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 Shelter in a Wicked Storm

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Cynthia Gant
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PostSubject: Shelter in a Wicked Storm   Thu Sep 01, 2011 3:11 am

"I love you, snookums," the woman said, rubbing her face against that of a pouty infant's. The child was small and round with a feisty patch of red hair poking out from beneath his hat. He glowered as his mother caressed him. A storm was brewing in that boy, and not a thing anyone could do about it, the expression on his face said. The two were waiting underneath an abandoned bus stop. It provided a relatively clean and dry shelter out of the way of the pouring rain. "I love you, I love you, I love you," she repeated once more, each time punctuating the word love with a swish of her nose bumping into his. He pouted, he frowned, and then the inevitable happened. His eyes squinched shut, his mouth opened, and he let out a wail. The woman, spurred to action by her son's unhappiness, hastened the face rubs, bounced him in her arms, cooed gentle, calming noises, and began to ponder the possible benefits of Eskimo kisses.
Her purse dangled haphazardly from her arm throughout this presentation. Slipping bit by bit, the boy kicking and punching her in his temperamental rage did nothing to aid its recovery. "Oh, Ralphie," she moaned, desperate. "Stop it, you're hurting mommy. Come on now, Ralphie. If you're good--oof--If you're good, Ralphie, mommy will take you to get some hot chocolate, okay?" The child ignored her, working himself into a truly passionate temper tantrum.
The mother caressed. The mother bounced. The mother hummed. Her facilities exhausted and her nerves shot, she sat down heavily on the rotting wooden bench behind her. It cracked and she tried to stand up, but too late--the whole thing split in half directly down the middle and she slid violently into the gap. She squeezed the boy to her bosom. For one blissful moment as her head thumped, silence reigned. He was simply too stunned to cry.
---
Two years prior.
"Honey, do you really think we're ready for this?" Anna pushed her hair behind her ear, where it promptly fell back into her face. She did it again, and then a third time; it was a nervous habit, well worn by now.
"I don't know," Johnny said, looking earnestly into her face. A man like Johnny was rarely earnest. He lived his life from joke to joke. That was what she'd liked about him in the first place. He'd been outgoing enough to coax her out of the quiet nest she'd built around herself, and he usually did it without scaring the living daylights out of her. (Usually.) But seeing him in this new light, seeing him as sincere and, well, naked as he was, she didn't know what to think. She tried to laugh it off.
"Oh, come on, Johnny. We can't have a baby. What about school? What about your career? And how do you think we're supposed to pay for another person? No, I don't think so."
"This is no joking matter, so don't even try."
"I'm not keeping it," she said. "I bet a lot of people'd want to adopt him."
"You said 'him'," Johnny murmured.
Anna hesitated. "So I did," she said at last. Her eyes roamed across the room hungrily, looking for something to protect her, to sustain her. There was nothing. "So I did..."
--
"Get away from me," she screamed. "Get away from me, you!"
The baby babbled hysterically in his crib, mimicking his mother. Johnny leaped away from her just in time to see a plate soar through the air past his head and collide with the wall behind him. The sound was ear-shattering.
"You're crazy," he yelled.
"GET OUT!"
He grabbed her and pushed her onto the couch. She wrestled with him feebly, and bit his arm lightly before she collapsed, panting.
"I'm taking Ralph until you can get it together," he told her. She shook her head and tried to get up. Tears saturated his T-shirt. He was holding back tears of his own, now. Very bitter tears. She shook her head and mouthed the word no over again and again. She looked like a fish out of water. She looked like she was drowning. "Yes," he said. He got off of the couch and stood, looking at her. She was limp. Ralph cried in his crib, waiting to be answered. Johnny scooped the baby up carefully and ran out of the house with his tail between his legs.
--
"How are you feeling?" he asked. The phone cord was wound around his index finger, and he watched with interest as it turned purple.
"Oh, I'm okay," she said. "I'm doing well. The doctor said...Well," she changed the subject quickly, "I've been learning how to play guitar, and focusing on my studies. I got an apartment down here. And a job."
"That's great," he said.
"Mm-hmm."
"So I was thinking--"
"How's Ralphie been? Momma said you took a bunch of video of 'im on his birthday..." Johnny heard an abrupt sniffle from the other line. "Any chance of me seeing that sometime soon?"
"Sure. I'll email it to you today. I've been meaning to, anyway. But I was thinking that you've been doing so well..."
Silence. He struggled to form the sentence that all his thoughts were leading too. He could hear Anna breathing on the other end of the line, faintly. Her plugged nose, and all. "I was thinking that you could come over to the house this weekend. The guest bedroom's fixed up real pretty, you know. And Ralphie'd sure love to see his mother."
"That...that sounds great. Just really...wow. Fantastic. I've been missing him so bad, Johnny, like you wouldn't believe."
Johnny cast his eyes to Ralphie, who was asleep on the kitchen floor, curled up on top of a pillow. Their dog, Baby, who'd been acquired before the birth of his son, licked the kid's toes lackadaisically. "Oh, I believe you," he said.
---
Anna lay on the damp concrete, panting. Ralphie blinked and began to cough. She felt the tears in her eyes that had been there since the moment she took her son out of Johnny's arms and into her own threaten her, now. If that baby uttered just one more yell of his, she didn't know if she'd make it through the day. Exhaustion haunted her and defeat mocked her. Between the two of them, she figured she was pretty much beat. Ralphie opened his mouth...
...And was beat to the punch. Anna opened her eyes and saw a tall, dark man looking at her critically. She didn't say anything. What could she say? "Oh, don't mind me, I'm just a failure of a mother--that's all." No, that wouldn't do. He was just another rain-soaked traveler seeking shelter from the cruel autumn weather.
"Excuse me," he said. "I don't mean to intrude, but--may I?" He held out his hand. She took it cautiously, looking like a dear in headlights. The man smiled openly, exposing a mouth full of teeth. "You know no buses run through here anymore, right?"
"Yeah," she said, "I know. I'm waiting for my ride." She smiled and gestured nervously. "Our ride." Ralphie began to fuss. Annie shut her eyes and began to pray for a miracle: Dear God, please oh please don't let him start up again. I'm at my wits end, please. She bounced Ralphie as she prayed.
"Hey, you know, I'm real good with kids," the stranger said.
"Oh yeah?" She didn't open her eyes.
"Yeah. I was kind of an only child, but I've been known to soothe a crying babe or two in my time."
She looked at him. Was he hitting on her? It didn't matter. Ralphie was sucking in air to utter another earthshaking scream and this man seemed decent enough.
"Sure," she said. "You can hold him a second." She transferred Ralphie to the man and picked up her purse. She dug threw it, looking for a cigarette, even a wet one, when she realized she'd just handed her child to a man whose name she didn't even know.
I am the worst mother ever, she thought. She looked up, and lo and behold, spotted her son smiling.
"How did you do that?" she asked, her voice shaking. She dropped her purse and took a step towards them.
"Oh, it's no trick," he said, answering slowly. The infant laughed softly as he gazed up into the man's face. "Babies are really smart. They know who's good for them."
"Oh. I'm no good for babies, I guess. Specifically that one."
"No, no," the man said. "Maybe, you know. They respond to safety, to love, to happiness. A lot of things. You just have to find those things for yourself and let them fall into place."
"I thought I had all those things."
"Hmm. So why don't you tell him that?" He put Ralphie into her arms, which were all but outstretched. The boy leaned his head on his mother's shoulder and yawned.
Anna didn't know what to say. How could she tell this man how she'd missed the weight of her child, the reassuring warmth and resounding joy Ralphie gave her? "Th-thank you," she stuttered.
"Ahhh, my pleasure," he said, beaming. "Gosh, you two sure are cute together. Are you sure you don't need a ride out of this weather?"
"Oh, I don't know...My husband was supposed to be here by now." As she spoke, Johnny's car came into view around the bend. "Oh, speak of the devil," she laughed.
Johnny rolled the window down and shouted, "Come on, what are you waiting for?" Anna and the man exchanged smiles and she ran to the door. Once inside the car, Johnny said, "Sorry I was late. Traffic was crazy! Wasn't it, my wittle shmuffy-wuffy-kins?" he said, bending down to pull Ralphie's hat off and kiss him on the top of his head. "Did you get the needles?" he asked.
"Yup."
"Who was that guy out there?"
"Oh, I don't know...Just another somebody waiting for the bus, I guess," she sighed. Ralphie sighed too, and snuggled his face into her neck. For the first time in what felt like centuries, Anna knew contentment in the contours of her son's face.

The End.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Feedback is perfectly welcome.


Last edited by Cynthia Gant on Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:13 pm; edited 2 times in total
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cindergirl6
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PostSubject: Re: Shelter in a Wicked Storm   Thu Sep 01, 2011 6:47 am

Oh wow! This is heartwrenching. I was floored at the line, "Did you get the needles.' Sadly I see too much of that in my job as a firefighter. There is just one thing standing in their way of being good parents, drugs. And sadly, not even the love for a child can break them. Only G-d has the power. Great short story, I was immediatly drawn into it. G-d Bless!

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Lora
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PostSubject: Re: Shelter in a Wicked Storm   Thu Sep 01, 2011 2:16 pm

Hello Cynthia,
Great work. You had me laughing in the first paragraph and in horror at the end. By including the baby in this story, you really bring home the tragedy of drug use in our society.

Here are a few small suggestions:

I felt a little confused by the the time sequence. In the third section you start with "One year prior," but is this one year prior to the "Two years prior" in the second section? If so, then the baby wouldn't be born yet. And, then in the the "Three months prior" in the fourth section adds to the confusion. You might be able to get away with not even putting those disclaimers in there at all, because the reader can kind of tell when it is by the subject matter in the section.
I also found a typo in this line:
Johnny heard an abrupt sniffle from the other line. "Any chance of me seeing that sometimes soon?"

You're a very talented writer. I look forward to reading more of your work. God Bless.

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Cynthia Gant
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PostSubject: Re: Shelter in a Wicked Storm   Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:14 pm

Thanks a lot! I was kind of worried about the intervals of time, and I think you're right. : )
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