Oh, My Babies: Flash Fiction by cam
The old woman pushed her grocery cart down the alley, one front wheel rattling back and forth, the other squealing once every turn. She held tight to the handle, for without the cart, the woman would not have been able to walk. She spoke to her dolls as she searched the dregs of the city.
“Oh,my babies. Oh, my babies.” She stopped and reached into the basket for the rotting corpse of one of the dolls, not a beautiful Barbie, but an ugly rag. A leg was missing, and the face had been eaten away by rats looking for something to line their nest. The old woman had rescued the doll’s remains from the oily pavement of an alley where garbage was piled in heaps awaiting a collection day that would likely never come. She imagined the doll drop from the hands of a little girl who played at a window and a mother too drunk to care and too worn out from her miserable life to get off the couch and retrieve her little girl’s only friend.
“Oh, my babies. Oh, my babies.” She traded the rag doll for a Beanie Baby bunny with one floppy ear. She smoothed a crumpled whisker and fancied it had been part of an Easter basket for some little boy who threw it out his window and watched it bounce down the metal fire escape steps. He hoped that its absence would somehow conjure the appearance of the real bunny he longed for.
“Oh, my babies. “Oh, my babies.” The basket was full of her babies, plucked from dumpsters, gutters and alleys as she passed by, wheels rattling and squealing.
That night she pushed the cart into the trees along the river toward her home. One side of the scrapped utility trailer stood a little higher than the other on a tire that still held air. She pushed the cart up a warped plywood ramp and parked it inside. The door had fallen off the year before, victim of rusty hinges that finally broke loose under its weight. But she didn’t mind. Spring peepers played evening music for her each night before she settled down onto the malodorous mattress she had dragged from a nearby street where someone had left it on the curb for the trash man. That had been many years ago when she could still walk without the grocery cart.
“Oh, my babies, it’s bedtime now, and time for our story.” She leaned the dolls against the wall on the lower side of the trailer.
“There once was a beautiful young maiden, with hair the color of the sun and eyes the blue of the clear summer sky. She was a very happy girl. The boys would come calling, asking her to go for walks along the river or to the amusement park to ride the ferris wheel where they would try to steal a kiss, and sometimes, depending on the boy, she would let them.
One day, when she had grown to be less a girl and more a young woman, came one who had grown to be more man than boy and asked her to go dancing with him for the evening. They danced all night and kept on dancing day after day, year after year until the war called him away. She cried herself to sleep every night, praying between the sobs for her love to come back to her.”
The old woman, teetering along with a twisted walker scavenged from a dumpster behind the hospital, stopped at the doorway of her house, lowered herself to the floor and listened to the music for a moment before continuing.
“The young woman was with child, but neither she nor her man had known before he left. When the baby came, he was not well. She nursed him and kept him warm and safe, but there was no money for the doctor nor for medicine, and when the tiny infant died, there was no money for a funeral nor grave. No one had money in those days, and her aged parents could not help. She carried her dead child to the church and lay him on the steps where the nuns would find him in the morning. The young woman walked away crying, Oh, my baby. Oh, my baby. She waited for her man to come home, but when he did, he also was dead. But at least he had a funeral and a grave.”
The old woman turned back to her babies, tears following the deep creases and folds in her face. "Oh, my babies, each one of you is the baby I lost, and I gave you life after you were left on the streets and in the alleys and in trash cans. I did give you life again, didn’t I?"
There was a stirring in the trailer behind her, but the old woman was not alarmed, rather, she was comforted when one by one, the faceless rag doll, the bunny with one floppy ear and all the other filthy and disfigured moppets limped and dragged themselves to her, crying mama, mama, mama. They sat with her at the back of the trailer and listened to the evening music.