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Honey-Baked Ham
by Derek White


I am married, but have no desire to have kids. Neither does my wife Jessica.

“So what’s the point?” asks Gretchen, my brother’s wife.

It was Easter Sunday and Gretchen was wearing Eddie Bauer sweats and guzzling bottled water like she was expecting a natural disaster. We were at their house in Foster City—a housing community built on landfill on what would have been San Francisco bay. My brother was supposed to be there but he had to ‘go take care of some things at the office for a few hours’. Most likely he was getting messed up at some bar. My mother was due any minute.

Even though my brother is six years younger than me, they already popped this baby out, adding to the pressure for me and Jessica and raising the general family get-together discomfort level even higher than it had to be.

“Cause we are in love,” I said, in answer to her original question.

Gretchen was putting dishes away in the dishwasher. “Like we’re not?”

“I’m not saying what you are, I’m just saying our love is not the kind that needs to be propagated. It’s going to stop with us.” I didn’t feel comfortable talking to Gretchen about this. It was pointless—she had her beliefs and I had mine. On top of it I could smell myself from having my arms squished down to my sides during the long transcontinental flight. I didn’t feel comfortable knowing that Gretchen and the baby might be able to smell me. It was potent enough that I could smell myself over the stench of the honey-baked ham in the oven. And something about that just didn’t seem kosher. Not that I’m Jewish or anything, but cooking a ham in honey just seems plain wrong. Even though none of us were really Christians either, we still went through this whole Easter thing. “Right Jessica?” I added. “Help me out here.”

Jessica was sitting quietly at the kitchen counter thumbing through a catalog. “It’s not that we don’t like kids, we’re just not in to the whole parenthood thing,” Jessica said as politely as she could.

Gretchen slammed the dishwasher shut. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

Jessica flinched momentarily, but regained and threw me her raised eyebrow look, which in this circumstance meant it was my responsibility to defend our territory. After all, she was only a relative in law.

“We’re not knocking it,” I said. “It’s just not for us. We’re both scientists. We see things differently.”

“And what, you think you’all are smarter?”

“Not smarter. We’re just trained to be conscious of the meaning behind instinct and urges.” I threw an “unfortunately” somewhere in there to appease Gretchen. “If you are going to study the whole evolutionary cycle you have to stand outside of it.”

Gretchen laughed a condescending grunt. “One day you’all will realize that there is more to life and quit living selfishly just for yourselves.” She ran the disposal even though it sounded like there was nothing down there—just this horrific metallic grinding noise. Gretchen knew it was empty, she was just running it for effect. It had the added effect of waking up the baby, who started crying from its crib smack in the middle of the living room.

That was my cue to throw in the towel. “Maybe one day. For now we’ll just live for ourselves, because as far as I’m concerned there would be no life at all without us to perceive it. On that note, I’m taking a shower.”

“Well, here. Since you’re going to take a shower, do you mind washing Celia?” Gretchen handed me the pink crying baby. What was I supposed to say? On top of it I was getting more displeased looks from Jessica who didn’t exactly look thrilled at the prospects of having to be alone with Gretchen. But the fact that I was doing this community service of bathing the baby somehow justified it.

I took the baby upstairs into the bathroom. The weird thing is that it stopped crying once I handled it. Not that I had any idea what I was doing—I had never done anything like this before. Everything in the bathroom was unfamiliar. The baby was fragile and pink and helpless and I had no control over it or anything else that was happening in this house.

I set the baby down on the bathmat while I shaved, careful not to step on it. Then I had to take a shit, which was a bit awkward. The baby just stared at me the whole time. I wondered if the baby would remember this when it was older.

Then came the shower part, which was where things started getting really weird. I had no idea what to do, so I winged it—I found a large stretched-out tube sock in the laundry hamper and stuffed the baby into it. See, Celia wasn’t a real baby, but was my brother and Gretchen’s projection of their deficiencies into a stuffed doll. And I was going along with it because I didn’t want to be the one to burst their bubble.

To be honest, I was kind of into it. It wasn’t every day that I had the opportunity to give a baby a shower. I lathered up the stuffed sock and rinsed it off. Then I hung it up on a hook and forgot about it while I washed myself from toe to head.

When I finished showering and emptied the sock out, there was all sorts of stuff like pieces of seaweed, peppercorns, cone-shaped sea shells, clumps of brown sugar and various spices—but there was no Celia. I started panicking, recreating in my mind all that I had done to the baby. I took the shower over again and washed myself in the same order, from toe to head. Then I turned the water off but still no Celia. I took the drain off and clawed around looking for the baby, but all I found was pulp and vegetable scraps from Gretchen’s Cuisinart. Her garbage disposal and the drain in the shower must have been somehow connected.

As you can imagine, I was pretty much freaking out at this point. I was afraid of leaving the warm steamy bathroom and facing the music, but maybe Gretchen had the baby this whole time and I was imagining all of this. Maybe my worrying was in vain. Besides, in my mind I didn’t do anything wrong. The baby had simply disappeared. It wasn’t pre-meditated or intentional.

I went out to the kitchen with one towel wrapped around my waist and another draped over my shoulders, trying my best to act normal. Looking around I saw no signs of Celia. The crib was empty. Gretchen was showing Jessica these baby shoelaces that her and my brother had brought from Tibet before they had the baby. It was their last gasp of freedom—their ‘world tour’ before they ‘settled down’. Jessica was acting interested even though we had already seen the shoelaces before. Last Thanksgiving we had to sit down for three hours straight and look at all the photos and souvenirs they brought back.

Gretchen and Jessica seemed to be getting along just fine now. Gretchen had lactation stains on her Eddie Bauer cotton shirt that made me nauseous, but Jessica didn’t seem to mind her proximity. Gretchen got up to get herself a smoothie and asked us if we wanted any. “I don’t know about you’all, but I can’t hold out til the ham. I have to eat for two.”

“No thanks,” I said, toweling off my hair. “But do you have any coffee.”

Gretchen squeezed a banana out of the peel and into the Cuisinart. “We got rid of our Mr. Coffee once we had Celia. The caffeine and the acid spoils my milk, you know.”

“Kevin can still drink it, can’t he? I mean, there’s no way it could have an effect on your milk if he had some, right?”

“He doesn’t out of respect for me. That wouldn’t be very nice of him to rub it in like that, would it?”

“I guess not, in your world.”

Gretchen cracked two eggs into the Cuisinart. “Where’s Celia?” She asked.

“I don’t know. I figured you had her.”

Gretchen threw the eggshells into the disposal along with the banana peel, and then turned the blender on so we couldn’t say anything for ten seconds. I looked at Jessica but she looked like she could care less.

“What do you mean?” asked Gretchen as it was spinning to a stop. She wasn’t nearly as worried about it as I thought she would be.

“I was washing her inside that tube sock thing, right?”


“And when I emptied it out, she just wasn’t there.”

Gretchen looked puzzled. I took them upstairs into the bathroom and showed them the empty sock and the shower and went through everything once more as it had happened. But Gretchen was busy straightening out the towels and wiping up the mess I had made. She was trying to act casual about, but I could tell she was pissed.

“I’m sorry,” I said. My towel was starting to slip so I readjusted it.

“It’s okay,” she said. “You couldn’t help it. I should’ve known not to trust you with her.”

I didn’t know what else to say at that point so I went to get dressed.

Jessica came with me. “What happened?” she whispered excitedly once the door to our guestroom was shut. The guestroom was decorated in a nauseating wicker motif.

“Nothing. I was telling the truth. I was taking a shower, the baby was in that stupid sock thing and next thing I know it disappeared. Probably down the drain or something. Just goes to show I’m not cut out for that shit.”

Jessica was laughing, bouncing up and down on bed. “What are we going to do?”

“Fuck if I know,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.” I pulled some underwear out of my suitcase and as luck would have it, there was Celia, tucked away in one of the panel pockets. Jessica was speechless, perhaps a bit disappointed. I held Celia up to my ear and could still hear a heartbeat. Then the front door opened downstairs and I heard the familiar voice of my mother.

I ran down the stairs cradling Celia. “Gretchen, I found her. And she’s still alive.” Jessica didn’t follow me but remained motionless, sitting on the edge of the bed with her hands tucked underneath her legs.

Gretchen was in the middle of giving my mother an obligatory hug. “Just put her down over there,” she said. “Your mother’s here.”

“We need to get her some milk,” I said. Instinct was taking over. I was swept up in doing the right thing.

“At this point it’s pointless,” Gretchen said.

My mother took the baby from my hands and started going “googly-gook” and puckering her lips up. “Hello son,” she addressed me, but was looking at the baby the whole time.

There was no milk in the refrigerator but I found some powdered baby formula in the cupboard. I found the bottle and was frantically trying to mix some.

“Look at Uncle Derek,” my mother said, trying to point Celia toward me, but the baby was looking all around at everything except me. Gretchen was more nervous now that my mother was handling the baby. “He’s trying to mix milk. Isn’t that funny?” said my mother, bouncing the baby up and down.

I was spilling half the milk I was so flustered and annoyed. And the smell of powdered milk on top of the honey-baked ham definitely wasn’t kosher. My mom said, “Derek, do you know about the Tibetan shoelaces. Gretchen, did you show Uncle Derek the shoelaces?”

“I don’t care about the bloody shoelaces,” I said throwing the spoon on the counter. This whole powdered-milk thing was disturbing me the more I thought about it. It was absurd to live in a world that resorted to this. “Just give her your tit, Gretchen. That’s what it really wants.”

And finally she did and the baby shut up. Not that it was ever crying out loud through the whole ordeal, but I could hear it.


About the Author

My writings have been recently published or are forthcoming in Cafe Irreal, Sendecki, Score, minima, Del Sol Review, Diagram, gestalten, Aught, Lost and Found Times, perspektive, xtant, Snow Monkey, 3 a.m. and CrossConnect.