Author : Emily Stupar

“I know it’s not glamorous, baby. But someone’s got to fill out the paperwork, and you’ve got the best handwriting.”

Stephanie looks up at him from the couch, her face neutral. “I’ll do it, but you know what it’s gonna cost you.”

Gil nods. “Fine, fine, fine. I’ll feed the damn baby.”

He wanders into the kitchen and hits the switch for the flickering light. On top of the tiny refrigerator sits a tin overflowing with plastic clips, rubber bands, and empty lighters. Gil dumps the entire thing onto the counter top to find the patch he’s looking for.

A minute later he bounds back past Stephanie and down the apartment’s only hallway. He returns with an infant held triumphantly in the air. “How are you, baby boy? Ready for some lunch? You are!”

Through the feeding, cooing, playing, and eventual luring of the child to sleep, Stephanie remains impassive on the couch, dutifully completing the monthly Department of Emotional Services form.

Gil returns and collapses on the couch next to her, peeling the spent patch from his forearm. The color fades from his cheeks and the lopsided smile loses all its warmth, hanging dead and misplaced for a beat after the emotion dries up.

“Baby’s asleep.”

Stephanie responds with a grunt. Gil stares in silence at the wall until she plops the forms and pen down. “They’re done.”

“Great. What time did you say Rondo’s coming?”

“Half hour.”

An hour later there comes a knock on the door and Rondo lets himself in. He spreads his arms wide, practically bouncing around the room and speaking so fast his words blend together. “Hey GilSteph! SorrI’mlate I just had to, yaknow – Well I got somegoodstuff and I was droppinoff and then I remembered I promised! You gottatrythis, man!”

They sit still and pliable on the couch while he produces a pair of patches and slaps them onto their forearms. Stephanie vaults out of her seat.

“It’s cool, Rondo, don’t worry about it. Wow, I dunno the last time I had such good Happy stuff. Must be selling like crazy, huh?”

Gil wraps an arm around her waist. “Oh, of course, I bet it is. Wow, really great, we weren’t expecting anything good until after we get our papers in. Just let me know if you need me to take some off your hands.”

Rondo laughs and makes himself comfortable on the couch, running through a few non sequitur stories of clients and run-ins with the cops. The patches are just starting to wear off by the time he springs out the door: a miniature whirlwind leaving destruction and a terrifying silence in his wake.

Stephanie and Gil curl into each other on the couch as the replacement emotion drains slowly out of their systems. Tomorrow one of them will take the completed paperwork to the Department of Emotional Services and receive a new stockpile of the essentials: love, nurturing, anxiety, and, since the baby’s birthday is coming up, a bit of state-sanctioned excitement.

Drifting to sleep next to Stephanie, residual remnants of Gil’s fatherly instincts ghost through his veins. Outside the window, a cat yowls with a sound like a distressed infant and he fidgets but doesn’t wake.

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