The thought rolled through my head the entire time I was in the Wallyworld grabbing formula.
Would the baby live? Could we keep it alive? How good of a life would it have?
Grabbing formula took all of five minutes. It took another couple of minutes to find a bottle. I grabbed a case of bottled water (how had we forgotten bottled water?) and flew back out into the light. When I entered the RV, Tammy was sitting on her bed, the baby cuddled close to her chest, using her finger as a pacifier to little avail. The Baby was crying weakly. Maybel helped me get the bottle ready (I hadn’t considered how amazing an invention the microwave was until then) and then Tammy, with as much delicacy and grace as any seasoned mother fed the child.
Izzy, Maybel, and I watched in seeming amazement as Tammy came into her own. We didn’t exist for the time the bottle was in the baby’s mouth- only the infant occupied her world, the reverse also the case. The little one sucked the bottle down, and then
resumed its cries, this time with more energy.
“More,” ordered Tammy.
I took the bottle, got it ready while Tammy burped the child, and the process repeated itself. This time, the child only drank a quarter of the bottle, and fell asleep. Tammy sat there, her legs crossed, knees supporting her arms and by extension the baby, and a tranquil look came over her face. An old memory came spiraling from the past like a hammer from nowhere, and so I tapped Maybel on the shoulder and motioned her to follow me outside.
“The baby is Tammy’s responsibility,” I said when we were out of earshot, “but I want you to keep tabs on her.”
“Did you see the look on her face,” I asked carefully, trying to figure out how to frame what I was going to say next.
“Yeah, she looked happy. Contented. At peace. Why?”
I looked back at the RV’s door, and decided to just put it bluntly.
“There was a girl I dated back when I was in my teens. Good girl. Had an abusive father. Was molested at a young age. After we broke up, she got in with the wrong crowd, got pregnant. She went through counceling before the baby was born. Evidently she had been preparing to give the baby up for adoption.
“After she gave birth, she told the doctor she wanted to keep it. Of course they let her, but the day after she was released from the hospital, they found her and the baby both dead from a drug overdose in her parent’s basement. I saw her the day before she was set to be released, and she had that same damned look on her face. At peace.”
“Tammy’s not going to kill herself or the baby,” said Maybel.
“Shit’s more intense now than for Agatha,” I said. “Tammy’s been through a similar experience by your own admission, and her distance from us- well, me- lends credence that she’s not healthy in the mind right now. She might do something rash, and I don’t want her to go the way Agatha did. It-"
“I think you’re overreacting,” she replied, putting her hand up to forestall my response. “Tammy isn’t going to kill herself. Everything’s going to be fine. But it’s going to be less fine if we don’t get some diapers, and baby clothes.”
I looked at Maybel for a long second, trying to read her eyes. All I could see in them was understanding and confidence. No signs of withdrawl, no stammering, no questioning. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m being a worry wart over nothing, but just do me a solid and promise me you’ll keep close tabs on her and let me know if she get’s wonky or weird.”
Maybel smiled, and touched my cheek. “Ok, I’ll keep an eye on her, if that'll help you focus."
Her simple act of reaching out to touch my cheek- to reassure me that everything was going to be ok hit me like a hammer in a different way. Until that moment I had retained reservations as to her loyalties, and her intentions. I held out hope that she’d stick around for a little while and help me take care of Izzy, maybe be a big sister to her and fill in where I couldn’t. I had, until that moment, figured that as soon as Maybel could- she’d bounce. Now I wasn’t so sure. Something told me that maybe Maybel would be around for quite a while.
“But I have to ask,” she said breaking my thought, “if you’re so worried about Tammy killing herself and the baby, why do you want the baby to be her responsibility?”
I shrugged, figuring the answer was obvious. “You saw the look on her face, didn’t you?”
“you mean the same look that had you freaking out just a second ago?”
“Yeah. I’m hoping I’m wrong, and that that baby is what breaks her spell and helps her heal. I think she needs that baby more than the baby needs her.”
Maybel’s already amazing smile shifted to something more. “I think you’re right on that one.”
I smiled back, the worry dissipating some as I realized things just might be alright. She took her hand from my cheek, and looked at the RV. I did likewise. The door was still shut, so far as we knew, no one was eavesdropping.
“I’m going to go get some diapers and onsies. I’ll be back in ten.”
I looked around, the field seemed larger and more ominous than before. Sending her alone to get the needed supplies was out of the question for obvious reasons, but leaving her alone with nothing but spit and mean language seemed equally out of the question. I pulled the pistol from the holster, ensured it wasn’t loaded, and handed it to her along with a magazine.
“Take this. If anyone but me comes to that door, shoot first, ask questions later. I’ll hear it inside and come ready for the Devil if need be.”
She took the offered pistol, slightly less cautious than before, and nodded. I nodded back, and went shopping.
Thirty minutes later, Tammy was asleep on her bed, the baby (a boy) tucked in her arms dreaming whatever babies dream. Izzy, Maybel, and I were outside. I had removed my plate carrier and set it and my rifle on the ground. Before we had come outside, I had dug out another pistol like the one I had been carrying (a trait I got from my dad was always buy two of everything- you never know when you might want a spare) and gave it to Maybel. We spent about an hour going over the weapon, and I decided that when the opportunity presented itself, she needed some range time. Dry firing would have to do. I fitted her with a decent belt and holster, and we moved on to other items at hand.
I pulled out the spray paints, painters tape, and cardboard.
“Maybel, I’m going to need your help with this. You too, Izzy.”
“Ok,” said Maybel.
“Ok, Buckaroo,” said Izzy.
I smiled. “I want to paint the RV to make it less noticeable.”
“Camouflage,” asked Maybel.
“Yup. I don’t want it to shine as much, and be easier to hide. Plus, I think it’ll look cool. Can’t do awesome things without looking cool.”
Maybel rolled her eyes. “Ok, how do you want to do this?”
I explained, and we set to work. Maybel and Izzy cut carboard to fit over the lights and windows while I started spraying the chrome portions flat black. I started with the hubcaps, and moved to bumpers when the lights were covered. After all the chrome was black, I started painting the rest of the RV random splotches of green, tan, brown, and black. Once the sides, front, and read were complete, I used the rest of the paint on the roof in the same random pattern. Tammy woke up while I was up there, and came out with the baby to figure out what all the racket was. Up until that point I hadn’t seen anything out of her aside from pain and contention, but the look I saw on her face was not what I expected, nor were her words when she spoke.
“That is fucking badass,” she said as a smile crossed her lips. “Why didn’t you wake me up to help- that would have been fun as shit.”
I stood atop the roof of our mobile home, a can of spray paint in either hand, two more tucked into empty mag pouches on my gunbelt looking on in disbelief when Tammy spotted the pistol on Maybel’s hip, and looked at me with a look more annoyed than upset.
“Hey, how come she gets a gun and I don’t?”