"-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"> Frigg | Spring/Summer 2023 | Lullyby | Minette Cummings
artwork for Minette Cummings's flash fiction Lullaby

Minette Cummings

I receive the call every three months on Monday at 9:00. Maybe another woman receives her call at 9:10. Maybe that woman stands in a high-rise apartment identical to mine with white carpets and a wall of window. Maybe she stares at her reflection in the glass while she holds the phone screen.

“Are you taking your folic acid?” the voice on my screen asks. The face is pixelated so I will have no chance of recognizing it.

“Of course,” I lie.

“Good.” The voice is high but firm. Female. I imagine wire glasses perched on a pert nose. I wonder who cares for the voice’s babies while she is calling me.

“Take time for alone time together,” the voice reminds me, probably from a memorized script. “It is time to prepare. I will check in soon.” I know that means in exactly three months.

I pick up the plastic baby the agency sent me and burp it while I think. Alone time is not together time. Alone time is alone time: these scripts could use editing. I have heard that the agency gets impatient. You receive five calls and no more. Then it is out of your hands. I have two more calls. Six more months to try.

When Park gets home, I serve him rice in his favorite white bowl. While he eats, I kneel to wash his feet, wiping gently between each toe with a warm cloth. He pats my head and reads from his screen. I keep my head down but crawl my finger up his thigh and wait. He stops patting, then stands and walks away.

I hear that when you come back from the agency, you cannot speak or cry, but you can use your arms, your hands, and your feet. You can rock the baby and change the baby’s diaper. You can put it in its crib, but you cannot sing it a song, then or ever.

The camera is on today. They think they hid it well, but I found the small hole under the air vent months ago. I lay the plastic baby down, humming, and change its clean diaper. I feed it water with a spoon. They like to see you practice. Later, I will put the baby in the stroller the agency gave us on our wedding day and take it out for a walk. I will ready the stroller where the camera can see my preparations.

“Park?” I call to him across our bed. He pretends to sleep, so I shake him. “Park! You know what they will do to me.” His eyes are open: I can see the white.

I never saw a mother who the agency collected, but Sarah has. Sarah says that mother smiled at her new baby, held it up in the air, and gave it a big belly kiss. Sarah says that baby looked nothing like its mother. I would pinch the baby that took away my tongue.

I am waiting when the woman from the agency calls again. "You are married. Why are you still not preparing for pregnancy?” In one jerky frame, I catch a line across a perfect forehead. I want to reassure her so it will disappear. “Make the time to have a baby," she says.

“We are trying,” I lie. “We want to very much.”

“You must try harder,” she says, “or we will help you.”

“Park,” I say that night while rubbing his feet. He sets down his screen. Once I saw a young boy’s face in the glass. “They called again. The fourth call.” He stands, looks down at me. I am thinner; I do not eat. I wonder if he notices. His elegant body sways over me.

“I just cannot,” he says. He walks into the body room, and the door closes behind him.

Every three hours, I change the plastic baby’s diaper. I call her Isabel, after my grandmother. The agency likes when you name them. Each day, I walk the baby in the stroller farther and farther, sometimes to the temple and back. I listen to the bells toll. I walk slowly. I am tired; I do not sleep. I would like to stop and sit, but then the baby cries. Sometimes I return to the apartment limping and sweaty, too late to feed the rice and wash the feet, but Park keeps his eyes on his screen and says nothing.

I put the baby in her crib and turn on the baby screen so I can watch her sleeping from my bedroom. Before I leave, I sing her favorite song. The aircon tonight blows cool, so I make sure to tuck the blanket around her belly, her tiny perfect toes. She smiles when I tickle her feet, but she is a good girl, a quiet girl. She never makes a sound.

Minette Cummings’s Comments

I’m interested in how the process of baby-making and child-rearing affects women. For many of the women I know, the experience of both can be lonely and terrifying, feelings that gave birth to this story.

Table of Contents

Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 61 | Spring/Summer 2023