Bobby’s ribs ached from the pressure of her fingers. Not the firm hold that made him feel safe or the tickling fingers that made him kick and squirm and smile all over. When she held him under his arms and swung him in circles, the giggles burst out of him, but when she snatched him up like a bag of groceries, it wasn’t fun at all. Bobby’s lip quivered, and his eyes clouded with tears. “Ahh, ahhh, ahhhh!”
He gripped the bars of his crib. He wasn’t sleepy, but she’d dropped him in bed the way she dumped the laundry basket on the kitchen table. She didn’t roll him to his back or rub his tummy or sing “The itsy-bitsy spider…” She turned her back and stomped from the room. He cried, “Ahhh, Ahhh, AHHHH!”
Bobby’s mouth hurt and nothing she’d given him made it better—not the funny-tasting stuff or the cold, hard bread, or the bumpy chewy thing. Not even her finger that tasted like the warm, milky breast he’d loved so much before she started giving him formula from the bobble. “AHHH, AHHH, AHHHH!”
In her bedroom across the hall, Fern dipped the brush into a bottle of “Mystery Mango” iridescent polish and outlined the nail on her right big toe. She filled in the center, then blew on the slick polish for thirty seconds. She dipped the brush again and outlined the nail on the next toe. Even with two closed doors between them, she could still hear Bobby, his high-pitched wail drilling into her skull, “AHHHH, AHHHH, AHHHHHHH!”
Fern fished headphones from her bedside table drawer and plugged them into the music player Kyle had given her for Mother’s Day. From the playlist she chose the Salsa music from her Dance-Thin class and lounged back against the pile of bed pillows. Earphones in place, her shoulders bobbing to the beat of the music, Fern wiggled her sassy, sexy toes.
Pain stabbed up through Bobby’s gums. His mouth was on fire. “AHHHH, AHHHH, AHHHH, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” He wanted comfort, not her frantic clutching hands, her pleading: “Shhhhhh, shhhhhh.…C’mon, baby, it’s just a damn tooth….Shhhhhh….I can’t do this! Quiet!”
Her face was tight and red when she carried him to his room, her voice harsh like the can opener that peeled the top off the formula. He’d sucked at the bobble when she thrust the nipple in his mouth, but his nose was full of goopies and he couldn’t breathe. “EEEAHHH!” he’d pushed it away. “AHHHHHH!” When she dropped the bobble in the crib with him, he threw it out. “Stop it, Bobby! Just stop it!” She’d covered her face and left him.
Bobby pressed his mouth against the slats of the crib. The pressure on his gums eased the pain, and his cries subsided to a miserable blend of hiccups and moans. He gnawed the wooden slat. “Ahhh. Hick. Mmmm. Hick. Mmmm.”
Fern sighed, “Ahhhh!” and flipped to the bookmark in her novel. His eyes were a blaze of blue, his lips commanding, demanding, as he crushed her to him. She glanced at Kyle’s side of the bed. Her body tingled with deferred desire as milord, in explicit detail, seduced his lady. In the next chapter, milady discovered his dark secret and banned him from her chamber. Fern anticipated their passionate reconciliation.
“Ahhh, ahhh, AHHH!” Bobby felt the pain building again, prickling this time like the needles at Doctor Dave’s. His gums were bathed in a pool of warm drool, but it didn’t help. “AHHHH, AHHHH, AHHHH, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” He curled up in a ball of misery, his little fists pressed tight against his flaming mouth and slobbery chin as if he could yank out the pain. He flung out his arms and legs and tried to scream it away. “EEEEEE, EEEEEE, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Ahhhhhhh! Their passion spent till the next chapter or two, milord was expertly doing up the laces of milady’s corset. Fern slipped the bookmark between the pages and closed her novel. She inspected her feet, frowning at a dried-up smudge of “Mystery Mango” on one baby toe. Damn. She’d have to re-do it. She rolled off the bed and stretched, pulled off her earphones and set them by the music player on the bedside table. Silence. Fern counted: One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand.
* * *
Bobby struggled to his feet and caught his breath. He rattled the crib railing and tilted back his head. His shrieks climbed another impossible octave. “EEE! EEE! EEE! EEE! EEE! EEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
The numbers on the dresser clock glowed red: 2:40. Ten minutes since Fern fled Bobby’s room for the refuge of her own. Three hours until Kyle would roll in, grimy and tired, needing a cold drink and a shower and a change of clothes. The numbers flowed into 2:41. Two hours and fifty-nine minutes.
Fern marched across the hall to Bobby’s room. She gripped the doorknob and twisted. One corner of the door stuck in the warped frame. She should have left it ajar, not slammed it shut. Fern pounded the stubborn corner with her fist and body-slammed the door with her hip. It sprang open, and she staggered the first few steps into the room.
“EEE! EEE! EEE!” Bobby, startled, plopped back on his bottom. He squinted up through tear-clouded eyes at her face looming over him, at her hands reaching for him. “EEEEEEE!”
Fern caught her son under his flailing arms and pulled him from the crib. “EEEEE!” he cried, his cheeks red and blotchy, snot hanging from his nose. She grabbed a flannel blanket and pressed it to his face.
“Shh, shh, shh, sweetie.” She wiped the tears from his cheeks and the drool from his chin. “I know it hurts. Shhhhh.” She cuddled him against her shoulder and rocked, thankful she’d taken the ten-minute break instead of taking the strain out on Bobby. “Mommy’s sorry she was cranky. Shhhhh.”
Bobby took a shuddering breath. “Ahhhh, Ahhhh, Ahhhh, Mmmmmmmm.”
Maureen “Mo” Walsh’s first mystery story, “Roadside Roulette,” won the Mary Higgins Clark Mystery/Suspense Short-Story Contest. Her mystery stories have appeared in Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, and five anthologies of Best New England Crime Stories. She is a coauthor of A Miscellany of Murder: From History and Fiction to True Crime and Television, A Killer Selection of Trivia by the Monday Murder Club. A recovering advertising copywriter, Mo now writes feature articles for the newspaper in Weymouth, MA, where she lives with her family.