She was mouthing the words of a song as she came out of the hospital bathroom, a sad song that hardly sailed with enough billow to be heard. A whisper, really. A secret told to only herself.
...the angels replied:
Oh, your baby has gone down the plug hole.
Oh, your baby has gone down the plug.
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin,
He should have been washed in a jug, in a jug.
Your baby is perfectly happy;
He won't need a bath anymore.
He's a-muckin' about with the angels above,
Not lost but gone before.
"Please, stop," I asked. I didn't like her song. She looked at me with disapproval, then caught herself. She stood there--totally alone--even though I was but two feet away.
“I had a cousin once,” she said out of the blue, with a rambling-on unfocused look in her tired eyes. She walked toward the bed and before she sat next to me I was able to shove away the wheeled platform that had held the tray of her unfinished breakfast. “I was just a little girl when it happened, of course.” She paused again, her aimless gaze drifting in one untargeted direction to another. “She had this baby,” she continued. “Everything was normal—a beautiful little boy baby."
"Oh, Abby, do you really think this will help?" I asked.
"And then he got sick in the nursery, so they had to put him in a special nursery for sick babies. I think they had to put him on oxygen or something. It wasn't anything serious. I mean the baby did just fine and all. It’s just that, well, the point is that my cousin was discharged from the hospital before her baby was.”
“I don’t understand,” I said to her. “How is that the point? That happens.”
“The point, Ralph, is that she had to leave that hospital without a baby."
"Without her baby."
"Without any baby. And I remember thinking at the time, what a strange feeling that must be—to go and be pregnant all of that time. Remember that I was very little back then, and because of that her pregnancy seemed to go on forever. Anyway, to go and be pregnant all of that time, and then to go and have the baby for goodness sake, and then to have to leave with nothin’. Really strange.”
I only listened; silence was the appropriate response. This was grim territory, and it was all hers.
“And I guess I remember this so well,” she continued, “about how strange that must have been for her only because she bitched and bitched about it. And when her baby did come home, about a week later, all of the fanfare had already fizzled. No glory. Just a beautiful baby. And I remember I was sympathetic with her frustration at wanting her baby to come home with her and not having it that way. She missed the relatives’ welcoming the two of them into the house. She missed the drop-ins of all of the people she’d show the baby off to. The little envelopes with the folded cash in them. She missed all of that. The show must go on, right? But for an empty house. The fickle audience had already found another trending event to shower with their fifteen minutes. She felt so gypped. Like when a mother’s only daughter elopes, robbing her out of the glory of the wedding she herself had always wanted.”
“Yea, I guess that’s kind of weird,” I agreed, just out of politeness, but I was wrong. She wasn’t sympathizing with her cousin.
“Well wasn’t that all just too damn bad!” Abby said angrily. “She did have her baby to raise--the important part--but she was all upset over stupid crap like that. A beautiful baby like that and she's furious over some maternalistic inconvenience. I loved her back then for her inconvenience." Her eyes regrouped a focus on me, fire burning the tears out of them. "I so hate her now, though. She should’ve known what it was like to leave the hospital without your baby because he’s stone cold dead!”
The poor cousin was really catching it now. I didn’t say anything else. I let her have these sentiments all to herself. She suffered privately, as I just stared at the ground. She was beyond any help I could offer. Mrs. Humpty Dumpty.
“Ready?” I finally asked her, hoping to break her melancholy. "Got all your things?"
“Yea,” she sighed, then said, “the kid ended up being a bum, anyway. Got involved with drugs. Had a kid he never saw." Abby laughed, but it was a snarky laugh. "Caused her nothing but pain her whole life. She blew raising him.”
"The important part."
"Right, the important part."
"Are you saying good for her?"
"Oh, no, of course not," she said, re-engaging those parts of the brain that keep the reptile in check. But after a pause, admitted, "Well, yea, I guess I am." Sometimes the reptile means well.