Issues Winter 2020-21

Danielle Hirschhorn


The baby needs fresh air. That’s what some website or new mother book or random old lady in the supermarket had told her. The type of lady who would come up and rest her hand, with its swollen knuckles and crêpe skin, on the bellyband Angie had to stretch over the place her jeans used to zipper. Who would offer advice like: never let a cat around a newborn, or avoid strawberries to prevent unusual birthmarks. And she’s thinking, possibly, this fresh air thing. That after months of breathing fluid, to only gasp their first inhale of oxygen in the same building where people go to die, that babies need fresh air.

Which is why Angie, this morning, is packing a bag: diapers, wipes, burp cloths, a stuffed giraffe, and three pacifiers, even though the baby has never kept one in his mouth. She always feels like she has to anticipate, like she has to be prepared. That if she leaves the house without a binky, it will be the only thing which could have soothed him.

Right now, he is calm because the sun is up. He will spend all day following her with his eyes, watching her, except for the swiftly fleeting moments where he will finally sleep after she’s fed him. The old ladies had notes, too, about sleeping when the baby sleeps, how you need to be on a schedule together, but Angie can’t seem to accomplish it. She paces the apartment, starts chores she doesn’t finish. Time passes without her realizing it’s happening. And then the baby is awake again and he’s hungry, somehow, already hungry or wet or covered in his own filth, and she’s needed. She remembers saying this thing to girlfriends over drinks on a Thursday happy hour turned dinner, I just want someone to need me. Before she knew what that really meant.

Right now, he’s almost suspiciously quiet, sitting in his vibrating seat under the hanging lion and elephant. Angie can remember picking the jungle theme, not thinking at all about how it was unintentionally bringing the wild into her home. Maybe if she had gone with lambs or a garden, things would be different.

Which reminds her, the baby needs fresh air.

Angie fiddles with the buckles that the old ladies have no stories or advice on, for which her fingers still have no muscle memory for. He whimpers when she picks him up, her own child, but it’s for his own good. That way, his head doesn’t wind up flat, and so she can socialize him, and most importantly, that they can both breathe fresh air.

She’s a good mother, so she puts him in a wrap on her chest instead of in the fancy stroller her mother-in-law had bought for them. The baby’s breath is milky and humid against her collarbone; his mouth is bubbling and wet with the spit that is always on her skin—her neck and her breasts. She is so tired, but she needs to walk. They need to walk.

The hallway smells like someone else’s meatloaf with just a hint of ammonia. Angie tries to juggle the four keys to her front door as quickly as she can while holding the diaper bag and the weight of the baby slung across her chest. He’s meant to be kept warm, but not get overheated, and like everything else, it is this fine line that she doesn’t know if she’s walking appropriately. But they assure her, again, those busybody old ladies, that she’ll know, she’s a mother now, she’ll know exactly what to do.

In the elevator, when the door opens on her floor, is the woman who lives upstairs with the twin girls and the Pomeranian. Angie and her exchange the smiles and nods of people who realize they should be aware of their neighbors’ names but too much time and mailbox interactions have happened now for it to make sense to ask.

“How are the girls?” Angie asks, looking to see if the baby is flushed. If she’s accidentally suffocating him.

Her neighbor nods as though it’s a yes or no question. “They’re good. At a Girl Scouts meeting. How are you hanging in there?”

Angie feels her back tighten, as though this woman has picked up on something she thought she was hiding. “Fine. We’re both fine.”

“I remember those days.” She laughs. “And then those nights, phew.”

“It’s been fine,” Angie repeats again, this strange attempt at manifestation, right before the elevator dings its arrival in the lobby. She presses her arm against the baby, and it makes her wonder what she might do if she could actually put him back inside of herself. If he didn’t have to be a piece of her that, somehow, had become separate like a lost tooth.

“You can always knock on my door,” her neighbor says, but Angie is rushing from the elevator so quickly she barely hears her.

On the front steps, there’s the two old women with their walkers and their Jamaican home health aides, who, when they see the baby, ask if she had heartburn when she was pregnant, he has so much hair.

“It’s good you’re taking him out,” the one with bright coral lipstick the color of shrimp tails caked on her lips says.

“For the fresh air,” Angie says, feeling confident.

“Oh, that’s just an old wives’ tale,” the other with the bluish tint to her hair says, reaching with her liver-spotted hand toward the baby.

Angie steps back. “I’m sorry. We have to go.”

She makes it to the corner where a car is idling at the curb, spewing exhaust, when suddenly she feels her milk let down and both she and the baby start to cry.


Danielle Hirschhorn got her start writing on storybook paper in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently working as an Elementary Media Specialist while completing her thesis work through Columbia College Chicago. Hair Trigger contains her first publications.