Instagram Baby





Instagram Baby

 

We were fond of Victor and Laura.

We didn’t even mind that they frequently posted about their lives on social media; after all, we had attended their wedding and, in a way, felt we were just as invested in the success of their marriage as they were.

Their persistent posting was how we became aware that Victor and Laura were trying—unsuccessfully—to conceive. Laura documented everything in excruciating detail, often posting directly from her doctor’s office.

We considered warning them about how much of their personal lives they posted online, but we relented. After all, what was a show without content?

When Laura vented her frustrations about their inability to have children, we felt her pain. When Victor tried to console her online (although they lived in the same house), we were touched by his love and support. Occasionally Laura would lash out at everyone—even Victor—and we wondered could their marriage survive the stress of it all.

So when Victor first posted that he and Laura were considering adopting, we were enthusiastic and supportive. We wanted a happy ending for them.

Then they became foster parents and it was like the Victor and Laura Show had gotten a brand new season. Pictures of a new baby appeared six months later. More pictures of Victor and Laura, the model family with Baby Travis, posted in batches of ten. We knew everything that could be known about a six-month-old baby.

“Fingers crossed that we can adopt Travis,” Laura posted several times each week, accompanied by another batch of pictures with Victor smiling while holding a soiled diaper above an open Diaper Genie.

They were happy with Travis, which is what made it so tragic when Travis’s mother cleaned up long enough to petition for a restoration of her parental rights.

“It’s not right!” Victor posted.

We all “liked” that post.

For a while after Victor and Laura lost Travis, they posted somber comments, reminiscing on every conceivable detail about Travis: his smell, his laugh, the sound of his snores.

We considered once again telling them to take their frustrations offline, to call us so we could properly console them.

“We’re all family,” they posted in response. And they continued posting.

After a while, things started to brighten a bit, and Laura posted that she and Victor were in talks with an adoption agency in Belize.

We “liked” that post, too.

Victor posted every conceivable detail, so by the time everything was approved and finalized and the two of them were on the plane headed to Belize, we were beside ourselves with joy for them.

As soon as the plane touched the runway in Belize, the social media posts rained in: pictures of the airport, the lush forests, the streets, the people. The pictures, in many ways, reminded us of their honeymoon pictures from Dominica. The difference here, though, was they would be returning with a new addition to their family.

Laura continued posting pictures even as they stood outside the adoption agency building. She sent a selfie of her cheesing with Victor looking on in the background, his eyes bright with expectation.

Then the posts stopped.

A day went by without any posts, and we all assumed that they were just overwhelmed with caring for a new life. Then another day passed.

Some of us posted messages of support on their page, asking them to check in and share the wonderful news about their new addition.

No response.

No response the next day either.

Finally Victor posted that he, Laura, and the baby were headed back to the States.

There were no posts for a week.

Then, out of nowhere, Laura posted one day, “Being a mother is a beautiful thing!”

And Victor posted, “I love my family!”

Gradually they resumed their posting, but this time the posts seemed generic—and none of the posts included pictures of the baby.

“Can we see the baby? Is it a boy or a girl?” some of us had asked.

An hour later, unusual by Victor and Laura’s standards, a post went up on Laura’s page in response to our inquiries: “Being a mother is a beautiful thing!”

Victor followed the comment with, “I love my family!”

This was the first sign to us that something wasn’t altogether right with our favorite couple, so we waited a week and tried again, and when Victor and Laura gave the same cryptic responses, word for word, we decided to communicate via a direct group message among ourselves.

“What’s going on with Victor and Laura?”

“They sound like robots? Maybe they were kidnapped in Belize and someone is pretending to be them.”

Once this comment was posted, the conspiracy gates really opened up.

“What if they went over there and couldn’t adopt, so they’re putting up a front?”

“Maybe there’s something wrong with the baby and they don’t want us to see it.”

“What if there is no baby and they are pretending to have a child?”

We didn’t know what to think, and while we continued to press at Victor and Laura as diplomatically as we could, we still couldn’t discern any responses to our questions.

Then one day, almost as if to stir the pot a bit, Victor posted a picture of Laura pushing a stroller at a park near their house. The baby was not visible, which did nothing to assuage our concerns.

There were selfies with a closed stroller. There were pictures of Victor covered in baby formula, as if putting together a bottle of milk was on par with baking a cake from scratch.

It wouldn’t have been so unusual, except for the fact we had known so much about Travis. This time we didn’t even know the sex of their baby, what the baby looked like, or even the baby’s name. They had shared their lives online, but it was clear they weren’t as open to sharing the life of their child in the same space.

We really should have let it go then, but we were far too invested in the Victor and Laura Show by then to turn away.

“At least let us host a baby shower for you,” we posted.

After a day with no response, Laura responded, “Sure. We’d love that.”

And that is how we all came to find ourselves in Victor and Laura’s ranch house, just off the cul-de-sac of their subdivision. A closed baby carriage sat in front of us as we stood patiently waiting for them to remove the baby for us to see.

“She’s sleeping,” Victor said, and we nodded patiently, our gifts lining the kitchen and the dining room.

While we stood about idly chatting, Laura worked the room taking pictures of us and posting them to her social media accounts. #VicandLauraBabyShower.

Finally, one of us sneezed loudly, the kind of sneeze that sounded as if one’s head was exploding into pieces and we all looked at the closed carriage, anticipating the wailing cry of a baby who was violently shaken from sleep.

There was dead silence. We looked at Victor and Laura. They shrugged.

Then one of us stated what we had all considered: “Is there a baby in there?”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, her face filling with incredulity.

“We haven’t heard a single sound or seen a single picture of a baby. We are your friends. It’s time to stop this charade. Just admit that you don’t have a baby. It’s all right. We are still your friends. You don’t have to pretend anymore.”

Victor’s voice rose in anger. “You don’t believe we have a child. After all we have done for you ungrateful sons of bitches? Why would you host this baby shower for us if you didn’t believe we had a baby? Are you making fun of us?”

We backpedaled. “We had no reason to believe anything other than what you told us until just now. No amount of screaming will wake up a baby that’s not there.”

Laura stepped in front of us, positioning her body between the carriage and us. “You want to see the baby?”

“Yes,” we responded.

“You really want to see our baby and put an end to this absurdity?”

Again, we responded, “Yes.”

“With the care of a seamstress sewing on a button, she lifted the opaque canopy of the stroller.

We stared in silence.

Victor spoke first. “She’s a ‘believe baby.’ You have to believe really hard and she will come to life. She only looks that way because you don’t believe in her. If you believe in her she will open her eyes.”

We stared at the emaciated remains of a child no larger than the forearm of a small woman.

“Don’t worry. She looks like that when she is around nonbelievers,” Laura said. “The agency said that she will come to life when you believe.”

We tried to talk, but found ourselves speechless.

Finally, one of us spoke up, “So you’re telling us that the baby was alive before we got here? And will be alive once we leave?”

They nodded in unison. “But if you believe, she will come alive for you, too. Just close your eyes and open your hearts.”

We looked at each other. And then at Victor and Laura.

Fighting through the horror of it all, we dared ourselves to believe in the baby. We wanted to still believe in Victor and Laura.

In the silence of our wishful thinking, our heads bowed and our eyes tightly closed, we waited.

What we heard next would be the subject of debate in our direct group chats for months afterwards. We all agreed that we had heard the faint sound of a baby’s gurgle and cooing, but we were divided as to whether the sounds came from the carriage just beyond our reach or the parents standing on either side of it.

 

Ran Walker

 

Ran Walker is a lawyer-turned-novelist. He is the author of sixteen books. His short stories have appeared in Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism, Whispers in the Night: Dark Dreams III, Parhelion Literary Magazine, Better Than Starbucks Literary Journal, and a variety of other anthologies and journals. He currently teaches creative writing at Hampton University in Virginia.

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