At The Mall

At The Mall

Married Girl patted her baby on the back while bobbing up and down in an ad-lib Hokey Pokey dance. She wore the tortured expression of an unseasoned mother, valiantly attempting to care about a problem other than her wailing newborn. Single Girl was pleasantly ignoring the baby, which appeared to her as a benign growth on the side of her friend’s head; one that was emitting a radio static frequency she found mildly distracting.

“She has a bubble,” explained Married Girl, unapologetically.

“Bum or throat?” asked Single Girl in an offhand manner, snapping her gum.

“Both.”

Single Girl expertly navigated the conversation back around to herself, because talking about the baby tended to dwell in the insignificant doldrums of bodily functions. “So, I’ve accepted that I just have very bad dating karma.”

“I see,” said Married Girl, deepening her squats now like a weight lifter in training.

“And I’ve narrowed it down to two possible reasons. One being my first boyfriend.”

The baby made a faintly derisive gargling sound, as the mother concentrated on her multi-tasking efforts. “In London?”

“Single Girl expertly navigated the conversation back around to herself.”

Single Girl nodded, reaching for a wet wipe and rubbing out fresh spit-up on Married Girl’s red coat sleeve. It did not all come off, and she saw the stain as a slow decline into the unkempt wilderness of a harried mother. She wondered if she could ever give up cleanliness for a tiny bawling thing. “I blew it, really,” Single Girl went on, focusing on her story. “When he told me he loved me. ‘I fink I love you’ was what he said.”

“Umph. What did you say?”

Single Girl threw her hands to the air. “I said, ‘Thank-you.’ I wasn’t prepared! I was 18-years-old. I’d only loved men unrequitedly to that point. I didn’t understand the concept of being loved in return.”

Married Girl made a pained face of communion, and kissed the side of her baby’s downy head. “What did he say?”

Single Girl watched a car pull out of the parking lot, as it dodged shoppers with careless finesse. Her eyes followed the vehicle while her mind sped off down a side-street memory. “He told me I was cold, and he was right. I should have loved him back. I did love him back, I just didn’t realize it at the time. Not until the train left the station and he started chasing after me, along the platform.”

A vaporous noise lurched out of the baby’s rear end. “Oh there we go,” said the mother, sounding relived. The child was laid out carefully in the trunk of the car, while Married Girl riffled through items in an overstuffed diaper bag.

Moments later the baby was squawking in bewilderment; likely the result of sudden public nakedness thought Single Girl, folding her arms across her chest. “That poo is green,” she pointed out, wrinkling her nose and looking away in embarrassment.

“It’s not so bad,” said the mother, wiping up with efficiency. “I don’t think you should blame your current bad luck with men on that one time. You didn’t know any better. I’ve dated men in the past who I’ve never appreciated, and that didn’t stop me from finding my husband.”

Single Girl blew a bubble with her gum and popped it back in her mouth. She tilted her head up to the warm fall sun that was cauterizing the clouds to nearly invisible wisps. Once she had ignorantly set love free, so if it never came back it made sense that maybe love hadn’t been meant for her at all. She felt she was embarking on a personal journey towards acceptance that fate may leave her in an attic with 18 cats and a bad case of hysteria, championing the Cult of the Individual into a broken cell phone. “The other reason could be Karma from a past life,” she posited.

“Do you believe that?” Married Girl sounded dubious.

“I could have been a terrible lover in the past. You know, like Evelyn Nesbit.”

Married Girl unfolded a clean diaper that was the size of her hand. “Who was she?”

“A Chorus Girl muse. She was made famous from the murder of her ex-lover, by her first husband.” Single Girl raised her eyebrows and dropped her tone low, unfolding her private theory. “Since she was the impetus behind a murderous love triangle don’t you think my solitary lifestyle, with no long term relationships to speak of, is a kind of poetic justice?”

Married Girl said nothing, sticking down the diaper tabs. She cooed reassurances to the baby, which was making awful faces but emitting no sound, seemingly derailed from crying at the last moment by the playful rays of mid-day light filtering in through the car windows.

“Or, maybe I was the Lady of Shalott!”

“Isn’t she a fictional character?”

“Who’s to say? Falling for the guy with the mighty bugle? Been there! Chasing after him, despite numerous red flags? Done that! Floating on a river – of tears – into unconsciousness? We’re basically tripping over each other on the hamster wheel of cursed lives.”

“You’ve put some thought into this.”

“Miscellaneous thought, mostly.”

“Or irrational,” muttered Married Girl, handing over the folded diaper. “Can you throw this away for me?”

Single Girl responded by holding a tiny corner of the item between her fingertips, in disgust, so that it swayed heavily in her grasp like an apple from a stem. “You want me to toss that wet wipe, too?” she asked, benevolently.

“There’s hardly any poop on it,” answered Married Girl, handing it over.

Single Girl raised one eyebrow. “So, what – you want to keep it?”

The mother burst into a quick laugh, snapping together a pink jumper. “No, I just meant you don’t have to hold it like it’s going to infect you. It’s practically clean.”

Single Girl decided she wasn’t the only irrational one as she walked the soiled items to the nearest trash can, which she found located next to a department store side-door. She dropped the items in, feeling badly for the bum who rooted through the contents of the bin later, in search of a good find. If she had a pen and paper she would have posted an “out of order” sign.

Back at the car, the mother was once again bouncing her baby, and murmuring softly. The days-old cobalt eyes mutely ogled the world; startled wide by the whisperings of astonishing existence. Single Girl’s heart softened, and she reached for the tiny hand, which innocently clasped around one of her manicured fingers. “What did we do before this baby?” she questioned, as they stood in the parking lot while the afternoon passed them by. Her thoughts loosened into a breeze that had comically set the little one’s fine hair on end.

“Oh, I remember,” said Married Girl, gazing out over Single Girl’s shoulder; the maternal mind lingering quietly.

***

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