E. Nolan ~ Fake Baby

Tom invit­ed Becky over to his apart­ment to have a beer and watch TV. Things had been going well until they start­ed argu­ing about a fake baby on the television.

All Tom said was, “So fake.”

Becky moved away from his embrace. “Are you seri­ous? You’re talk­ing about that baby?”

The eyes are all weird. It’s a robot.”

There’s no way that’s a robot,” Becky said. “Are you jok­ing, because I can’t tell.”

I’m seri­ous,” Tom said. “Look, they wouldn’t do that to a real baby.”

The father who had been hold­ing the baby tossed it to the moth­er who sat on the oth­er side of the cof­fee table.

They switched the real baby for the fake baby just then,” Becky said.

Okay,” Tom said.

You don’t believe me.”

I do,” he said. “It doesn’t real­ly matter.”

But Becky did not return to his embrace.

The moth­er got up and drop kicked the baby into the rag­ing fireplace.

Tom must’ve sipped his beer a tad too arrogantly.

Becky got up and left for the kitchen. It was their first argument.

She prob­a­bly had a smoke on the fire escape because that’s exact­ly how much time it took for her to return. When she did, she broke up with him.

Because of the baby?” Tom said. “I mean, the real baby?”

She seemed to think about it. “I don’t think so, but yes.”

Because you were wrong or because we didn’t agree?”

It just remind­ed me of Brian.”

Brian was her boyfriend. He was in Berlin for the semes­ter on a research grant, but they were basi­cal­ly engaged. They had been togeth­er for three years, since col­lege, where­as Tom and Becky had been see­ing each oth­er for three weeks.

The argu­ing remind­ed you of him and now you miss him.”

The argu­ing remind­ed me of him and how what we’re doing is wrong.”

In Tom’s head there was a way that all of what they were doing made sense, was actu­al­ly noble, but he couldn’t find any words to express it. She was way too young to get mar­ried, it was obvi­ous that she want­ed out. It was obvi­ous that what Tom and she shared was true.

A stab­bing pain devel­oped in his ster­num. He wait­ed for her to change her mind, to cor­rect what she was talk­ing about, but she didn’t. Reality was sud­den­ly no longer real. He just sat there, curled into his pain, and wait­ed for her to leave, which she did with­out say­ing anoth­er word.


That night the phone rang while Tom rearranged his bed­room. He climbed over his desk to answer it. “Hello?” he said. It was two in the morning.

Where were you?” Becky asked, obvi­ous­ly drunk. “I was so worried.”

Tom had been under the impres­sion that they weren’t going to talk anymore.

You don’t know how wast­ed I am,” she said. “I went to three bars tonight.”

She breathed into the phone as if she were on the verge of sleep.

I was wor­ried all night,” she said, slur­ring. “I was wor­ried you were mad at me.”

The call con­fused him, but he wel­comed it. “I’m not mad,” he said. Hurt was more accu­rate. He picked up the plas­tic plant that they had pur­chased as a joke and put it in front of the win­dow with the fire escape.

Tell me a sto­ry,” she said.

A sto­ry? What are you talk­ing about?”

A bed­time sto­ry,” she said. “I’m in bed.”

The breath­ing. It was as if she were hav­ing one of her trou­bled night’s sleep lying next to him.

Tom paced in the hall­way, shak­ing his head. What the hell was this?

There’s this guy,” he said.


There’s this guy, Roger, and he goes out to get … a hot dog. When it’s his turn he orders two hot dogs.”


‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘make it nine.’”

Becky’s breath­ing tran­si­tioned to snoring.

Are you sleeping?”

She didn’t answer.

The stab­bing pain returned. Drunk or not, call­ing him was cruel.

He was angry. “Roger gives the nine hot dogs to nine orphans play­ing stick­ball in the alley­way. The end.” He went to hang up, but couldn’t.

Just couldn’t do it.

He took off his shoes and got into bed, keep­ing the phone between ear and shoul­der. She prob­a­bly had fall­en asleep with the phone right on her pil­low because he still heard her breath­ing clearly.

He tried to sleep, but wasn’t able to. So he con­tin­ued the story.

Part two. Roger dri­ves east. He plans to just dri­ve to the end of the high­way, at some point choose either the north or south fork, then just dri­ve to the end and right off into the ocean. Maybe it’ll be a big splash, maybe it’ll be a slow sink.”

Tom tuned in to Becky’s breath­ing which now sound­ed like the waves rub­bing back and forth on the peb­bled shore.

Roger’s phone sits on the passenger’s seat. He calls up Cathy and puts it on speak­er­phone. The trees stream past. The high­way is com­ing to an end. She answers, sober and wide awake. ‘I need to tell you some­thing,’ he says. ‘I think you’re mak­ing a mis­take. Call up your boyfriend in Berlin and tell him it’s over. I don’t want to be away from you any­more. It’s like I’m liv­ing some­one else’s life!’”

Becky awoke. “Huh?

Tom shot out of bed and hung up, toss­ing the phone onto the mat­tress as if it were a hand­gun that had been mis­fired. He dared not look at it for the rest of the night­ly morn­ing, and he stayed out on the fire escape chain smok­ing, replay­ing the events in his mind. Had she heard him? How much did she hear? The sun rose over the sil­hou­ette of the bak­ery. Birds sang. Did she for­get that it was just a sto­ry? Or did she think he told her his true feel­ings? He shook his head to him­self while he lit anoth­er cig­a­rette. No, she couldn’t pos­si­bly think that. Didn’t make sense. Why would a per­son tell the truth to some­one asleep on the oth­er end of the phone?


E. Nolan’s work has been pub­lished in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Passages North, X‑R-A‑Y and is forth­com­ing in Rejection Letters and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, as well as oth­er mag­a­zines. He has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Florida and he teach­es English as a New Language in a pub­lic mid­dle school in the Bronx. In his free time, he com­pos­es back­ground music for real­i­ty TV.