Joyland

a hub for short fiction

I’m Sorry and Thank You

He came out onto his porch and there was some hippy mother changing her baby on his lawn. On a Hudson's Bay blanket, the mother was wiping and dabbing at the muddy rolls and creases of her little girl. A gust of wind whipped up leaves around the two, and it was like last night on TV. Some pear-shaped Spanish grandma had been crammed into this glass booth with money being blown all around her. The grandma grabbed at the bills, stuffed her clothes with money and wore twisted look of desperation on her face. She looked so stupid. He couldn’t tell if the point was to degrade the grandma, but he could tell that this particular grandma didn’t care. When the wind in the booth was turned off all the money dropped and lay in a pile at her feet. All that money just right there, but not for her. She had gotten some, but not enough. Never enough. The brittle and wet leaves stuck to the hippy mother’s dreadlocks and onto the swamp of the little girl.

“I’ll just be a sec,” the hippy mom said when she saw him there on the porch. He took a sip from his mug and nodded, slid a hand into the pocket of his housecoat as a sign of being a-okay with things.

The hippy mother stood up with a bundle in her hand and walked to him. The baby writhed on the blanket like it was trying to crawl along the air.

“Hi,” the hippy mother said. She had one of those cute faces that would have been ugly if she had tried to pretty it up with make-up, he thought.
“Morning,” he said.

The mother winced at the sun high above them and looked back at him, squinting still.

“Listen,” she said, “I’m sorry to do this, but I’ve got nowhere to toss this.” She held up the bundle. “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking it for me.”
“That’s shit in there?” he asked, gesturing at the bundle with his mug.
“Pretty much.”
“I don’t know why,” he said, “but I always think that babies have those things that birds have. Now, what are those things called?”
The hippy mother didn’t know.

“You know. It’s that thing that birds have where they do a combination of pooing and peeing so you can’t tell what the hell it is that’s coming out. It’s called something, what they have. It’s like “The Cloister,” only it’s not. It’s right there.” He shut his eyes tight and gritted his teeth, trying to force the word to the surface.

“Fuck,” he said, popping open his eyes. “It’s frustrating, huh? When you can’t think of a word you know. It’s like having one of those sneezes where you can’t sneeze. Do you ever get those?”

The hippy mother did get those. She was smiling still, but it was a smile that didn’t mean anything, like when a car in front of him would leave a turn signal on.

“Do you mind if I just leave this here?” she asked, and anyway bent down and set the soiled bundle on the bottom step of his porch.

“Just so long as you don’t set it on fire,” he said, and laughed.
“Right. I promise not to,” she said. “But thank you. And, again, I’m sorry. She already… And I was just going to… Anyway, I’m sorry and thank you.”
She turned and walked back across the lawn, picking leaves out of her hair.

“Don’t forget your baby,” he called from the porch. He took another sip from his mug and made a surprised, sour baby face, expecting it to actually be coffee, forgetting about the Canadian Club. The only club he’d ever belonged to, his wife used to say. She had thought she was just a riot, that woman. Now, there was someone he’d like to cram into a booth. But not a booth with money. Maybe a booth full of razor blades or something. How easily could those become airborne?

“Got her, thanks,” the mother said, gathering up her squirming girl.

He watched her put the kid into one of those hippy slings that he was starting to see regular people use now, too, and he watched her go, watched her bum as she went.
“Cloaca,” he said.
“Cloaca!” he yelled. “It was the cloaca!” he yelled at her. Down the sidewalk, the hippy mother turned to look at him, then turned away and moved off a bit more swiftly.
“Cloaca,” he said, feeling good, feeling like he had sneezed that sneeze out, or like he had suffered water in his ear all day from a swim or something and finally it was trickling out now, all hot and amazing.
“Cloaca,” he said.

He had come out for the paper when he saw the shitty baby on his lawn. Now he squatted and sorted through the rolls that had built up by his door and found the one with the most recent date. All these people had died somewhere because of something, he read.

He picked out the business section, shook it out as he stepped down the steps of his porch, fluffed the paper, and then spread it next to the bundle the hippy mother had left him. With his bare toe, he nudged the wad of cloth onto the paper and wrapped it up.

He breathed in. There was the sweet and pungent smell, the complicated scent of baby shit. Any smell you miss, even if it’s a bad one, is a good one.

Wadding the newspaper and the cloth full of shit into a ball the size of a softball, he walked to the end of the driveway, and then he threw it. The wad landed with a light heaviness onto his neighbour across the street’s roof.

Opening his nostrils and opening his lungs, he hoped for that autumn smell, but still it was baby stench. He smelt his hands, but it was not his hands. It was all over the air now, that baby smell.

Another whirl of wind came and tossed the salad of dead leaves on his lawn. The leaves flirted around him, and he began to grab at them. He snatched all he could out of the air, stuffing them into the pockets of his bathrobe, and then into his robe so they scratched his bare chest.

The wind died and he stood there with the heap at his feet, his pockets full and his chest bulky. A leaf had landed in his mug. He could drink around that

“Cloaca,” he said, feeling pretty okay about himself.