The postman finally dropped off the baby tree my parents ordered. They said they bought it years ago, and had almost forgotten about it until it arrived on the doorstep in a miniature pink pot. The tiny sapling was about the size of my pinky finger and periwinkle in color with a tightly-closed, white bud crowning it. My parents cradled the thing, cooing as if it was already a living baby instead of a simple plant.
“We ordered this baby tree specially, Anna. It’s one of the most expensive ones out there, next to your model, of course. Honey, will you go ready the planter?” My mother cradled the pot, and my father ran off to get the planter.
The Babymaster v2.0 was a thing of immense, frightening beauty. It was four feet tall and four feet wide, large enough that the baby tree could expand its roots and its height with ease. It was made of thick glass panels and had a blinding chlorophyll light at the top, designed to mimic the sun’s natural light and trick the tree into growing. It looked like a miniature greenhouse with a special kind of potting soil piled at the bottom. My father brushed the dust off of the model carefully, making sure that the glass was clear and sparkling before he returned to my mother’s side.
He put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and helped her take the sapling out of the pot and plant it in the soil. The blue twig seemed to shiver with delight when the light was turned on. I looked at the glowing faces of my parents and scowled down at the stick. They hadn’t told me anything about wanting another child, or that they had placed an order for another tree.
“How long will that thing take to grow?” The tree was stretching imperceptibly before my eyes, growing millimeters taller with every minute.
“Only nine months of course. It’ll gain inches every day, Anna! Isn’t that wonderful?” I didn’t meet my mother’s hopeful eyes, instead I watched my father click the glass door shut and set the lock to open at the nine-month mark.
I scowled down at the perfect little stick again and walked away from the glowing figures of my parents. I could hear them cooing and sighing over the twig, and I looked back at them. They both stretched their hands out, placing them over the warm glass of the cube.
I watched the tree closely as it grew, counting the tiny protrusions of new branches and observing one tiny shoot beneath the bud form itself into an intricate wooden hammock. I looked at the adorning bud often, waiting for its tightly bound petals to unfurl and reveal the secret life within. I wondered what the blossom would smell like when it opened and if the mystery stench of it would seep through the glass, giving the house the smell of expectation and giddiness.
As the weeks wore into months, the bud grew fuller and fuller, waiting for the right moment to burst open and reveal the final secret. I was impatient for the day the bud would open, bored of looking at the sickly blue of the tree and of the starkness of its naked limbs. My parents, however, never seemed to tire of looking at the tree, sighing and brushing their fingertips against the glass as they walked past.
The tree rose to a height of three and a half feet before the single bud that adorned it finally opened. It took a week before the tiny flower started growing a tiny baby.
Now it’s nearly finished, and my parents have started to ready the extra bedroom in preparation for the baby. I watch its unmoving fingers and toes through the glass. Its fat body is cradled in the little wooden hammock, just waiting for the door to open and to be picked, squalling, from the tree. I look at the baby like I looked at the closed bud, fascinated by the daily changes within the prism. I watch all of the fingers and toes develop, watch the chest finally heave with a heartbeat from a newly grown heart. I watch all of these things and more, but there is something that I haven’t seen. I haven’t seen the baby open its mouth or kick its feet. I haven’t seen it open its eyes or clench its tiny fists. Growing babies are supposed to do that. They’re supposed to wiggle and get comfortable in their warm cocoons. I know that something is wrong with this baby; I should have known earlier by the sickly blue color the tree turned as it was growing.
I haven’t told my parents yet. I don’t want to crush their spirits by telling them that they only have a look-and-see baby and not a real, living one. Look-and-see babies happen sometimes, but they are usually hushed up by the families and forgotten about. Look-and-see babies are alive, but they never wake up. They slumber peacefully on, taking nutrients from the tree. Their brains don’t develop properly; just a bunch of empty space.
I know that our baby is like that, but I can’t bear to tell my parents. I wonder about the day when my parents will hear the lock click open, what they will do when the baby does not perk at the sound of the glass door opening; when they run their fingers along the soft, pure skin of the arms and legs before they carefully pluck the baby out of the hammock, and they only feel the resistance of fattened flesh and the empty peacefulness of the simple movements of blood from baby to tree. Perhaps then they will know that their baby is never going to be anything more than a flower, something to look at while it slumbers dumbly on.
I am in the living room when I hear the lock click open. I stare at the door, my stomach twisting in knots. I know what they will find when they walk in. I hear my father pad down the hall and watch as he bends down to inspect the open lock. He trots quickly back down the hall, calling for my mother. They approach the case wearing quiet grins; my stomach constricts even tighter. My father carefully opens the latch of the glass prison to pick their new baby. My mother stares in concern when the quiet creaking of the door doesn't stir the sleeping infant entombed inside. I stay immobile on a corner of the couch, not wanting to watch their world crumble.
My father cradles his practiced hands around the baby, and carefully pulls it out of the tree. I hear my father gasp, and I turn around on the couch, hoping that I have been wrong. I look over at the baby’s cherubic face, and watch as it slowly blinks. My heart starts to lift, and I get up from the couch. I stare into its face, watching the tiny lids flutter over the grey, lifeless eyes. I look over at my mother. She stares hopelessly at the lifeless shell. I hear a series of quiet creaks and watch the tree wither slowly, the blue fading to grey and then deteriorating. My mother starts screaming when the baby does the same. My father’s hands turn ashy as the baby falls apart, its ruined body whispering as it settles on the floor.