Happy Halloween / Day of the Dead . . .
Here’s a wacky odd fiction story I want to share –
Wylie, Back in THE Day (by D.S.)
He had a good reason to be drunk, but dadgummit, Wylie had managed to hit the only other car on this whole lonely road, smashed it, a young mother and baby.
The mother filled his ears with “Feed my baby, feed my baby,” till Wylie clamped his hands around his head.
It was weird enough to feel looped and dizzy drunk after eight dry years, but the surreal sight of their crumpled Plymouth Valiant and the baby’s cries threw him into despair.
Sprawled in the yellow grass, he bound his handkerchief around his bleeding hand. One hip pained so bad, he thought he’d broken it, but he shifted around and managed to kneel.
On the gentle slope of small scrub pines, his ’65 Ford truck sat on its head, the cab squashed flat, the door hanging free where he had tumbled out.
Should have been killed, he told himself.
“Feed my baby!”
“Okay, okay,” Wylie answered.
Her car was fifty yards downhill. How the hell could she send her voice this far, this clear? Right in his ear.
He stood up shakily. His knees buckled. Every bone in his body ached.
“Lady, I’m seventy-one years old. I’m going as fast as I can,” he yelled.
“If you weren’t so drunk -”
“I’m perfectly sober now, believe me,” Wylie shouted. He hobbled through the grass, stumbling on half-buried stones.
The funeral of his youngest son was the perfect occasion to get drunk, even after all his years on the wagon. He’d have to tell her that when he reached her car.
Despite Wylie’s rising sense of righteousness, the heartache and loss of Brett flooded his chest again. Worse, the horrible mess he’d made right here tormented him.
The baby’s cries grew louder as Wylie drew closer to the back of the car.
“It’s okay,” he called out, “I’m gonna get you.”
He saw the little one’s arms flailing above the back seat.
He leaned on the trunk and edged around the collapsed back wheel. “Lady, I am so sorry, you have no idea how sorry I am.”
“You are a sorry mess. I can’t listen to your apology. Just get my baby.”
Wylie glanced at the back of her head.
Frozen in the driver’s seat, she faced the shattered windshield. “Get Kimmy out,” she said.
The baby’s cries tore the air. Her tiny cheeks reddened with fury. Wylie leaned in to unbuckle the car seat.
“It’s time for her to eat,” said the woman.
“She’s moving everything, and she has one little cut on her forehead,” said Wylie. “Maybe I should get you out first.”
“I won’t be getting out. Just take her, will you? Take her whole seat. You’ll need it.”
Wylie wrestled with the seat belt. The baby screamed in his ear. He pulled the whole contraption out. She thrashed around.
“She’s fine, look.” He crouched next to the driver’s window so the woman could see.
The woman didn’t turn her head.
Wylie stared. Her chest had caved in from the steering wheel. Glass had cut her face and neck.
Her mouth didn’t move when she said, “I know she’s fine. She’s hungry.”
“Cripes!” he said. “You’re – you’re -”
“I’m dead. Yeah, I figured that.”
“Oh, God. Oh, God!” Wylie wept. His knees buckled.
“Don’t you dare drop my baby!”
“I won’t,” he sobbed, tilting the car seat onto the ground in front of him. The baby stopped her crying to watch him.
“Oh shit, oh shit,” he cried.
“Pull yourself together, Buddy, you have to feed my baby.”
“I will,” he said. “You should go. Go to the light, or wherever.”
“And leave a numbskull like you with my Kimmy? I don’t think so, not till I see this through.”
“Oh hell, Lady, I just buried my son.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“But this is even worse, what I did to you.”
“No shit. Apparently my number was up.”
“Why the hell did you take this road? Nobody uses this road anymore.”
“We were coming back from a picnic at Seven Springs. I like the back roads.”
Kimmy wailed again. She was barely old enough to hold her head up.
“Okay, Lady, you got a diaper bag and some bottles? I know how to feed the bottle. Lord knows I did that with my own son, after Minnie died. She left me with three little guys. Brett never knew a mo-mother except me.” Wylie smeared his arm across his wet eyes.
“The diaper bag is in the trunk. I don’t have any bottles.”
“What? No bottles?”
“Oh, geez, how do you think I can feed her, then? Chrissake, in this day and age you got the convenience of bottles.”
“I don’t know, just find a way.”
“I’m fifty miles from anywhere,” he groaned, clenching his fists on her car. “I don’t have a CB radio, I got nothin’. Stranded!”
The late afternoon sun slanted golden across the scrub pines and junipers.
She said, “I’m trying to summon help for you.”
Wylie nodded briskly. “Oh, great. What do I do in the meantime?”
“I don’t know. It looks like help arrives tomorrow.”
“They’re working on it!”
“Good God, I thought you could get anything like magic on the other side.”
“Depends on the lesson or something,” she said tentatively.
“Your lesson or mine?”
“How do I know? I just got here. Do you think I know what I’m doing?”
Wylie rubbed his face with both hands.
“Guess I’ll get that diaper bag,” he muttered.
Trying not to look at the woman’s crumpled body, he reached around the steering wheel to pull out the car keys. His eyes strayed to her breasts, which looked like they held plenty of milk. “What if -”
“That’s not gonna work, you Dumb-shit, the milk won’t let down. It’s already curdling.”
“Okay, okay, relax, Lady.”
“My name is Jennifer.”
“Well, Jennifer,” he said, hobbling toward the trunk, “you put me in a bind here.”
“Excuse me?? I put you?”
“Didn’t you kill me just now?”
Nausea rose up inside Wylie. “I’m afraid I did.”
Bile in his throat. He spewed into the yellow grass.
“I know it was an accident,” she said.
“Nothing I can do to make it right,” he choked.
“It just happened, that’s all.”
“I’ll pay for it the rest of my life, I know it, I’ll go to Hell.”
“Oh, Mister, don’t cry. It’s just – fate.”
“Fate? Don’t tell me about fate. Minnie died at your age, from a butcher who called himself a surgeon. That was his stupidity, not fate. This here’s my own damn stupidity. You hate me, and I deserve it.”
“It’s strange, though – I don’t hate you,” she said.
Wylie opened the trunk and lifted out the diaper bag.
“You might just leave the bag in there,” said Jennifer. “The trunk is a good place to change her.”
Wylie saw she was right. A baby blanket lay ready for that purpose. He gimped back to the crying child and picked her up, car-seat and all. He set that in the open trunk and pulled her, squirming, out of her seat.
Kimmy screamed and windmilled her limbs in every direction. Her scalp reddened underneath her peach fuzz hair.
“Shhhh,” he urged.
“It’s okay, Honey, the man’s going to change you,” said Jennifer.
At her mother’s words, Kimmy cried even louder.
She wanted only mother, Wylie thought.
Last time he’d changed a diaper it was cloth, with pins. Her newfangled disposable held water so well, her skin wasn’t even wet. He grabbed a fresh diaper.
“Use a wet wipe, Mister.”
“Uh, right. Can you hear my thoughts?”
“No, I can’t hear your thoughts. I hardly know you. But I can see you.”
Wylie secured the new diaper and lifted the baby to his shoulder, patting her back. Her cry softened yet persisted.
“She’s hungry,” said Jennifer.
Wylie frowned. He felt useless. He patted her back and her bum. “You could have kept a bottle or two in case of emergencies.”
“We didn’t need that. I’m always with her. Ohhh, I feel like crying but I can’t. All I can do is moan.”
“Listen, wait,” said Wylie. “Maybe I can find a watering hole or a creek.”
“Oh, no you don’t, that water’s full of bacteria. Besides, water has no nutritional value.”
“It’s a damn sight better than nothing.”
“We have another option. They’re telling me right now.”
“Who’s telling you? Should I mush up sweet grass or something?”
“No, no, I can’t even hear them with you talking and my heart moaning. I have to listen. Be quiet.”
Wylie carried the baby to the shade of a scrub pine. Unsteadily he knelt, then sat down, still holding her as she cried louder into his ear.
His mouth felt dry as tree bark. He hoped Jennifer’s angels would find them a cow, or maybe a cooperative deer. That would be something, for a doe and her fawn to come offering deer milk.
He shook his head. Not in a million years. But anything was possible, he thought.
The sun sat low in the western sky. That baby blanket would help keep Kimmy warm. Maybe he’d curl up with her in the trunk.
“They have a plan,” said Jennifer. “It’s only for today, till help comes tomorrow.”
“Why can’t they just bring the paramedics faster?”
“I don’t know!” Jennifer snapped. “I’m telling you what they told me. It all hinges on you, if you can get outside yourself for one minute!”
“Okay, don’t get testy. How do I get outside myself? That’s a funny thing to say.” But even as he spoke the words, he knew his grief and his drinking binge had made him collapse too far inside.
“They want you to remember how it felt to care for three little boys, a month after Minnie died, when you finally had it together.”
“Yeah?” Wylie blinked, on the verge of tears. The weight of the baby girl in his arms felt like his infant son.
He remembered months of waking up twice a night to feed Brett and burp him.
He remembered how the older two would wake him at dawn again, wanting to play during the little slice of time they had before the babysitter arrived and Wylie went to work. He remembered how he couldn’t wait to get home again to those little guys, so they could wear him out all over again.
“You thinking about it?” Jennifer asked.
“Yeah.” Wylie’s voice cracked.
“Broken heart. Nostalgia.”
“Don’t get sappy on me, Mister. I mean do you feel anything in your flesh?”
Wylie did notice an odd tingling sensation in his chest. Right around his nipples.
“Whoa, wait a minute!” With his free hand he struggled to unbutton his shirt to look at himself.
His skin was starting to bulge. Maybe a couple gulps of milk under there, pooling up on each side?
“Goddamn, now just wait a minute here, fellas, I don’t think so!”
“I do, I think so,” said Jennifer. “It’s all we got, it’s what they have to offer, and Kimmy only needs a few ounces anyway.”
“Don’t struggle, you might wreck the whole thing,” she said.
“Holy moly. Holy moly.” He tried to catch his breath.
. . .
(Brought to you by Diane’s imagination.)