Avril Feeds Rosie

Avril sat down and started talking to Rosie, asking her what kind of fool would send a beautiful baby like her to such a messed up world anyway. The baby watched her with wide eyes as if she understood all of it, as if she had the answers maybe even, but wasn’t about to let on what they were. Soon the fevered sucking on the nipple slowed, allowing a trail of water to slip down the side of her mouth. One tiny fist spasmed upward, latched onto a bit of fabric, and held on tight.

There’s something about a baby that makes a heart melt, even a street-wise, smart-mouth transvestite heart like Avril’s.

“You about done with that tasteless water?” Avril realized she was talking all “goo-goo baby-ized,” but didn’t care at all. No one else could hear her but Rosie and she seemed to like it. “You do, don’t you, sweet thing? You like it when Auntie Avril talks the sweet talk, don’t you?”

This was the first time she’d ever been so close to an infant, except for when she’d helped deliver this one. She’d heard how natural it felt to cradle them in the crook of your arm, how their eyes could melt into you like welcome laser beams.

“Babies supposed to smell good, too, though, ain’t they?” she asked Rosie. “Not all stinky like you. You a stinky girl, yes, you are. Stinky girl.”

Was that a smile? No, they didn’t smile this little, did they? Whatever gas had passed across Rosie’s face, Avril felt it tug at her insides like a string tied to her colon.

“How about Auntie Avril see if she can get some of that street stink off of you, hmm?”

Rummaging in the baby box on the floor, she found a small bottle of Johnson’s baby shampoo and another receiving blanket. When she finally lowered the baby into a sink full of warm water, Rosie jerked at first in surprise, sending up a small splash, then kicked and squirmed enough to create a tsunami.

The child was a natural born Michelle Phelps. “Or maybe you a Mike?” Avril asked Rosie. “I’m not about to make the same mistake my daddy did. You free to grow up to be whoever you want, child, no matter what parts mother nature gave you on the outside. You remember that.”

Dreams

In her dreams, Avril was kneeling in front of Lily again, hands held out to catch the baby sliding out of the girl. “Push,” she told Lily and suddenly there it was, slipping into Avril’s waiting fingers like a pit from a cherry.

When Jo dreams earlier in the book, I use italics and present tense, hoping to bring the reader into the dream to give it more depth, but for Avril’s dream, it seemed more appropriate to watch it from the outside, like this.

“What is it?” Franco yelled in Avril’s ear. “What is it?”

Avril knew he was asking if the baby was a boy or a girl. She tried to focus on the tiny naked worm she held. The baby’s face was twisted and squinting, clearly pissed off at being born, but for the life of her, Avril couldn’t tell what gender it was. It was like she held a baby Ken doll in her hands, one that squirmed and was covered with wet, blood-speckled slime.

“What is it?” Franco asked again, but Avril could only look at him in confusion. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t know anymore.”

I question if this is a realistic dream. I want to show Avril’s fluidity and possible confusion over her own sexuality, but is this too stereotype?

The baby wailed in protest, fists waving, feet kicking. Avril was ready to wake up. Enough of this nonsense, she told herself. Wake up. Wake up.

Except it wasn’t a dream. Not the crying part anyway. Avril awoke to hear the sound of a baby bawling somewhere in the building. Groaning, she rolled over and pulled a pillow over head trying to drown out the disturbance. It had been an extra late Saturday night for her, working hard to make up the lost time traveling to Englewood to track down that pesky Franco. Bad dreams or no, all she wanted was to get back to sleep.

Then arguing rose over the sound of the baby. “No. I don’t want to,” someone whined, close and high pitched. The answer was male, but almost as feminine sounding, “Well, where else, then, huh? You wanna go back to Riley’s, do you? For fuck’s sake, Lily, make up your God damned mind already. It’s here or Riley’s or out on the streets. You think Rosie’s safe on the streets, do you?”

Lily? The name, filtered through the pillow, sounded like part of the dream, but when Avril heard Joe Clark from next door bellow down the hall, “For Christ’s sake, shut that kid up, will you?” she knew she was wide awake. The voices had to belong to Lily and Franco, which meant the baby was little Zara Rose.

Just as the reality of that made itself clear, a knock on the door brought Avril fully upright in bed.

“Avril?” Franco called. “Avril, you home? Come on, open up.”

Coming Full Circle

The door to the cylindrical chamber opens like a porthole in a submarine. Inside, on a mesh wire tray, petite brown feet with pale soles face outward. Jo wants to look away, but instead her gaze follows the ankles up to the slender calves, the emaciated nakedness with its sunken belly and flattened breasts, then finally settles on the terrified face of the girl cooking slowly inside.

This chapter starts off with a blatant reminder of the first book in the series, Painted Black. In so many ways, including the title, this book brings us full circle to that one.

The nightmare awakened Jo with a familiar bolt of energy. It wasn’t the first time she’d had dreams of her one glimpse of Lexie Green’s fate. It persisted even though it wasn’t even a realistic portrayal of what she’d actually seen when she glanced through a funeral home window looking for the missing girl. All she’d seen then had been the girl’s feet. She hadn’t known until much later what the chamber was for, and that Lexie had been dead before she’d been placed inside the apparatus designed to freeze-dry her into immortality.

Jo had awakened to morning at least, this time. Late morning, it seemed, from the slant of sunlight coming in from outside. The hum of her window air conditioner nearly drowned out the sounds of traffic and cars honking in the Hyde Park street in front of her building. Another sign that Jo had slept in. The neighborhood was up and thriving; it was time Jo joined them.

Padding barefoot toward the kitchen, she paused to pick up a manilla envelope someone had shoved under her door. Scrawled across the front of it, unsigned, but in familiar handwriting, read, “Squee!! I’m famous! I’ll let you buy me champaign and caviar when I get back next week. Don’t forget about Topaz. Love you. Be good.”

Inside the envelope was a copy of the latest Marie Claire magazine with four women on the cover. Building a Seasonal Wardrobe read the large print alongside the photo. Each woman wore highly fashionable clothes symbolic of the season they represented. Jo’s friend and neighbor, Keisha, with her beautifully bronze skin and dazzling smile, was the epitome of summer.

The kitchen was warmer than the bedroom, but cool enough to not prohibit the idea of baking blueberry muffins for breakfast. Her apartment did have central air conditioning, everyone in the building did, but the system was old and unreliable. Plus, Jo liked it glacial while she slept, an excuse to curl up like a hibernating bear beneath a soft comforter.

She dressed while the muffins baked, the sweet smell wafting throughout the small one bedroom flat. Then, grabbing Keisha’s keys, a muffin, and the magazine, she headed across the hall to Keisha’s apartment.

Topaz, the friendliest Siamese cat Jo had ever encountered, greeted her arrival with incessant meows that could have been greetings or complaints that she’d taken too long to come. The cat warbling turned to even louder purrs as Jo used the automatic can opener on a tin of cat food. The purrs and ankle-rubbing didn’t cease until the food dish was placed on the floor. Then, finally, Jo was able to start on her own breakfast.

Keisha had a Keurig, so it didn’t take long before Jo took her coffee to kitchen bar stool to eat and look through the fashion magazine. She found it hard to concentrate, however, barely making it through the article that accompanied Keisha’s photo shoot. The nightmare still haunted her.

I decided on the title Cry Baby Cry for several reasons, but one significant one is that CRY was the tag used by the graffiti artist who was Lexie Green’s friend, Christopher Robert Young.

She had learned of Lexie Green’s fate almost a year before, and the nightmares had, thank God, tapered off since then. Avril’s reappearance in her life, however, seemed to have revived those memories with a vengeance.

Just a Job

Avril suddenly became aware that she’d been standing in the same tense pose since they’d started talking. Her shoulder blades ached. Her calves screamed for release from the murderously high heels. She dropped into the nearest lounge chair and fingered the broken vinyl on the armrest.

I like the idea of showing that there are many levels in the trans world, and tried to express it in Avril’s description of Lonny: “Lonny had transitioned late in life and all the hormones and surgical procedures in the world couldn’t disguise her masculine beginnings.”

“Everywhere I look, there’s dead ends,” she said. “I went to the police to ask them to look into it, but they don’t even pretend they will.”

She didn’t expect sympathy. Certainly didn’t want it from Lonny Kane. But she also didn’t expect the frigid bitch to look down her nose at Avril and say, “You sure there’s a problem, Avril? Sure you’re not overreacting?” That gave Avril more buzz than an 8-hour energy drink.

“Oh, that’s right, accuse the drama queen of theatrics.” Avril jumped to her feet, ignoring the stab of pain from her feet when she did. “Makes life easy for you, does it? Pretend Zara’s fine. The tranny just crazy, that’s all. If you wasn’t a woman, if you wasn’t so pathetic a woman, I’d black your ass from here to Lake Michigan.

“How’s that for overreacting?” she called over her shoulder as she stomped to the exit. “You just lucky I don’t react all over your face.”

The sun and heat blasted her like a welding arc when she stepped outside. Blinded by the light, by her mad, with the blood rushing through her veins, Avril had to take a sec to calm down before she could think, before she could move.

She should be home sleeping, resting up for the long haul of making ends meet after dark. Some people whored because they were roped into it, hard-run by pimps like Riley King. Some just didn’t give a shit what happened to them, maybe doing it to feed a bad habit. Booze. Drugs. Whatever. For Avril, it was a job. A job that could be fun as hell, or scary as hell.

Some day, it wouldn’t bring in enough to build a life with, but she didn’t like to think about some day. Live for today. And today, God damn it, she was going to find out what the hell happened to Zara Rose if it killed her.

Lily and Rosie

“Look, I’m telling you we’re fine.” Franco’s raised voice was a welcome distraction. He’d been arguing with a nurse just inside the door of Lily’s room all while the mother/daughter bonding ritual was attempted, and it sounded like he’d finally gotten fed up.

Between DCFS rules, hospital restrictions, and car seat laws, it was quite a trick figuring out a way to get Lily and her baby out of the hospital. Hopefully this works.

“I’m listed as the father on the birth certificate, right?” Franco continued.

“Yes, but—”

“You’ve seen my ID, mail showing a current address, and Lily told you I’m the father. I’m twenty one, and I’ve got a friend waiting outside right now to take us home. So what right you got to tell me what I can do with my woman and my kid?”

“Children and Family Services told us the mother is underage.”

“Bullshit. They don’t know nothing about me and Lily. They wanna bitch about anything, they can come find us at this here address I showed you.” He pointed at the envelope she still held in her hand. “’Cause me and my kid are leaving, hear?”

Franco was short and skinny with three pimples red and raw on his nose, but he sounded so tough even the snooty nurse in her starched white uniform looked intimidated.

“But—” She tried, but she was scrambling, that much was sure. “The doctor will be making his rounds in another hour. If you just wait till—”

“Didn’t I just say I got a friend waiting downstairs right now? How we supposed to get home if I wait for the damn Doc? Think I wanna take my kid home on the L with all the crackpots and germs floating around?”

“But we’re not, we’re not ready to release her. Do you even have diapers bought for this child? Do you have a car seat? A crib?”

“We’ve still got some of those baby boxes available,” the nurse’s aide suggested. She was still holding a loud and red-faced Rosie, bouncing the baby up and down trying to quiet her. “We could send one of them home with these two.”

The nurse looked pissed that the aide was taking Franco’s side, but Franco grasped the straw quick. “Baby box? What’s that?”

“It’s only cardboard, but big enough to use as a bed for the first few weeks anyway,” the aide answered. “Some company donated a bunch of them, hoping the hospital would agree to start buying them for young, first-time parents. It’s a thing that started in Finland, I guess.”

“You want me to take my baby home in a box?” Franco asked.

“It’s nicer than you think. Plus it’s filled with all kinds of stuff, clothes even, to get you started. That would work for them, Anita, don’t you think? And DCFS could follow up later to see if they need anything else.”

Maybe the nurse’s aide had been more sympathetic than Lily had given her credit for. She even looked back and gave Lily a small, encouraging smile as the nurse finally gave in with a, “Wait here, then. There’s paperwork and details need to be sorted out.”

“Well, hurry it up, woman.” Franco was cocky with victory. “My ride’s not gonna double park for long, now, is he?”

Their transportation wasn’t really double parked, Lily saw when they finally rolled her out the exit doors in a wheelchair. With one wave of his arm, Franco summoned a long, fin-tailed purple Chevy that chugged smoke as it circled the drive to meet up with them.

Lily had never seen the car before, just as she had no idea what Franco had been yammering on about with the nurse. What home was he talking about? Franco’s address, the one on his ID and where he got his mail from, actually belonged to the Unitarian church on Armitage Avenue. They let people pick up their mail there once a day during the week. And what friend did he have who actually owned a car?

Then she saw who stepped out of the driver’s seat.

I love bringing back Riley King from my first book, Painted Black. In so many ways, Cry Baby Cry is circling back to the very beginning of the series.

“Well, there she be,” Riley King called over the hood of his car. As usual, he was wearing a bright Hawaiian print shirt, and a thick gold chain winked from inside his collar. He grinned as he walked up to them. “Sweet baby Jesus, what a cute little thing you holding there, girl. Let me see.”

Lily actually pulled Rosie away from the man when he reached for her. She looked up at Franco with her mouth open, but he just shrugged.

“Now, don’t be shy, girl.” Was Lily imagining it, or was there a warning glint in Riley’s eye? “Let Uncle Riley get a peek at the pretty little thing. What her name now?”

It was the nurse’s aide who answered. Lily’s tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. She did let Franco’s pimp pull the baby blanket back to get a look at Rosie’s face. The baby was sleeping, thankfully, having been fed a small bottle of formula by Carmen, the aide, before they’d checked out.

Carmen was now looking at Riley and the rumbling, antique car with a frown between her eyebrows. “I don’t see an infant seat in the back,” she said. “You need to strap the baby into a safety seat in order to take her home. If you don’t have one, then I’m afraid I’m not—”

For an instant, Lily had an impulse to say, “Here, take her back then,” before getting in the car and driving away without Rosie. Even as the thought dropped into her mind, however, some raw place in the pit of her stomach cried out in protest at the idea. Hormones, maybe? Kicking in despite her lack of maternal instincts?

“Car seat?” Riley asked. “Why, I just found out not one hour ago that sweet Lily here had her little one. No time for any shopping, now, was there? We planning on stopping at Target, though, straight away, I can promise you that. Even though we only going two blocks or so. Three maybe. And I promise to drive slow and careful as a man already picked up twice for DWI.”

He laughed and smiled, fingering the row of jeweled studs lining the cartilage of his right ear. “Just saying, of course. Never touch the stuff myself.”

Lily didn’t know Riley well, but she doubted the truth of that. Maybe he didn’t drink, but she found it hard to believe a man who dealt drugs and sold sex didn’t have some questionable recreational habit. Carmen, however, actually blushed at Riley’s “joke.” Could the woman actually find this lanky, dark eyed man with hair like a grease helmet attractive?

“I’m sorry, but it’s against the law …” Carmen stumbled to a stop, blushing even redder at Riley’s exaggerated cry of disappointment.

“What about if we put the baby in this box bed you gave us and strap that in real tight?” Franco asked. “We could take all the stuff out, and string the seat belts through these handles here.”

Fifteen minutes of sweating and swearing, and the Baby Box bed was strapped securely enough that Carmen seemed to approve. Either that, or she was so distracted by Riley’s flirting that she didn’t really care anymore. At any rate, Lily was finally able to settle into the back seat next to Rosie with a sigh as they drove off.