The New Arrival
I stood in line at the grocery store with my mother, trying to ignore
Simon as he pawed through the carnival-bright offerings on the candy
rack. Suzette, the check-stand girl who sometimes babysat for us on
Friday nights, ran the items across the scanner.
"What great news, Mrs. Waverly," Suzette said. "You must be so excited!"
Simon finally settled on a chocolate bar and he held it up to our mom,
his eyes eager. Watching my older brother, his ten-year-old body twice
my size but his mind still years behind, I felt something between pity
My mother took the candy bar with one hand and absent-mindedly slid it
onto the belt. Her other hand held mine.
"I know," she responded. "We're thrilled! After trying for so long this
time, we'd begun to wonder. But now that we're into the second
trimester, the doctor has given us the all-clear."
When she smiled, I could feel the happiness running straight down her
arm and into my hand. My eyes darted up to look at her, turning away
from Simon, away from the candy.
"So, when is the new arrival due?" Suzette asked.
"Six months, in March."
My eyes narrowed and I felt a sick tightening across my gut as her hand
dropped away from mine and fluttered to her belly.
Simon was pretending to shoot passerbys with his fingers, oblivious to
the fact that our world was shifting, tilting out of our control. Only I
seemed to realize that change was bearing down on us once again.
On the drive home, I sat in silence as the buildings of our little town
presented themselves through the car window, one-by-one. By the time my
mom had signaled, turning off the highway and onto Thistledown Road,
Simon was asleep in the backseat. Smears of chocolate stained the
corners of his mouth.
I looked over at her then, launching my offensive. "What's the new
arrival?" I asked, all innocence.
She glanced at me, her face tightening behind her rose-lipped smile.
"Nothing to worry about, sweetie."
"I know what 'second trimester' means, mom."
Her eyebrows lifted. "Well, Jack," she said, her voice even. "Isn't that
The teachers always crow to my parents about how bright I
am--precocious, they say--and while I'm pretty sure my mom is proud that
I'm way smarter than all the other six-year-olds, I know that it makes
her uneasy, too.
Her hands readjusted on the wheel, settling at what dad calls "ten and
two." She squared her shoulders and put on a bright smile. "Okay. Your
dad and I were going to wait to tell the two of you, but I guess you've
found us out. You and Simon are going to have a new baby brother!"
I did not answer, instead turning to look out the window as Thistledown
Road sped by in a blur of green.
"It's nothing to be worried about," my mother repeated. "It's going to
But I knew better.
The softball fell from its high arc, lodging in my glove with a
Dad called out encouragement from across the yard, striding over with a
wide grin on his face. But the smile looked false to me, stretched and
"Great catch, buddy!"
I just shrugged.
Dad clapped his hand to my shoulder. "Come on, let's grab some shade and
have a talk, man to man."
I could see what was coming, but I let my dad lead me over to the bench
under the wide oak tree anyway. Simon was sitting there, sprawled in the
grass. I averted my gaze, scooting to the far end of the bench.
Dad flopped down next to me. A breeze lifted the leaves on the trees,
snatching a few of them away. I watched them skip across the yard,
crimson against the fading green.
"So, partner. Mom tells me that you're not sure how you feel about the
I wrinkled my nose and looked away.
"Look, Jack. I'm not going to sing you a song about how nothing's going
to change when your baby brother arrives. Of course things will change,
but that doesn't mean all those changes will be bad."
Simon had gone still across the bench and I watched as dad turned to him
now. "That's right, Simon," he said slowly. "Mom and I are having
another baby. You'll have a new brother."
Simon didn't move and he did not look at dad. Instead his eyes shot
straight to me. They were filled with an emotion that looked like fear.
But with Simon, you never knew.
Dad had once explained to me, gently, that Simon had experienced a
"set-back" not long after I was born. It wasn't as though Simon was
stupid, exactly. It was just that his ten-year-old body didn't seem to
house a ten-year-old mind. The kids at school called him retarded when
the teachers weren't around, but my parents hated that word. They
preferred to think of him as "slow." Dad would always say that "it was
just as though God had hit the reset button." The first time I heard
that, it made me smile, secretly and to myself.
God hadn't had a thing to do with it.
Now, though, Simon was looking at me with an expression on his face that
seemed so present, so aware. My eyes slid away. Sometimes, every once
in awhile, thinking about Simon made me feel a little bit guilty. But
only a little.
Dad's hand was resting on Simon's shoulder now. "This will be a great
chance for you two get a little closer," he said. "To shoulder some more
responsibility. Mom and I will be busy when the baby comes and we'll
need you guys to help us out around the house more, to look after one
another." Dad looked at me meaningfully. "Okay, Jack?"
I watched the wind blow the dead leaves away and did not respond.
My mother's belly had grown huge, bloated, as though she was sick. But
she didn't act sick. I watched her move around the house, humming as she
folded laundry, stirred soup, picked up my discarded toys without a
word. I began to feel that I was becoming invisible to her, that her
whole world had shrunk to the thing inside her stomach. I started
leaving my dirty clothes lying on the floor, refused to make my bed,
stopped flushing the toilet.
But my mother just smiled. "Oh, Jack," she would say.
Dad took me aside, gave me a talking to. But it didn't feel like his
heart was in it. I saw what was happening, saw my parents' attention
sliding away, shifting sideways. Simon didn't seem to mind, or perhaps
he didn't notice. Though I could tell that they no longer really saw him
anymore, it was all the same to poor, stupid Simon.
As time went on, I found myself watching my mother's stomach all the
time. Every once in awhile it would move--the thing inside her would
slither across her belly, like a snake in the water.
Christmas came and went, a holiday usually devoted to finding the best
and newest toys for me seemed now to revolve around big stretchy shirts
and pants for my mother, baby bibs and booties, rattles. Simon and I
both got books and sweaters. "Big kid presents," dad called them. But I
knew better. Simon just sat there in his new sweater, surrounded by torn
wrapping paper, watching me with that same, anxious look on his broad
At the end of February my mother had a big group of loud lady friends
over to the house. They laughed and ate cake and there were a lot of
presents, none of which were for me. A few weeks later, the final bomb
"Buddy," dad said. "The new arrival will be here soon. Mom and I need
for you and Simon to share the bigger room so that we can set up yours
for the baby."
I felt my heart drop right out of my chest and my breathing started to
come fast and shallow.
"Come on, little man. Hold it together now. This is going to be great.
You and Simon will be roommates, just like grownups. You'll be role
models for your baby brother."
I refused to listen to any of this. I heard only the roar of the blood
in my ears, only the sound of a vast energy inside me, whispering what I
Finally, in March, my parents rushed out of the house in the middle of
the night. I woke up to hushed, urgent voices, the phone ringing,
Suzette banging through the door as my parents swept out.
I pulled the covers over my head and ignored Suzette when she came in to
whisper what was happening. She sounded excited, happy.
Simon and I got to visit the baby in the hospital the next day. It was
red and pinched-looking, not like a human at all. Its face scrunched up
and smoothed out, over and over again. Its limbs flailed helplessly. It
looked like it couldn't see. My mother let Simon hold it, but I wouldn't
Once they brought the baby home, things got as bad as I had imagined
they would. It did nothing but cry and suck at my mother's breast.
Screaming all night, it kept my parents awake, and during the day they
moved through the house like zombies.
There were no more Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes for breakfast, no more
sandwiches with the crusts cut off in my lunch, no more catch in the
yard with dad. At night, in the room that we shared, I lay awake and
listened to Simon snore.
Spring turned to summer and, though I waited, no one suggested that I
join Little League. Trips to the park now involved my mother pushing the
baby in a stroller while I played alone on the swings. The only person
who took Simon and me for ice cream anymore was Suzette.
The baby was getting big enough now to be interesting. It strung sounds
together in nonsensical babble, made fists with its little hands,
followed you with its eyes. Everyone seemed to find it fascinating, but I
just thought it was creepy.
That night, I lay awake, waiting for everyone to fall asleep. Simon
stayed up late, too. He seemed nervous, uneasy. But I was patient. I
knew he couldn't watch me with those anxious eyes all night. And I was
right. Not long after midnight, I heard Simon's soft snores begin to
fill the room.
I slipped from beneath the covers and padded quietly out into the hall. I
would know the way to the baby's room blindfolded; after all, it had
once been my own.
The door was ajar and the bright green light on the baby monitor
illuminated the room. I walked softly, silently, across the thick new
carpet that my parents had put in when they'd prepared the room for the
new arrival. I pressed the button on the baby monitor and it blinked
away into darkness.
The baby lay on its back in the crib, its eyes closed behind thin,
veined lids. I considered it in silence for a moment, and then,
gingerly, I reached out and put my hand on its fragile chest. I
remembered how it had been the last time, when Jack had lain in the
crib, tiny and alone. I remembered what it had been like to be Simon,
once, so long ago, before I had traded for something better--something
newer and more loved.
Then I pressed down with my fingertips, but gently, not enough to hurt
The baby's eyes flew open. They were blue and gray, wide, frightened.
"Shhh," I murmured. "Shhh."
The baby's eyes blinked and I could feel a familiar current running
through my fingers now, something sinuous, hot, electric--something
alive. I felt my face flush. The baby opened its mouth to cry, but no
sound came out.
Then my knees began to tremble and, dimly, I saw the baby's body start
to buck in the crib. At that moment, sensation fled completely and
Jack's body fell to the carpet.
For a long moment, Jack lay still and unmoving. Then his eyes flew open
wide, unblinking and terrified, wild and uncomprehending. He screamed.
His shrieks were inarticulate, wordless things that beat against the
walls of the room. Jack squalled, his limbs flailed uselessly, suddenly
too big and strong and unfamiliar.
Footsteps pounded down the hallway and my mother pushed into the room.
She knelt. "Jack, Jack! What's wrong?"
Jack screamed louder.
Dad was there now, too, and Simon. Confusion, shouting. Dad looked down
into the crib and then at his wife and son on the floor. "The baby's
fine, Viv," he whispered, relief ringing clear in his voice.
In the crib, I looked up at the ceiling, ignoring the cries of the boy
on the ground.
It would be hard for my parents to deal with Jack's sudden change, his
descent into helplessness, especially after what had happened to Simon.
But the transfer was complete; I had done what was necessary. I lay
there in the darkness while chaos swirled around me. I thought about the
last few months, about how hard they had been, about how that was all
about to end.
I heard dad on the phone to the doctor, heard my mother crying as she
carried Jack's limp body out of the room. I lay quietly and thought of
the attention that would now be lavished on me, the attention that I
truly deserved. I considered the joys of the childhood that awaited,
joys that I would cherish even as I experienced them for the third time.
Finally, the chaos swirled away. Suzette arrived to watch Simon and I,
and my parents left for the hospital with Jack. Silence settled around
the house, and finally, as I knew he must, Simon crept into my room. He
shuffled to the crib, clutching its sides, and peered inside. His eyes
narrowed to slits as he stared at me.
I watched him struggle to grasp what had happened, his mind beginning to
transform suspicion into understanding. His hands tightened around the
crib's bars, massaging the wood. I read anger in his face
I looked up at my old body, traded away so long ago, and, for the first
time, I began to feel fear.