Emma rolled over to face Lee and propped herself up slightly on the pillow. His facial expression was somehow sad and stern at the same time. “How long are we supposed to wait?” he asked resignedly.
“Ten minutes. First time is ten minutes. Second time is twelve minutes, and then five minutes and five minutes and five minutes till he falls asleep.”
They lay in the dark watching the monitor. The row of tiny red bulbs danced and glowed progressively brighter according to the pitch and volume of the baby’s cries. “Like a little rage-o-meter,” Emma thought, and she chuckled slightly.
“What?” Lee said wearily.
“Nothing,” Emma said. She rubbed the heel of her palm across her forehead. It felt a little greasy to the touch and she remembered she hadn’t washed her face before she’d passed out up here less than an hour ago. She hadn’t washed her face in a few days at least.
“He’s getting louder,” Lee said.
“I don’t think so,” said Emma.
“He’s so upset. I hate this. How can it be OK to just let him scream like that?”
“He has to learn to self-soothe,” Emma said, remembering what the book had said in the 10 Takeaways. “We’re setting up healthy sleep habits.”
Even though it was dark, she knew Lee rolled his eyes. She could feel it.
Lee got out of bed. “How long’s it been?” he asked. Emma checked the clock on the nightstand. “Four minutes,” she said. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere,” he said. “I don’t know.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, one foot on the floor, as if poised for action. “I don’t think my mother did this.”
“Mine did,” Emma said. “She said they let Tina cry herself out and it took two hours, and when they went in to check on her she had fallen asleep in a puddle of her own vomit.”
“That’s so fucked up,” Lee said, visibly annoyed. “We can’t just let him throw UP. He feels abandoned! Listen to that!” The cries were closer together than before but not substantively louder, at least not as far as Emma could tell.
“He’s just mad,” she said distractedly.
“I don’t blame him,” Lee said. “How do you know we’re not setting up, like, habits of parental distrust and hatred?”
Emma sat straight up in bed. “Jesus Christ, Lee. I don’t like listening to him scream any more than you do. You didn’t even read the book. You just rely on me to figure everything out and then you criticize me if you decide you don’t like it.”
“That’s not true,” Lee said.
“Well it feels true,” she retorted.
“I looked at the book, I mean I couldn’t write a REVIEW of it, or whatever, but I looked at it.”
“Oh yeah?” Emma said, peering at him in the dimness. “What’s it called?”
“I didn’t look at the title,” he said.
“’How to have a nervous breakdown in 10 minute intervals,’” he said, and Emma giggled, just a little, because he tried.
Over the monitor came a pointedly indignant wail.
“Emmaaaaaaa,” Lee said pleadingly, standing back up.
“3 more minutes,” she said, with a note of warning in her voice.
“Then you go in and comfort him by rubbing his back or something like that. But you only stay for a minute and you can’t pick him up.”
Lee knelt down and pressed his face into the quilt. “The guy who wrote this book is a masochist,” he complained in a muffled voice.
Emma repositioned herself so that her head was nearer to his, their foreheads touching. “You mean a sadist,” she said.
“I don’t like him,” Lee said.
“I know, sweetie.”
“I think we should call him and tell him his bullshit plan doesn’t work and he should give us our $14.95 back.”
“It was a gift,” she said simply.
Some time passed. Gradually they both realized the absence of noise coming from the monitor. Lee gingerly climbed back onto the bed, and they shifted delicately back into their former spots, as painstakingly as one might pick a lock. They lay there, staring alternately at the clock and then the monitor. They scarcely breathed, scarcely allowed themselves to adjust their bodies even a fraction of an inch. They just stared, out into the vastness of night, in the same direction.