You stand there in front of the reptile cages at Petco, your hands at your side, accepting the do not tap the glass stickers as law. You watch them with academic interest, not with want like your older sisters, although you tell me you wouldn’t mind a snake if Fishstix, our cat, wouldn’t try to eat it. Some grow large enough to eat babies, you continue matter-of-factly, pushing your glasses up your nose, but I remind you that your little sister is seven and too large to be eaten by a snake. A woman tosses an odd look our way, but I ignore her.
You used to live inside a glass cage like the snakes do, air controlled perfectly, but they called it an isolette. You lived the first two months of your life inside this glass cage, small enough to fit entirely in my two hands pressed together like a bowl. I was allowed one hour a day to hold you, but only if you tolerated it. I still dream of the beeps and shrieks from those machines that kept you alive. You were my third child, and yet changing your diapers terrified me. I used to wonder if you even knew I was your mother, as my milk was given to you via feeding tubes and nurses tended to you more than I did. A recorder played our voices inside your cage, your dad and I reading stories while your older sisters shrieked and giggled in the background, but I feared you wouldn’t know us--wouldn’t know me.
Your sisters weren’t old enough to come inside the NICU, so they pressed their faces to the hallway windows and looked into the vivarium of many babies inside many cages and tried to figure out which one was their sister. When you were big enough, a nurse would take you out and hold you as close to the window as the wires connected to you allowed and your sisters marveled at you, how tiny and weird you were, careful to never tap the glass.
Now you grab my hand, strong and slightly clammy, and pull me towards your next curiosity.
FLASH GLASS: A MONTHLY PUBLICATION OF FLASH FICTION, PROSE POETRY, & MICRO ESSAYS