The baby still exists. Is existence the same thing as survival? One implies the stationary, the other the aggressive. Whatever. The baby exists, it survives, it uses the back yards, gardens, alleys, and abandoned lots of our neighborhood in Brooklyn. Many believe the baby is a ghost, but some claim to have got near it enough to pick it up. The baby has been known to bite. It has a full set of adult, sharp teeth. Photographs of both the baby and the bites have been proved spurious. And it looks like any other baby, perfect in its imperfection, so taking a picture of it wouldn’t really tell you a great deal. The eyes are blue, they cry real salt. It moves and it wants to go somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to want to belong to anyone or anything.
Maybe it’s playing a trick on us. You know those empty carriages you see on the sidewalk? Well, the baby likes to crawl into them and wail until a stranger comes along and trundles the baby to the police station. Of course, by the time the stranger has entered the precinct and has filled out the necessary forms the baby has vanished.
The baby is older than many grown ups. If it is alive and has been alive and seemingly ageless for so long, it must be a freak. But it has not been immobilized, pickled for display. It simply didn’t become something else, the way all babies are supposed to change into someone else.
It broke the law and stayed hungry and angry. That cost it a home and a name. What does it live on? When we leave food for the skeletal cats that cower beyond reach, under cars or behind gates, does it eat this? Does it pick through our garbage? Have the animals taken it in, nursed it until it sucked them dry?
Everyone has heard about the baby in Australia who was taken by the dingo. But maybe it was the baby who took the dingo. I’ve heard that the mother of the dingo baby is now hosting television programs about animals. Maybe she’s still trying to find her baby, her Azaria, a name mistakenly translated by the press as “sacrifice in the wilderness.” We have to stop relying on the mistaken assumption that babies are defenseless. Maybe some of them have a secret poison behind their eyes, like toads. If they can’t fight, maybe some of them can at least will themselves to die.
It’s inevitable but reprehensible that for some of us the baby has become a kind of vermin. There have been sightings of it crawling on the sides of buildings, clinging to brick and concrete. Crawling somewhere, always crawling. It doesn’t walk. Where does it go in rain and snow? We are an old neighborhood and can’t guarantee that every building is kept safe from the baby. We have deployed various poisons, but we don’t want to take responsibility for human casualties. We can’t promise that derelict buildings don’t exist where the baby can seek refuge.
Enter the baby at your own risk. It is like a condemned building. We also come to the issue of communicable diseases. “Every baby is a germ factory,” one anonymous source said.
Every once in a while a skeptical journalist or a coolheaded social worker materializes, looking for the baby. The baby must be traceable. Surely someone could not come into the world devoid of a record. Someone must have put it out, the way people will sometimes put a baby in a dumpster. We’d like to believe that it’s the records that get thrown out more often than babies.
I wait for the baby at my window, I wait for the baby to interrupt the construction men putting up the condominium next door, I wait for the baby to be caught and dissected by a kind doctor who says she couldn’t help it, the baby couldn’t be saved.
It might be there is more than one baby.
“The theory that there is always one of these running around is ludicrous,” said a man who wrote a book about the baby. He was being interviewed on TV. “These stories have been around for thirty, forty, fifty years.”
Mutant babies—perhaps nuclear devices were detonated in Brooklyn, or an expectant mother took a dip in the toxic-waste contaminated Newtown Creek.
I leave a carriage out for the baby, but someone else wheels it away. Damn.
The baby has been known to wear various masks and wait at the end of long hallways. The woman who recently closed her toy shop claimed that she was horrified to discover one of her dolls moving when she picked it up. It was the baby, a great master of disguise.
It could be that the baby is the reincarnation of Houdini, the Buddha, Christ, or the opposite of Christ. Our society’s spiritual decomposition has caused it be in a kind of a stasis. It cannot grow up to dazzle us or destroy us, so it stays in one form. To what—
warn us? It’s Hamlet as an infant, unable to pick up a sword. It’s Lear caught out in the storm, and each of us are the fools. Perhaps. Causes of its inability to grow and take its place as a useful citizen (hence someone who can be used, sacrificed if necessary) could include malnutrition, lead paint poisoning, genetic defects, the obsession with the celebrity culture, the failure of public agencies and officials, poor parenting skills, the language barriers that are not really barriers but mazes.
The baby is actually the last survivor of an aboriginal civilization buried under Brooklyn, a lost city of gold. This was so many millennia ago. The oracle of the civilization foresaw genocide and destruction. The people voted and the gods answered: the civilization was collapsed into this one mysterious being: an act of divine defiance. Something minor, but all the same impossible to remove.
There could be a reality-television show about the baby and our attempts to look for it. We could use a kind of special tracking device that the baby would ingest in the food we’d leave for bait. We could watch its mysterious progress on a radar screen. We could have people compete to see which one would find it first. There would be various methods—gluetraps, nets, Tasers, teargas. Part of the suspense would be debating whether the baby would be captured alive. Viewers would make online or hotline wagers. The prize would be one million dollars, but not the baby itself. The baby would have to be saved for season two. DNA tests could be conducted on the saliva traces on the food. Perhaps the DNA would link the baby to the royal families of Europe or some Hollywood royalty, or perhaps it would prove to be like the red rain of Kerala reported a few years back, proof of the theory that life came from an extraterrestrial source.
One thing’s for sure. Everyone wants a piece of the baby, but it’s a whole baby and cannot be cut in half. Because it really is a perfect baby. It is an organism that will not grow to reproduce, that will consume and consume but it is a baby and that is an innocent consumption, and you can’t really put it in the same category of ruthless consumption that the rest of us live by. Someone wanted to pass on their genetic material, but the baby thwarted that. It rewrote history. It has upset the balance. It has ruined so many potential franchises and has made so many women infertile and so many men incapable of achieving an erection.
Maybe this is why the baby is wanted in connection with a series of conspiracies. During the Cold War it was a Communist baby, now it’s an Al-Quaida baby. It could even be the urban-legend baby on the plane, the one that’s stuffed with smuggled cocaine.
Obviously, a movie about the baby is in the works. Open auditions have been held, but the casting director violated a union law involving the auditioning rules concerning children and the production has been halted by longwinded litigation. It’s just the latest setback. The movie has been so long in development that various actors, many of them bald and fat and dead, such as Marlon Brando and Orson Welles, have been associated with the project.
Many seemingly ordinary women have stepped forward to say, “The baby is mine, therefore the guilt and the suffering are mine also.” Not all of these women have proved to have female genitalia.
I hate the baby. The baby stinks, it stinks like shit and death. It was probably left out in the elements the way the ancients left the useless babies outside to die.
I love the baby. I am told to love helpless things; if I saw it on the subway platform I would dive down to rescue it. It has a full brain and maybe even more, unlike those babies born only with a brainstem who cry for a month and die. Just a brainstem—a medulla oblongata to control involuntary functions, but nothing to switch on motion or consciousness. Not this baby—it might have more than one brain.
No question: it fills something in our lives, even if we have our own children. We have to let our children go. Who doesn’t want something to tell him that he’ll live forever? They don’t give us what we want. They want us where they once were when they were babies: wheeled in the carriage, helpless, then put away for the night. I put the baby down for the night, it has been so often said. Put down can also mean euthanasia. Just last year many dogs were put down for carrying a rare virus. These are the elements of love, in some cases: knowing when to kill what you love.
The baby is rustling in the leaves somewhere, looking for a place to settle down for the night. Its favorite baby is the Lindbergh baby, whom it is convinced is still alive somewhere.
The baby has baptized itself in church, at night, unofficially. Limbo is a place for babies. Our neighborhood is one such Limbo.
There are times when I must surrender what I want to say, bite my tongue. I could call the police, but they have stopped answering calls related to the baby. Every day real babies are being flung out of windows, abused, kissed and adored, cooed over, photographed when they are still a cluster of cells.
Years pass by without mention of the baby. I’m so disgusted that I paid so much money to subscribe to that The Ghost Baby of Greenpoint electronic newsletter and it doesn’t even give updates anymore. For my part, I remain childless, a bachelor, someone who passes by the babies of the world and clears the subway stairs so that women with strollers can have the right of way.
Babies age you. I’ve noticed that. They strip the face from the skull and fold it many times, a sort of origami, until it is lined and creased sufficiently, and then they hand it back to you. It looks like a tortilla that’s been prepared by an incompetent chef. It doesn’t fit right. I’m babyless and I’ve stayed young, by comparison.
But occasionally a hand, maybe the baby’s, reaches out in the darkness, tells me my skin is soft. I’m called an infant as a term of affection, seduction. (The touch is real, but hearing the person say “baby” might be an auditory hallucination.) Then I feel that my own name fades away like the letters on those trick cups that lose words when you pour the hot liquid in.
But that’s a cop-out, because I haven’t told you my name. I haven’t even acknowledged your presence till now, but now that the pronoun’s out it sticks to everything.
The word you is like come being shot at you in the dark, when it’s your first night in the reformatory and this onslaught is your welcome, your initiation.
You are like the child being read to by someone you cannot see, who has crept into your room at night. But you scare me so. Maybe you are out there somewhere, reading these words. Somewhere distant, like a military outpost in Antarctica, watching the permafrost melt. Or maybe it is you have crept in to see me, to take what you want. I sit on my bed telling you this story, but you cannot see my mouth move, you cannot see what I look like. The bed feels heavier with you on it, but not so heavy. Maybe I underestimate the power and scope of your perception. You could be making faces at me in the dark because you see how scared and exhausted I look, or worse, you could be someone without a face, a kind of living blank page unless I picture an ideal reader with very specific, attractive features.
We are alone together regardless. You are utterly vulnerable, utterly silent, and yet you may harm me. I have told you about the baby and that is the best I can offer. I am no authority on the baby. Because it is not meant to resemble anyone living or dead. Because it is a baby, something utterly devoid of a personality and therefore easy to love. You may pick it up and infect it with whatever emotion you like—your emotion, not its, not mine. Do you have any questions? Probably not. Clearly, I cannot be with you for an instant without your knowing everything that I’m about. There’s money in the knife drawer and you can get a knife too, if that’s your wish. Just make it quick. If not, can we still be friends? For as much as I want you to be, you are definitely not the baby I had in mind.