfriend. When I was 18. She got pregnant. We agreed we were too young to – ”

“You never told me this –”

“I know. I’m telling you now,” he shakes his head and turns away, speaking louder to muffle the baby’s cries. “Anyway, it was a long, long time ago. We were kids. I was heading off to college, and she wanted us to go our separate ways. No strings attached.” He’s swaying and shushing, and offering his son a look at the moon outside the window.

“So did she keep the baby? Or put it up for adoption? Or did she have an abortion…. What?”

“I have no idea.” He looks at his son avoiding eye contact with his wife.

“No idea?! How can you not know what happened to your own child?” Now she’s the one raising her voice.

“I didn’t want to know, OK? I know, I was selfish. I was 18 for cripe’s sake. It was a different chapter in my life. We went our separate ways, and that’s that.” He’s shushing his son with effort, and she sees his eyes glisten in the moonlight. The baby quiets a bit, catching his breath and closing his eyes between sighs.

She stands up and softens her voice, as she pets her baby’s hair and rests her head on her husband’s firm shoulder. “It’s OK. I understand,” she whispers. “But if you wanted to know, it’d be easy to find her… there’s Facebook and Google, and…”

“I’ve tried all that.”

“You have? When?”

“It doesn’t matter. I had no luck finding her. She had the good fortune of being named “Smith” if you can believe it.” He chuckles quietly.

His wife isn’t sure what to believe.

“Anyway, I tried to find her, and when it didn’t pan out, I decided, case closed. It’s in the past, and it should stay there. Nobody knew besides me and her, and --”

“But you could have a teenager out there – your own flesh and blood,” she cries in a loud whisper.

Her husband’s eyes widen , and he glances to the child in his arms, a reminder that they must match his volume when talking.

She takes a deep breath and quietly asks, “Don’t you want to know him – or her? And what about your parents? They could have another grandchild out there!”

The baby shudders with a sigh, and his head limps to one side. He startles himself awake, and for a moment looks through his parents eyes, then closes his own eyes into a peaceful sleep.

“I’ve got my own flesh and blood right here,” he whispers and tiptoes carefully toward the crib.

She knows better than to disturb this moment, the quiet seconds when the endless routine of rocking, swaying and shushing pay off, and their son will sleep in his crib for hours at a time. But first, he must be placed on his mattress just so.

The man achieves the task with quiet ease and slowly, quietly, they creep to the master bedroom.

“It’s late,” he tells his wife before she can start further conversation. “We can talk more about it in the morning.” He kisses her on the forehead, her cue to let it lie, and so she quietly goes about the bedtime routine beside him, and together they climb into bed, kiss each other good-night, and, without saying a word, fall asleep.

The baby’s cry wakens the new mother as light streams in through the window. Time for the morning feeding. She moves in a half-awake state and picks up her child in a hypnotic trance – a routine she’s now familiar with. As the baby latches on, then suckles, she looks at him and smiles and considers further sleep. She closes her eyes and nods her head, catching herself when she hears a sound at the doorway. She turns to see her husband standing there, smiling.

“Oh, you scared me,” she whispers.

“Shh...” he walks toward her and kneels before the glider. “I like to watch you feed him. It’s beautiful.”

She switches her baby to the other breast. “Yes, but honey, about last night – ”

He puts a finger to her lips and looks directly into her eyes. “Shh… please. It’s morning now. Let’s leave the confessions in the dark, OK?”

Light is streaming into the room, and she looks at her husband, takes a deep breath, then nods.

“OK,” she says, knowing that another round of screams will likely take place this evening. “OK, fine.”

Her husband breathes a sigh of relief and smiles. He makes brief eye contact with his wife, then looks down. “Just look at him,” he says. “Isn’t he perfect?”

And together they admire their firstborn child.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright 2013 Diana Shallard, USA. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this StoriesSpace submission with others, but make sure "Diana Shallard" gets the credit, K? Thx!

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