We taught our baby to be a maître d’. She’s trained in hospitality. She was born on a golf course. Emerged from the womb in a vest and bow tie, stood right up, and began to toddle around taking people’s gin and tonic orders. Our friends and family say, but how can you ascribe a profession to an infant child? And we tell them, she was made for this.
Nights, she walks the golf course grounds and discovers young lovers drinking rum and Cokes and tongue-kissing deeply. They leap when they see her, run off across the green, hoping to go unrecognized. She is young to be a manager, but the wait staff respect her. They do not begrudge her her status because they know, she loves to serve. She cannot imagine another life. She tells them she feels lucky to have found her calling so early. She feels blessed to be able to follow her passion. Find something you love, she says, and then it doesn’t feel like work. The wait staff shake their heads and marvel. The ponytailed girls are jealous. They feel adrift. If only they could find their mission like our girl has found hers. They’d have some meaning in life. They yearn for a vocation. They hope one day to discover their purpose, like unearthing a great golden urn buried centuries ago. It’s been there all along waiting to be discovered! You only have to dig in the right spot! Such rich treasures are available to anyone who cares to look.
Our girl’s a real pro. She makes all the large parties at brunch and on Mother’s Day feel like they’re the best table she’s ever had. That’s what she tells them, conspiratorially: You’re the best table I’ve had all day! They like that. They feel favored, shake their shoulders with pride. They make private jokes with our girl. They order more mimosas. They leave a bigger tip. Oh, our girl knows how to work it.
She is a baby, after all, which presents some occupational challenges. It is difficult, for instance, to reach the table top. But, like any resourceful self-starter, our girl sees challenges as opportunities. She stands at a distance from each table so all seated guests can see her. She has developed a powerful voice, much deeper than your average baby. Though all babies, if we are honest, are authoritative. Our girl greets and seats. She is the maître d’. She does not pour water or bring plates. She checks in on you halfway through the meal to ask, How is everything, as though she truly cares about your answer. When someone drops a fork or knife, she is quick to scoop it up; being so low to the ground she is at an advantage. She scans the room with her eagle eye, hunting for points of discomfort—an empty glass, sandwich crust finished on a plate—and rectifies the matter before the guest is aware. Everyone is a VIP to our girl.
Our girl almost didn’t exist at all. We hemmed and hawed about having kids. We waited and waited, always thinking we had time. And then we didn’t have any more time. We are older than the average bears to have a baby. But what a baby she is! We never could have expected. People ask, Where does she get it from? We have no idea! She’s all her own. Some divine touch.
One day our girl comes home exhausted. She shakes her angelic head and her fine curls catch in the generated breeze. Rough day? I ask. She says, Sometimes I just don’t know if it’s all worth it. Some days you give and give and people don’t seem to appreciate you at all. This alarms me. Our girl is usually a font of optimism. I don’t want to see her get cynical. She’s too young! Everyone has bad days at work, I tell her. Yeah, she says, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something more going on here. I suck in my breath. I look around for my spouse. You’re exceptional! I tell her. You’re not like everybody else. You’ll rise above. And you’ll pull the rest of us up with you. I’m sure of it. She sits heavily on the floor. I hope you’re right, she says.
In the next few weeks, though, something has changed. Our girl comes home listless. She stops going in early or coming home late. She’s punching the clock, she tells me. The novelty has worn off. None of it is rewarding anymore. Oh no! I cry. Don’t say that. You found your calling! You’re so lucky. My spouse comes in and sees our girl and drops the bags of groceries. I hear a glass crack and pickle juice begins to seep out across the floor boards. My spouse is devastated about our girl. We thought she was doing so well. We had congratulated ourselves and counted ourselves lucky. We got lucky, is what we told our amazed friends. Truly though, we both believed she was the result of our latent genius genes combining in force. But now! Our girl was crumbling.
Eff this! our girl cried. She threw her bow tie to the ground—one corner lay in the pickle juice—and stomped out the front door. Wait! my spouse and I called after her. But she toddled off into the dark.
What happened next I cannot be sure about because I was not with her, but I’ve heard from different sources that she went right down to the train tracks, hopped a CSX, and headed west. Classic, my spouse said. We were worried, of course we were worried, she’s a baby. But she has a good head on her shoulders, my spouse said. Give her some room. She’s young. She’ll find her way.
She tried a lot of different things. In California, there was a real market for motivational speaking and our girl fit the bill very well, being so young and driven. But it started to feel like a sham because she felt just as lost as the people she was preaching to. She worked at a bookstore where the people were good and she liked having so much new information at her fingertips every day, but she found herself in the same predicament as when she was a maître d’, feeling underappreciated and taken advantage of. I just don’t know what’s driving my decisions, our girl said aloud into the hazy, ambient-light night. I’ve got to determine my priorities, she told herself.
She went to a guru whose advice to her was to soften. The guru said, Think of life like a butterfly in your hand. Close your fist around that butterfly. Feel it flutter? Our girl closed her eyes. She made a loose fist. She shook it loosely. She felt the butterfly’s fragile wings. It tickles! she said. Life is like that butterfly, the guru told her. If you have a death grip on it, you’ll crush it. Ah, said our girl, I see. She toddled away. Shortly after that, she found a very nice couple. They had been sad for a few years because they could not have a baby. When they met our girl they were so surprised; she was just the baby they’d been looking for. She made them feel complete. The nice wife said, We always felt like something was missing, and since you’ve come into our lives, we don’t feel that way anymore. Our girl cooed. She told the nice wife she felt the same way, a few years later, when she learned to talk.
Elizabeth Bevilacqua received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in Slice magazine, Bodega, and Juked. She lives with her husband in Beacon, New York.