Glenn Carmichael
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TODAY I CHANGED A BABY - a short story by Glenn Carmichael
Today I changed a baby. I'd never done it before, see? I think I did quite well. See, I slept with this woman, and she's a single mother, and she sleeps on a cheap futon, and it's close to the ground, and it's hard as hell down there - you can feel the floorboards. So anyway I didn't get too good a sleep, and once I was awake I just had to get up.
Now this woman is a late sleeper - I know that - and she'd said normally baby wakes her up, and she gives him a bottle and then he'll crash out again till half nine or so.
Well I woke up at seven, and baby's awake, but he seems happy enough; he's a very good baby, he just lies there and smiles a lot (Sometimes I worry that he might have something wrong with him, y'know?). And so I'm looking at baby, and he's in a cot right next to the futon, right next to his sleeping mother, and I'm thinking, "Poor baby probably got a dirty nappy."
So I pick him up, take him into the living room, and I lay him on this plastic nappy changing mattress thing. And I get hold of a dry piece of cotton wool, thinking I'll take off his nappy and give his baby bot a wipe. And I take off his nappy and - wow - it's full of squidgy baby shit, and it smells and, "Oh my god I think I'm going to be sick." I mean I'm not always at my best first thing in the morning; and kind of normally I'd have to have a coffee before I do anything. A coffee, then a bowl of muesli, or something. But this is smelly kiddie crap for breakfast. And I don't know much about babies, and how best to remove nappies, or nothing like that, and all this kiddie crap comes as something of a very smelly surprise.
So I'm holding baby's legs in the air to stop all this kiddie kak going all over the place, and I'm holding the kacky nappy, and I've only got two hands, and it's all a bit much.
So anyway I manage to place this stinking nappy on the carpet without getting any crap on anything, but somehow I let go of one baby leg, and he sticks his heel on his bum and gets kacky kiddie crap all over the place. And I'm panicking a bit, and I think, "Oh dear - I'll have to get him into the bathroom."
So I picks him up and his head lolls backward, and I'm worrying about whiplash, and kiddie crap on my Levis, but somehow I get him into the bathroom and into the bath, and the enamel is cold this time of the morning, and nobody's put the immersion heater on, so I wash baby's bum and legs in cold water, worrying that he's going to be awful cold and start bawling; but this baby is as good as gold, and for all my apparent mishandling he seems quite content, in fact pleasantly spaced-out in a baby sort of way. He's watching the pattern the light makes through the thin, cotton, bathroom curtain.
So I wash all the shit away as best as I can, and I get baby dryish. And I manage to put a nappy on, assuming that the little pink and blue Teddies must go at the front on these disposable nappies, cos nobody's going to see them at the back. And I manage to fit it together quite good.
Then I go into the kitchen and get a bottle, which his mam had made up the night before, and I shove it in his mouth, and this he goes for in a big way.
But he can't hold his own bottle for too long. So I'm kneeling on the floor, baby on the nappy changing plastic mattress, and I realise this could become very uncomfortable, kneeling here holding the bottle in baby's mouth. So I pick him up and I sit on a chair and cradle him in my arm, the way people do with babies, and I give him back his bottle and he's quite content and everything, just sucking away.
But after looking at him a bit, sort of studying the wonderfulness of a baby, I get a bit bored, and I'm so happy it's all going so well I think I'll sing him a little song. But I've never had a baby, and I'm thirty-six years old, and it's been a long time since I sang nursery rhymes. So I sing him an old Velvet Underground song about heroin. I'm singing it all soft and lovely, and I get to the part in the song saying, "Cos it makes me feel like I'm a man, when I stick a spike into my vein". And baby stops sucking and he gives me a beaming, beautiful, contented baby-bliss sort of a smile. And I realise I've done good with changing and feeding baby.
Eventually he finishes his bottle, and I put him back in his cot, all clean and fed and happy, and his mam carries on sleeping till 9.30, and I sat down and wrote this story.