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|Thu, 08-01-2002 - 3:29pm|
The red edge of the sun had slid behind the pines when Dusty went out on the porch. The cornbread was cooking and the kitchen was too hot to stand, even in the bedroom across the dogtrot hall. Dusty eased down upon the rocking chair, feeling every slat in spite of the cushion. She wasn't as sore as she had been, but it seemed to Dusty the healing had been slow. She rubbed her belly with her palm, feeling the loose flesh like an empty pouch. At first she thought everything inside her was falling out when she stood up, as if gravity had a stronger pull on her insides. The pulling made her walk hunched over, holding her womb inside by force of will. She spread her legs, hoping the summer air would dry her sweaty thighs.
Bats and martins were swooping and cartwheeling across the evening sky. The baby martins called from the holes of the birdhouse and somewhere in the dark pines a whippoorwill made a tentative cry. It was early in the evening but late in the year for it. The gardenia bloomed, and the scent mixed with honeysuckle in the air until Dusty felt dizzy. The sadness came over her again. These days the littlest things made her sad, the cry of a bird or a song on the radio or using her great-grandmother's skillet in her great-grandmother's kitchen. Sometimes she would stand in front of the stove, looking at the bacon or fish or pork chops sizzling on the fire and tears would fall in the grease and she'd have to step back or get popped.
When the baby woke he didn't cry. Dusty would hear him making a snuffling piggy sound and she'd go ahead and get him out of the crib. This time he was rooting his face against the sheets.
"Hey little piggy." She picked him up and tucked him into the corner of her arm. She slid her finger between his diaper and his behind. He was damp, but he didn't smell pissy. "I guess you're hungry."
He rooted against her now, making the snuffling noise. Her breasts tingled and hardened as though filling with ginger ale instead of milk. Two small spots appeared on the front of her shirt. She smelled always of milk and piss and baby powder. Somehow in becoming a mother she'd lost her own smell.
She sat down in the rocker and opened her blouse, and her nipples hardened more in the fresh air. A hard nurser, he latched onto her with his mouth and his eyes. He sucked hard enough to spread the ache of her breasts through her body to the pit of her stomach to the sore part of her. He stared at her with dark blue eyes that looked both puzzled and solemn. His downy hair was wet with sweat and the wrinkles in the sheets had printed his cheeks with a pattern of lines. Dusty could hear the milk flowing through her and into him, a rushing sound that reminded her of an underground spring.
She heard Johnny's pickup before it even turned off the highway. It had a hole in the muffler, but driving a loud truck didn't trouble Johnny. The dogs heard it too, and they came from under the porch barking and whining. He pulled up slowly, trying to keep the dust from boiling into the house.
"Hey Baby." He was greasy from the rig. It didn't matter. Nobody expected a roughneck to wear clean clothes. After a while the grease just settled in and made its own color, darkening the denim to a dirty indigo.
"Hey" Dusty said. "You need a haircut, I think."
Johnny grinned. "Aw hell, I'll fit in good with them hippies at the rig." He squatted beside her and put a dirty finger in the baby's hand. "Hey, peanut."
It didn't matter that the baby had a name. He'd be renamed, Peanut or Bubba or Hoss or something. Daddys did that. Dusty thought it was a claiming, that renaming. There were boys in school who never used their real names. They'd be Peanut or Bubba or Hoss all through school, even in the yearbook. Her name was never used either, except in anger. She was always Baby.
Johnny stood up and moved behind her, lifting her hair from the back of her neck and blowing on it. "It's a hot one today, wadn't it?"
"Yep." Dusty shivered. "That feels nice." His breath cooled her, even though it was just on her neck.
"You look sexy, out here on the porch." Johnny whispered in her ear. "If we had some traffic, there'd be wrecks all over the place."
She tried to smile, but it troubled her. She didn't like not being able to be with him. It wasn't good for a good-looking man to have to wait. It was a fragile position she'd put herself in. The baby was so small, and the world was full of women with babies. Women without babies. Women who didn't smell like milk and piss.
"I love you." she whispered. Her voice sounded tight.
"I love you, too." Johnny wiggled the baby's foot. "I love you too, Peanut."
The baby stared up at them both, his solemn eyes watching as his father cupped the other breast in his dirty hand. Dusty shivered again, as the breast grew hard and awake and the milk let down against his palm. Dusty saw the milk squirting against his hand, mixing with the grease and dripping through the lines of his palm and the calluses.
"I'll be glad when you're well." He whispered, pressing his hardness against the back of her head.
She kissed his hand, fiercely, not minding the grime or the milk or anything else. "Me too. Me too."