Amelia thought Lola resembled a pig in a blanket, swaddled tightly and nestled in the crux of her arm. Perhaps the appetizer came to mind because she was hungry after nursing her baby. She adjusted her daughter, and freed her right hand so she could unwrap the intricately bound gift done up in the softest pastels that her friend Katelyn had just dropped off.
Katelyn sat bent over, on the other side of the futon, rocking an expensive carrier that held her three-month-old son, Theo. She paused the robotic movement and shuffled closer to Amelia on the couch. “Here, let me.” With one pull, Katelyn unravelled the lilac ribbon with ease.
“How did you have time to wrap this? I can barely get myself dressed in the morning,” said Amelia. She was very aware that her friend, who had only given birth a few weeks earlier than her, was already wearing pre-pregnancy jeans and had a fresh face, free of dark circles.
Katelyn’s hair fell in loose waves unlike Amelia’s, which was coiled tightly in a greasy bun.
Katelyn carefully peeled back the floral paper to reveal a white box with the words, Nighty-night Nani. “You don’t have one already, do you?”
Of course, Amelia didn’t have one. It was the latest gadget from Avery Labs. The mama saviour. The robotic night nurse that not only kept your breastmilk or formula at the perfect temperature but fed your baby from a bottle during the night. It cuddled and cooed the baby back to sleep with a voice that mimicked your own. It was completely out of Amelia’s budget, and Katelyn knew that.
“Oh, Kate – it’s too much,” Amelia said, noticing the price tag on the box, which was double her last employment insurance cheque. When Theo was born, Amelia bought Katelyn a set of bibs and a copy of Goodnight Moon. Amelia realized she hadn’t seen her friend since then.
She had assumed Katelyn was having trouble adjusting to motherhood but now, she realized she was wrong.
Katelyn opened the box to reveal Nani. Silicone human-like arms, painted in metallic silver, extended from a seafoam hot water bottle. In the centre of the bottle was a silver nub, which Amelia guessed to be the nipple. None of the ads Amelia had seen, showed what Nani looked like and she could guess why. Nani resembled a woman, with its life-size mannequin arms. The hot water bottle itself looked like a torso, a mom wearing a cozy Sherpa vest. But that’s where it ended – no face, no legs. Nani was clearly inhuman, but Amelia found herself shivering at its appearance.
“She’s an absolute godsend. Seriously, life changing – I don’t know what I’d do without her.” Katelyn’s eyes lit up like she was talking about an actual person. She was almost manic.
Normally, Amelia would refuse a gift like this. She didn’t like feeling indebted to people – especially Katelyn, who she had been competitive with since the first year of college. Amelia wasn’t a charity case just because she didn’t invent a hyped-up parking app, like Katelyn had.
Amelia didn’t want to be pitied because unlike her friend, she was doing this alone. But she did need help. She had been stressing about her milk. She was having a hard time producing it in the evenings and was pumping daily to reserve a stash for Lola’s nighttime feeds. She was finding it impossible to fall back asleep after feeding Lola at three in the morning. Amelia thought Nighty-night Nani might be the hack she needed, so she could start to feel like herself again.
Katelyn guided Amelia through the set-up, showing her how to record her voice, so Nani could copy it. Inputting Lola’s information, so Nani could store the data in the microchip embedded in the back of the water bottle. When they were finished, Katelyn clapped her hands excitedly. Then she excused herself from the apartment, saying it was time she drove back to the suburbs.
Amelia stared at the doll, which was secured to the rungs of the hand-me-down crib in
Lola’s nursery – its arms outstretched in a semi-circle, as if it were guarding the sleeping baby.
Amelia pressed the button on the back of the water bottle, and Nani sprung to life, her fingers fluttering like spider legs, in a controlled wave. “Hi, Mama. Would you like to set me to nighty-night mode? Yes, or no?” Amelia shuddered at the sound of Nani, whose voice truly did resemble her own.
“Uh, sure – I mean, yeah.” Amelia stammered.
“I didn’t quite get that. Yes or no?”
“Yes,” Amelia said with more certainty.
“Great. I am now set to nighty-night mode. Goodnight, Mama.”
Amelia slowly backed out of the room, feeling simultaneously relieved and anxious. Katelyn swore by it. She said it was a lifesaver. Lola would be fine, and Amelia would finally be able to sleep through the night.
Amelia spent an hour, tossing and turning in bed, desperately trying to hear sounds through the one-way monitor perched on her nightstand. At ten o’clock, she heard Lola stir. Perhaps she could watch Nani in action. That would put her mind at ease and then she could fall asleep.
Amelia tiptoed through the dark living room. The streetlights cast scratch marks of light
through the cracks in the blinds. Amelia bumped her knee on the coffee table, and it took everything in her not to shout. She used the blue light of her phone to guide her the rest of the way to Lola’s room. She carefully opened the door a sliver, and pressed her cheek up against the door, so she could peer inside the room.
“Shh, Lola. It’s okay,” said a voice just above a whisper. It was Nani. Amelia opened the
door a few inches wider and was relieved to find that the crib was lit by the dull glow of the nightlight, allowing her to watch the scene. Nani guided Lola to her side with one metallic arm. She positioned the silver nub with her other hand, so that it was within reach of Lola’s mouth. And then Amelia heard the familiar sucking sound of her baby girl drinking milk. Amelia’s heart settled slightly. Lola was getting milk. Everything seemed to be fine. But something made
Amelia stay in the doorway. Something she couldn’t explain.
Amelia transferred her weight to her left side and the parquet floor gave her away. A
creaking sound echoed in the silence. Nani raised her hand in the air abruptly, as if to say stop. “Mama, go back to bed.”
Amelia stumbled backward into the living room. That was a bit aggressive, wasn’t it? Did it have to raise its arm like that? Her heart pounded heavy in her chest, but she mustered up the courage to go back into the room.
“Mama, go back to bed. I’m in nighty-night mode.” A mother should be allowed to check on her baby even if the damn thing was in nighty-night mode. Amelia ran to the side of the crib in search of Nani’s off button. She pressed the glowing blue circle, but Nani interjected. “Baby is feeding, please do not interrupt the session. Mama, go back to bed.”
Lola let out a cry. The commotion had woken her up from her dream feed. Nani caressed Lola’s head with her silicone hand and shushed her. “Mama’s here, baby. Mama’s here.” What the hell? You’re not her mother. Once again, Amelia reached for the blue button, and then Nani’s arm shot up again. “Amelia, go back to bed. You’re not needed here.” Amelia? Hearing her own name uttered
, felt too personal. Sure, she had entered her information into the system but never expected the thing to call her by her name.
Amelia lunged at Nani’s button and pressed down hard, holding it until the silver arms went limp. She reached into the crib and scooped up Lola whose cries had erupted into uncontrollable wails. Amelia brought Lola to the rocking chair on the other side of the room and tried to feed her herself. Lola calmed down, sucking in between spasmed breaths. After a minute she let out a wail again. Amelia had no milk to give.
“She’s hungry,” said a voice.
“How are you still talking?”
“She’s hungry and you have no milk,” it repeated.
Amelia grabbed a tin of diaper cream from the change table beside her, and hurled it at Nani, which still clung to the crib rungs. She hit the back of the water bottle and the tin fell to the floor with a thud.
“He’s hungry,” said the voice, but it sounded muddled now. The diaper cream tin had done some damage.
“He?” Amelia asked. Did she break the thing? Why did it think Lola was a “he”?
“Theo’s hungry and you have no milk.” This time the voice sounded like someone else.
“Let Mama feed Theo. He’s hungry, Katelyn,” it said.
Brianne Sommerville writes news releases and speeches by day, poetry and fiction by night. Brianne studied English Literature and Theatre at Queen’s University before entering the world of public relations. She is currently working towards a certificate in creative writing from the University of Toronto. Brianne lives in Toronto with her partner and two littles under four.