Baby on Board

Rolling across the bed. He was wrapped in the Maryland flag, her home state bunk bedspread a footnote Marilyn found ironic if not ridiculous. These young guys could never quit. Sweat made a crazy glue bond between them. But maybe it was her, not just Donny’s hormone overload; maybe she still had it.

The ketch rocked softly under them, pulling at its anchor. Felt warm and cozy here, like a mother’s arms. From the stern stateroom, Marilyn heard a tiny whimper. She tensed in Donny’s unconscious embrace, praying he hadn’t heard the noise. No, he was deep asleep after all that delirious exertion. There would be time enough to tell him about the baby tomorrow, after they’d sailed under the bridge and out past the 12 mile limit of the land and society and all of its bullshit constraints.

The baby was quiet. The micro-dose of valium was probably still working.

Winter rain played metallic nursery rhymes on the decks above their heads. El Niño, probably. Didn’t that mean "Little Boy"? In the movie palace of her mind, with the weight of hunky sex-drugged Donny heavy on top of her like a living body pillow/teddy bear, Marilyn watched the three months that had just past roll by in a fast-motion blur which slowed to spotlight the skeleton of what had brought her to this night, A.J.’s fifth outside of his birth mother on this tear-stained Earth.

Screaming about gas from her hospital bed after the emergency Cesarean, Cindy said to adoptive mother Marilyn with flat finality, "I’m not going through with the adoption." Just like that. After three months of money and food and clothing and furniture and seven motel rooms and evictions and covering for her and lying and paying lawyers and social workers and pleading for her stay of execution so her petty criminal ass could remain out if jail and A.J. could be born free (here the music swells t a crescendo … Born free –… ) and begging her to swallow the vitamins she bought for her and to please cut down the smoking and stay off the crank, until after A.J. was born, anyway .… Cindy took all the money, went to a different hospital, said nothing about adoption to anybody. The thing smelled like a setup and a con after all, at least during the last weeks, and Marilyn was beating herself upside the head and all over Creation for not catching on to it before. But how could she have known, when the birth mother kept assuring her that she, Marilyn, was still in; that the baby would be hers – even asking her to videotape the birth. What a bunch of shit! What a colossal rip-off!

The pain of loss of a baby that was always just a lump in another woman’s stomach and the sting of shame at being taken, seared through Marilyn, cauterizing any attachment to the illusion of socially-approved justice and doing what society thought was right. In the next days, society in the form of the state of California did what it thought best and removed the baby from Cindy’s custody, since he had been born with methamphetamine coursing through his veins. She said she had been clean for six days prior to the birth, believing that it only took three days for the drug to wash out of her system and the baby’s. The smart-ass had made a big mistake there. At least the state’s emissaries had the sense to remove A.J. from this woman until her presumable rehabilitation, destined to happen two decades past judgment day. Only, they wanted to give him to the next of kin, so they could raise another human cockroach!

Obviously there was not one iota of empathy in Cindy for her designated sucker Marilyn’s feelings or position.

But two could play this game, Marilyn realized; apparently they had been all along.

Marilyn did the only things she could think of to do after Cindy dumped her so unceremoniously pulling back the relinquishment of the baby and even the chance to see A.J. in the flesh.

Marilyn mustered her resources and went into action. Her resources? The stuff of Cindy’s excuse for a life. With Cindy’s social security number and birth date, Marilyn located the baby’s whereabouts in the medically-fragile wing of Children’s Hospital. Good! Marilyn could use her volunteer baby-holder credentials to get into the ward. Cindy’s mother’s phone number would get the wrath of the motel owners and apartment managers that the pregnant addict’s meth party crowds had injured and infuriated – on Marilyn’s dime. The thought was a corrosive acid burning into Marilyn’s brain, galvanizing her into action. She would save A.J.! Who was his true mother, after all? The one who soaked him in speed in the womb or the one who got vitamins into him and kept him from a jailhouse birth?

The hospital corridor was quiet and empty. A.J. lay huddled in a corner asleep in a cold ward crib on a mattress that stretched out around him like a lunar landscape. Marilyn laid eyes on him for the first time and her heart winced in a cacophonous symphony of pain and love. The boy looked nothing like Cindy and everything like Donny. In Cindy’s devious mind, A.J. must be the ticket back to his father. That was why she wanted him, and society let that pass for maternal love? "The birth mother changed her mind" was their idiot gospel tune.

Marilyn lifted A.J. from the crib and fed him with the valium-laced formula, snuggling his tiny warm body against her until his miniature eyelids fell. All her suppressed and decades-dormant maternal urges surged to the surface. Taking a large African gourd carved with marching elephants from her tote bag, she gently stuffed A.J. and his blanket inside it, making sure he could breathe. Then she pushed the gourd inside her stretch pants so it looked just like Cindy had when she carried A.J. so high and in front even through her ninth month. It was surprisingly easy to walk out of the hospital, proudly pregnant with her son.

Donny appreciated the job call to crew on the ketch Transformer for a Mexico coastal shakedown cruise. The pay was good, and this Marilyn was a babe. Turned out she knew Cindy, that bitch. Got knocked up and tried to nail him with it. Probably you took a number with Cindy. Nice to get out of the country right now anyway, with the cops on his tail for missing a few parole appointments. No drugs allowed on the cruise, Marilyn told him, brushing against his shoulder. Well, hell, they’d see about that. Anyway, Marilyn wasn’t bad for an old chick. Looked like he was going to get plenty high off of her. Maybe end up captain of his own ship, what about that!.

Ocean water surrounded them in minty rockinghorse mounds. The sky was a blue calico quilt. Below decks the baby was stirring. Marilyn told him.

– … the baby.

– What baby?

– Yours, and Cindy. the one I was supposed to adopt. She fucked me over. The conniving thieving bitch took my money and time and–

– No way! You took the kid? From where?

– The hospital where they placed him after her. He’s a junky! He’s here. Looks just like you, I thought! We could be a family, Donny and sail around
the world …

– What are you, nuts? I’ve got enough prison time on my tail!

– But it’s your baby!

– Yeah, maybe, but it’s not yours!

– Why not? He was promised to me for a third of the whole pregnancy!
She promised him to me. She took my money, my time, emotion, food,
furniture, clothes, people – everything. She bilked me. She owes me!!

– Yeah, but you were gambling you’d get him. And you lost.

– But he’s here. And we’re almost at the 12 mile limit. The laws of the land don’t
work out here. We’ll be free. You liked me last night, didn’t you? We’ll be
a family.

– In your nightmares, bitch. Is that why you hired me? So you could screw me and make an instant family? Let me see this kid. He’s been nothing but trouble from day zero.

– You’re not hurting A.J.!

– Look, all right, I want off this tub. I don’t give a shit about the baby, even if he looks like my thieving bitch half-sister and my whole shit-ass family. That’s Cindy’s problem, not mine and not yours. She’s not nailing me with this brat and neither are you! Women!!

– OK fine. I’ll let you off in Benicia. We’re going back. You don’t want your kid? Somebody told me Cindy’s pea brain wants to use him to lure you back in.

– Fat chance! Thanks but no thanks. Hey, you’re not going to go get pregnant
on me are you?

– Sweet of you to suggest it, Donny, but even your massive testosterone jolt
couldn’t manage that!

– Huh?

– Never mind. I guess Einstein was too Jewish for your family, huh?

– Hey babe, what’s Jews got to do with anything? I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re as crazy as Cindy!

– Yeah, I know, Marilyn said under her breath as she spun the wheel 180 degrees and set sail back through the Golden Gate. After the dust settles on this fiasco, she mused, maybe the facilitators can find me a kid with a few more brain cells and a little less drug marinade. She sighed and the wind took it. Poor little Allen James. Poor little Marilyn, trying to make a family out of dollar bills and dreams.

A.J. squirmed, squealed, twitched, shot a random smile into the world, sank back into slumber, awoke again and yowled. He needed changing and feeding. In the belly of the boat, Marilyn was his willing slave. She hung a bottle of formula around her neck and sent the liquid down a tube to her left breast, where A.J. rooted, found his target and grabbed her nipple and the food tube in one tight gummy grip. For a little while, for a microsecond of eternity, Marilyn gazed down at her virtual son and felt the legendary soul-deep peace of a nursing mother.

The sky cleared and so did Marilyn’s besotted psyche. This wasn’t going to work, not without Donny’s moral support. As much as he hated Cindy’s lying manipulative ways, child stealing was crossing the line for him. Even though it looked like his own child. As with most men, an idea held no charm for him if he didn’t believe it was his own. Marilyn realized she just didn’t have the manipulative man-handling skills of most women to get that she wanted on the sly. She didn’t even believe in doing things that way. Maybe that was why her childbearing years had passed by, bearing no living fruit. Maybe all human life was based on female subterfuge. All history was feminine wiles, underneath.

Poor A.J., thought Marilyn as she gazed down at his angel blonde baby hair and perfect little fists gripping her fingers, poor little guy, detoxing at one week old. We’re all using you for something, aren’t we? Cindy wants social services to do the caretaking while that white trash junkie bitch keeps the mother-power in name-only for government subsidies and some sense of control in the world. Wasn’t her four year old daughter in reality supporting her all along through AFDC welfare? The state wants to use you to hold Cindy by the short-hairs to try making a law-abiding citizen out of her – lots of luck. And I’m just another user too, asking you to fill a hole inside of me the size of the Atlantic pond– a cave, a cavity, a chasm that goes way back and way deep. Even a big guy couldn’t do it.

Marilyn had seen this whole thing coming, she had to admit to herself now, but stayed on the ride anyway caught up in a sticky web of blind hope and ambivalence and dumb fear. Who was to say she would have been A.J.’s savior anyway or even a good-enough mother? She had just hung on, until now.

– OK, kid, back you go.

And back he went, into the African gourd strapped on her stomach under a short blonde wig and sunglasses get-up. Since it was a weekend night, Marilyn was able to slip back into the hospital, where she saw a missing person flyer about A.J. at the vacant nurses’ console. Stowed in his crib again, A.J. looked smaller than ever. At least he’s on his back now, not like before. Don’t they teach these nurses anything about the danger of suffocation for babies, whispered Marilyn fiercely, tucking the blanket around the tiny startled methamphetamine addict who gripped her little finger for a second more..

– Good luck baby. Blessings, my son. We’re both going to need them.

By herself aboard the Transformer, Marilyn sent the sail unfurling and set course for Ensanada. Luckily, she could pilot the ketch on her own. Maybe later there would be Mexican crew. Maybe down there would be something for her, adventure, work, new people, warm and filling as Mexican food. There was nothing really likely to link her to the brief kidnapping; she’d hang out down south until it all blew over. The hospital wasn’t going to want too much press pointing out government agencies’ neglect and its own negligence toward all those little addicted Americans in their rows of cribs.

Solemnly, ceremonially, Marilyn threw a pair of little yellow water wings in the ocean, then tossed A.J.’s formula bottle with its red cap and little black and white Scotty dogs overboard at the 12 mile limit. The bottle bobbed on rolling spearmint waves and floated alongside the vessel for a while, until it was caught in the wake and rocked backward to become a tiny sparking speck. No message in that bottle. Whoever found it could just imagine.