Can You Relate? A teaser from “the babysitting scene.”

While Miss Suzette clucked over instructions for mixing formula, Mr. Cal jiggled pretty Victoria up and down, talking about her first two teeth as if nothing untoward had ever happened between him and Lacey. David Brinkley reported the news from the living room TV: Charles Manson had been sentenced to death for the Tate LaBianca murders. Miss Suzette looked briefly toward the set.

“Good,” she said, snapping her pocketbook shut. “Now Victoria goes down at seven-thirty with a bottle. We should be home by eight-thirty, right honey?” she looked to Mr. Cal.

“We should if we get a move on,” he said, his dark brows raised. He lit a cigarette. Miss Suzette left a lipstick print on one of Victoria’s fine brows and handed her to Lacey. “She’s been so happy all afternoon,” she said.

Miss Suzette’s parting words were still hanging in the air as Victoria’s face darkened. She began to shriek. Lacey rocked her, swaying side to side the way Miss Suzette did. She surrendered Victoria to me.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. The baby’s face was crimson, her cry rising to a bonafide caterwaul. I held her little body—as rigid as a two-by-four—close to me. Then the stench of poop supplanted the acrid odor of cigarette smoke in the apartment.

“Here, you take her,” I said.

“Ha! No way,” Lacey said. “She who holds her changes her.”

“Hopefully that’s what’s wrong with her,” I said wrinkling my nose. “I’ll do it. Ronnie hated poop in his diaper.” I walked to the nursery holding Victoria away from me as though she might explode. On the changing table, she wailed on, thrashing from side to side. Between Lacey and me, we managed to remove the rank cloth, clean her bottom, and pin a fresh diaper in place without impaling her.

“I feel like I just wrestled a crocodile!” Lacey said, pinching the diaper and dropping it into an evil smelling soaking pail.

I picked the baby up. And just like that her face smoothed and cleared. I expected a rainbow to cross her features. She cooed and patted my cheeks.

“Aww, look, Lace. She’s so sweet.”

I kissed Victoria and regarded the nursery for the first time. The room was a surprise: expensively decorated and fancy. Sumptuous fabrics—pinks, creams, and a yellow so buttery I expected it to come off on my fingers—covered every surface except the dresser. The top looked like the silver section of an antique shop—ornate picture frames, a brush and comb, a Christening cup, a bunny piggy bank. Only lovely dreams could be dreamed in such a room. Lacey began to snoop. She peered inside the closet.

“Wow, Victoria has more clothes than we do.”

I carried the baby back to the living room where a blanket pallet scattered with toys was laid. Victoria sat and looked expectantly at me.

“Come play with us,” I called. “What are you doing back there?”

“I haven’t found anything good yet. I looked in their bedside tables last time. Not even a diaphragm,” Lacey said dejectedly. I heard her opening and closing dresser drawers. Victoria rocked forward and back on hands and knees; trying to reach the cloth duck I danced in her path.

“C’mon, Lace.”

Lacey came in and turned the TV station to The Brady Bunch. We played with Victoria and laughed at Jan on TV wearing a brunette wig. At quarter past seven I heated a bottle while Lacey changed the baby a final time. Victoria went down without a peep, pansy eyes at half-mast, her bud-like fists unfurling. “Sleep well, little love,” I said softly and covered her with an embroidered coverlet.

We pulled a couple of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies from the box on the counter. Lacey resumed her investigations, poking through the kitchen drawers. I plopped down on the sofa and began folding a basket of baby laundry. The Partridge Family was coming on. C’mon get happy! Lacey noticed a door in the wall behind the sofa. She scooched behind the sofa and opened the door. “Wow.”

I twisted to look. Stacks and stacks of magazines covered the shelves of a walk-in closet. There must have been five hundred spines! “What magazines do they have?” I asked. Lacey pulled one from a shelf at eye level. Her face grew still.

She held the magazine out between her thumb and forefinger as if it might bite. Playboy! “Oh my gosh, Lacey.” I was on my feet, forgetting all about Laurie Partridge heading on a date with a biker named Snake. Of course we knew about dirty magazines. In theory. We’d seen them behind the counter, high up on the rack, in filling stations. Once at school in seventh grade, a boy named Chet Sanders had passed around a page torn from a Playboy: a supine woman, boobs as big around as her face. The wrinkled page landed on the girls’ lunch table at noon. We jumped up, squealing as if a boulder had been dropped into a pool of acid. Coach Crenshaw, on duty and nibbling on a stalk of celery, confiscated the page and Chet Sanders’s free time.

 

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