top of page

Fed / Michael Chin



Rosaline peeled back the tin foil on the lasagna. The mozzarella bubbled and steam rose. She smelled Sunday dinner at her mother’s house and hummed an involuntary bar from one of the Patsy Cline records Mom used to listen to while she cooked.


It was time for Sunday dinner at her own house, and Rosaline slid the pan back into the oven in her own house to bake uncovered for the last ten minutes. As a girl, she’d watch her mother go through these motions, and over the years graduated from spectator to helper to the one who did the cooking under her mother’s direction.


Rosaline slid the meat lasagna back in and pulled out the vegetarian one to repeat the process of removing the foil. She made veggie lasagna because Mom insisted Dad had to watch his cholesterol. Rosaline knew Dad (not to mention her husband Corey) would turn up their noses at the vegetarian one, full of diced eggplant, zucchini, extra spinach, and only end up eating the meat version. Mom would eat the veggie lasagna as her quiet way of thanking Rosaline for the effort. Rosaline would eat it, too, because if she didn’t the leftovers would linger for days until she threw them out.


Rosaline imagined one day her daughter Dolly would help her. For now, they counted her age in weeks, not years, and she couldn’t support her own head or focus her eyes on objects more than a couple feet from her face.


The truth was, Rosaline would just as soon have made her lasagnas alone. Except the next-door neighbor, Hannah Gibbons, was there, too.


“Those look so good.” Hannah hovered, never more than six feet away. “I was never good at making lasagna in the oven. It was always the crockpot for me. You know, it stays moister that way.”


Rosaline liked Hannah and knew Hannah liked using her crockpot. She’d delivered a series of meals to Rosaline and Corey after they were first home from the hospital with Dolly. Tupperwares full of tater tot casserole, tuna noodle casserole, all of it soupy. Having Hannah for a neighbor was a blessing, really. An empty nester and a divorcee with no shortage of advice, with constant reassurances she could hold the baby if Rosaline needed it. Rosaline had invited her over when her parents came to dinner, equal parts a buffer, an extra set of hands in the kitchen, and a small kindness to a woman she gathered was a little lonely in the day to day.


Hannah, Mom, Dad, Corey, and Rosaline herslef. Their stomachs would all be fed from these lasagnas and the big, bagged salad she’d dump into a bowl right before they sat down.

But then there was Dolly.


Dolly wasn’t eating enough. The pediatrician had interrogated them about how often she was feeding during their last appointment and had pushed formula as Corey nodded along. “You know, fed is best,” Dr. Herman said. The guidance flew in the face of what Hannah repeated like a mantra that breast is best, not to mention everything Rosaline had read online about not only the myriad benefits of breastmilk, but about how once you gave a baby a bottle—especially if she were having trouble with the breast in the first place—she’d never go back.


Rosaline set the timer on the microwave for ten minutes. “Could you take them out when they’re ready? I’m going to go try with Dolly.”


Hannah gave a knowing nod that grated on Rosaline for reasons she couldn’t quite put her finger on. “That a girl. Keep at it.”


Rosaline didn’t know what to say that, but left the lasagnas to Hannah and headed to the living room, where Dad sat on the couch next to Corey. Mom was on the floor with Dolly.


“Communication is the key to a happy marriage,” Dad said. “Especially with kids.”


Rosaline was grateful Corey and her father got along, an easy relationship. They each enjoyed the music of Bob Dylan and had strong, if incongruent, thoughts on how to restore The New York Knicks to their former glory. Plus, Corey was eager to share craft beers, and Dad was always happy to drink. Corey was patient about listening to his father-in-law, too, in a way Rosaline never had been.


“When Rosaline was little, I took on most of the dish-washing duty.”


Rosaline thought her father might be dropping a hint Corey should do the same rather than letting the dishes pile up over the weekend, so Rosaline had to be on her feet and scrubbing Sunday night.


Dad went on. “I’d do as much as I had time for or keep going until my back was killing me and there was only a plate or two, a coffee mug left to wash. I figured Rosaline’s mother would finish the job.”


Rosaline knelt down by her mother and Dolly, not quite sure how to tear them away from a game of I’ve got your toes that Mom clearly enjoyed a great deal, cooing at the baby, while Dolly looked around, uncertain.


“I’d get home from work and the same dishes would be there, plus new ones. I got irritated. I do ninety percent of the dishes, and she can’t do the last ten?”


Rosaline slid a hand between Dolly’s head and the playmat, then scooped her body up to her. She let out a sound—surprise, Rosaline thought—but not crying.


“But here’s the thing,” Dad said. “While I was thinking, I’m only leaving you a couple dishes to do, it turned out she was thinking there are only a couple dishes. No point washing them until there’s more. You see how that can happen? Two reasonable people, thinking reasonable things but we weren’t communicating.”


“It’s a hell of a story, Jack.” Corey sipped a pilsner he’d been raving to Dad about.

Rosaline eased up to her feet, cradling Dolly.


She missed the transition when her father started talking about Rosaline the writer. “I always thought she’d be an author. Probably better she’s a psychiatrist. More money in in it.” No one corrected him that she wasn’t a psychiatrist; she was a high school guidance counselor. “She wrote an essay. They said it was best essay written all year. Maybe ever at the school.” Dad called into the kitchen. “What book was it about again, Roz? The Catcher in the Rye?


He had most of it wrong. It was an essay contest put on by a local volunteer agency, and she doubted more than a half-dozen students entered. Still, Rosaline won a thousand-dollar scholarship and had her name printed in the newspaper. It was about as close to famous as she’d ever been, so she understood why Dad clung to it, retelling the story at any opportunity.


The essay was about last scene from The Grapes of Wrath, when the young woman who miscarried offers her breast to a starving man. For years, it was a point of shame that she hadn’t actually read the book. She remembered the scene from how her eleventh-grade English teacher talked about it, then went back and read the last ten pages when the essay contest came up and her twelfth-grade English teacher encouraged everyone who was getting an A in class to enter.


More than once when Rosaline got drunk in college, she circled back to Steinbeck as proof she was a fraud, but she’d come to some peace when, after enough conversations, she realized no one remembered reading the book, or, even if they thought they’d read it, they couldn’t remember anything besides it being set in The Great Depression. She had to remind them of the last scene in the rain-soaked barn. She explained the milk from Rose of Sharon’s breast represented how people with the least to give gave what they had, because that’s what human nature truly is.


“I’m going to go feed her,” Rosaline said softly to her mother, but of course they all heard what she said.


“Why don’t you stay out here?” Dad asked. “It’s not like there’s anything we haven’t all seen before, right?”


Rosaline could feel herself blush, and fortunately her mother came to her rescue. She wrapped an arm over Rosaline’s shoulders and ushered her toward the bedroom. “You don’t know what it’s like to breastfeed, Jack. Give her some space.”


Behind the bedroom door, Rosaline sat in the rocking chair her parents had handed down to her when she was pregnant, and Mom had told her that rocking in it had been the only reliable way of soothing Rosaline when she was a baby. Rosaline used it for late-night feedings, where she and Dolly could quietly sit together.


Rosaline imagined a special bond with Dolly, a continuation of the bond from the womb when every gentle rustle from Rosaline’s belly was a sign of life. She’d read online how men didn’t feel like fathers until they saw their child born.


Rosaline flipped on the nightlight beside her. They kept it on through the nights, not just for feedings, but because Rosaline worried Dolly might be fearful in the dark, overriding Corey’s complaints it made it harder for him to sleep. Now, in the early evening, Rosaline imagined the dimmer room, the glow of the nightlight might relax Dolly, the two of them in a peaceful space, no other voices to startle or confuse her.


Rosaline put Dolly’s mouth to her breast. The girl’s lips fumbled. She wasn’t good at latching—getting the initial attachment or hanging on. Dolly defaulted to a drool-soaked, open-mouthed kiss, as opposed to steady sucking. Rosaline moved her back in place, careful to keep her head and body aligned the way the feeding specialist at the hospital had shown her the day after Dolly was born.


Hannah had given her pointers, too, including that it was OK to cuddle, even if Dolly weren’t drinking. The connection was important, getting comfortable against her mother’s skin.

Dolly seemed to be getting some milk, moving her mouth the right way, keeping Rosaline’s left nipple between her lips.


Rosaline tried to remember what it was like to breastfeed. Mom had weened her off a little after her first birthday, and Rosaline knew she couldn’t literally remember that time in her life. But might there be something instinctive that stuck with her? Something more physical than mental, something that lived on in the way she ate to this day?


She remembered her mother younger. Chestnut colored hair before it grayed, before a stint dying it blond, before she let the color fade again. Back when her face was a little rounder.


Rosaline almost fell asleep.


Dolly still had her mouth in the right place, though it wasn’t clear if she were drinking.


Rosaline unlocked her phone, if only to rouse herself.


The screen opened to an article she’d started reading that afternoon about best practices for successful breastfeeding. The article suggested part of feeding was communication. A baby cries because she’s hungry. Before she has words or knows what the hunger is, she knows she needs something. That’s the first way every baby expresses herself.


The next communication comes when she feeds. She communicates with her eyes, looking at you, puzzling out who provides for her. In time, her look says “thank you.”


When Rosaline looked back to Dolly, Dolly was looking at her. Was this the look of thanks? The look of love? Had Rosaline missed the beginnings of it, looking at her phone?


#


Two nights later, Rosaline caught Corey in the kitchen.


He’d told Rosaline to rest. She was exhausted after taking care of Dolly alone during Corey’s first days back at work—especially after getting up to tend to her late at night so Corey could get a full night’s sleep. But when she realized she hadn’t heard Dolly cry for fifteen minutes straight, she went looking.


Corey was broad-backed enough and Dolly was small enough that Rosaline couldn’t even tell he was holding her at first. He rocked from foot to foot, though. Dolly might’ve been asleep, and Rosaline could imagine Corey not wanting to sit down, not wanting to leave the room, because any change might wake her.


Corey must’ve sensed Rosaline. “Don’t be mad.”


He was feeding Dolly a bottle. She sucked, lips moving in and out like a fish breathing in water. Milk flowed easy from the silicone nipple of a bottle—that’s why kids who got used to them wouldn’t work for the milk from a breast again.


Rosaline cried and asked Corey, “How could you?” Dolly stopped drinking and started crying, too. Formula-drool trickled down her chin.


Corey sighed. “She has to eat.”


#


Rosaline still tried to breastfeed. Breastmilk would give Dolly antibodies to fight infections, and breastmilk was the foundation for gut health. Rosaline wanted the bonding time, too.

But Dolly wouldn’t even try to latch.


Rosaline resigned herself to offering Dolly bottles herself. She made two ounces of formula, warming the water in the electric kettle and gentle stirring it into powder rather than shaking it the way Corey did, so it wouldn’t be too frothy. She started out stirring with a spoon, then switched to a wooden chopstick so the bottle wouldn’t have a metallic taste. She made Dolly the best bottles.


Dolly would drink some, but stop short of two ounces, as if she were only drinking enough to sustain her until Corey got home.


She drank greedily from Corey. Draining a two ounce bottle, so he’d make another and she’d drink most of that, too, and look up at her father with full-tummy-ed, easy love.

Rosaline had to remind him to burp the baby.


Rosaline tried to feed Dolly more like Corey did. She studied the way he gripped the back of her head in his hand, her body rested against his forearm. Rosaline wasn’t strong enough to hold their daughter’s eight-pound body like that for long, but rigged pillows on the couch to support her arm. Still, Dolly fed only just enough from her mother.


Rosaline tried imitating Corey’s voice, the things Corey would say. Dolly didn’t seem to notice, though, and stared off at nothing.


Rosaline pumped milk, an inevitably frustrating process because when the pump started, the sound would startle Dolly, or right when the milk had started to flow Dolly would cry and cry until Rosaline disconnected and picked her up. She got out six-to-eight ounces a day, and made a habit of freezing some, depositing the rest in a bottle she’d warm when Corey got home so he could feed it to her, and she’d drink it all.


One night, Rosaline took a picture of him feeding Dolly on an overstuffed blue easy chair Rosaline had imagined breastfeeding their daughter in—had tried breastfeeding in for hour stretches. She texted the photo to Corey, with a message, It’s sweet the two of you get to bond like this. She used the rest of the time Dolly fed to cry in the master bedroom.


#


Hannah texted Rosaline a link to an article. The title showed up beneath the preview of image Breast-feeding: Better For Baby, Better For Mom.


#


Rosaline transitioned to what she thought of as the second newborn phase. It was the period when Rosaline adjusted to being the only parent at home for ten-to-twelve hours while Corey worked and went to the gym, not to mention Rosaline was the one responsible for early mornings and late nights so Corey could sleep. Late one night, getting Dolly to drink enough of a bottle to sate her, Rosaline channel surfed with Dolly in her lap until she came upon an old episode of the TV series Angel.


She didn’t remember all the context, but there was a troubled man, Wesley, who was usually clean shaven, but had allowed a deep stubble to grow over his face. He was about to sleep with his girlfriend, who was some sort of villain. Except he really wanted to be sleeping with someone else—a nerdy goody-two-shoes. The girlfriend dressed up like the good girl to tease Wesley and draw attention to how absurd it was he’d ever loved this other woman. When they got down to business, Wesley coldly told her to keep her glasses on, making no bones at all about whom he’d rather be with.


The scene took root in Rosaline’s mind, not so different from the way an infomercial about a food processor got her thinking about a juice cleanse to lose the baby weight after she was done pumping breast milk, or how she’d speculated Rory on Gilmore Girls must have drunk from her mother’s breast for them to have wound up so close into the girl’s teenage years.


The next morning, after Corey had gone to work, Rosaline went to the laundry hamper and pulled out the collared shirt he’d worn to the office to the day before. Maybe it wasn’t enough to hold Dolly like him, or to sound like him. She had to smell like him.


As she stirred the next bottle, she knew she was being absurd. Not only would the scheme not work, but she was insane to try it. Let Dolly eat better with her father. It wasn’t a personal slight. She’d come around, and one day they’d all laugh about these days.


She kept the shirt on though and propped the pillows on the couch to mimic Corey’s grip on the back of Dolly’s head. This time, Dolly drank until all that was left was the translucent film of residue on the sides of the bottle. Milk-drunk, the girl smiled. Rosaline bawled. It may have been the happiest moment of her life.


#


Six months later, it was Thanksgiving morning. Rosaline reviewed the list she’d compiled on her phone. She’d prepare two kinds of cranberry sauce—the one she gutted oranges for and stirred real cranberries into over the stove because every year her mother commented on how good it was. The other jellied, from the can, because that’s what Corey and his brother liked.


Rosaline would make two batches of stuffing, too. One with sausage cooked in the way her Italian grandmother used to make it, that only Rosaline and her father liked. One without sausage for everyone else.


She’d prepared the deviled eggs the night before, so they’d be chilled and ready for the family to snack on in the early afternoon. She baked the frozen dinner rolls early in the morning, before anyone else was around to see she hadn’t made them from scratch.

Everyone would be fed.


Dolly waited until after the rolls were out to cry herself awake, and though Rosaline hadn’t expected it, Corey was good to his word about handling her first thing in the morning, so Rosaline had time to get the pies in the oven and to season the turkey on the counter.

Corey’s mother was bringing her sweet potato casserole with marshmallows baked on top. Rosaline would bake the yams for her own parents, who turned up their nose at marshmallow, Mom laughing that it was a little gratuitous, don’t you think? the first time they’d all sat down for Thanksgiving together. Rosaline clarified to her in-laws that Mom was critical because her father wasn’t supposed to eat much sugar. She hoped no one else noticed when he helped himself to a fourth slice of pie before the night was through.


When Corey got downstairs, he had Dolly in the purple dress Rosaline hadn’t intended to put on her until later, confident she’d spit up or spill something on it. Rosaline was annoyed, first with him, then with herself when he asked if the bottle were ready, and she realized she’d forgotten to make it when she heard Dolly stirring.


Dolly didn’t fuss much, though, relaxing in Rosaline’s arms while Corey started the kettle and measured out the formula powder. Seven months old, Dolly was old enough to recognize they weren’t keeping her waiting, but rather, these were the steps to prepare a bottle.


There were always steps. Rosaline would get the corn on the cob in the oven last, but she could start on the Mexican street corn Corey liked with the cotija cheese and lime.


Dolly returned to Corey without complaint and relaxed, her head propped against his bicep. She gripped the bottle in her own hands now. She’d be ready to drink all by herself soon.


Corey’s parents showed up around eleven, Rosaline’s a little after noon. Corey’s brother got lost and arrived as the mothers carried the dishes to the table. Hannah came over a little after; Rosaline imagined she’d watched for cars, to be sure she wasn’t coming over too early and imposing. Rosaline knew she was self-conscious about coming for Thanksgiving. Her kids were spending the holiday with her ex-husband this year.


“I brought this.” Hannah handed Rosaline a Tupperware at the door, cool to the touch. “It’s just a simple cranberry sauce. Nothing fancy.”


Rosaline didn’t make mention it would be the third cranberry sauce, nor that she didn’t have anything fancier than a spare dinner plate left to serve it on. “Thank you,” she said. “Come in out of the cold.”


Dolly played on the floor with her Uncle Mike, while the grandfathers sat on the couch.

“A successful marriage is all about communication, right?” Dad asked Corey’s father. “That’s what I tell these young people.” He went on to tell a story about a Thanksgiving long ago when he and Mom were at each other’s throats. Mom had gone to the fridge two days after Thanksgiving and found a single sliver of pumpkin pie, too small to bother saving.


“You never let me live down that last piece of pie.” Mom called from the dining room.


“She didn’t know I’d been rationing it. All I thought about all day as having a cup of coffee and that sliver of pie after dinner,” he said. “But we hadn’t communicated.”


“Well, Rosaline and Corey seem to have communication down,” Hannah chimed in. Rosaline watched her for a moment as she knelt. “I still remember when my ex-husband and I were getting used to parenthood. We’d hold it together in front of Elijah, but when he was asleep we’d scream at each other, or he’d go out driving God knows where, and I’d cry and cry.”


Rosaline thought her neighbor might cry, and felt selfish to find relief in her neighbor not spewing platitudes about putting her kids first and treasuring Dolly while she was young. Hannah shared something real and something hard instead, even if she had no idea what the mechanics of Rosaline’s marriage with Corey were like.


It was a holiday dotted with the awkward moments of families thrown together, eased by Dolly cooing and defusing tensions. Before dinner, Rosaline put some of the yams without marshmallows in the food processor, because one of the jarred purees Dolly liked was heavy on sweet potatoes, and she figured Dolly might be most willing to give these a try.


“Give her a little of everything,” Hannah advised. “You never know what a kid will like, and she’ll never try it if you don’t put it in front of her.”


Rosaline was a little annoyed at the assumption Hannah knew best, and that whatever had worked with her kids would work for Dolly, too. But there wasn’t any harm in trying. So, she made little piles of it all on the tray for Dolly’s highchair. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. All three kinds of cranberry sauce. A small scoop of pumpkin pie innards, even.


Even with the two extra leaves, it was difficult to squeeze in everyone’s plates, water glasses, wine glasses, a platter of turkey and a gravy boat at either end of the table. Before Corey’s mom had a chance to say grace, Dad scooped a heaping spoonful of Rosaline’s orange-cranberry sauce, and Mom put a hand on his wrist. “Remember what the doctor said.”

He acquiesced, tapping the spoon against the rim of the serving bowl to knock loose the excess, to take a smaller portion.


Corey and Rosaline sat to either side of Dolly and each held one of her hands as Corey’s mom prayed. Rosaline was thankful her baby girl was healthy and growing, thankful her return to work that fall had been smoother than she’d expected.


Dolly giggled when everyone said amen, which set off a ripple of laughter across the table at how adorable she was, which made her laugh more.


Corey picked up tiny plastic spoonfuls of different sides to offer Dolly. Like her bottles, Dolly ate solids better from Daddy. She tried a bite of yams but didn’t want more after that. She turned her face from stuffing altogether.


“Don’t force it,” Rosaline said when Corey kept the spoon in front of her. She’d read an article about short-term gains and long-term losses—getting one good meal down, perhaps, but creating an aversion to foods if a child felt like they’d had no choice but to eat them.

“I know, I know.” Corey tapped the stuffing back down on her tray.


Rosaline let a gravy-soaked bite of mashed potatoes rest on her tongue. A taste of childhood when Mom reminded her that’s all she’d eat at Thanksgiving when she was little, all she’d feast off for the week to follow, to the point Mom made twice as much of the potatoes as she ordinarily would so Rosaline could eat all she wanted.


It was difficult to tell which of the cranberry sauces Corey fed Dolly first—they all looked about the same in such small globs. It was clear Dolly loved it, though, in her open-mouthed smile. In pressing her fingertips together, the rudimentary sign language Rosaline had taught her to express she wanted more.


Rosaline fetched her more cranberry sauce. Not the canned stuff or what Hannah had brought over. The one Rosaline made from scratch.


Dolly ate as much as Corey would give her, then ate from Rosaline when she gave Corey a break. The little girl was gleeful. Cranberry speckled her nose.


From the far end of the table, Dad raised a glass to Rosaline, the way he had to Mom years back, toasting the chef. They all raised their glasses.


Dolly mashed her fingertips together. Insatiable. She wanted more, more, more.


/


MICHAEL CHIN was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He’s the author of six full-length books, including his novel, My Grandfather’s an Immigrant, and So is Yours (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2021) and his forthcoming short story collection This Year’s Ghost (JackLeg Press, 2025). Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.



Comments


bottom of page