epitaph #25
Matthew Vollmer

this stone marks the final resting place of a man who, with his wife, had quote unquote by accident created a child, at least that's how they put it sometimes, as if man and woman had been working in a lab together and had blended volatile chemicals without knowing what the result would be, which, in this case, was an infant with an oddly shaped head and stuttered breath who lived his first day beneath warming lights in a neonatal unit, a situation that made the couple uneasy, not only because it appeared that there might be something wrong with the boy's respiratory system, but also because they'd been told that the baby should, after having been born, be handed immediately to the mother, whereupon he might latch onto her breast, and that if this didn't happen, the baby might encounter problems down the road in terms of his ability to breastfeed, a prophecy that, whether self-fulfilling or not, turned out to describe part of the hardships of raising this particular infant, who, a few days later, the couple brought with them when they returned to their apartment on the main street of a lackluster Midwestern town, and though the child had seemed quite comfortable in the hospital, he now appeared to be very displeased if not downright unhappy, as if having been born was some sort of indignity best expressed in the arching of his back and releasing cries so anguished they would've seemed like parodies of an unhappy person had the two parents not been so terrified and sleep-deprived, and despite having watched the wife's belly inflate and pulse with life and having seen the child emerge from her body, it seemed to the deceased as if the baby had, like some sort of wild animal, come out of nowhere, as if they had simply gone to the hospital and returned with a very small, very displeased person, a person so discombobulated that one night, after what seemed like an eternity of trying and failing to calm him, the deceased -- without thinking -- had held the baby out at arm's length and yelled, "What is it that you want?" and then given the baby a shake, as if to get the point across -- as if to reset him -- but this only served to upset the child even more, though it did have the effect of changing the father's outlook on the situation, had woken him up, as it were, to the fact that he had done something he should not have done, and that he was a baby shaker, and that the "never never never shake a baby" posters had been printed for the benefit of someone like him, who, in a moment of weakness might, after having unsuccessfully borne the shrieks of a deeply dissatisfied infant, done something he would immediately regret and which no ad campaign could have ever prevented, though, luckily for everyone, the deceased's son suffered no long term injuries, of that the deceased was almost completely certain, as this boy not only grew up to be strong and intelligent and even capable of outrunning the father during backyard soccer games, but also that he -- that is, the son -- had much more displeasure to express, many more tears to cry, while the father (sad to say) had many more things to yell and, not unlike a man executing feats of spectacular prestidigitation, many more failures to perform