This Year's End
By Tara Ann Stridh
Wendy’s got a little boy
she’s got no husband who cares
all those neighbors they stop and stare
hey look, Wendy’s playing mommy again*
December 31, 2001
“There you are my little one,” said Darla, looking down at her baby.
In the cradle-like crib he twitched his fingers at the sound of her chiming voice.
Darla’s golden hair was sleek at her shoulders, her midnight blue strapless gown whispering as she stepped closer to the baby’s sanctuary, peering at the small pale face looking up at her. Tears began to christen her hazel-violet eyes as she reached out a hand to touch his cotton cheek, but she didn’t let her fingertips feel him. All she could see was the slim gash upon his left cheek.
“He promised he would keep you safe. Tell me, my little one, who hurt my baby? What nastiness is trying to harm you? I know the world is cruel ~ will you forgive me?
“Can you tell me your name? Do you know mine? Do you even know who I am? Do you know my real face, yes, you could feel me as I could feel you. Do you remember my voice?”
The baby cried out weakly, kicking his feet softly.
Her slender fingertips lingered over his smooth round forehead; he started to kick again. The moment she lightly stroked his wounded cheek, her baby stopped kicking and gurgled, his tiny whine wavering.
“Do you remember all the things I said to you? Some of them weren’t very nice, but I miss you inside me . . . you made me feel warm even when I was cold.”
The baby began to kick again, more aggressively this time, his tiny fingers trying to grab at her hand.
“Yes,” she smiled, her violet eyes twinkling, just like her voice, “I remember that. You remember what it was like inside Mommy. Was I warm, cold?”
Darla gasped as he caught her finger, and she swallowed back her threatening tears.
She glanced over her bare shoulder at the dark windows, the city lights glowing.
“Hm, I wish I could give you more of a view.”
The baby squeaked quietly, his eyes glistening.
She almost smiled at him, “Are you going to miss me when I’m gone? Are you missing me right now? I have so many questions, what questions do you have for me? I probably wouldn’t be able to answer them. Or do you know the answer and don’t want to tell me, hm, why you came to be? Why from me?”
Darla wished she had some jasmine, and when she looked down at her left hand she was holding a petite branch of the tiny white flowers. She tried to free herself from her baby, but he wouldn’t let her go. Instead, she tenderly brushed his cheek with the jasmine.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it? The scent so lovely, like innocent wine. If ever you forget me or my voice or that I miss you, all you need is a little bit of jasmine. Keep it by you. Whenever I feel lonely or confused I look for some jasmine; it seems to make everything okay for a while. I suppose it doesn't solve everything, though it would be so much simpler if it did.”
Darla placed the white branch by her baby’s gentle head.
“For sweet dreams,” she said. “Will you tell them I came to visit or will you keep me to yourself?”
She smiled sweetly.
“You’re no longer my little parasite, are you? . . . You’re, I don’t really know what you are, I guess you’re just my baby. I don’t think I still can believe in you, but you’re real, aren’t you? And I’m real, even if one day you think I never was. The jasmine will tell you that. Maybe it will give you more answers than it’s given me. All you have to do is whisper your worries into it, the petals will suck them up like poison no more.”
The baby lightly swiped at his ear and let go of Darla’s hand, his fingers tickling her chilled palm.
“I don’t know your name. I’m sorry. I don’t know my name, either. Not my real one. Maybe you’re not supposed to know me. Or maybe you’re supposed to know that I’m just Darla. That’s all I really know.”
The baby wailed meekly in a cheerful way, then more loudly, smiling up at her. Beneath the pale blue of his jumpsuit Darla heard the pounding, his velvet throbbing. For several moments Darla let her fingers touch his chest, feeling his strong heart, his constant sound something she remembered clearly.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Life’s too short to be afraid.”
Darla leaned over the cradle-crib and kissed her baby’s healing cheek.
“My baby,” she whispered.
Standing by the large windows Darla seemed to snap out of her reverie. In her hand she was holding a branch of jasmine, the faerie-sized white petals glittering faintly with purple Calynthia powder.
Looking down at the sugared flowers she said, “My baby. Will you keep me to yourself.”
Like so many others.
Darla gazed out at the towering crystal skyscrapers. Her embroidery-adorned gown sashayed as she walked to the rectangular glass coffee table and delicately placed the jasmine at one corner. The sparkling deep lavender dust fell from her palm on to the petals, surrounding the flower.
Quietly, she lay down upon the grey-pale violet sofa, her dress flowing out over her in a queenly manner.
She begin to stare at anything, nothing, and everything. And she waited.
Wendy’s got a little boy . . .
sometimes that just gets too much for her
Wendy’s lost another boy
she’s gotta take her time to adjust her clothes fall in
Lindsey opened the door gently and saw Darla stretched out on the couch, sleeping it seemed, her eyes were not closed. Her demeanor was similar to the way she looked after the fire, except her porcelain skin was unblemished, no scars, no burns. In his arm he held a bouquet of jasmine and a small package wrapped in pink cellophane with a yellow ribbon.
“My baby remembers me,” she said softly, smiling faintly at him as he approached her. Darla brought her finger to her lips. “Shhh, don’t say anything.”
He sat by her small bare feet, placing them on his lap. He rested his hand over her petite ankles; just an inch above her right ankle was a tattooed glittering burgundy heart with a shiny violet-blue butterfly in its center. At the corner of the glass coffee table Lindsey saw the scattered Calynthia powder. He remembered when they, the firm, gave it to her to use and she attempted to get into his dreams. He remembered the way she smiled child-like the next day in his office, her head tilted as she leaned forward in his chair, pretending she had done nothing at all. “It was just a little test,” she said, “Wanna make sure it works before I really use it, before it really counts.” After that he kept dreaming.
“What have you been doing, Darla?”
Her eyes glared lightly at him. “I went to see my baby.”
Bathing in the purple powder was the tiny branch of jasmine.
Lindsey glanced at the white flowers, then at Darla’s hand tenderly squeezing his arm.
“You brought me jasmine,” said Darla, her voice lulling. “Isn’t that strange?”
His blue eyes searched her, and she knew he was seeing her again, seeing something she couldn’t see or didn’t want to see. Lindsey waved the pink package at her and smiled.
“Hm,” she said, her hand gracefully taking the bag from him. Her fingers twirled through the curled yellow ribbon. “Is there chocolate inside?”
He shook his head.
“Bunnies,” she said.
“When I was a little girl, if you can imagine that much,” she said with a smile, “I loved bunnies. I had a stuffed toy rabbit that I talked to. It was white with a purple star-patch nose.”
“Did he have a name?”
She narrowed her eyes for a moment. “Hm, no, he didn’t.”
Darla arched an eyebrow at the laugh creeping on to Lindsey’s face and into his glowing smooth cheeks.
“You saying ‘bunnies.’”
Darla smiled, “Yes, I know, not what you’d expect, huh.” Then she frowned. “Or is it? I wasn’t in any hell. I thought I was, I thought it’s where you pulled me out from, but it wasn’t.”
She began to laugh. “No, no, I wasn’t there. Ever. I told you I just stopped, and I really did just stop. The hell I thought I was in, the hell where he was with me, loving me, teasing me that he didn’t, I made it all up. All in my head . . . my tarnished little head . . . I made my own hell.”
Darla laughed again, her eyes glimmering like violet melting ice. Then she looked into Lindsey’s eyes, her own not quite pensive, not quite attentive.
“Maybe this is still the hell I made up for myself.”
“It isn’t,” said Lindsey.
Her hazel-violet eyes didn’t show him anything.
“Then maybe this is your hell, sweetpea. Maybe I killed you in the wine cellar.”
“I know you didn’t.”
“Tell me how . . .”
“Because why would the woman I love be in my hell and pregnant?”
“Maybe the woman you love doesn’t keep the baby. Maybe she leaves, this time forever.”
Her midnight blue gown rustled as she embraced him, her cheek rubbing into his warm neck.
“In my hell my wounds would heal faster.”
In his ear she whispered in a purr, “No they wouldn’t . . .” Her voice became somber. “If I ever go where vampires go, Lindsey, will you be there?”
Her blonde hair felt soft and silken beneath his palm.
Lindsey said, “I will.”
“Even if you hurt me.”
She air-kissed a smile just under his earlobe. “All you have to do is speak and breathe.”
Her voice sounded like the prelude; her words seemed to breathe into his skin.
“Do you still want to go to the party?”
“No,” Darla said, petting his cheek. “Such pretty lashes. So lush. I could pluck them and make all kinds of wishes . . . do you want me to bite you?”
“I didn’t know I had to ask you to,” said Lindsey.
She shrugged, “Thought I’d give you a warning, makes the bite hurt more, don’tcha think? Do you still want to go to the party?”
“I didn’t pick up the tux,” he said, too calmly.
She smiled. “No, you don’t like to dress up, do you? Even though you’re very pretty when you do.” Darla licked at his soft earlobe. “And when you don’t.”
*Lyrics from the song “Wendy” written by Russell Crowe.