Baby Jesus in the Paddock
I heard Dada’s voice shout, ‘Jesus!’ and pushed aside the curtain to see what was happening. Dada stood in the paddock not more than three feet from my window staring down at the bundle on the ground. I saw the bundle move and then I heard it cry out and I knew dada had found a baby in the paddock, a baby Jesus.
I followed mama outside and watched her and she knelt and then picked the baby up into her arms.
‘Don’t touch it!’ Dada shouted at her but Mama ignored him and cradled the baby close to her chest.
‘Didn’t you hear me, woman,’ Dada said, ‘I mean it; put it back on the ground. Quick put it back.’
Mam turned and walked back inside the house and I followed. Behind me I heard Dada shout, ‘On shit now two bloody mouths squawking for food, to babes never givin’ me peace or quiet, and all I want is quiet.’
Mama stopped in her tracks and turned back to look at dada and she said ‘if you ant quiet maybe you should stopper your mouth and cease all the shouting, you’ll just make this poor babe cry louder with the racket your makin’, so hush up and let me see what’s what with this child of the paddock.’
Mama started walking and I followed her into the house and up to the kitchen table that I has sat at a million times I reckon but I had never seen it with a baby on top of it and so the whole room seemed different that morning and Mama laid the baby on the wooden table and then slowly unwrapped the blankets it was wrapped it. Blankets that were more like rags, the state they were in.
Dada came inside banging the door behind him and the baby started to wail again, kicking it little legs and waiving its tiny arms about, like a bug trapped on its back, unable to flip over and escape.
‘Well?’ Dada asked.
‘Well what?’ mama replied.
‘Well nothin’ I was just makin’ a comment, is all.’
‘Then shoosh and let me examine the babe and see how it is.’
‘I’m off for a drink,’ then,’ said Dada and with that he left the house and was gone for several hours.
‘Mama,’ I said, ‘how did the baby come to be in the paddock, did it fall from the sky, is it baby Jesus, Mama? Did it miss the stable where it should have been found?’
Mama stuck a finger in the baby’s mouth and I watched the baby suck hard.
‘The poor little thing’s starving.’
‘Is it Jesus, Mama?’
‘It’s certainly a miracle,’ Mama replied, ‘how else could it have survived the night in the paddock, out there under the stars, cold and hungry and abandoned?’
‘What shall we do, Mama?’
‘First we’ll try some milk, here stick your finger here while I warm it some milk.’
Mama took my right pointer finger and placed it at the baby’s mouth and then I felt its tip lips and then its gums and I felt it life wanting suck as it tried to draw something out of my finger to ease its hunger. Knowing about hunger I felt for the baby, felt for its hunger, its uselessness that meant it could do nothing but waive about and suck at whatever happened to pass its lips.
Behind me mama clanged about, plonking a saucepan on the stove and adding milk to it. She lit the gas and I watched her banging through the cupboards while waiting for for the milk, all while that baby sucked and sucked as if trying to get all of me into its tiny mouth.
After a few frantic searches in a couple of cupboards Mama found was she was looking for.
‘Ah I knew it as still here. I always thought we’d have another child, though now I know you’ll be my only child Brith.’
‘Only me, Mama?’
‘No more, not for me.’
When the milk was warm, Mama filled the bottle and tested its warmth on her elbow.
‘Why the elbow, Mama?’ I asked.
‘Cos that’s how my Mama did it,’ she replied.
Mama moved to the table and picked the baby up and pulled my finger out of its mouth. My finger popped free and its tiny mouth kept sucking until the nipple of the bottle slipped in and the baby began to drink.
Halfway through the bottle dada returned but he wasn’t alone. Beside him stood a policeman, dressed all in dark blue, the large gun, a magnetic lure on his hip. I looked at that gun and wondered what it would be like to hold it, to shoot it, to hear it go off. Dada had a rifle for rabbits and birds but a gun, like in the cowboy paperbacks Dada read and then gave to me to read.
‘Constable,’ said Mama, though she glared at dada like he was the devil come to feast at her table.
‘It’s the law,” said Dada, ‘I’m just doing what’s right. Ain’t that right Officer.’
‘It’s a serious offence, dumping a baby, we will investigate and find the culprits.’
‘You think the mother’s not mad already, must be to dump her baby, unless the father took it out and dumped it, only men can do such things and not feel the grief.’
‘We don’t know anything at this time.’
‘Well it’s a boy baby and its healthy and it can stay here until you find the mother it so desperately needs.’
‘I’m afraid not madam,’ said the Policeman.
‘Your afraid of what?’ Mama asked as she lifted the baby up and facing her across her shoulder while she patted its back until the baby let out a large burp.
‘Regulations state I must take the baby back to the town, we’ll have the doctor check it over and then place it in the orphanage until we discover the owners and the courts decide its fate.’
‘Regulations be damned,’ mama shouted, ‘you’ll not be taking this baby from me, not while I am alive and kicking your shins as hard as can be!’
‘’Stop your fussing, woman,’ dada said and he reached across and took hold of both mama’s hands where they clung to the baby.
I watched his hands grabbing hers, I saw the effort he put in to that gripping of her smaller hands, thought I might hear her bones break (or looking back, I imagined I might have listened for that sound). The policeman watched also, said nothing, did nothing, ‘Patient as the spider waiting for the fly,’ as Dada would say when he sometimes went out fishing with me.
I saw the pain in mama’s face. Pain for the baby she would surely lose, pain for her small hands crushed in his two and I dearly wanted to kick dada but when I moved I felt the policeman’s hand on my shoulder and I froze to the floor which the baby, the policeman and Dada would just go and leave me and Mama alone.
Dada dragged mama’s right hand off and then he slipped his right hand between her shoulder an the baby and soon he was holding the baby and Mama was crying and shouting and the Policeman stepped across and Dada handed he baby to him and then without a word the policeman left the house and dad followed him.
Mam looked at me, tears rolling freely down her cheeks. ‘If you,’ she said in a voice I had never heard before, a voice lost and yet hard also, a voice I never wanted to hear again, ‘turn out like your Dada then I will not want any part of you or yours.’ That is what Mama said to me in that kitchen, the table between us, on the table the emptied baby bottle and the tears still rolling down her cheeks.
‘Mama,’ I said, ‘I promise I will not be like Dada. I will not take baby Jesus off a mother who found him in the paddock.’
‘It will be hard for you,’ Mama replied, ‘boys become men and men only think of their own needs and everything else be damned to hell for eternity.’
‘I promise, Mama.’
‘And I will hold you to that promise, Brith, else you shall truly be Patrick Congerhill and lost to me for eternity.’
We never saw the baby again, never heard about it. There were rumours I heard about years later. Rumours that a certain Councillors daughter had been foolish and when the father discovered the truth he would not have that bastard staying a single night under that roof. Do not be shocked, it was a wilder time back then, babies not seen as human until much, much older, and even then if black and female, maybe never.
Sometimes I would catch Mama sitting at the table, her eyes staring out the kitchen window at the paddock where Dada found baby Jesus and I knew what she was thinking about, I knew she was wondering about that baby and whether it was alive or not, whether it ever found its ay back to its own Mama and even, I guess, whether it remembered Mama’s brief caress.
When Dada came home that night I heard an awful row as I lay in my bed. I heard their screams and even some things breaking and then I heard Dada stomping around outside for hours and I ended up having to wet the bed and lay in it all night, shivering, thinking of baby Jesus in the paddock and hearing over and over, Mama’s voice that I did not ever want to hear again.
I remember as I lay their, shivering, waiting for the dawn to bring sunlight and a chance to be warm again, I chanted over and over as if to ward off her voice, “I will not be like Dada, Mama, I will not be like Dada…’