"Mud Baby" - Your Story 53 Finalist

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TiffanyLuckey
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"Mud Baby" - Your Story 53 Finalist

Postby TiffanyLuckey » Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:43 pm

Mud Baby

Mother caught the grocery store manager as he was about to slip through the rubber-strip curtain doors to the storeroom. He tried to excuse himself, but she launched into her rehearsed speech without pausing for breath. Her goal: for the store to donate a gift card to the annual Women’s Social that she organized. Embarrassed, Suzie dug invisible circles in the peeling floor tiles with the toe of her shoe.

The man stepped back to where they stood next to the canned hams. He listened while distractedly jingling the contents of his pocket. When Mother finished her fundraising spiel, and asked if she could count on his support, the man said he needed a moment up front, to check the balance left for charities. As Mother led the way, confident of her success, the man gave Suzie a mysterious smile and discreetly passed her a quarter.

“Here, kid, get yourself a gumball,” he whispered with a covert gesture toward the dimly-lit storeroom. Then he off he strode, leaving Suzie is a quandary. Candy was one thing, but gum was strictly verboten. Mother said that no daughter of hers would adopt a habit suited for a streetwalker. Suzie snuck a piece once, but, afraid of discovery, she kept the gumball firmly under her tongue until all the sugar and food coloring had leeched off. When she finally let herself chew the treat, it was a white, tasteless wad.

Quietly, Suzie entered the storeroom, excited by this unexpected adventure. Crowded between cases of boxes, the single machine sat slightly askew with only a handful of faded gumballs visible. She slid his quarter into the gritty slot and turned the crank. Clink. Peering inside the mouth of the dispenser, Suzie retrieved, what appeared to be a human tooth. She held it toward the ceiling bulbs; it was very yellowed but definitely human. Suzie stashed it in the pouch of her hoodie and skipped gleefully to catch up with Mother.

The drive through the crisp afternoon to their house passed silently. When Suzie finished unpacking the groceries, she asked to be excused. From their plastic-enshrouded sofa, with a perfectly sharpened pencil in one hand and a list of people to pursue in the other, Mother distractedly nodded consent.

Suzie preferred to play in the area of the yard that Mother called “schmutzig and unfit for a young lady.” However, this secluded space behind an ancient oak tree drew Suzie. After confirming that Mother wasn’t watching through the window, Suzie wove through the damp ivy, trying not to crunch all the snails dead. She longed to share her discoveries in the undergrowth with a friend. Instead, she satisfied her imagination by fashioning dolls from sticks and leaves. Her latest creation was by far the best. For weeks she had carefully sculpted a realistic playmate from the fragrant, damp earth.

She tried to call back the folklore that Oma, her Jewish grandmother, had shared with her in secret. Yes, Suzie thought. The word she was searching for was emeth, meaning truth. She carefully inscribed that word on Mud Baby’s forehead, then gently pressed the tooth into the soft soil between her smiling twig lips.

“My friend, I give you life,” Suzie said. She gazed lovingly into Mud Baby’s black pebble eyes and blew a breath between her lips. Just then Mother called for supper. Suzie gave her playmate a kind stroke, marveling again at the cool, smooth feel of her.

At dusk, Suzie snuck out, wearing her flannel pajamas and her yard shoes, to check on Mud Baby. She was gone. Suzie stood dazed until she heard what sounded like “Gah.” Turning, she saw thick fingers part the strands of ivy, where Mud Baby stood solidly, grinning her one-tooth smile. She tottered toward Suzie on thick legs and raised her arms. Suzie’s fingers sunk into Mud Baby’s soft skin as she gave her a big hug. Placing her comfortably on one hip, Suzie carried her back to the house to play with her.

The same moment when Suzie crossed the threshold, Mother came upon them, carrying her nightly cup of tea. She screamed in fright, her porcelain teacup and saucer shattering on the tiles.

“It’s OK,” Suzie assured her with a confident smile. “Oma taught me the Old Ways. See, now I have a playmate!”

Mother grasped for the doorframe as she fainted at Suzie’s feet. Mud Baby reached down and brushed Mother’s hair from her face, leaving wet, brown streaks on Mother’s sweaty brow.

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