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.