I should have known something was off by the puzzled looks on the police officers’ faces as my wife recounted everything that had happened. It was a couple months ago and I just pulled in from a long day at the office. Tania had a full glass of wine in her hand, and the officers had notepads out. Our baby girl had been kidnapped right out from under us.
I took a seat next to Tania and tried to comfort her as she started again from the beginning, for my sake. She was vacuuming in the living room in the afternoon and heard the sound of the front door slamming shut. She said the door wasn’t locked; it’s such a nice neighborhood, who would think to lock the doors? She went to check and saw a car peeling out of our driveway, the passenger holding something bundled up in blankets. Startled, she rushed upstairs and found the crib empty.
“So, let me get this straight,” one of the officers started, not able to conceal the incredulity in his voice. “Someone pulled into your driveway, walked through your front door, went straight to the crib room, and took your baby and left?”
“While I was vacuuming, yes,” Tania said.
I suddenly felt a little uncomfortable sitting next to her. Still, I knew she would never do something like that. This, I tacitly implied to the officers as I recounted that we had seen a strange car around our house several times before. They would idle out by the street, only to drive away as soon as we approached the windows.
“And that wasn’t enough to make you lock your doors?” the same officer asked.
“Who could imagine something like this happening?” she replied.
“Someone very deranged, I’m sure.”
With that last insinuating observation, the police departed. Though I was a little ruffled, I could tell by the look on Tania’s face that she was suffering from the loss. Only because enough time has passed, can I even relate this in any sensible way. At the time I was devastated. I immediately took off vacation time, and Isabelle’s empty room weighed heavily in my heart every time I passed the door.
But I soon learned that the whole incident was absolutely crushing Tania. She kept Bella’s baby monitor by her nightstand table, but I knew not where the other one was now. Isabelle was only six months old. Tania complained about being handicapped by pregnancy, but after our daughter was born, she seemed happy to have a new role to take on. It helped that being a stay-at-home mom was completely compatible with her line of work.
She says what she does is freelance writing. I guess she writes articles and stories for online journals, and has a small following on Twitter. Though she didn’t complain at the time, I knew this was the other big struggle for her. She was often so exhausted from Bella that she hadn’t had time to write like she used to. I thought this would have given her so much to write about, but instead she became obsessed with what had happened — obsessed to the point where she started having auditory hallucinations.
I remember the first time it happened. I was reading A Tell-Tale Heart in bed as she started dozing off, only to shoot upright in bed with a distant look on her face.
“Bella?” she cried, staring at the baby monitor. “Bella’s back. Do you hear her? She’s crying!”
I heard nothing. Tania shot out of bed and ran to her room, only to come trudging slowly back to bed. She would take the monitor into her hands and cradle it as though it were our baby.
“How is she still crying if she’s not here?” she asked me.
I was at a loss for words. Being still crushed by what had happened, I was ill-equipped to comfort her out of this. I figured everyone has their own ways of dealing with tragedy. So I let her hang onto her fantasy for as long as it would play out. Unfortunately, her hallucinations were here to stay, and even became a nightly thing.
I urged her to write her feelings out in her articles, but she wouldn’t budge. Eventually, I got the idea that if I found some stuff she had been writing before we lost Isabelle, I could scrape together enough to send it out for her. But what I found there in her most recent file made me feel sick instead of hopeful. The little bit of fire I was rekindling in me went ice cold. I cannot remember the content verbatim, but the majority of it was short enough to be burned into my memory. It read:
It is a bestial thing if you think about it. Procreation. Or, more accurately, the impulse to procreate. I wish I had thought about it. If I had, I would have asked myself, “Why?” I am not writing against those with children; don’t get me wrong. If you love children, then more power to you. Rather, I am against the common mode of thinking that leads people to see procreation as an inevitable part of human existence. Because it absolutely is not.
It may even be the opposite. Procreation may be the death of the hosts. Procreation may be the sacrifice of those who engage in it. Like me, for instance. As my readers do know, I have not produced anything worthwhile for weeks now. Do you know why? Because there is a little human being that needs my goddamn attention every minute of the day.
It may have ended there, or it may have gone on longer, but that was where I stopped reading. I couldn’t stomach another word. If I had read those words by some random chance, I would never have been able to guess that they had come from the Tania I know and love. I even tried convincing myself for a while that she had copied and pasted them from somewhere on the internet. Hopefully she was plagiarizing the notions. But Google searches yielded no matches. It had to be her.
My vacation was ending soon and I was far from feeling refreshed. The nights continued to be torn open by the tormented agitation of Tania. All she could do was fidget in bed and mutter things about the baby crying in the monitor. I tried throwing the baby monitor away several times, but Tania always had it clasped back in her hands as soon as I was gone, cradling it like it was Bella. Though it tormented her, she could not part with it.
“She just keeps crying,” she would say, over and over. “Where is she? Why won’t she stop crying?”
Finally it got to the point where I figured psychiatric help was needed. However, we were never able to make it in to any sessions. The whole thing broke open long before that could happen.
It was one in the morning on the night before I was to go back to work. I tried taking a handful of Benedryl to try and knock myself out for the night. Still, Tania found some way even to break through that analgesic shell.
Her voice sounded like it was coming from miles away, getting closer and closer like the call of a train. Finally, my eyes opened and she was standing straight up on the bad, her hair flowing wildly around her face as she stared straight down at me. She was towering up towards the ceiling, a black mass in the night.
“She deserved it!” she yelled. “Christ, it shouldn’t be this hard if she deserved what was coming to her because she did it all on purpose, I swear to God she did it all on purpose!”
I tried calming her down, but she was unresponsive to anything I was saying. She was mesmerized by the thoughts that had taken control of her, all the while she kept her hands clasped to her ears. I could only guess this was to drown out the crying she heard forever coming from the baby monitor.
“She would lay down and go to sleep and the second a thought would come into my head and my fingers would hit the keyboard, she would wake up and start crying and crying until I got up and walked over to her crib! And as soon as I walked over and reached down to pick her up and rock her back to sleep, she would just stop. And smile,” she added in a snarling voice. “She would just smile, as if to say in her little undeveloped words, ‘I got you, you rotting bitch. I got you and there’s nothing you can do because you have sacrificed yourself for me and this is the end for you. Why do you even try hitting those old keys with your old fingers. Why do you even try?’ That’s what she said to me with that little, sinister smile!”
She lost it completely. I knew there was no way around it, I had to call the police; not to take her into custody, but to take her to an insane asylum or a nut-house, or whatever it is that they call those places now. She lunged off the bed and sprinted into Bella’s old room and yelled down into the empty crib until the police arrived. It was all the same stuff as before, but she just kept repeating it, as if she was saying it to the non-existent baby.
“Fine!” she yelled. The same officers from before were following me up the stairs when she came out, throwing her hands up in the air. “Fine! You caught me. I knew you would hear the crying too!”
The officers looked at each other, then to me. I could offer them nothing by way of an explanation.
“Stop playing stupid, you hear her crying from the backyard. The whole neighborhood hears her crying all night! Fine, I did kill her! I did bury her back there, but she never shut up. Just get her to shut up, please!”
She held her bony wrists out to the officers. They were both still incredulous, but one laid his hands on the cuffs at his belt.
“Yes, I killed her! She is in the backyard, just make her stop. Please. Just make her stop crying. I can’t stand the crying anymore.”
I ran down the stairs and flipped the porch lights on. There in the middle of the backyard was a spot of dirt, a deeper brown than the rest of the dirt in the yard. And there, just beside the mound of earth, was the other baby monitor.