Ah, the holidays. Apparently it’s my time of year to be late for everything. Sorry for my tardy prompt posting. If you’re writing from home, monitor your time yourself, post your story on your own blog or website, and then leave your link in a comment below!
character: transit driver
action: surprising someone
prop: sparkly wrapping paper
setting: traffic jam
Congratulations to Fufkin Vollmayer, a first-time Sledgehammer participant, whose story ran away with the prizes!
by Fufkin Vollmayer
My breasts are leaking and it’s rush hour in the rain and because of the rain the Muni metro shuts down. We’re in the big tunnel from downtown to the Castro and Javier is just making noise. It’s that gnawing noise familiar to every new mom, the kind that the nurse who posed as a lactation consultant explained to me, “See those little movements of his head and his lips parting, that’s rooting.” I stared at her dumbfounded, rooting as in a fruit tree or bulbs in the fall? so she went on, “Rooting means he’s looking for the breast, so it’s a good thing.”
Anyway the rain has shut the tunnel down and the overhead lights of the train flicker on and off, like a disco ball right inside the steamy crowded train that’s bound for the outer Sunset. Someone’s got Chinese takeout, because I can smell it from here.
Javier is revving up to a whimper and even though it’s crowded, all of us packed in like sardines and damp and mushy, I am going to have disengage him from the baby Bjorn, undo my raincoat and get my breast out. Out and in public. Maybe with the lights going on and off like last call, maybe no one will notice.
To the teenager next to me, who’s silent and focused in some deep way on their i-Pod, I say, “Excuse me, I need to sort of elbow you to get the baby out.” He stares at me, maybe not hearing. Or hearing and not caring.
He doesn’t move an inch, doesn’t even blink.
Now Javier is crying, and it’s that piercing cry of the newborn, a bleat, a thin wail so primal and high, it’s excrutiating. Like some illustration out of the nursing manual, I leak into my thick padded nursing bra. Too late, it’s gone straight through to the shirt.
As I start to elbow the silent, sullen teen next to me, “I’m sorry, oh I apologize, shit,” and then as I accidentally hit him with my elbow, “Please forgive me.”
He spits out, “You can not do that no you cannot. I talk to the bus driver. Right now.”
Well, we’re stopped anyway, go right ahead. And with that, he pulls out an a white ear bud from his thick black skunk head style of hair and pushes his way up to the front. We’re not too far from the front, so he pounds on the driver’s bullet proof glass.
Finally, the driver, like a teller at a liquor store that doesn’t sell wine, only coolers and fifths and endless varieties of rum, she looks at him. She looks about forty or so, her brown institutional uniform, the one that I grew up looking at twice a day as I road the bus to and from school, her uniform is shiny from too much ironing. The yellow letters and MUNI insignia remind of a forest ranger. Maybe that’s what she is, a forest ranger and we’re all the wild life.
“She is doing something bad. Not right. Her, over there,” and the teen who’s taken both the ear buds out, puts his elbow into his chest because there’s not even enough room for him to give a full extended point.
The driver looks at me, and I dread what could be the inevitable break down. I know the look. Middle aged African American woman giving me, the blue-eyed white woman the once over. All those years on her bus when, as a teen myself, all I ever did was to keep the brothers who followed me, sat next me and knocked their knees into my thigh, and talked to me, Oh Miss White, what you doing? Lemme take you home.
Or maybe in my haze of no sleep and new baby and the lights dimming on and off like a metronome, maybe I am misreading her face.
The high crackle of the walkie-talkie comes through and she picks up the radio and listens to the report about the flooding in the tunnel, Uh-huh, how long? Well, we just wait then.
“So what you going to do about her,” i-Pod teen asks, again.
Javier starts a full forced cry. There are no other babies on the train, just big kids. Dark I want the dark to return, because then I can pull a Houdini move and maneuver Javier out of the Bjorn, under my jacket, up through the loose tunnel of my crappy shirt and close to his target. Get him and judging from all the faces on the train, the people who might be staring, get him nursing.
“No, not right.”
“Actually, it’s a public place.”
I smile and nod and shove Javier on to my boob and the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the latch, it happens.
We’re in the dark, and the closely calibrated trains, they’re all piling up. It’s gridlock in the tunnel as two trains in a row, with big round headlights, a full moon illuminating the pitch black darkness of the tunnel with no light, no light at all, the full moons are lighting them up. There’s a traffic jam and it’s completely silent.
The pneumatics of the door exhale as the driver sits there. The teen next to me, sits down again and bumps my arm and I’d totally forgotten about the package wrapped in crinkly wrapping paper that I’d shoved into my back pack, the birthday present for Granny Doe, the one I’d dragged little Javier out in the rain, out of his cocoon, to Macy’s, all to buy Granny Doe some plates to match her set from her wedding.
The driver now gets up and comes down the aisle, to avert the panic, “There’s flooding in the tunnel, a back up with an accident on the line outside, we’ll be moving in about ten minutes.”
As she passes me, she looks down, and looks at me and stares, “Well hello Karen, long time.”
“How ya doin’?”
I stare and again that bovine look of stupidity must be overtaking my face, the one caused by exhaustion.
“It’s me. Deborah.”
And she starts laughing and shaking her head and all the backstory that wound through the short fuse known as my brain, vanished.
“Yeah, you got it.”
“Hey. Hey Deborah.”
We looked at each other, right in the eyes. Deborah who I went to Lowell with. Deborah who smoked pot with me down in the pit. Who brought her plaid thermos full of milk and bourbon to school. We used to laugh and laugh, could’ve been the pot, could’ve been finally figuring out the George Clinton’s liner notes, Some of my Best Friends are Jokes.
We laughed and Javier nursed and the lights came back and stayed on.
© 2010 Fufkin Vollmayer
Fufkin Vollmayer worked as a journalist before kids and is finishing a memoir of the whole goofy enterprise known as single parenting, anonymous donor insemination, and having absolutely no idea on how to be a good mom owing to Really Terrible Parents (warning, alcoholism and mental illness and living in Reno, Nevada, are covered) in her upcoming book, “Because You Love Them Like Crazy.”