Last Mother on the Playground

Fiction
D.R. Bertholdt


People abandon babies all the time. You know that. It’s on the news, it’s in magazines, it’s in a toilet in the girls’ locker room. Before you’re a mother, it shocks you. After you’re a mother, it makes you sick. You feel sick because the love you feel overwhelms you, because you don’t know how to live without what some people can throw away. You feel sick because you know damn well it’s the hardest thing in the world and that just because you can get pregnant doesn’t mean you can be a mother. You didn’t really understand this until you were a mother. You feel sick because now you make allowances. Now you say things like “maybe she knew it was for the best.” Always she, always the mother. It’s never the father who is blamed for tossing a baby out with the trash. That’s his biological right.

There are things you can do if you’re really desperate. You can leave it at a church, leave it at a hospital. This is still wrong but not as wrong. This is how you can be compassionate. This is leaving your baby where you know somebody is going to come along and take care of it. There is no penalty for this anymore, because that is the only way to stop people from leaving babies in dumpsters and alleys and basements of abandoned buildings. But it doesn’t really stop it.

There’s probably no law to protect someone who leaves a baby on a playground, even though it’s the same thing, maybe even better. The last person on the playground at the end of the day is not a nun or a doctor who doesn’t know. The last person on the playground is a mother, and the last mother on the playground isn’t going to leave a baby there alone. That just isn’t going to happen.

*

I’ve seen you here with your little girl. You call her Liss. Not Liz, but Liss, which makes me think her name is Allyssa or maybe Melissa. You’re patient with her and funny. You’ve got nice clothes but it doesn’t stop you from chasing her around, from going down the slide even when it’s dirty. You’ve got your rules, but you know when to make exceptions. I heard you tell her the other day that when daddy goes out of town on Tuesday (that’s today) that you would have a special day, that you could stay late, that you could be the last ones to leave.

I cried here one time, right here in front of all these mothers, and everyone except you acted like they didn’t see me. Or maybe they looked away because I was breastfeeding, I don’t know. I’ve been feeling kind of paranoid lately, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions. All I know is that you came over. I appreciated the way you put your hand on my shoulder, touched me like we lived in the same world. I felt real hopeful after you told me about your “post partum depression.” I started to think it was this way for everyone but no one tells you the truth because they can’t find the words. I mean, that’s how it was with labor, with colic, with everything about being a mother. They don’t tell you the truth because they can’t, because you can’t explain it to someone who hasn’t lived it. You made me feel better. I was singing a happy song, dancing in my kitchen after I put my son to bed. But when I went in to check on him later, I found a cockroach in his ear.

*

I sat him in his carrier inside the little house where the kids pretend to be all grown up. There’s a window in there, in case they need to see their parents. I thought I’d be able to see him through that window, but I couldn’t. When I left him I started to run a little, started to feel a little bit like myself and that made me feel weird, like I didn’t know if I was doing it for him or if I was doing it for me. Then I realized that’s the same thing. If I feel good about it, he’s sure as hell better off without me.

You remembered his name, I saw you say it. I was up here on the hill watching you with binoculars like a pervert. I’m not much of a lip reader or anything, but I sort of knew what to expect you to say. “Oh, my God,” you said. “Trey.” I mean, oh my god was something anyone would say, and you definitely said Trey. That means a lot to me, it really does. It tells me you weren’t full of shit, you were really listening to me. You picked him up and looked all around for me, calling out my name, too, looking scared like you thought something might have happened to me. I hope some day I get the chance to thank you.

You’d think I’d be jealous of you, but I’m not. How could I be? I mean, I’ve been jealous of women like you for as long as I can remember. You sound educated when you talk. You’ve got good manners, good sense. You don’t let your hair grow for 16 months because you can’t afford a haircut. You didn’t get pregnant by mistake, you didn’t get pregnant at 16, people don’t call you trailer trash. You didn’t ever find a cockroach in your kid’s ear. You’ve got money and a husband who loves you and loves your daughter. My son’s father smacked the shit out of me when I told him I was pregnant, didn’t stop until I “admitted” the baby wasn’t his, that’s the only way he could let it live. But there’s no point in being jealous of you. Right this minute, you’re saving my son’s life.

Ten minutes ago, there was a second when I thought you weren’t going to see him and I held my breath. Liss came down the slide “one last time,” her curls bouncing as she ran into your arms. You picked her up and swung her around, the look on your face like this was all you cared about in life. I thought, this is gonna be a sign to me. If you had walked away, I would have known God was telling me that Trey was supposed to be mine. I didn’t know what I hoped for. Part of me was begging you to pick up little Liss and walk away and never look back, part of me was begging you to see him. He settled it all himself. He made the choice. He cried out. That’s a sign, too.

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“This story was inspired by a young mother who had the courage to ask me if I’d been depressed after my daughter was born. I had the strange feeling that a lot of mothers are keeping a secret from the rest of the world, in spite of our best efforts to reveal it.” E-mail: pythagoras333[at]comcast.net.

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