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Authors: Bonnie Garmus

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Chapter 16

Labor

“Library?” Elizabeth asked Six-Thirty about five weeks later. “I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Mason later today and I’d like to return these books first. I’m thinking you might enjoy
Moby-Dick.
It’s a story about how humans continually underestimate other life-forms. At their peril.”

In addition to the receptive learning technique, Elizabeth had been reading aloud to him, long ago replacing simple children’s books with far weightier texts. “Reading aloud promotes brain development,” she’d told him, quoting a research study she’d read. “It also speeds vocabulary accumulation.” It seemed to be working because, according to her notebook, he now knew 391 words.

“You’re a very smart dog,” she’d told him just yesterday, and he longed to agree, but the truth was, he still didn’t understand what “smart” meant. The word seemed to have as many definitions as there were species, and yet humans—with the exception of Elizabeth—seemed to only recognize “smart” if and when it played by their own rules. “Dolphins are smart,” they’d say. “But cows aren’t.” This seemed partly based on the fact that cows didn’t do tricks. In Six-Thirty’s view that made cows smarter, not dumber. But again, what did he know?

Three hundred ninety-one words, according to Elizabeth. But really, only 390.

Worse, he’d just learned that English wasn’t the only human language. Elizabeth revealed that there were hundreds, maybe thousands of others, and that no human spoke them all. In fact, most people spoke only one—maybe two—unless they were something called Swiss and spoke eight. No wonder people didn’t understand animals. They could barely understand each other.

At least she realized he would not be able to draw. Drawing seemed to be the way young children preferred to communicate, and he admired their efforts even if their results fell short of the mark. Not a day went by when he didn’t witness little fingers earnestly pressing their chunky chalks into the sidewalk, their impossible houses and primitive stick figures filling the cement with a story no one understood but themselves.


“What a pretty picture!” he heard a mother say earlier that week as she looked down on her child’s ugly, violent scribble. Human parents, he’d noted, had a tendency to lie to their children.

“It’s a puppy,” her child said, her hands covered in chalk.

“And such a pretty puppy!” the mother rejoined.

“No,”
the child said, “it’s not pretty. The puppy’s dead. It got
killed
!” Which Six-Thirty, after a second, closer look, found disturbingly accurate.

“It is
not
a dead puppy,” the mother said sternly. “It is a
very
happy puppy, and it is
eating
a bowl of ice cream.” At which point the frustrated child flung the chalk across the grass and stomped off for the swings.

He retrieved it. A gift for the creature.


They walked the five blocks together, Elizabeth in a shirtdress that strained at her bump, striding as if going off to war. On her back was a bright red satchel stuffed with books; on his, bike
messenger panniers repurposed for all the extra books her satchel could not hold.

“I’m starving,” she said aloud as they walked, the air heavy with November. “I could eat a horse. I’ve been monitoring my urine, analyzing my hair proteins, and…”

This was true. She’d been tracking her urine’s glucose levels, noting the amino acid chain of her hair’s keratin, and analyzing her body’s temperature in their lab for the last two months. It wasn’t clear to Six-Thirty what any of it meant, but he was relieved to see her taking more interest in their creature—more scientific interest at least. Her only practical preparation had been the purchase of thick white cloth squares and several dangerous-looking pins. She’d also purchased three tiny outfits that looked like sacks.

“It sounds fairly straightforward,” she told him as they strode down the street. “I’ll experience prelabor, then labor. We’ve still got two weeks to go, Six-Thirty, but I think it’s good to think about these things now. The important thing to remember,” she said, “is that when the time comes, we stay calm.”

But Six-Thirty was not calm. Her water had broken several hours earlier. She hadn’t noticed because she’d expelled only a modest amount of moisture, but he’d noticed because he was a dog. The scent was unmistakable. As for her hunger pains, they weren’t hunger pains; they were prelabor contractions. As they neared the library’s front door, the creature decided to make things a bit clearer.

“Oh,” Elizabeth moaned, doubling over. “Oh my goddddd.”


Thirteen hours later, Dr. Mason held the infant up for an exhausted Elizabeth to see.

“That’s a big one,” he said, looking at the baby as if he’d just reeled in a catch. “Definitely a rower. Don’t quote me, but I think she’ll row port.” He looked down at Elizabeth. “Good job, Miss
Zott. And you did it all without anesthesia. I told you all that erging would come in handy. She’s got great lungs.” He peered at the baby’s tiny hands as if imagining future calluses. “You’ll both be with us for a few days. I’ll swing by your room tomorrow. In the meantime, rest.”

But worried about Six-Thirty, Elizabeth checked herself out the very next morning.

“Absolutely
not,
” the head nurse said. “Completely against protocol. Dr. Mason will have a fit.”

“Tell him I need to erg,” she said. “He’ll approve.”

“Erg?”
the nurse practically shouted as Elizabeth dialed for a cab. “What is
erg
?”


Thirty minutes later, Elizabeth walked up the driveway, the baby tucked snugly against her chest, her heart pounding with relief at the sight of Six-Thirty, panniers still on, sitting like a sentry at the front door.

Oh my god,
Six-Thirty panted,
oh my god oh my god you’re alive you’re alive oh my god I was so worried.

She bent down and showed him the bundle.

The creature was
—sniff—
a girl!

“It’s a girl,” Elizabeth told him, smiling.

Hello, Creature! It’s me! Six-Thirty! I’ve been worried sick!

“I’m so sorry,” she said, unlocking the door. “You must be starving. It’s”—she consulted her watch—“nine twenty-two. You haven’t eaten in more than twenty-four hours.”

Six-Thirty wagged his tail in excitement. Just as some families give their children names starting with the same letter (Agatha, Alfred) and others prefer the rhyme (Molly, Polly) his family went by the clock. He was named Six-Thirty to commemorate the exact time they’d become a family. And now he knew what the creature would be called.

Hello, Nine Twenty-Two!
he communicated.
Welcome to life on the outside! How was the trip? Please, come in, come in! I’ve got chalk!

As the three of them bustled through the door, a strange joy filled the air. For the first time since Calvin’s death, it felt as if they’d turned a corner.

Until ten minutes later when the creature started to cry and everything fell apart.

Chapter 17

Harriet Sloane

“What’s
wrong
?” Elizabeth begged for the millionth time. “Just TELL me!”

But the baby, who’d been crying nonstop for weeks, refused to be specific.

Even Six-Thirty was flummoxed.
But I told you about your father,
he communicated.
We talked about this.
But still the creature wailed.

Elizabeth paced the small bungalow at two a.m., bouncing the bundle up and down, her arms stiff like a rusted robot until she ran into a stack of books and almost tripped. “Dammit,” she cried, mashing the baby against her chest in a protective move. In her new-mother stupor, the floor had become a convenient dumping ground for everything: tiny socks, unsecured diaper pins, old banana peels, unread newspapers. “How can someone this small cause all this?” she cried. In response, the baby placed its tiny mouth against Elizabeth’s ear, took a deep breath, and roared back the answer.

“Please,” Elizabeth whispered, sinking into a chair. “Please, please, please
stop.
” She nestled her daughter in the crook of her arm, nudged the bottle’s nipple against her doll lips, and although she’d refused it five times before, the little thing latched on voraciously as if she knew her ignorant mother would get there in the end. Elizabeth held her breath as if the smallest intake of air
might cause the thing to go off again. The baby was a ticking time bomb. One false move and it was over.

Dr. Mason had warned her that infants were hard work, but this wasn’t work: it was indenture. The tiny tyrant was no less demanding than Nero; no less insane than King Ludwig. And the crying. It made her feel inadequate. Worse, it raised the possibility that her daughter might not like her. Already.

Elizabeth closed her eyes and saw her own mother, a cigarette stuck to her bottom lip, her ashes landing in the casserole Elizabeth had just taken out of the oven. Yes. Not liking one’s mother from the very start was entirely possible.

Beyond that, there was the repetitiveness—the feeding, the bathing, the changing, the calming, the wiping, the burping, the soothing, the pacing; in short, the volume. Many things were repetitive—erging, metronomes, fireworks—but all of those things usually ended within an hour. This could go on for years.

And when the baby slept,
which was never,
there was still more work to be done: laundry, bottle prep, sanitizing, meals—plus the constant rereading of Dr. Spock’s
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.
There was so much to do she couldn’t even make a to-do list because making a list was just one more thing to do. Plus, she still had all of her other work to do.

Hastings. She glanced in worry across the room at an untouched foot-high pile of notebooks and research papers, the larger stacks work from her colleagues. When she’d been in labor, she told Dr. Mason she didn’t want anesthesia. “It’s because I’m a scientist,” she’d lied. “I want to be fully conscious during the procedure.” But the real reason: she couldn’t afford it.

From below came a small sigh of contentment and Elizabeth looked down surprised to find her daughter asleep. She froze, not wanting to disturb the baby’s slumber. She studied the flushed face, the pouty lips, the slim blond eyebrows.

An hour went by, and with it, all circulation in her arm. She stared in wonder as the child moved her lips, as if trying to explain.

Two more hours went by.

Get up,
she told herself.
Move.
She leaned forward, gently propelling both of them out of the chair, then walked without a single misstep to the bedroom. She lay down, carefully placing the still-sleeping infant beside her. She closed her eyes. She exhaled. Then she slept heavily, dreamlessly, until the baby awoke.

Which, according to her clock, was approximately five minutes later.


“This a good time?” Dr. Boryweitz asked at seven a.m. as she opened the door. He tipped his head and moved past her, picking his way through the war zone to the sofa.

“No.”

“Well, but this isn’t really work,” he explained. “Just a quick question. Anyway, I wanted to drop by and see how it’s going. I heard you had the baby.” He took in her unwashed hair, her misbuttoned blouse, her still-swollen abdomen. He unlatched his briefcase and took out a wrapped gift. “Congratulations,” he said.

“You . . you got me a…gift?”

“Just a small thing.”

“Do you have children, Dr. Boryweitz?”

His eyes slid left. He didn’t reply.

She opened the box to find a plastic pacifier and a small stuffed rabbit. “Thank you,” she said, suddenly feeling glad he’d dropped by. He was the first adult she’d talked to in weeks. “Very thoughtful.”

“You’re very welcome,” he said clumsily. “I hope he—she—enjoys it.”

“She.”

She as in banshee,
Six-Thirty explained.

Boryweitz reached into his briefcase to pull out a sheaf of papers.

“I haven’t slept, Dr. Boryweitz,” Elizabeth apologized. “This really isn’t a good time.”

“Miss Zott,” Boryweitz pleaded, his eyes downcast. “I’ve got a meeting with Donatti in two hours.” He removed some bills from his wallet.
“Please.”

The sight of the cash made her hesitate. She hadn’t had any income for a month.

“Ten minutes,” she said, taking the cash. “The baby is only dozing.” But he needed a full hour. After he left, and surprised to find the baby still sleeping, she made her way to her lab, determined to work, but without meaning to, she slid to the floor as if it were a mattress, her head craning toward a textbook as if it were a pillow. In moments she was sound asleep.


Calvin was in her dream. He was reading a book on nuclear magnetic resonance. She was reading
Madame Bovary
aloud to Six-Thirty. She’d just finished telling Six-Thirty that fiction was problematic. People were always insisting they knew what it meant, even if the writer hadn’t meant that at all, and even if what they thought it meant had no actual meaning. “Bovary’s a great example,” she said. “Here, where Emma licks her fingers? Some believe it signifies carnal lust; others think she just really liked the chicken. As for what Flaubert actually meant? No one cares.”

At this point Calvin looked up from his book and said, “I don’t remember there being any chicken in
Madame Bovary.
” But before Elizabeth could reply, there came an insistent
tap tap tap tap tap tap,
like an industrious woodpecker, followed by a “Miss Zott?,” followed by more
tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-
ing, then another “Miss Zott?,” followed by a strange little hiccuppy wail, which made Calvin jump up and run out of the room.


“Miss
Zott,
” the voice said again. It was louder.

Elizabeth awoke to find a large gray-haired woman in a rayon dress and thick brown socks looming in her laboratory.

“It’s me, Miss Zott. Mrs. Sloane. I peeked in and saw you slumped on the floor. I knocked and knocked but you didn’t respond, so I pushed open the door. I wanted to make sure you’re all right.
Are
you all right? Maybe I should call a doctor.”

“S-Sloane.”

The woman bent down and studied Elizabeth’s face. “No, I think you’re all right. Your baby is crying. Shall I go get it? I’ll go get it.” She left, returning a moment later. “Oh, look at it,” she said, rocking the small bundle back and forth. “What’s the devil’s name?”

“Mad. M-Madeline,” Elizabeth said as she pushed off from the floor.

“Madeline,” Mrs. Sloane said. “A girl. Well that’s nice. I’ve been wanting to drop by. Ever since you brought your little Satan home, I’ve told myself,
Go by and check on her.
But you seem to have a constant stream of visitors. In fact, I saw one leave not long ago. I didn’t want to intrude.”

The woman held Madeline’s bottom up to her nose, took a deep sniff, then laid her on the table, and, swiping a clean diaper from the nearby drying rack, changed the writhing infant like a cowboy roping a calf. “I know it can’t be easy for you, Miss Zott, without Mr. Evans I mean. I’m very sorry for your loss, by the way. I know it’s a bit late to say so, but better late than never. Mr. Evans was a good man.”

“You knew…Calvin?” Elizabeth asked, still foggy. “H-How?”

“Miss Zott,” she said pointedly. “I’m your neighbor. Across the street? In the little blue house?”

“Oh, oh, yes, of course,” Elizabeth said, reddening, realizing she’d never spoken to Mrs. Sloane before. A few waves from the driveway; that had been it. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Sloane, of course I know you. Please forgive me—I’m tired. I must have fallen asleep on the floor. I can’t believe I did that; it’s a first.”

“Well, it won’t be the last,” Mrs. Sloane said, suddenly noticing
that the kitchen was not really a kitchen at all. She got up and holding Madeline in the crook of one arm like a football, gave herself a tour. “You’re a new mother and you’re all alone and you’re exhausted and you can barely think and—what the hell is
this
?” She pointed at a large silver object.

“A centrifuge,” Elizabeth said. “And no, I’m fine, really.” She attempted to sit up straight.

“No one’s fine with a newborn, Miss Zott. The little gremlin will suck the life right out of you. Look at you—you’ve got the death row look. Let me make you some coffee.” She started toward the stove but was stopped by the fume hood. “For the love of god,” she said, “what
the hell
happened to this kitchen?”

“I’ll make it,” Elizabeth said. As Mrs. Sloane watched, Elizabeth drifted to the stainless-steel counter, where she picked up a jug of distilled water and poured it into a flask, plugging the flask with a stopper outfitted with a tube wriggling from its top. Next, she clipped the flask onto one of two metal stands that stood between two Bunsen burners and struck a strange metal gadget that sparked like flint striking steel. A flame appeared; the water began to heat. Reaching up to a shelf, she grabbed a sack labeled “C
8
H
10
N
4
O
2
,” dumped some into a mortar, ground it with a pestle, overturned the resulting dirtlike substance onto a strange little scale, then dumped the scale’s contents into a 6- x 6-inch piece of cheesecloth and tied the small bundle off. Stuffing the cheesecloth into a larger beaker, she attached it to the second metal stand, clamping the tube coming out of the first flask into the large beaker’s bottom. As the water in the flask started to bubble, Mrs. Sloane, her jaw practically on the floor, watched as the water forced its way up the tube and into the beaker. Soon the smaller flask was almost empty and Elizabeth shut off the Bunsen burner. She stirred the contents of the beaker with a glass rod. Then the brown liquid did the strangest thing: it rose up like a poltergeist and returned to the original flask.

“Cream and sugar?” Elizabeth asked as she removed the stopper from the flask and started to pour.

“Mother of
god,
” Mrs. Sloane said as Elizabeth placed a cup of coffee in front of her. “Have you never heard of Folger’s?” But as soon as she took a sip she said no more. She’d never had coffee like this before. It was heaven. She could drink it all day.

“So how have you found it so far?” Mrs. Sloane asked. “Motherhood.”

Elizabeth swallowed hard.

“I see you’ve got the bible,” Mrs. Sloane said, noting Dr. Spock’s book on the table.

“I bought it for the title,” Elizabeth admitted. “
Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.
There seems to be so much nonsense about how one raises a baby—so much overcomplication.”

Mrs. Sloane studied Elizabeth’s face. A strange remark coming from a woman who just added twenty extra steps to making a cup of coffee. “Funny, isn’t it?” Mrs. Sloane said. “A man writes a book about things of which he has absolutely no firsthand knowledge—childbirth and its aftermath, I mean—and yet: boom. Bestseller. My suspicion? His wife wrote the whole thing, then put his name on it. A man’s name gives it more authority, don’t you think?”

“No,” Elizabeth said.

“Agreed.”

They both took another sip of coffee.

“Hello there, Six-Thirty,” she said, extending her free hand. He went to her.

“You know Six-Thirty?”

“Miss
Zott.
I live just there—across the street! I often see him out and about. By the way, there’s a leash law in effect—”

At the word “leash,” Madeline opened her tiny mouth and let loose a bloodcurdling cry.

“Oh Jesus Mary mother of god!” Mrs. Sloane swore as she leapt up, Madeline still in her arms. “That is
truly
hideous, child!” She looked into the small red face and bounced the bundle around
the laboratory, her voice raised above the noise. “Years ago, when I was a new mother, Mr. Sloane was away on business and a horrible man broke into the house and said if I didn’t give him all our money, he’d take the baby. I hadn’t slept or showered in four days, hadn’t combed my hair for at least a week, hadn’t sat down in I don’t know how long. So I said, ‘You want the baby? Here.’ ” She shifted Madeline to the other arm. “Never seen a grown man run so fast.” She glanced around the room uncertainly. “Do you have some fancy way of fixing a bottle too, or can I make it like normal?”

“I’ve got one ready,” Elizabeth said, retrieving a bottle from a small pan of warm water.

“Newborns are horrible,” Mrs. Sloane said, clutching at the fake pearls around her neck as Elizabeth took Madeline from her. “I thought you had some help; otherwise I would have come earlier. You’ve had so many, well, so many
men
dropping by at the oddest hours.” She cleared her throat.

“It’s work,” Elizabeth said as she coaxed Madeline to take the bottle.

“Whatever you want to call it,” Mrs. Sloane said.

“I’m a scientist,” Elizabeth said.

“I thought Mr. Evans was the scientist.”

“I’m one, too.”

“Of course, you are.” She clapped her hands together. “All right, then. I’ll get going. But now you know—whenever you need a spare pair of hands, I’m across the street.” She wrote her phone number in thick pencil directly on the kitchen wall just above the phone. “Mr. Sloane retired last year and he’s at home all the time now, so don’t think you’ll be interrupting anything because you won’t; in fact, you’ll be doing me a favor. Understood?” She bent down to retrieve something from her shopping bag. “I’ll just leave this here,” she said, removing a foil-wrapped casserole. “I’m not saying it’s good, but you need to eat.”

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