The day after New Year’s I stepped onto a smelly bus with the kid in a pillowcase and slung over my shoulder like a hobo pack. I had carefully cut holes in the pillowcase so that the baby could breathe when I walked around with him. I found a spot near the back and set Maine down on the seat beside me. He started to cry and some blue-haired, old salty sea hag across the aisle gave me a dirty look.
“That’s no way to carry around a baby,” she scowled with a hoarse voice, her cigarette wrinkles squishing together as her jaw moved. “You should be arrested for that. Hell, if I was a cop, I’d smash you over the head with a club right now.”
I turned to look at her as I dug around in my backpack for a baby bottle full of root beer.
“If it’s all the same to you, mam, I’d appreciate it if you would just mind your own damn stinkin’ business!” I snapped, slightly rising up in my seat in a threatening way maybe like Adam Sandler would. “I’ve got enough problems dealing with this kid dumped on me by some orgy queen. I’m doing the best I can and plan to remedy the situation today. That’s for sure. So, if you don’t mind… I think he’s hungry now.”
I turned away and proceeded to stick the rubbery nipple of the baby bottle into Maine’s mouth. Even though it was bubbly root beer, he sucked at it eagerly like it was his own momma’s milky teat.
The old sea hag’s mouth dropped open and when I glanced back in her direction, I noticed she had dirty teeth and a cracked tongue the color of old, moldy bacon.
“What on earth are you feeding that poor child? Is that… It looks like soda pop!”
“Yes mam, it is soda pop. Root beer to be exact. I think it’s his favorite.”
“Are you stupid or something? Do you want his stomach to explode!?”
“Actually mam, I don’t think I’d mind too much if his stomach exploded right about now. I’m tired of this shit.”
The old sea hag leaned further across the aisle and her breath smelled like warm deli salami as she spoke in an aggravated tone.
“Young man,” she began. “I strongly suggest that once you get to wherever you’re going that you take this child to the nearest hospital before you end up killing him. You’re lucky I don’t go up there right now and have the driver report you.”
Too exhausted to fight, I pleaded with her.
“Please, mam, don’t do that. I’ve never spent much time around babies, and I don’t always know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m heading to my mom’s and dad’s right now and they’ll know. They’ll know what to do.”
The old hag sighed heavily, and her salami breath spewed out like dragon fire, and it nearly made me puke. She looked at me with lost, ebony eyes — shaking a crinkly, yellowed finger like a witch.
“All right. But you give your word that you give this child over to someone who can handle him properly, and if I find out you ain’t did it, well, I’m a witness and I’ll tell the police all about it when they show your picture in the newspaper or on the television. I’ll come forward for sure. Don’t you think I won’t.”
Maine began to choke a bit and I pulled the bottle from his little mouth with a nearly inaudible pop. I set him up on my shoulder and gently patted his back. When the baby belched, the old sea hag rolled her eyes and returned to the proper bus-riding position in her own seat.
“Soda pop for a baby,” she mumbled under her breath as she snapped open a glamour magazine. “Geez, now I’ve seen it all.”
I grew sleepy and my head bobbed as the bus rolled down some pastoral highway in the Upstate heading for a fancy little town called Burgundy Falls. I began to wonder what my old ma and pa would do when I showed up at the house carrying a bastard baby in a pillowcase. They would most likely have me committed. Why not? They had the money. Wouldn’t bother them a bit to lock me up and throw away the key. I figured that would be right satisfactory to them. They’d be happy if I rotted. The thought of it all ruined my appetite for sweet home cooking and made my stomach hurt. No, this burden in the bag had caused me nothing but trouble ever since ol’ promiscuous Helen Corvair had decided to run off for breakfast and not come back. My nervous and immune systems were shot. I had bags under my eyes from lack of sleep. I thought I might be coming down with a bad case of schizophrenia and possibly a cold. I even had to quit my job as a toy clerk at the five-story department store in the city because they wouldn’t let me bring the kid to work with me. They said my employee locker was no place to keep a baby while I performed my job duties. Pfffft to that. Damn you golden Helen Corvair. Damn you and all your gritty intoxication to hell.
The nerves really began to jingle like sleigh bells, and it felt like reindeer were tugging on my balls when the bus pulled into the station at Burgundy Falls. I sat there for a long time watching the other passengers gather their things and get off. The old salty sea hag who bitched at me turned out to be quite stout and I watched as she struggled to get out of her seat. Once she was out and up, she bumped her fat rear right into me as she gathered her things. It was obnoxious and horrible, and I wanted to scream. She turned to me one last time and growled to me in a voice most likely being violently raped by throat cancer.
“Now don’t you forget what I said. You take care of that baby first thing, or I’ll be sure they hang you by the nuts.”
“Thanks. Have a fine day,” I called after her as she waddled down the aisle bumping her big rump against all the seats.
When I was the last one left, I remained in my seat, frightened and unsure, until the driver finally came down the aisle and looked at me like I was stupid.
“This is Burgundy Falls,” he said. “Isn’t this your stop, sir?”
I looked up at him and wanted to suddenly cry from all the pain of life that seemed to be eating me alive at that moment.
“I guess it is. Sorry.”
I gathered up Maine and my things and got off the bus. I ordered up a cab to take me to the house. When we got there, I ordered him to park a ways down the street because I was scared. I looked at the old place from a distance as the grimy cabbie reminded me the meter was still running.
“I don’t care,” I said. “Just a few minutes.”
It was a fine old house. Probably the best fine old house in the best neighborhood of Burgundy Falls. It was painted a cool baby blue color and had sparkling white trim all around. There was a big, wooden-planked porch that jutted out from a wide, white door like a pier, and it spread and wrapped around the whole of the front and side parts of the house. The long, wooden porch swing sat idle in the cold. My mother usually had hanging pots full of stinky red geraniums and multicolored marigolds all over the place, but they were now put away for the winter. The upper part of the house was supported by slick wooden columns that looked like uncurled elephant tusks and there were a lot of shiny windows, each with curtains perfectly parted at equal distance. Finely manicured shrubbery still strung with Christmas lights lined the front of the house, and there was a large yard all around dotted with beautiful tall trees and covered in a thin veil of undisturbed snow.
“Go on now cabbie,” I said. “You can pull up.”
As he steered the car into the circular drive, I saw my mother busily cleaning the inside of the big parlor window right there at the front. She energetically wiped in wide circles making sure there wasn’t a single streak or smudge anywhere. Then I noticed her motions slowed and then stopped completely when she was aware of the taxi being there. I watched with bubbling fear as she rubbed her hands on the cleaning cloth and looked out the obnoxiously clean window with curiosity. She suddenly turned away and I knew she was moving rapidly toward the front door.
“Everett? Everett? What are you doing here?” my mother said in a frantic panic after yanking the door wide open. “Everett, are you all right? What is it you have moving around in that pillowcase?”
“It’s a baby, mom.”
“A baby!?” she wailed, and she nearly fainted.
I held the pillowcase open, and she peered in. Her eyes grew wide, and her painted mouth popped open. I backed away in case she slapped me.
“My God, Everett! What on Earth are you doing with a baby!? Edward! Edward get out here! Your crazy son has a baby in a pillowcase! Give me that poor thing.”
She reached in, pulled out Maine and looked him over.
“Everett, this baby doesn’t look well. Come inside right now and explain yourself.”
It was then my father appeared in the doorway grumbling and growling and scratching at his balls.
“What the hell is all this yelling about!? Oh, hello Everett.”
“Come on, inside, both of you. I don’t want the neighbors to hear all this fuss,” my mother ordered.
“Where the hell did that baby come from?” my dad asked as he closed the door. “Did you knock some poor girl up, huh Everett?” and then he slapped at my head as we walked through the house.
“Would you both just settle down and let me explain!?” I pleaded. “Jesus H. Christ!”
“Oh, you’ve got some explaining to do that’s for damn sure,” my father said. “Now just what the hell is this all about?”
We went into the parlor and sat down on fine furniture around a fine coffee table, and I looked out a finely cleaned window wishing everything at that moment would just end up being a bad dream. But it wasn’t. It was real and it was horrible.
“Everett?” my mother asked with disturbed suspicion. “Did you kidnap this child?”
My dad snorted, “Well, that’s a fine thing to add to your already sparkling resume — kidnapper.”
Frustrated, I stood up and threw my hands in the air.
“I didn’t kidnap the kid! Some girl I met… She walked out and left him. She never came back. It’s her kid, not mine.”
“I knew you were running with a bad crowd. I think you should move out of the city and come back home for a while so I can keep an eye on you.”
“No mom …”
My father interrupted, “Hell son, why didn’t you just call the police? Any normal idiot would have done that.”
“I thought she would come back. I didn’t want to get her in trouble.”
“Trouble?” my mother said, shaking her head. “Everett, look at the trouble she’s caused you. Can’t you see how ridiculous all this is? You’re not fit to care for a child like this. Oh goodness.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed.
“I didn’t know what else to do. That’s why I came here. I’m sorry. I was hoping you could help me.”
My ma and pa looked at each other with troubled faces and then glanced back at me. My father suddenly stood up and poured himself a Scotch. He looked inside the glass and swirled the liquid around slowly as he thought. He took a big gulp and smacked his mouth.
“Well, I’m going to call the sheriff’s office and see what they can do about this,” he said. “This is downright asinine, Everett. I just don’t understand what gets in your head sometimes. This no way to live your life. You’re reckless and ignorant and at times I’m downright embarrassed to have you as a son.”
“Edward, please. The boy has feelings you know,” my mother said in my defense.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about his feelings! It’s time he grows up, wise up, and make something of his life.”
He poured himself another drink and swallowed it hard. I noticed he was slightly shaking.
“Where did you meet this hussy anyways?” he asked me.
“Outside a coffee shop in the city. There was a fight on the sidewalk, and we just got to talking. Her name is Helen, and she looks like Simka Gravas.”
“Who?” my dad barked.
“Latka’s wife from that television show TAXI.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Everett! When are you going to start living in the real world!?”
My father slammed another two fingers of Scotch and went for the phone.
My mother stopped him, “Wait. Maybe Everett can track her down. Find her. I can watch the baby until then.”
“Oh, hell no!” my father bellowed as he turned. “I know what you’re up to lady. I know how you’re always nagging about having another baby, and then here comes Everett out of the clouds holding one and he plops it right into your lap. No mam, we’re not taking on someone else’s baby. No way. I won’t have it. Not in my house.”
“Edward, don’t you think we should at least try to help our son? This is too much for him to handle alone.”
My father looked at me like he wanted to drag me out back, kill me, and leave me to rot in the woods.
“I already tried to find her,” I said. “She just vanished. She could be in California for all I know.”
“Well, what about the dad? Where the hell is he in all this mess?” my father asked.
“There is no dad,” I replied.
“There’s always a dad,” my mother pointed out as she held the baby up and smiled. “Does the baby have a name?”
“Like the state?”
“That’s nice,” my mother said.
“She probably screwed a sailor before he went off to England,” my father groaned, and then he walked off to another part of the house.
The doorbell rang and I craned my neck to look out the window and I saw my someday brother-in-law’s BMW pull into the drive. He’s a pretentious asshole by the way.
“Oh sugar!” my mother said, “I forgot all about Emily and Frost coming for a visit. I swear, Everett, you have the worst timing when it comes to your problems.”
TO BE CONTINUED