I was far too big to be carried; nevertheless, my father scooped me up and tousled my hair while my mother carefully laid the new baby in its bassinet. I struggled to get free—Dad’s whiskers itched, and I wanted my mother’s lap. She’d been gone five days, and I’d had to suffer Grandma’s strange cooking: mashed potatoes too stiff, cookies studded with raisins. For the moment, I wasn’t at all interested in the bassinet’s silent inhabitant.
I patted my mother’s rounded belly. She still looked pretty fat to me. I was unconvinced that there had been a baby in there, despite my parents’ highly suspect claims. It just didn’t seem likely—I poked around, suspiciously.
“Hey, Junebug.” My father took my hand. “Want to see your baby brother?”
He led me to the bassinet, and I peered in—and screamed. “Mom! Mom! Mom!”
My father knelt, his face near mine, while my mother pulled the bassinet toward her chair and gathered the bundle into her arms.
“What’s the matter, Junie?” Dad picked me up again, and tickled under my chin.
“It’s got no arms. Where are its arms?”
Dad set me on the floor. “He’s got arms, June-in-the-moon, look here.” I watched while he and my mother peeled away layers of soft blankets. Sure enough, there were two mottled pink-and-white arms.
I pulled my mother’s face to mine. “Does it have feet?”
She kissed my nose. “Your brother is a he, Junie, and yes, he has feet. Go ahead—find them.”
And there they were, at the ends of two impossibly tiny legs. They looked delicious; I wanted to bite them, but my mother quickly wrapped him up and laid him back in the bassinet.
Suddenly, I was wildly covetous of that bassinet. It had tiers of white eyelet ruffles, and a blue gingham ribbon circled the rim. I stood behind the little bed and started to work the ribbon loose with one finger. Given enough opportunity, I figured I could have it in my possession within a few days.
While I worked at the ribbon, the baby began to cry. My mother picked him up and fumbled with her buttons. This was interesting. I watched, my mouth hanging open—I could see my mother’s…
“Mom! Mom! What’s it doing, mom?” I stepped closer, both horrified and fascinated.
“This is how he eats, Junie.” She made some minute adjustments under her blouse.
Clearly, this was a lie. I knew for a fact that he didn’t have a spoon…and what had she smuggled under her blouse, anyway? If there was candy there, I wanted some. I leaned in to see exactly what the strange interloper was doing—and screamed again.
“Shhhh, Junie! Hush! What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
I covered my mouth in terror and pointed. “There’s something wrong with its head!” It was obvious that some small animal, perhaps a mouse, was in there, systematically trying to push its way out. “Mom, look…”
She drew my hand toward the baby’s head and thrilled me by softly placing my palm on the pulsing spot. “His bones haven’t quite closed yet. It’s fine. Promise me you won’t touch it, Junie.”
I pulled my fingers away. “I won’t touch it,” I said, and immediately began a plan for getting the baby to myself for further investigation.
Settling next to my mother, I pulled the bassinet close with my foot, and rested my cheek on her arm. She was gazing at the baby, who was making slurping sounds that would have gotten me a stern “Junie!” I considered protesting—this was certainly unfair—but my mother’s distraction allowed me to work at the gingham ribbon.
There was a sound like a sneaker pulling out of mud, and my mother produced the baby from under her blouse. She patted its back for a while, a procedure that didn’t much interest me. But then the baby did something truly wonderful—it produced a stream of upchuck both marvelous and horrifying.
“Mom! Mom!” But she was already wiping her shoulder with a diaper, while looking at the baby…with a smile. I had done a number of disgusting things in my life, but surely none of them had elicited such a look of adoration. This required a vast rearrangement of my worldview. Apparently, the rules had changed.
I decided to test this theory with a skill I’d acquired while my mother was gone. “Mom! Mom! Listen!” I let loose with a mighty burp.
The rules hadn’t changed, after all.
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