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“Whose baby is that?”

I’m startled by the sound of her voice, raspy from the healthy cigarettes. I haven’t heard it in some time.


“He shouldn’t be in here.”

I feel a tingle in my chest. What is that? Anger? “Why not?” I ask, holding him close to my chest.

She glares at me from her cloud of smoke. “He doesn’t live here.”

“But I do,” I say. “And if you can have guests, so can I.”

I don’t know where that came from. But life has already made Mo feel unwelcome; I’m not going to let her do it, too. I carry him to the sofa in the living room, without checking her reaction, and lay him down. My mother follows behind me.

“What are you doing?”

This is the most she’s said to me in months. I don’t look at her when I say, “Changing his diaper.” If I look at her, I’ll lose my resolve. She’ll bully me into leaving, and right now I just want to get this baby out of his piss-wet clothes. She leans over the back of the couch to look at him. I can smell the vanilla perfume she uses; it mingles with the stale smell of cigarette smoke.

“That baby isn’t right,” she says after a minute of staring at him. “I’ll bet you anything that bitch of a girlfriend Mo has was using when she was pregnant.” I don’t know how my mother knows about Mo’s bitch of a girlfriend, or that he even has a girlfriend. For someone who never sees the light of day, she appears to be well informed.

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” I say. He’s kicking his legs contentedly, happy to be free of his diaper.

“No, of course not,” she says. “And he doesn’t have the worst case of diaper rash I’ve ever seen either.”

She’s right. His skin is inflamed. The worst part is, he’s not even crying. My mother disappears from the room, and I think she’s gone up to her bedroom when she strolls back in, her red robe billowing around her legs. She hands me a tube of A&D ointment. “Wash him over the sink. Don’t use wipes. Dry him and leave his butt bare for a while.”

She floats back to her cave, and I hold the A&D in my hand for a long time before I do what she says. No one comes to get Mo. I feed him one of the bottles I found in the stroller, and when it starts to get dark, I carry him home, dragging the wonky-wheeled stroller behind me. When adult Mo answers the door, he looks annoyed.

“Oh shit,” he says when he sees the baby in my arms. “I forgot.”

He reaches for him, but I steer my hip left so the baby is out of his reach.

“He has diaper rash. It’s bad.” I hand him the A&D. “Leave him without a diaper for a while so it can clear up.”

Mo looks annoyed that I’m telling him what to do. I want to add, And stop cooking crack in your basement before you blow him up. But that’s the type of shit that gets you in trouble around here.

“Where’s Vola?” I ask, hoping Little Mo’s mother is somewhere around to take care of him. Mo’s eyes glaze over at the mention of her name.

“That buckwild bitch. Hell should I know?” Ah, so they’re fighting again. I want to tell him that he can leave Mo with me until she comes back, but he’s already slammed the door in my face.

I start to walk home, but I don’t want to be there. She will find a way to punish me for bringing the baby inside—both her and the house. Judah is with his dad tonight, wherever that is. Somewhere better than here, I think. I walk up the street, then back down again. Mother Mary, who is sitting in a rocking chair on her stoop, waves at me. I wave back. The bad people house is throbbing with music, although none of the usual glassy-eyed inhabitants are outside tonight. Past the eating house there is a small path that leads through the trees and into the woods. It’s overgrown now because nobody goes back there, but when I was little, and my mom left the house, we’d walk the path every day. My mom would say, “The leaves have varicose veins, Margo. Looky…”

I head there now, picking my way through the blackberry bushes, only half aware of the thorns nipping at my bare arms. I used to think these woods were mine, that they belonged to the eating house and whoever owned it. Now I know its part of the city. Protected wetlands, and trees, and birds.

Carpet growing up trees. Logs furred with moss. Leaves furled on the edges, burned brown by the sun. Most importantly there are flowers growing everywhere. Why don’t I come here more often?

I walk for a long time. I’m heading west toward the water. If I keep walking, I’ll come to the place where they found Nevaeh’s body. I don’t want to do that, so I head east. A little over a mile later I walk right into a wooden shack. It’s a storage shack, just large enough for a lawnmower and some tools. What it’s doing out here, I don’t know. The door is unhinged, and it’s mostly covered in moss. I step inside, brushing away cobwebs and the egg sacs that insects have left behind. It’s empty, aside from a rusted shovel and a box of generic, unopened garbage bags that sit on a stool in the center. The box is so faded I can barely make out the writing. It’s a place you could come to do secret things. It’s a wonder the high schoolers haven’t found it. They are always looking for a new place to smoke pot in peace. I pull the door closed and head back home, mentally making note of the fastest way to get to the shack. You never know when you’ll need to use something like that.

MY FAT IS GONE AND NONE OF MY CLOTHES FIT. I don’t care because they suck anyway, but you have to have shit to cover your flesh, because people will stare if you walk around fat and naked. My mother keeps a box of her fat clothes in the attic. I don’t know when my mother was ever fat, but I go scrounging around up there for something to wear. She wore a lot of high-waisted, cut-off jean shorts, with the edges fraying and tangled, cut so short the pockets peek out the bottom. There are half a dozen flannel shirts in there, too, and a pair of bright blue Doc Martens. She said that after she had me her feet grew a full size, and she had to throw away all of her old shoes. I carry my spoils back to my bedroom and spread them out on my mattress.


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