|Post no Babies|
Posted on Jan 9, 2012
There is a baby in the letterbox! I look at it a moment. It looks back at me. Silently.
I pull my hat a little tighter on my head and look up the dirt road. It runs off through the bare paddocks. No one in sight. No dust hanging over it. It runs past distant dead gum trees and out of sight. No one has been on it for a while. Grey clouds sit low on the horizon. Maybe it’d rain? Some chance!
I look back at the letterbox. The baby is wrapped in a faded blue blanket. It’d been a long time since there’d been any good news in that letterbox. Its skin is dark. African maybe? I reach out and try to carefully gather it up. Babies are awkward. They aren’t half as easy as carrying new-born lambs
I look up and down the road once more. Then I carry the baby to the passenger seat of the ute and drive back to the house. Another bloody baby!
– – –
I put the baby in the lounge room. The bedroom is already full. There are six babies in there. Five in the spare room and four more in the study.
I tip-toe around the house looking at them. Some are asleep. The others just look at me and frown. They don’t seem to cry very much. I wonder if that’s normal or not. I look at the clock. Milk time soon. They’ll cry if I miss that. There was plenty in the fridge from this morning’s milking. Better than pouring it down the drain.
I take up the new baby and began unwrapping him. Maybe he’s a she? The baby stares at me closely. Such deep brown eyes. The blanket is pretty grotty. He or she will need some new clothes. They stare right into me. And a name. Eyes like dark mirrors. Gabriel if he’s a boy. Gabrielle if she’s a girl. Eyes that grab something inside me. I unwrap the thin nappy. It’s wet. He’s a he. All skin and bone. What have those eyes seen? Then I lift his shirt.
– Oh sweet Jesus, I say.
– – –
There is a knock at the door.
It’s Bruno. My neighbour.
– Hello, I call out.
I hear his footsteps enter the lounge room and suddenly stop.
– Shit! What’s all this?
I try to turn my head to see his face. The bottle comes out of Gabriel’s mouth and his small hands grasp around for it.
– These are all babies! says Bruno.
I put the bottle back carefully. – Are they? I ask.
– Where the hell did they come from?
– Well Bruno, I say, – First a sperm has to fertilise an egg.
– Don’t piss me around.
– I dunno. They just arrived. In the letterbox.
Bruno shakes his head and walks carefully across the room, looking at each baby. All the different faces. Asian, African. Others he can’t tell. He shakes his head again.
– What do you mean just arrived?
– Just like I said. They were in the letterbox. Would I ever lie to ‘ you
– Okay. They just arrived.
Gabriel pushes the bottle out of his mouth and begins grimacing in discomfort. Bruno looks at him.
– I think he needs burping, he says.
– Show me.
Bruno has had three kids. He takes Gabriel and lays him over his shoulder. Then he gently pats his back. Suddenly Gabriel lets out an enormous belch and throws up over Bruno’s back.
– Ah shit! says Bruno. He holds Gabriel in front of him. He is silent. He is looking into his eyes. Those eyes.
– – –
I lay Gabriel back on the floor and pick up another baby. Rebekah. A tiny brown-skinned girl.
– So where do you reckon they come from? asks Bruno.
– I dunno. We used to get a lot of those photos from aid agencies. Small kids with old faces. Y’know. We sponsored a couple of them for awhile. Wrote letters. That kind of thing. Maybe the agency is sending them.
– It was more Cate’s thing than mine though.
Bruno nods again. Neither of us says anything for a moment. I glance up to the mantelpiece where her photo used to be. But it has been gone for a long time.
– Most are pretty done in when they get here. So I reckon they’re probably orphans.
– Have a look at this.
I lift Gabriel again and carefully raise his shirt. Showing the wound. The scar runs all the way down from the neck to his navel. Angry and red. Like melted plastic.
– Oh Jesus, says Bruno. He touches it carefully with his finger tips.
– He’s probably from Rwanda, I say.
Bruno doesn’t know what to say.
– – –
Bruno is helping me pour the milk into the bottles.
– Lucky I kept ’em, I say. – Didn’t think I’d ever use ’em again.
– What’re you doing for nappies?
– I’m coping.
– And then what?
– Dunno I could raise them here I guess.
Bruno lifts his eyebrows. Just a little.
– Plenty of room now the lambs’re gone.
– Baby farm?
– Yeah. Can you picture the look on the bank manager’s face? We both laugh. Bruno looks around. At the babies. Then says it. – What if you get more?
– I dunno.
– I think you’d better get a sign put up. Post no babies!
I smile. – Yeah. Put the nipples on tight, I say. – Some leak. The lambs used to chew ’em pretty hard.
– – –
The babies are finally all asleep again. Me and Bruno sit in the kitchen. – I have this idea, I suddenly say. – Like I run it around in my head sometimes. Cate comes back, see.
He nods. Doesn’t look at me too closely though.
– She walks in on all this. And she’s furious. Of course. She tells me what a situation I’m in. How I could never hope to look after all these babies by myself. Then she puts her hands on her hip. Y’know, how she did. Then she takes charge.
– She begins wrapping them all up to send ’em back. And she has a few all bundled up and she picks up Gabriel.
– That little fella you showed me?
– Yeah. And she holds him. Looking at him. And he just looks at her. And her face softens. Because he’s the little kid she always wanted. The one we could never have. And then she smiles. Like she used to in the early days. So warm. Soft. And…
I can’t go on.
Bruno nods. – I get the picture.
But the rest of it is still before me. She offers Gabriel her breast. So white. Soft. And he holds onto her. Suckling. Nourishing. Belonging. And I can see she’s going to stay.
– – –
– Well, says Bruno . – Gotta go really. Things to do. Y’know. Getting late.
– Just dropped in to see how you were keeping and all.
– I’m coping.
– I can see. Well. Better go.
– Hey Bruno.
– You don’t need to tell anybody about the babies. Not yet.
– Of course.
And he was gone.
– – –
The day passes quickly. Feeding. Changing. Nursing. It was good to have something to do again. In the afternoon I sat on the verandah. Like I used to. Watched the rain clouds drift dryly by on their way up north. Their shadows glide over the hard yellow fields. I tried to remember how long it was since we’d last seen rain. And then I imagined it raining babies. All the farmers in the district, all the farmers in the world all running out and dancing and singing, watching babies raining down softly around them.
– – –
The phone rings. I pick it up quickly. Don ‘t want to wake any of them now they’re sleeping. It’s Bruno
– Look, mate, I was thinking.
– About them babies.
– What’re you going to do with them?
– Feed ’em and change ’em.
– No. I mean after that. They’ll grow up.
– Maybe I’ll just raise them until then.
– You know you won’t be able to keep ’em. Not forever.
– Yeah. I know.
– What about welfare?
– Fuck welfare.
– Yeah. Of course.
– Okay. I might drop over later.
– Sure. See ya then.
I hang up the phone and walk around the babies. All laid out asleep on the lounge room floor. It feels like walking through acres of wheat that is chest high and golden.
– – –
I sit in the lounge room at night. Two kids on my lap. The TV is on soft. The news. Two more in my arms. Crying gently. Half asleep. There’s wars. And fighting. And riots. The rest are sleeping soundly. Kids running past burning cars. Dodging bullets. I’d hold them all if I could. I look down at my hands and remember the last real farm work I did. Slaughtering the lambs. Bastard of a job. I thought I could do it. Had to kill the lot. A hundred of them. I was going to raise them. Then sell them. Get me out of the red. Got half-way through and couldn’t see clearly. Had to stop and sit down. The weight of all those little woolly bodies pressing down on me.
I thought I could do it. But I had to ask Bruno to bury them. Couldn’t ever seem to wash the blood off my fingers. I turn my hands over and looked at the fingers closely. Then I look down and see Gabriel. On my lap. His eyes are open. Just watching me. Those eyes.
– – –
It’s Bruno again.
– I brought you some talcum powder and things.
– And I picked up the post! He is holding the baby in the cradle of his arms. I take her and check her over. Pretty malnourished. But pretty.
– And I brought you this, he says. He holds up a sign. It’s hand painted. Neatly. It says, POST NO BABIES.
– You’re a good friend, I say.
– Wanta help me get this one changed and fed?
He pulls some baby clothes out of the bag. A hand-knitted suit. Lamb’s wool. He must’ve told his wife. Then he’s holding the sign again. – Do you want me to put this up on my way back down the driveway?
– No it’s okay I say. – I’ll put it up. But not right away.
– He puts it down on the bench. Smiles a little. Shakes his head a bit. – How many lambs did you used to run, about a hundred or more, wasn’t it?