Nothing to see here

Illustrations by James Mackenzie

There’s these two babies and they’re at this daycare in a high school, the topic of high school daycares being a political hot potato: the Coalition of Parents for the Loud and Persistent Advocacy of Divine Ethics and General Decency (CPLPADEGD) loudly and persistently protesting this facility (specifically, the value-eroding acceptance of “teens who can’t keep it in their pants”) while everyone else is just kind of okay with it. The compromise: opening the daycare to community babies born in wedlock, diversifying the clientele, sprinkling some legitimates in with the illegitimates. To, you know, right the ship.

So there’s these two babies and they’re playing across from one another — like, with blocks — on the alphabet mat. One is the baby of a tenured university professor (the grandbaby of another, older, tenured university professor). This baby will grow up to become a tenured university professor. At least this is the hope of its tenured university professor family. This baby wears a tweed beret and Tommy Hilfiger diapers, goes by the name of Aldrich. The other baby belongs to Stuart and Jessica, grade twelves who now sit in separate sections of the cafeteria (Jessica’s dad, an animator, storyboarded Stuart’s hypothetical medieval torture, and the two arrived at an “understanding”). There are no tenured university professors (that anyone knows of) in either Stuart’s or Jessica’s family. What runs in these families is flimsy contract work in the arts, apartments rather than houses, and, as a matter of fact, the cloth diapers on Stuart and Jessica’s baby, Bob.

It’s not so much that people assume these daycare babies are oblivious to each other’s family histories — the advantages afforded to some, the disadvantages imposed on others (the ones here on government subsidy, for example) — it’s more that people don’t give much thought to what these babies know or don’t know. But, yes, the odd parent or passerby who actually does give it a thought figures that all these babies know is that they’re in this colourful room with funny-smelling toys and the Big Window. The Big Window overlooks the adjoining high school’s atrium. Here the babies stand defecating in their respective diapers, mesmerized with fish-tank fascination, gawking at teenagers milling about in their natural habitat. It’s a showcase, the Big Window, providing the babies glimpses of their options for the future:

  • droopy-eyed boy with guitar, wooing pack of panty-flinging teachers;
  • muscly girl in dirt-skidded football jersey injecting own butt cheek with something performance-enhancing;
  • broad-shouldered member of Brass Knuckle Gang spontaneously pounding droopy-eyed guitar boy (with brass knuckles), dispersing pack of panty-flinging teachers; and
  • trendy group by vending machines comparing outfits (with intentional frays, transparent panels, unzipped slits, etc.), evaluating whose is most revealing and, therefore, most trendy.

The one baby, the future tenured university professor, Aldrich, sets his blocks down and looks around, checking for the facility caregiver, this gangly hump named Sewell who, at this moment, holds another baby by the ankles, yanking, trying to pop the kid’s head out from between railing spindles. Sewell’s alone. At fourteen babies, this daycare is thirty-six babies shy of the legal requirement to have a second caregiver on the premises. So poor Sewell’s always changing a diaper here, towelling vomit there, and seeing to it that all babies are busy, engaged, and not shovelling their own snot into their mouths — because if the drop-in evaluation lady drops in and finds even one baby unbusy, disengaged, or shovelling his/her own snot into his/her mouth, there will be a report, a report that goes in the file of the caregiver, this Sewell, who went to college for police foundations but banged up his knee taking down a rowdy clubgoer at his bouncing job and had to give up on his policing aspirations, to the disappointment of his constable father and sergeant grandfather (before they were gunned down under separate, uninteresting, not-at-all shocking circumstances). Having taken that De-escalating Unreasonably Hostile Civilians course, Sewell is particularly keen on talking down unreasonably hostile babies.

Aldrich notes that Sewell is sufficiently distracted — that kid got his head between those spindles good this time — and turns back to his playmate on the alphabet mat, Stuart and Jessica’s future sporadically employed photographer or graphic designer or whatever, Bob, and says, “You.”

Bob’s pudgy baby hands set a triangle block atop a wobbly stack of rectangle blocks. “Hey,” Aldrich says. “Shaky future. I said look at me.”

Bob releases the triangle block, pudgy baby hands standing by to catch a potential topple. He wishes he could speak. He’d say, Hilfiger. Kind of concentrating here. Instead, what comes out is some cute little baby nonsense. “Ba-ba ba.”

Aldrich kicks out a leg, his sock stained green from the puréed roughage they had for lunch, and obliterates Bob’s tower. Blocks bounce across the alphabet mat.

Yo, Bob would have said if he could speak. “Ba-ba ba!” is what he says, stunned, looking a lot like his dad whenever a member of the Brass Knuckle Gang spontaneously slams him (Stuart) into a locker to reinforce the group’s hallway dominance. Bob cries. The messy, outcurled bottom lip kind — like the doctor just stuck him with his twelve-month shot for rubella or tuberculosis. It doesn’t call any attention, though, since at any given time six or seven babies are crying about one thing or another. Then Bob looks at Aldrich and sees what’s up: a handgun in Aldrich’s pudgy baby clutches, pointed straight at Bob. Bob shields his face, like, Man, point that shit someplace else.

“You think you’re pretty special, don’t you?” Aldrich says, raising his mousy baby voice.

Bob wipes his tears and motions to the mess of blocks on the mat: What are you talking about? I was minding my own business building a tower. But actually, “Ba-ba ba!”

Illustrations by James Mackenzie

“You’re going to be building a tower with the angels if I don’t like where this goes,” Aldrich says.

Bob wants to push back on the bit about angels (i.e., the religion, their differing belief systems, etc.). He gets the message, though. He sits and listens, but this burns him because it’s so obvious that Aldrich is acting out because he doesn’t get hugged enough at home (hugging being the first thing to go when the parents get tenure). Okay, you got your audience, jerk. Perform.

“I never liked you,” Aldrich says, lowering and raising the barrel as if scanning for the best place to put one in Bob. “I see how those dipshits in the Big Window look at you. They’re all, ‘Look at him, look how high he got the tower today.’”

Bob raises his hands because it seems like the thing to do at gunpoint.

“I can stack a tower too. Why don’t they ever look at me?” Aldrich says. “What do you got that I don’t?”

Bob thinks, Lower levels of insecurity? Less entitlement? “Ba-ba ba!”

Sewell’s got the diaper cream and he’s slicking up the neck of that baby stuck between the spindles.

“Well, today I’m going to do something about you, special baby,” Aldrich says, mousy baby voice getting unmousy — gruff, even. And loud. “Today they’re going to look at me!”

Illustrations by James Mackenzie

Babies around the room hear this. They turn and look. There’s a situation. Breaking news is breaking. Half of them shit their diapers in disbelief. The other half shit so recently that they’ve got no shit left to shit their diapers in disbelief. Bottom line is they’re all in disbelief. Even the one with his head between the spindles — he stops screaming and watches Aldrich, amazed. Then Sewell sees.

“Sweet Judas Priest,” he says, dropping the between-the-spindles baby (who thuds on the linoleum) and hobbling over to the alphabet mat on that bum knee of his.

Aldrich turns the gun on Sewell and says, “One more step and you’re all going to eat lead for snack time.”

“Fair enough,” Sewell says, running a hand through his hair, his astonishment at the situation confusing that old bouncer urge to employ an intervening tackle/drop kick with his usual keenness for de-escalating unreasonably hostile babies.

“That’s right, friend,” Aldrich says to Sewell. “Didn’t see this coming, did you?”

Sewell shakes his head and slides his phone out of his pocket. “You mind?”

“Man, whatever you need to do.” Aldrich puts the gun back on Bob. “I swear to God, though, you try to talk me down with that de-escalation nonsense and I’ll put one in your shin.”

Sewell turns his phone landscape, hits record, and takes video of the scene at the block station, imagining how furiously this very phone will buzz with congratulatory texts and social media mentions when the evening news broadcasts his footage, when he’s at the centre of a viral Internet sensation. Sewell’s day has finally come, Sewell thinks. Sewell will be famous. Maybe wealthy. Maybe enough to get out of this job, away from the distrusting glares of parents (like, yeah, all males who work with children must be pedophiles, right?).

By now, high-school kids line the Big Window, watching the spectacle. Soon the door’s propped open and heads are poking in to listen.

“What do you say we give these people what they’re looking for?” Aldrich says to Bob, acknowledging the crowd with a humble-looking nod.

Murmurs from the heads poking in the door:

  • Did you hear that?
  • He can talk!
  • OMG, he’s so cute!
  • What a blessed day for a miracle.

Muscly girl in dirt-skidded football jersey lights up when Aldrich’s eyes meet hers. She goes fangirl, waving erratically at the amazing talking baby.

Sewell bobbles his phone. He waves the onlookers away, like, nothing to see here.

Do it, Bob thinks. But I tell you what, you better not miss or I’ll be over there in a second ramming that goddamned thing down your throat. “Ba-ba ba!”

“God, you sound like a fucking moron,” Aldrich says. “Ba-ba ba!”

Babies around the room (and the heads poking in the door) giggle at the spot-on impression.

“Boys, let’s de-escalate,” Sewell says half-heartedly (for the sake of the video?), repositioning his fingers on his phone, steadying his shot, antsy about that forthcoming Internet fame.

Aldrich turns and puts one in Sewell’s shin and down goes Sewell, spewing shin blood, his phone bouncing off the alphabet mat, snagged by this other baby, Vince, son of a Brass Knuckle Gang lieutenant. Vince stops shovelling his own snot into his mouth, ends the video recording, taps the icon for Glacier Torch, and starts playing, using up Sewell’s Glacier Torch credits, liquefying those glaciers, drowning those bony cartoon polar bears.

Aldrich, gun back on Bob, pudgy baby hand trembling, wipes Sewell’s shin-blood splatter from his chubby baby cheeks. “Now your turn, you attention-hogging moron who can’t even talk!” he says, lip quivering.

Murmur from a head poking in the door: “Oh, snap.”

Bob: You speak in full sentences at thirteen months and you’re hung up on my block towers? Do what you want, but it looks like you’re the one with the attention now. “Ba-ba ba!”

“You just don’t get it. I speak in full sentences? So what? Babies are getting smarter. It’s called evolution? The shock will wear off: one day it’ll just be this thing that happens — talking babies everywhere — and no one will think twice, no one will give a shit. But somehow people always give a shit about moron babies building block towers.”

Sewell dead-leg army-crawls over to Vince, whose snotty face is alight with glee at the silly fwwwwp sounds of polar bears slipping underwater to die. Sewell snatches his phone out of Vince’s hand and Vince’s eyebrows angle down hard — like, super-annoyed. Vincereaches back with his snot-covered hand, pulls a gun out of the rear of his diaper, and fires one through the top of Sewell’s head, disposing of Sewell like the de-escalating pest he is.

“God, that guy was annoying,” Vince says, which draws additional murmurs from the heads poking in the door:

  • That one can talk too!
  • OMG, he’s as cute as the other one!
  • What a blessed day for a miracle.

Vince shoots them a look, like: Settle down, people. Babies are getting smarter. It’s called evolution?

“All right, I’m going to shoot you now,” Aldrich says to Bob.

Bob, sick of all the on-the-nose dialogue, pulls his own gun out of the back of his diaper. He shoots Aldrich. Aldrich shoots Bob. Vince shoots Aldrich. Vince shoots Bob. Aldrich shoots Vince. Bob shoots Vince. The three-way crossfire stirs up a cloud out of which witnesses hear expletives, some of which sound like Bob. His first expletives.

From the door:

  • You know, it’s less special that they all talk.
  • Yeah, I’m totally desensitizing.
  • Let’s get back to the hallway.

When the door closes and the literal dust settles, Aldrich, Bob and Vince reholster their guns in the back of their diapers, taking stock: each of them riddled with bullet wounds in non-fatal locations. With that settled, Vince goes back to torching glaciers and drowning polar bears on Sewell’s phone — in peace. Bob regathers blocks from around the alphabet mat, sifting through shell casings to do so. As for Aldrich, he really feels like he’s made some new friends, friends of varying sensibilities and socio-economic backgrounds (which is the trendy thing to have these days). He helps Bob sift through shell casings for blocks in the nooks and crannies around Sewell’s stiffening corpse, and the two of them build a tower together.

All the other armed babies go on shitting their diapers, shovelling snot into their mouths, and gawking out the Big Window, where muscly girl in dirt-skidded football jersey makes out with broad-shouldered member of Brass Knuckle Gang — maybe they’ll keep it in their pants, maybe they won’t. As for that poor little guy with his head stuck between railing spindles: his only hope now is that the drop-in evaluation lady happens to drop in this afternoon. Otherwise, what a shock it will be for his parents to find him like this.

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