By Zeb Carter
I hear them.
I always hear them.
All of them.
Sometimes it’s the mewling or the incoherent babbling if it isn’t the crying but today it’s the tell tale crunching of snow beneath dainty but labored footsteps. My eyes turn to her and her basket from the shadows. Fresh blood soaking her socks and pooling in her shoes as she places her bundle on the stoop, knocks timidly and sprints as best she can in a prom dress and heels back in the direction from whence she came. The direction of muttered consent, fumbling hands, maintained GPA’s, drivers ED and poor decisions.
No one heard that knock. I wish I could walk over and knock louder. Ring a bell or call for help but as of now I am only eyes in the darkness. A casual observer to an abandoned future in favor of preserving another’s. As the wailing begins I feel hope swelling in my chest that someone will hear him and I may yet be left out of it but I feel my hands forming and know it’s but a false hope. The wailing slows and as it does my body and arms come together. In the silence as the beats of this boy’s heart space farther apart my head comes together beneath a tattered top hat.
I roll over to his cooling body scooping and sculpting snow along the way. I begin forming his likeness without as much as a cursory glance at his tiny face. As I finish I pull him from his purple chiffon swaddling with my left hand and replace his prone body with its duplicate. I tear off a scrap of material from my hat and force it into his tiny mouth. His lips are blue his eyelids frosted over and a purple tinged veins covers his arms and feet. Crystalline blood vesicles and veins in deepening shades of cyan and cerulean crisscross his limbs as though he were a porcelain doll.
Sometimes I am too late but his eyes open with a sound like grinding glass. Those eyes ice blue and alert stare up at me and I smile.
“Home then little one?”
Silent and stiff he still reaches up toward my face and I cradle him as I waddle and roll towards his new home. I stop before the doors of an old cannery and descend the stairs. I tug open the latched door and beyond there is a box on a wooden chair full of dolls clothes, hats and shoes all covered in a thin layer of frost. I choose an outfit for this boy and dress him, cooing to him as I do. He seems content as I move deeper into this chilled space and introduce him to his brothers and sisters.
Lauren cries out to me. The oldest of them all, 9 or 10 years old when I found her, left to freeze to death in an unheated garden apartment as her father was kept warm by another woman and a gut full of scotch.
“You have a new brother and he needs a name as well.”
She beams at him as the skin splits in the corners of her ice blue mouth.
I nod once and look out over all the other children at play, crawling or running or placing the toys I’ve brought here into barely articulated mouths and hands. The vents above them hum as they continue pumping in the frigid air. There are so many and one day this hat will have no more cloth to give up but until then I will be there in the hours between dusk and dawn when the snow falls fresh collecting winter baskets of precious goods left out in the elements so these children’s innocence may be preserved. If not forever at least they will know what it is to play and be loved as I was by children in need of a friend and a touch of magic on a cold winter’s day.
If I wrote it you can read it unless you sound like Fran Drescher.