The Mistress of Baby Breath

/ by Roxane Gay

When I find little babies left alone by their mothers, I take them and kiss them until their bright baby eyes shine with laughter, with joy. I carefully tuck the little babies into my gossamer-lined pockets. I go on with my day, looking in on old friends, walking by the water and throwing in stones. While I am walking with little babies in my gossamer-lined pockets, I crush rose petals until they bleed, until their essence snakes around and stains my fingers a serious shade of red. Then I give the little babies my rose-infused fingers to play with. I often giggle because one of my pocket babies is always nipping at my fingers with a moist, gummy mouth.

At night, I lay the little babies on a soft pallet or set them in a sock drawer. They squirm happily, rolling over and around one another, a humming, fleshy tangle of warm, powdered, sweet baby parts. After I feed them honey and milk, after I pat their backs and trace the fragile landscape of their new infant spines, I collect their baby breath in sachets of silk and store my treasure in a locked glass case for safekeeping.

I fall asleep listening to the little babies coo contentedly. Once in a while they will stir, or cry for the mothers that left them alone, the mothers who held them to their warm breasts and nourished them wholly. In these moments, I cradle these babies in my arms, nipping their foreheads between my teeth and folding the rolls of their chubby baby thighs.

Each morning, I send their mothers kind and generous notes written in dark ink on bright and heavy linen paper. I tell their mothers about how their babies smile, and how their babies’ cheeks are plump and delicious and how I drink cream from their dimpled thighs with my soft widow’s lips. I wrap the notes into tight scrolls, put them in glass bottles. I tie the bottles to brightly colored kites and throw them into the wind.

When I have to leave my boxcar to attend to my day, I dress the little babies in matching plaid jumpers and matching plaid hats to protect their thin baby skin and the tender bone of their soft baby skulls. I tickle their feet and the fat palms of their hands. I feed them dandelion wine and little balls of fresh sugary dough. Just before setting out, I hang the babies on strong copper hooks set close enough that they can reach out and hold each other’s hands. While I’m gone, the little babies will furiously kick their stubby little legs so that they can swing closer to one another. They will tell each other baby secrets and sing sad, mysterious songs.

When I’m not gathering little babies from the mothers, I sell fresh baby breath from a roadside stand with honey milk, strange fruit and other useful goods. All day long, passersby want the secret of my sweet baby breath. I smile and tell them the truth. I sing a lullaby about stolen little babies, smelling sweet, smiling wide. I sing about how they’re all holding hands, drunk on wine, dangling from strong copper hooks. When my lullaby is done, the passersby laugh. They are charmed and they press cool silver coins into my larcenous widow’s hands.

Roxane Gay's work appears or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Annalemma, Monkeybicycle, Keyhole, Gargoyle, A cappella Zoo, and others. She is the associate editor of PANK and has a pretty website at roxanegay.com.

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