The Need - Helen Phillips Page 0,1

sure to disrupt Ben, lulled nearly to sleep by the panicked bouncing of Molly’s arm.

Viv pulled the door open.

Molly had never before noticed that the bedroom door squeaked, a sound that now seemed intolerably loud.

It would be so funny to tell David about this when he landed.

I turned off the light and made the kids hide in the corner of the bedroom. I was totally petrified. And it was nothing!

Beneath the hilarity would lie her secret concern about this little problem of hers. But their laughter would neutralize it, almost.

She listened hard for the footsteps. There were none.

She stood up. She raised Ben’s limp, snoozing body to her chest. She flicked the light back on. The room looked warm. Orderly. The gray quilt tucked tight at the corners. She would make mac and cheese. She would thaw some peas. She stepped toward the doorway, where Viv stood still, peering out.

“Who’s that guy?” Viv said.


Eight hours before she heard the footsteps in the other room, she was at the Phillips 66 fossil quarry, at the bottom of the Pit, chiseling away at the grayish rock.

She had been looking forward to it, an hour alone in the Pit, the absorption into the endless quest for fossils, the stark solitude of it, thirty yards removed from the defunct gas station, away from the ever-increasing hubbub about the Bible, away from the phone calls and emails and hate mail, away from the impatient reporters and scornful hoaxers and zealots swiftly emerging from the woodwork.

“Almost a decade of mind-bending plant-fossil finds, a bunch of them unplaceable based on our current understanding of the fossil record,” Corey had griped last week, “and no one but us and a handful of other paleobotany dorks gave a damn about this site until now.”

As Molly stood in the Pit, her focus eluded her, the obsessive focus that had been the trademark of her working life, the longtime source of mockery and admiration from her colleagues and her husband alike. Your freak focus, David called it.

Now, though, she was just outrageously tired: soggy logic, fuzzy vision. It was inconceivable that in forty-five minutes she would be standing in front of a tour group, saying things.

The night prior, Ben had awoken every hour or so to howl for a few moments before dropping back into silence. Again and again she almost went to him. Finally, at 3:34 a.m., she entered the children’s room to find him standing naked in the crib, gripping the wooden bars. He had somehow managed to remove his red footed pajamas by himself, a skill she would have guessed was still months off. When he saw her, he stopped shrieking and smiled proudly.

“Good for you,” she whispered, nauseated with exhaustion.

She lifted him out of the crib, anxious about the possibility of waking Viv, and sank down into the rocking chair to nurse him. She shouldn’t do it. It was bad for his freshly grown teeth to have milk on them at night. He was too old for night nursing. But in the dark, disoriented, she sometimes gave in, less to his nagging and more to her own desire to hold a person close and, effortlessly, give him what he most wanted.

Yet tonight, for the first time ever, he didn’t want to nurse. Instead, he pressed his head against her clavicle and then patted her cheek four times before leaning away from her, leaning back toward the crib.

“Shouldn’t we put your pajamas on?”

He was woozy, though, already almost asleep again, and anyway the radiator was going too strong for this uncannily warm early spring, so she returned him to the crib in just his diaper.

She had finally fallen back to sleep in her own bed when there was a mouth an inch from her face.

“I’m carrying a tree.”


“I’m carrying a tree.”

“You’re carrying a tree?”

“No! Not a tree, a dream!”

“You’re carrying a dream?”


She and David had a running joke about how they both feared their kids at night the same way that, as children, they’d feared monsters under the bed. Beasts that would rise up from the side of your bed, seize you with sharp nails and demand things of you.

She shouldn’t do it, but she did: hauled Viv into bed, parked the kid between her body and David’s, which slumbered through everything, even through Viv’s sleep dance, her spread eagle evolving into pirouette evolving into breaststroke, her almost-four years swelling to take up far more space in the bed than their combined sixty-eight.

So you wake up ill