The baby sees black eyeliner circling dead eyes that teach skepticism, or something more sinister, a desire to detach from society. The buggy is covered in black satin. Goth Nanny likes to hang out by the cliffs, along the sharp stone edge, in view of the murderous sea. She communicates with the baby using a sign language of her own design, one heavy with menacing gestures. A smirk drags down the blood red corners of her mouth as she reads pavement-thick Ann Radcliffe novels. Later they will go to the graveyard, the only place where Goth Nanny smiles wide. In the meantime the baby sits up and shakes the nanny’s thermos of espresso, enjoying the sloshing sound it makes, and noticing (because this baby will be an audio engineer), the distinct difference between the crashing waves below and the secret splash inside the cold metal cylinder.
The baby lives with the awareness of impending flight. Early on this baby has learned that cuteness does not equal goodness. Fly away home, the nursery rhyme goes, introducing the baby to images of fire and missing children. Sometimes Ladybug Nanny arrives home in triumph, looking like a chubby red sportscar, carrying diapers and ice cream and Prosecco, but the baby is not fooled. This nanny was hired to stay, not leave, and there is no reason to praise her return. Fortunately the baby is an entrepreneur who uses everything life throws at her. “Fly Away Home” will launch the realty business that grows into a brokerage, then into a construction firm, and finally into a village of minimalist red buildings on stilts that address urban density while gently persuading people to fear flood over fire.
The baby is in love, just as the mother predicted, though the mother’s friends are horrified. Social workers are called in but disappear with a chilling consistency. Everyone admits that the spider silk layette is beautiful, and even the judgmental neighbor leaves her linens to be mended by Spider Nanny. How can you beat eight eyes?, the mother asks, determined to shame all those who dare criticize her. I hired a nanny who would help my girl for life, one who would show her how to handle men. The friends look around without speaking. Nobody knows who the baby’s father is. Nobody ever mentions him, not at birthdays, not even at the big graduation party, after the baby has completed her fancy fashion degree on a weaving scholarship.
The baby never wants for anything. Each arm of Octopus Nanny holds something different: a bottle, a hammer, a plush heart toy, a thermometer, an astrolabe, a pacifier, a cell phone, a baby. They spend half the day at the city aquarium, the rest on the teal loveseat. The parents feel unneeded, unwanted. Sometimes, in the dark, they wince at the sensation of tentacles kissing their skin while strong arms anchor them to the bed, forcing their union. Often the mother wakes, screaming, then runs to the nursery, where the baby is neither drowning nor suffocating. He sleeps the sleep of babies while Octopus Nanny lurks in the temperate nursery aquarium. Does she ever sleep? The mother struggles with jealousy and resentment until the day she realizes, while listening to Jacques Cousteau, that the octopus had no choice but to become a nanny. Motherhood would have killed her. The mother races to the nursery to apologize and finds the baby playing with eight different piles of toys, turning effortlessly from one to another, never losing his place. Someone has been teaching him to multitask, preparing him for his life as a construction manager and single dad.
The baby likes to gum Punk Nanny’s stiff lavender mohawk. The baby takes a biscuit and dips it into the mug of milky tea that seems always to be cradled in Punk Nanny’s right hand. She hangs from the chains on his black leather jacket. Punk Nanny is patient. His clients always speak early, in polite sentences, though he himself says little. It’s all in his smile, his mother explains, when she drops by with carnation bouquets and strawberry tarts. He was born to be a nanny, like all the men of our family. Punk Nanny’s mother flicks her wrist so that her many diamonds catch the sunlight. She is about to leave for the airport. She and the baby’s mother shake hands, smiling and nodding, but something unpleasant hovers between them. Is it competition? Distrust? Perhaps it is merely the yearning to stay with one’s own child, which neither woman is able to do. The baby senses something is wrong, but instead of crying, she rises on two sturdy legs and walks for the pure joy of it, refusing to choose a career path.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of The Blood Trail (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Find the Girl (Main Street Rag). Her stories have appeared in Longleaf Review, FlashBack Fiction, Gravel, Monkeybicycle and matchbook, among other places. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology, was longlisted in the Wigleaf Top 50, and was featured in The Best Small Fictions 2018. Currently living in Southern California with her family, she is a story editor for Paper Darts. Find her at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb Image: Woman in Profile under a Gothic Arch, Odilon Redon