Glory of Infants

Rosa had heard about what Glory and Roger did to the baby squirrel. One of their old social workers had told the story at the lunch table one day, months before Glory had her sixth baby and Rosa was assigned her case. Glory and Roger had found the palm-sized creature under a tree in the park and Glory, of course, had wrapped it in her jacket, cradled it in her arms, taken it home. Back in their room at the boarding house the couple had decided to give the baby a bath. They’d filled the sink with water, dunked the infant, scrubbed its dandelion seed fur, rinsed it under the rush of the faucet. Afterward the little thing had looked so pathetic, even to them—Rosa imagined it matted, dripping, its tender new bones pressed against its skin—that they had thought to dry it, quickly, and put it in the microwave. There had been a lot of groans and laughter at the lunch table that day.

           Rosa wondered if the squirrel in the microwave had really happened or if it was an urban legend sort of thing that had gotten attached to Glory and Roger. Not that it mattered–if not that story, another one was surely true. And now here was Glory, in the lobby, with a stroller, almost a year after her case had closed, baby number six having been granted a new name and birth certificate just as babies numbers one through five had been. Several of Rosa’s coworkers had come scurrying to find her when Glory appeared. Glory’s here! With a new baby! Weren’t they supposed to move down South to live with Glory’s sister? What is she doing here, does she want us to take another baby?

Rosa peeks at Glory from the alcove behind the receptionist’s desk. There she is, on the other side of the security glass, sitting on the edge of her chair in that prim way that she has, back straight, knees and legs pressed together. Today is one of her dressed up days. She’s wearing a yellow rayon dress, possibly from the 1970’s, a wide, shiny red belt (red is her favorite color), lace-up platform shoes. Blue feathered earrings dangle from her ears, a variety of necklaces hang from her neck, a jeweled insect alights in her hair. The stroller is on Glory’s far side, a mesh cover veiling its opening, one of Glory’s ashy, heavily-ringed hands on the handle, gently rocking.  

Rosa thinks Glory must have gotten the stroller at the Goodwill–it’s the same as the one she used years ago for her own babies. She knows the sound its wheels make, a regular spin with a blip, like a record left on too long. She knows how to adjust the seat, how to set the brakes. She took first Joseph and then Mateo for long walks in the stroller. It was always cool under the giant trees and the sunlight always flickered. She would often stop and sit on a bench so she could look into her baby’s eyes. People would smile, peek in, congratulate her on being a mother.

Glory’s stroller could be empty. Anything is possible with Glory. Glory, who tells everyone she is friends with the mayor, yes she is, the mayor is going to help her get her babies back, all her babies, the mayor is going to call Rosa and tell her to give her her new baby back right now, yes he is, he knows she is a good mother and he is going to help her. It’s going to be on the news, the TV news, Diane Sawyer is going to tell everyone that Rosa stole her baby. Rosa had no right to do that, the TV news is going to break the story, it’s going to be a big story, bigger than war, bigger than the president, and Rosa is going to lose her job. Rosa is going to jail, yes she is, because what she did was wrong. It’s the wrongest thing a person can do, it says so in the Bible. Rosa is going to be punished. Diane is coming tomorrow, she is going to call her any minute to tell her what time, she has to keep her phone on, she’s going to wear her pretty red hat on TV. Oh, Glory.

Rosa opens the security door, steps into the lobby. Glory turns toward her and smiles. “Hi Miss Rosa!”

“Hi, Glory. Where’s Roger?” They are never apart.  

“That’s how they say in Texas, Miss Rosa. They say Miss Everybody, in Texas.”

“I heard you went to Texas, Glory.”

Miss Glory.”

“Where’s Roger, Miss Glory?”

“He’s outside. He doesn’t want to come in.”

Rosa looks out the big window. Roger is pacing the front of the building. At the corner he turns, sees her, ducks his head, walks faster.

Beside Glory is her diaper bag, the one she has carried through at least the last three babies. Glory tells everyone the bag was a gift, that it was wrapped up pretty in a big pink bow, that all her friends chipped in and filled it with things for her new baby. Rosa knows the bag was funded by a grant and given out by WIC. She thinks Glory has never unwrapped a present in her life.

“You have a new baby, Glory?”

Glory’s face clouds. “Miss Glory.”

“Can I see your new baby, Miss Glory?”

Glory’s face smooths and lights, then twists and clouds again, then smooths again. “We take good care of her, Miss Rosa. We do everything you told us to. We give her milk. We take her to the doctor. We don’t leave her.” Glory pulls the stroller closer. Rosa sees movement behind the mesh.

Glory bends over the stroller, peels the cover back. A terrible smell emerges, a terrible–cat smell. Rosa peers into the stroller. Sitting inside is a small cat.

“Isn’t she pretty, Miss Rosa?”

Whenever they had had to go to court for a hearing on baby number six, Glory had sat next to Rosa—right next to her, her hip aligned with Rosa’s hip, her shoulder rubbing Rosa’s shoulder. Roger, more attuned perhaps to the adversarial nature of the proceedings, would sit somewhere between Glory and his lawyer. But Glory—Glory seemed to think she and Rosa were in it together, despite the news story she insisted was about to break and Rosa about to go to jail. Glory would come into the office to see Rosa almost every day, not to talk about her case but to tell her about a scratch ticket win, a trip to the doctor, an argument with a neighbor. If Rosa wasn’t there, Glory would leave a note for her on a torn strip of paper: HI ROSA, ITS ME GLORY AND ROGER. THE NABER SAID SORRY.

At the final court hearing, when the judge declared their rights to baby number six terminated, Glory, confused, had leaned even closer, touched Rosa’s ear with her lips, whispered, “Rosa, am I still a mother?” A jagged piece of glass had fallen from the ceiling then, right through Rosa’s heart, and she had whispered back, Yes. You’re still a mother, Glory. You’re a first mother, a bio mom, and someday some of your children may come looking for you. That was what she had had to offer Glory, Glory with her skin warm against her arm, Glory with her diaper bag ready on her lap.

The cat is grey and stained like an old man’s t-shirt. The inside of the stroller is greasy black. Rosa thinks urine, feces, fleas. Glory’s eyes are fixed on Rosa’s face. Out of the corner of her eye, Rosa can see Roger pressed against the window, his hands like binoculars.  

Rosa reaches one finger toward the cat’s nose. It seems the only safe place to touch, and Glory is waiting. The cat stretches its neck forward to meet her. Its nose is pink and cool and leaves a little drop, like dew, on her fingertip.  

“Roger didn’t want us to bring her here, Miss Rosa. He said we should keep her away from you. But I told him we needed to show you we can take care of her.”

Rosa imagines Glory finding the baby squirrel under the tree. She imagines Glory scooping it up, cupping it between her palms, feeling its new heart beat in the chamber of her hands. She sees herself there with Glory, sees Glory stretch her hands out toward her, make a little gap under her knuckle so Rosa can look inside. She imagines the two of them, side by side, oohing and aahing over the baby.

“Can I keep this one, Rosa?”

Rosa nods.

Glory bursts into smile. She turns the stroller toward the door. Outside, Roger scuttles to open it for her.

The poor baby squirrel.