“Wet spots. Goddam wet spots. Jesus. Perfect.”
Mary looked up at the sign above the door. “Home for Children” was carved into a piece of blue-painted wood; faded from the years since it had been installed. She hoped that Father didn’t notice the spots. She really needed the money.
The sound of the door’s handle turning brought her back to herself. “Now or never,” she thought, affecting a smile not unlike the one that had landed her in this situation in the first place.
“Come in please.”
A woman, dressed in the garb of her beliefs, led Mary into the building. Aside from her curt interruption of Mary’s introduction, the woman did not speak. She stood in the entryway and eyeballed Mary; starting with a penetrating gaze into Mary’s brown eyes, and then down, over the ample curves of Mary’s waist and belly and resting finally on the black clogs that Mary had found herself wearing recently. If the woman noticed the wet spots on Mary’s chest, she gave no indication. “Come this way please. Father is waiting.”
Mary followed the woman down the hall, hoping that Father was a bit friendlier than her current escort.
The woman stopped at a wooden door carved with four acorns; one adorning each corner of it. Mary was unsure of when such things had ever been in style on the West coast. There was a worn, wooden bench set to the right of the door. The woman indicated to Mary that she should take a seat. “Wait here please.”
Feeling thankful to be off of her feet, Mary searched her purse quickly for a tissue with which to address her leaking breasts. Before she could complete her digging, the acorn door opened wide and a strong, baritone voice said, “Mary, would you come in here?”
A man appearing roughly sixty years old was seated behind a wooden desk that was adorned with the same acorns as the portal to his office. “Please, take a seat,” he said; indicating the leather wrapped chairs at Mary’s side. Mary sat.
“I see from your shirt that you weren’t exaggerating on your application. No, please, don’t be embarrassed, this is a good thing. This is exactly what we have need of. And I believe that we can be of some assistance to you as well?” Father asked with a small, friendly smile breaking over his face.
Mary sagged into her chair a little with relief. “Yes, Father. I… Well, I…I don’t really have much use for this anymore,” Mary said, looking down at her now mottled shirt, as sadness pulled down on the corners of her face. “I’m happy to help out where I can.”
Father stood from behind his desk and quickly moved to Mary’s side, taking up her hand. “Let’s get you started right away,” he said, smiling into Mary’s brown eyes. “That little boy needs you.”
The next few weeks found Mary getting settled into her new position. Clothing was provided for her, as it was for all who resided at the Home for Children. “At least this soaks up milk better than the shirts I brought with me,” she thought as she walked towards the nursery.
“Let’s see, how are we this morning Edward?” she cooed as she approached one of the many cribs in the room. A fragile-looking, brown haired, baby boy lay snuggled in his blankets, shifting slightly at the sound of her voice. She reached in and picked Edward up, a beatific smile growing on her face as her skin contacted his.
Unfastening the buttons at the top of her garb to prepare for Edward’s breakfast, Mary wondered how such a small baby could be so warm. Not hot, no, that would mean sickness — fever. This was more like the soft, baked, glow that you feel on a spring day — in the late morning when the sun gently strikes you. Warm. Warm and radiant. But certainly not hot, Mary thought. No, that would mean sickness.
As Mary settled Edward onto her dripping breast for his meal, she gazed off, out the window of the nursery, and into the world beyond. Mary was happy to have left that world behind; the pain, the loss, the sadness and guilt. All of that negativity. Not to mention the crippling lack of money. No, Mary was very happy to have found a home and a purpose for the milk that her body was making seemingly without end. Edward benefitted from Mary, and she from he. “Life is good,” she thought. “Life is good.”
Edward shifted in her arms as he suckled. A small arm reached up into the air, and pawed at it softly, contentedly. Mary looked down at this bundle of joy, this reason for her new-found fortune; and Edward turned, and looked back at her.
Mary felt flushed. “Is the thermostat set too high? Whew.” She noticed a glimmer in Edward’s eyes. What was it about his eyes? What beautiful eyes. She didn’t want to look away.
Edward lay in her arms; his eyes playing over hers as his tiny arms slowly chased dust motes through the air.
“Yeah, that’s a real damn shame. Oh…shit, sorry Father. You know I didn’t mean no disrespect.”
“Don’t worry son, I take no offense. These things don’t exactly leave us at our best, do they?”
Father watched as the medic finished zipping up the large black bag that now held Mary. He felt terrible; Mary had been such a sweet girl, just looking for a break. He did not feel any guilt, however. His application had been quite extensive, and there had certainly been no mention of epilepsy anywhere on Mary’s paperwork. Of this, he was quite certain.
“Well Father, I hope we meet next time under better circumstances. Sorry again for the blasphemy.” And with that, Mary rolled out of the Home for Children leaving Father to wonder just what he was going to do about a replacement nurse for young Edward.