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Stretching, Frankie looked at his watch. “Ten o’clock already? I wonder if he’s been asleep all this time.” Then, still holding the book he’d been reading, he got up from the couch and ambled over to the baby carriage. “You’re a quiet little fella, aren’t you?” he asked.

There was a short pause, in which Frankie seemed to see a weary expression taking shape on baby Tommy’s face. Then he heard a precise little voice explain indignantly, “But I’m only eight weeks old . . .”

Convinced he was only hearing things, Frankie lifted the baby up. “O000h, you sure smell good,” he said out loud, and kissed him on the chin. As he did this, the baby pushed back.

“Aw, Uncle Frankie, cut it out,” the baby blushed. “Fellas shouldn’t kiss.”

In spite of himself, Frankie felt silly, but he tried not to let it show.

“Don’t worry,” the voice went on, “we’ll pretend that the whole thing never happened.”

Now he’s comforting me, Frankie realized with a start. That’s what I call a real switch!

“Isn’t that only natural?” the voice continued, casually reading his mind. “After all, I’ve been a baby much longer than you’ve been a father. . . . Just go and heat up my formula, and every-thing will be all right.”

Frankie didn’t know why, but he went meekly into the kitchen to do as he was told. This is looney, he kept thinking as he tested the formula on his wrist, Fabian would never believe me. Then he sighed, picked up the bottle and started for the living room. “Okay,” he decided flatly, “he can talk. So what? Maybe it happens every day,” he wondered out loud.

“What happens every day?” Tommy asked.

“Eight-week-old babies answer you back every day, that’s what,” Frankie replied evenly.

“We would, if anyone ever bothered to ask our opinions,” Tommy countered with hurt dignity. Then, eyeing the bottle, he went on, “Grandma says you never drink your milk, that’s why you’re so skinny. Can’t I have soda pop?”

“It’s not good for you,” Frankie told him, adding, “It makes your teeth fall out.”

“But I haven’t got any teeth!” Tommy ex-claimed, opening his mouth very wide.

The only way Frankie could think of to halt this exasperating logic, was to stuff the bottle into the baby’s mouth.

Now I’ll sing him a lullaby, he thought. Maybe he’ll fall asleep again, I hope. “Good night, sleep tight,” he began to croon.

Tommy let his bottle slip aside. “How about ‘Joilhouse Rock’?” he cut in.

“You’re too young,” Frankie answered, laughing. “Come on, wise guy, we’ll burp you, and then it’s nighty-night for you.”

Stretched out on the bathinette, Tommy made a face. “Ah, gosh, Uncle Frankie, cut out the baby talk, will ya, huh? And don’t forget to change my diaper.”

Frankie decided not to argue. He lifted Tommy up and turned him on his back. But when he turned him on his stomach to powder him, Tommy raised his head and said: “A little to the left, please . . . Now, a little to the right . . . That’s it, just . . . ahhhh . . .”

When he had finished, Frankie picked him up and held him close. “There, now,” he said, “that’s better.” Then, leaning the baby against his shoulder, he began to pace around the room, gently rocking him in his arms.

“Boy,” Frankie said, nuzzling his mouth against Tommy’s ear. “I certainly never expected a night like this. I thought I’d go nuts babysitting for Sis. But you know, you’re some kid.” Then he added laughingly, “I guess you take after your uncle!

“By the way, where’d you learn to talk like that? Hey, I’m talking to you, why don’t you answer?” Lifting the baby gently away from his shoulder, he noticed Tommy was fast asleep.

Tiptoeing to the crib, Frankie laid the baby down, covering him with a soft blue blanket. Then he just stood there for a minute, looking down at Tommy with an expression of complete bewilderment.

Suddenly he heard a key turn in the door. “They’re home!” he cried, so loud that Tommy opened his eyes again. Excitedly, Frankie picked him up and went to break the news to his sister Theresa and her husband, Tom, Sr. They’d been married a year in May, yet they came in the door holding hands like a boy and a girl on a date.

“Guess what! He can talk! Go ahead, kid,” Frankie urged. “Say something.”

“Googhulubh . . .” said Tommy. Theresa looked at Tom. Tom looked at Theresa. And Frankie just stood there with his mouth open, looking at all three of them.

A wise, understanding smile played at the corners of Theresa’s mouth. “When big boys get along so great with little boys,” she began softly, “there’s only one explanation. I think maybe it’s time you settled down,” she said gently as she kissed Frankie goodnight, “and had a baby of your own.”

“You kill me,” Frankie told her, but his hand trembled on her shoulder as he added, “Now what would I want to go and do a thing like that for?”





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