My sister wants a round crib for the baby. A round crib is better, she says.
Instead of elongating, the baby rounds out like a loaf of bread, tucked soundly in round
sheets, so sweet we want to eat her in this square room,
and what will it do to you, Betty-lou, having nowhere to back into or get stuck in,
nowhere to bump your head?
Our president says he is an optimist, if you look for something bad surely you will find it.
But we are a generation of square cribbed babies, each with that angular look
about us. Our eyes are drawn to lines like you might find on a city sidewalk
and if we are lucky to live in a safe neighborhood, we’ll take the baby for a stroll
down the block, but the truth of it is, we don’t like this open air, rather, seek
comfort in boundaries — the confines of a crib or a room or even our own
backyard. We know how to build a fence and we know how to mend one.
We paint it white with a loose brush. But a child who sleeps in a round crib works only
in clay and the occasional finger-paint — her media must be soluble.
We watch the news on a flat-screen TV which is mounted securely to the green walls of
our dining room so we know what’s going on in the world. My sister wants to
turn it off at the man walking through smoke with blood on his forearms but the
baby has hidden the remote and no one gets up.
The president says that our mission is clear and that we’ll continue our course and of
course the baby doesn’t understand any of this and throws a slice of bread to the
floor as if to say I’ve had enough — we’ve forgotten to cut off her crusts.
We try, we try—we think she will adjust and we compromise where we can, paint polka
dots on the flatness of her walls. We feed her three square meals a day, and when
rice cereal makes no impression, we move straight into solids — peas and corn roll
cleanly to the floor and the baby laughs, prefers cheerios to saltines.
Yes, we use round plates but we balance them with forks and knives, center them on a
placemat featuring the Seven Wonders of the World which can be easily wiped
clean with a yellow cloth. When we tell her not to put her fingers in the socket,
the baby stares at us blankly.
We will use a round-about way instead, pick her up and carry her to another room where
she will get lost in details, see the room not as a box but as one small part of a
winding ribbon lost in the movement of a foreign wind.
The girl lacks all perspective or is it orientation? In any case, these episodes become
Betty-lou can’t speak, can’t find her bearings and when we can bear her displacement no
longer, we try something else. We find for sale a dome house on the other side of
town and move in immediately.
At first, it works. The girl relaxes, will stretch out on a rug in the middle of a round room
and breathe without reserve.
And mostly we all fit nicely in this house with three thousand square feet and not one
corner to collect dust. And in a way, it keeps us moving. And in a way, we are
And if everything isn’t perfect, if the skylights leak when it rains hard and if the
television hangs awkwardly square in the middle of the wall and, damaged in the
move, blares one channel constantly and won’t turn off or down, it’s still better
than it was before and Betty-lou grows taller and though she still lacks the balance
to learn to ride her bike like the other kids on the block, she will now eat a
sandwich with crusts, and the promise of two oreos later.
And in the background echoing across and down our round ceilings, we hear the
president say that if he has made a mistake, he can’t think of what it might be.
In this round house, Betty-lou learns words and it’s like filling a pail with blueberries:
ball, wheel, milk, water, the bucket overflows and we eat it up.
Now that she can speak her preferences, Betty-lou spends most of her time in the bathtub
and we buy bubblebaths, balls that fizz and colored foam soaps, cups of all sizes
to measure and pour. We begin to think of Betty-lou as a future marine biologist,
take her on an outing to the beach,
but on the day that Betty-lou learns to swim, she becomes a fish. Not a fish as in a good
swimmer, but a fish as in an actual fish, with fins and gills and scales. She slips
from her mother’s arms, floats into deep water and away and we wipe our eyes,
unsure of what we know we’ve seen—Betty-lou transformed and one small fin
waved in our direction.
We leave the water, sit on the sand and listen as the waves pour in and know that Betty-
lou swims under them, back to where perhaps she should have been born, but
wasn’t, and what could we have done differently? The sun like an orange sinks
below the black flat line of the horizon and it’s dark and we mourn
as if we have a body, mourn as if her childhood were something tangible that we could
replay like the video tapes we watch and cannot believe the high and childish
sound of her voice. The movie ends.
We turn the volume down, and from the other room, we can hear the president say that
our path is clear but that the cost may be high. We look at each other. In a round
house, there are so many paths.
We pay the builders overtime not so much because we want the project finished quickly
but more because we want the strangers out of our house but the job they do
satisfies us so much that we invite them to stay.
They don’t understand why we need so many fish tanks but they accept that we do.
CHRISTINE HORTON lives about halfway between Detroit and Chicago in a city called Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has a degree in English, with an emphasis in creative writing from Kalamazoo College. She is the mother of 15-year-old Violet, and the manager of Water Street Coffee Joint. Her poetry has been published in Rhino. This is her first appearance in The Adirondack Review.