By Sophie Titcomb
My bones know before I do. How to dip, there at the hip, there at the knee: bob, sway, bob, sway until his purpled eyelids, delicate as petals, droop closed. How to bend just so at the elbow, pillowing his lolling head and propping doughy legs as they kick through a bleary-eyed breakfast.
My lips know before I do. They seek his marshmallow cheek; search for neatly rowed toes; scout out the tip of an achingly tiny nose, perfectly curved, like a ski slope or a quarterpipe. I prize open furiously clenched fists to plant kisses on his pudgy palms, not knowing why, thoroughly unable to help myself.
My heart knows before I do. It lurches when he cries, catapults me from sofa to basket-side with whiplash-inducing speed. It aches when I put him down, remembering how it felt to be kept company by the rapid patter of a tiny new life. It swells with every kind word; they’re right, it tells me, he’s perfect, perfect, perfect.
My mother knows before I do. She says, it’s fierce, isn’t it? This love. Like nothing you’ve ever felt before. I say, yes. And I think, oh. So that’s what it is — so unconscious, so self-sacrificial, so vicious I barely recognised it. Not the kind of love I’m used to; soft and mindful, made of words and choices and gestures. This love could bite and snarl, could shatter diamonds, would kill me to keep him safe.
The baby is wriggling in his father’s arms, eyes squeezed shut. He screws up his face and paws at his cheeks, writhing as though sucking on an unexpectedly sour sweet. I turn the tap, and as I shush cool water into a glass I say, he’s tired. My husband looks up: maybe. Do you think?
But I don’t think, not anymore. My bones, my heart, and I — we know.