I carried Nicholas through the kitchen cooing an off-key approximation of “Sweet Child of Mine” while Lindsay tried to lull him to sleep in the rocking chair. We both stopped after I came through the living room and we recognized we were both holding the same baby boy. It wasn’t the same child of course, his body in two places at once, but rather there had become two bodies, the sheer oddity that we were each holding a baby—ostensibly our own—didn’t set in for a beat, when we each looked at the Nicholas in our arms and then at the other and back again. We were bone tired. A few days home from the hospital, first-time parents keeping records of feedings and minutes slept, tracking dirty diapers, and doing our darnedest to distinguish between cries of fatigue and hunger and pain and fear and sorrow and what noises our sweet baby boy made for no reason but to hear his own voice. So it was that neither of us had the foggiest idea when Nicholas had duplicated. We were certain only that we had the two of him and when we laid the two screaming boys side by side in the crib (where neither had slept yet—Nicholas insisted on being held) we couldn’t tell any difference at all between them. Same eyes. Same nose. Same feet thrashing. The right one scooted down an inch, far enough to kick the bars of the crib just hard enough to knock the long-spoiled bottle of formula from where one of us had left it precariously perched on the railing. A third Nicholas appeared in that crib a day later, in one of those rare cases the first two were sleeping, one in the basinet, one in Lindsay’s arms. Then there was a fourth in my arms when I woke from dozing on the sofa two days later. There’s a way in which each appearance ought to have been more surprising, but by the time we found our sixth, we were past shocks or Googling explanations. It was after the seventh Nicholas arrived that I worried about logistics. Yes, there were the sheer tasks of calming the boys and feeding them and changing their diapers, but I wondered how we could be sure each boy was getting an equitable amount of food, or as much time in his mother’s arms. Might one Nicholas grow plump from too much milk while another withered away? Might we unwittingly spoil one at the expense of making another a sociopath for our inattention to his needs? I made the decision. I had them all lined up on their play mat, mostly screaming, and used a Sharpie to write a number one the bottom of one boy’s right foot, then the number two on another. I was just starting number four when Lindsay caught me. “What are you doing?” She tore the marker from me. I noticed the face of one of the Nicholases who hadn’t been crying contort in terror at the sound of the marker landing on the floor after Lindsay flung it, and the Nicholas to his right started crying in response to him. I knew Lindsay was upset with me, but she would have had to have yelled anyway to make herself heard over her sons. I told her about needing to know which Nicholas was which so we could treat them all equally and she demanded to know what kind of bureaucratic nonsense that was. Before I could answer she railed on that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with egalitarianism so much as fostering a sense of community and sharing and meeting each other’s unique needs, whatever they might be. She finished by telling me lower, voice steadier, in no uncertain terms, “My children won’t be numbers.” By the time we reached ten, I asked Lindsay at one point we’d need to think about getting rid of some of them. A poor choice of words, I’ll admit, but it’s not like I meant to throw them out on the street. There are people eager to adopt and didn’t we have to have a limit? “There aren’t limits to how much I’ll love my son,” Lindsay said. “I don’t care if there are a hundred of him.” I told her she was right. I tried to believe it, too, but things were hard once I was back at work. We discussed the balance of her quitting her job—that we needed her income, but then she wouldn’t make enough money to make up for daycare for what was then a brood of twelve. On the drive home from work, my third or fourth day back, it grew hard to breathe. I wondered if we’d broken some law by not reporting the extra children, by not filing for their Social Security numbers. If the kids were undocumented did that mean they’d have to stay a secret? There was the matter of health insurance. Maybe we could take just one Nicholas for each checkup and assume the rest, all things being equal, to be in the same state of health as him. But what about if he needed medicine? Could we get twelve children’s worth? When I got home, I found Lindsay had our boys lying in a circle on the area rug in the living room. They were all in onesies, all barefoot, the numbers barely visible on the three I’d marked. I was use to noise. A cacophony was the status quo, besides those precious few moments when they were all asleep. But that night, the boys all sang. It wasn’t the same note, a perfect unison, but rather some approximation of a chord. They were in harmony Lindsay sat cross-legged in the center, weeping quiet tears of joy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Georgia with his wife and son. He has published two hybrid chapbooks Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press. Additionally, his short work has been published with journals including The Normal School, Passages North, Barrelhouse, andHobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.