Dawn Corrigan

Bobbi loved having a baby. She found it endlessly entertaining. Jimmy worked two jobs and therefore wasn't around much. If you didn't count sleeping, they spent about a day and a half a week together. The rest of the time it was just Bobbi and Kristen.

Her mother-in-law told everyone Bobbi never put the baby down during the entire first six months of its life. There was something disapproving about the way she said it. It's true Bobbi brought Kristen everywhere—even into the bathroom when she had to go.

At night Bobbi brought Kristen into bed with her to watch The Late Show. Kristen's fifth and sixth words were, "Heeere's Johnny!" She learned to accompany them with a swing of her little fist. Then Bobbi had to teach her not to say it, so Jimmy and his mother wouldn't know the baby watched late night TV.

Every day, Bobbi did laundry and some shopping. She carried the stroller down from their third floor apartment, then the laundry, then the baby. After the Laundromat, but before the A&P, Bobbi and Kristen would often stop in the five and dime. Kristen liked to look at the colorful store displays. Most days, Bobbi asked Kristen if she wanted anything. Kristen's answer was always the same. "Party hat."

Bobbi never minded buying the hat. It was so simple to spend the nickel and make her daughter happy. Back outside, some old auntie would inevitably stoop to look at Kristen in her stroller, wearing the hat. "Is it the little girl's birthday?"

"Nope," Bobbi laughed, and without explanation they'd continue on to the A&P, where they'd buy Jimmy one of his favorite treats: chocolate-covered doughnuts, or Gouda cheese.

When Kristen was a little older, the woman on the second floor, Mrs. Perrone, started bringing her son Ricky up to play. Bobbi didn't like the boy, or his mother, who swore and complained endlessly about her husband. Bobbi hoped not to acquire either habit. However, she let them come up because she wanted Kristen to learn to play with other children. But on the day when Ricky bit Kristen, Bobbi banished him, and his mother too.

Summoning her nerve, she went across the street to introduce herself to the woman with the two quiet, pretty daughters she sometimes saw in the park.

The two Matoulis girls were older than Kristen, about five and six, but there weren't many other children on the block. Mrs. Matoulis agreed to a play date.

Bobbi dropped off Kristen on a Tuesday afternoon. At the end of two hours, which Bobbi spent sitting in front of the soaps wondering what Kristen was doing, she crossed the street again to fetch Kristen from the yellow brownstone.

"How was it?" Bobbi asked, sighing with relief as Kristen's hand slipped into hers.

"Okay." Kristen said. "They have two kittens. One is white with green eyes and one is gray with yellow eyes. I played with them with a string."

"Would you like those girls to come over to our house and play sometime?"

"Okay. Can we do Play Doh?"

Kristen's Play Doh had been played with so much that the original colors—yellow, blue, and a red that was really pink—had blended into one grayish mass. In honor of the play date, Bobbi bought three fresh cans. She couldn't stand the smell of the stuff, but Kristen loved it. She'd roll the Play Doh out into worms, then try to form the worms into a horse or a cat, though Bobbi never recognized these things and had to be told what they were.

On Thursday Mrs. Matoulis deposited her daughters with Bobbi. When she was gone the two girls slumped together, their eyes round. They were shy as deer.

"Let me get your coats, girls," Bobbi said. They began to move farther into the room, defrosting. Bobbi opened newspaper on the beige carpet, turned on Sesame Street, and sat on the floor. The three girls joined her. She opened one of the cans and scooped out some pink Play Doh. The others followed her lead. Soon Kristen was rolling worms.

"Do you have any pets?" the older Matoulis asked Kristen. Sensing things were going well, Bobbi slipped into the kitchen to fix sandwiches.

She was cutting PB&J into wedges when she heard something. She turned to see Kristen running past her, through the kitchen and back into the depths of the railroad apartment. Bobbi followed.

In Kristen's room she flicked the light on, but Kristen wasn't there. Bobbi continued into her and Jimmy's bedroom, the final car on the train. Kristen was lying face down on the bed, sobbing.

Seeing her like that reminded Bobbi of something that had happened the week before. It was Jimmy's day off and they were all watching TV, Bobbi and Jimmy sitting on the couch and Kristen lying on the floor on her stomach. She had her pink blanket. She was moving it absentmindedly between her legs as she lay watching the screen.

"What's she doing?" Jimmy asked, his voice rising as he realized the answer to his own question.

"Oh, Jim. She's just feeling the softness of the blanket."

"Make her stop!"

Bobbi led her daughter into her own bedroom and explained how that particular activity is a private one.

Now, though, Kristen was crying, in the harsh way that leads to hiccups. Bobbi sat beside her. "What's wrong, honey?"

Kristen turned her pink face toward her mother. She was crying so hard that at first she couldn't talk. Finally she said, "No one loves me!"

Bobbi was stunned. She's my life, she thought. How can she not sense that? She tried to hug her daughter, but Kristen wasn't ready yet, and squirmed away. Then Bobbi remembered the others.

They were sitting quietly in the living room. "Are you girls okay?" Bobbi asked. "What happened?"

"We were playing with Play Doh. Kristen jumped up and ran away."

Bobbi sighed. "I'm sorry. She must be tired. I'll call your mom and have her come get you."

"We made these for Kristen," the younger said. They held out their hands, where a horse and kitten rested, perfectly made.

Dawn Corrigan's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Opium Magazine, Pindeldyboz, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bound Off, Steel City Review, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction work appears regularly at The Nervous Breakdown.

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