The 99 Days of Hell

The 99 Days of Hell

The husband planned to fight the billing practices from the unplanned hospital. He planned to fight the red-light camera ticket from the city. According to his wealth magazines, which he was thinking of canceling, there were new futures available to a person like him. But the husband was no longer so much “the person like him” that he once thought he was. Money was still on his mind, but there was less of it to think about. Which meant he thought about money in the middle of the night. And it was always the middle of the night now.

He whispered in the infant’s ear: 30 days past due.


Distant family sent the wife a diary. She wrote down the son’s name, the unplanned date, time, and place of birth, Hope’s weight in pounds and ounces, the length of his body, the squishiness of his nose, and the elevated bilirubin levels from the head bruise he received coming through her womb.

What is the womb? she wrote, and then she sneezed, which she’d lately observed herself doing, every time she cried.


The couple said, “it will get better.” They said, “let’s do that tomorrow.” They said, “we got through today and it could’ve been worse.” They said, “God willing,” and they said, “from your mouth to God’s ears.” The husband said, “that’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” and death rattled inside him.


One weekday afternoon, the family spent three hours in an Old Navy. They saw more adults at Old Navy than they’d seen in a month. One adult shopper noted the son’s cuteness. A mother herself, she called the couple’s son “one of the cutest little ones,” and told the husband the baby looked “just like him.”

“Say thank you to the lady,” the husband told his napping son. Hope didn’t respond.

“You both look so tired,” the woman said. “You,” she pointed to the wife, “look more tired than him. But don’t worry. These are the 99 days of hell. It will get better.”

“God willing,” the husband said. “Because right now, parenthood feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

“The 99 days of hell,” the wife said. “That’s beautiful.”


In the late hours, the only hours now, the husband pushed his laptop off to the side. He took his pen to a four-quadrant notebook. In each quadrant he’d record what the son did that day, what the father did that day, what the mother did that day, what the world did that day.

The son didn’t do much. Not anything the husband could engineer into a description. The world also did very little. The world outside the home seemed staged, like the world inside the laptop.

In the quadrant “what the world did that day,” the husband wrote: the world outside our home is not our world. The world did nothing today. Tomorrow, there may be different world.

The wife did even less. She told the husband she didn’t want to continue breastfeeding. It hurt. It was boring. In “what the mother did that day,” the husband wrote: this is our 55th day of hell. We’re switching to formula. Breastfeeding is matriarchal bullshit. The busy work women create for other women. Neoliberal, because the privately-owned son grows and the publicly-owned wife decays.

They researched options, even stopped recycling the flyers from U.S. formula companies that had appeared in their postal mail. German-made formula sounded best. The Germans had a stricter definition of ‘organic’ than the U.S. The husband’s cultural magazines, which he was thinking of canceling, wondered if Germany’s cows were feeding on soil enriched by his exterminated ancestors. In a way, that future could be beautiful.

The German powder arrived in tightly wrapped boxes, like kilos of movie cocaine. It wasn’t cheap, and Hope needed more. Shipping never became free. The family robbed Peter to pay Paul, charging the cost to a credit card they had long kept behind the passports.


The couple were minor intellectuals who owned a duplex down off a busy main road. In the evenings they sat on the great green couch, rewatching episodes.

“Do you hear something?”

“Yes, I do. The baby’s crying.”

“I think he wants his mother.”

“No, I think that’s the dada cry.”

60 days past due.


The wife’s father kept calling. She wouldn’t speak to him. In the quadrant, “what the husband did that day,” the husband wrote: Talked to Abe again. Told him again there would be no bris. I used empathetic reasoning and acknowledged Abe’s position that his beautiful, intelligent, stubborn daughter is being unreasonable. I heard Abe say he didn’t know why she had so much on her mind, why a woman like her couldn’t just cheer up, why a woman like her needed to think so much, why she just couldn’t be happy. I told him he could send gifts. Trusts. Cash is best.

In the early hours, and now they were all early hours, the couple danced with the infant. These were moments of indescribable happiness. They didn’t know they could smile this wide. They held each other, held their son, danced as one, they shared the same soul.

In the quadrant “what the son did that day,” the husband wrote: a boy must embody hope. A boy. A boy must have a bright spirit. Without hope a boy is not a boy. A boy’s work is to give hope to other boys. Hope the unraveling of form, form, the acknowledgment of hope’s delay. Hope the leaping feat, spring.


Late at night, a time now hourly, the father relayed his son works of economic literature, the overwritten, never-read language of businesspersons. Language should be dry, like wine, flattening the tongue. It’s a college mistake to introduce an infant to lyricism.

EMEA stakeholders, he’s hungry for German formula.

Based on our experience, he’s feverish.

Trailing twelve months, he’s teething.

Stricter regulation around carried interest, he’s anxious.

90 days past due.


Distant family sent the wife a book of poetry. It was mass market, millionaire, the kind of volume the undergraduate wife mocked. But now, reading those sparse words, the wife realized her tastes had moved, which made her cry, which made her sneeze. She realized, as this poet knew, that she was just one of those women who had to wait to be a mother.

Her son cried himself to sleep, woke with tears. He can’t self-soothe, she thought, but I can soothe him. All her love poured easily into him. Her entire soul, her blood, her energy, poured easily into him, without wanting anything in return, without knowing what that would even be. She would be his first kiss, but not his last, his first love, but not his last. She was the body of his beginning, but she prayed she would be there only in spirit at his end. The knife lodged in her could never be the knife lodged in him.

One morning she awoke to something other than her son crying. She opened her diary and saw the 99 days were ending. She wrote, bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang, feeling at first those words were her own, but then she knew they were poem-words of Shakespeare. She pressed the words down anyway. Great feeling had preceded them.


With Hope strapped to the wife’s chest, the family strolled to the riverwalk. More people were out than usual. It was a time for noticing. But the couple weren’t quite sure how to process the noticing. This was the first time, other than trips to the doctor, and the Old Navy, that they had been out of the house, together, in 100 days.

The family looked to the ground. They saw a boy, barely old enough to grow a beard,  sleeping in a blue plastic bag. A flower drooped from a souvenir vase. Another’s noodles congealed in an aluminum tray. The piece of cardboard read:


“No,” the wife said.

“I mean,” the husband said sadly, “we understand what he means.”

“I want to kick him!” The wife said. But then she opened her bag, placed a small bill in the boy’s vase.

“We really shouldn’t.” The husband edged down to replace the bill with an even smaller one. “Can’t kick the future,” he said, glancing down at the lost money. “Hardest habit to break.”

The family walked just past the boy. They stood at the railing and watched, across the river, the cranes build the luxury towers.

“Bare ruined choirs,” the wife said, “where late the sweet birds sang.”

“What’s that?”

The wife sneezed, pushing Hope, strapped to her chest, almost over the railing.

“If you sneeze that hard again,” the husband smiled, “Hope might fall into the river. Or should we just throw him in the river?”

If they threw Hope in the river, he would surely die. The son would fall, the wife would fall in after the husband fell in and they would all fall toward the dying son and die themselves. If only, when it went that way, it could have. Hope counted on that mystery. Hope would come to know everything the parents thought before they thought it, and Hope would understand whatever the parents could never say. Hope had their time. Hope was in no hurry. Hope had the rest of their lives.


About the Author

Stuart M. Ross is a writer from Queens living in Chicago. He is the author of the novels Jenny in Corona and The Hotel Egypt. Follow his work at


Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash