“She was 13 years old when this pimp turned her out,” Mrs. Prentiss relays the story in a tone most would use to report the weather.
The young woman sits across from her, intent on not sweating or accepting the offered water. “What happened?” She asks.
“She was fas’…hot really…’ her shoulders collapse. Mrs. Prentiss sighs,”Hell, I don’t really know. I was too strung out back then…” her voice trails off. The sound of the fan propped in the window fills the room.
“Where is she now?”
A baby starts to cry. Mrs. Prentiss gets up and a shuffle is heard from the back of the apartment. “You be quiet,” she instructs. “Go potty.”
She returns half dragging, half carrying the 11 month old baby. She picks up a pile of clothes and empty bags, revealing a training toilet. Mrs. Prentiss places the baby on the potty next to the crowded sofa and returns to her seat across from the young woman.
“How long has she been sleeping?”
She lies, “An hour.”
Looking at her watch, the young woman notes it’s a quarter past eleven in the morning.
“When did you start toilet training her?”
“Last month. Diapers cost too much.”
Standing the young woman goes to where the baby is sitting and stoops down. Oversized brown/black eyes stare up at her. The young woman notes the bags beneath the baby’s eyes.
Returning the baby’s gaze, she remembers the diapers delivered Monday. Today is Wednesday. She asks,”Where are the diapers?”
“Ain’t got none.”
“Do you have training pants for her?”
No longer cognizant of the dirt and clutter on the floor, the young woman sits purposefully within the baby’s reach.
“Ten and eleven month olds usually are not ready for toilet training,” she says.
“Hmph…her mama was trained at 9 months.” More lies.
Reaching in her pocket, the young woman removes 3 small bright blue blocks. The baby drops her gaze to examine the offered prize. She reaches for them.
“That’s unusual,” the young woman replies. “A record maybe to be toilet trained at 9 months.”
Sticky fingers claim one bright blue block. The baby puts it in her mouth. Pulls it out and returns it to the young woman’s hand. Unfazed, the young woman begins building a small tower in her hand for the baby.
“Does she have panties?”
Mrs. Prentiss watches them from the table. She is remembering, “They gave her some from that place.”
The baby knocks down the tower in the young woman’s hand. She smiles.
“I’ll show you what she got.” Anxious Mrs. Prentiss rises and disappears into the back of the apartment.
The young woman scoots several inches away and rebuilds the tower. Realizing she cannot touch the tower the baby sinks to all fours on the floor. She balances, extending her hand to grab a block. A whimper escapes, they are still out of her reach. Readjusting herself she crawls over to her prize.
A bell rings. One block in hand the baby startles and falls to the floor. She does not cry.
“This is what they gave MiMi.” Mrs. Prentiss has returned, arms full of dirty clothes. A once white sock falls.
MiMi pushes herself up to a sitting position. Her naked bottom lands on an empty potato chip bag. Her eyes light up at the sensation and sound. “Crunch,” the young woman mimics the bag and reveals the bell in her left hand. MiMi cocks her head to the side starring at the bright silver bell, unsure. It rings. She jumps and claps her hands, delighted.
“A laugh is coming,” the young woman announces.
MiMi reaches for the bell. Grabbing it, she tests it with her mouth. It clinks against her teeth. “Don’t put that in your mouth,” Mrs. Prentiss warns.
“It’s clean,” the young woman assures her.
MiMi takes a bite. Unsatisfied, she removes it from her mouth. MiMi stares at the bell and then at the young woman.
“Ring? Ring,” the young woman nods and smiles. MiMi returns the bell.
Her belly shakes slightly. Then MiMi throws her head back and laughs out loud. The young woman is surprised by the hearty laughter coming from this too quiet baby. It fills the room drowning out the fan. The bell rings again, MiMi laughs louder.
Transfixed, she admits, “she doesn’t laugh with me.” Forgotten the clothes fall to the floor. “None of them do,” whispers Mrs. Prentiss.
She sinks to the sofa arm. Her head hanging, “Am I poison?” she asks.
Mrs. Prentiss continues, “My mama told me I was poison. Seems like I am. Life go out of everything I touch. My kids. My man. My house.” She is crying and sliding down the sofa’s arm. “Raising my grandkids?” her voice barely audible, “I didn’t raise my own kids. I was too messed up. That’s how they got in the streets.” Landing on the floor she barely misses the potty. Her shoulders shake slightly as she catches her breath.
The young woman rises, picks up the baby, who is holding the bell happily babbling. She says, “let’s get her dressed and go for a walk.” She holds out her hand.
Taking hold, Mrs. Prentiss stands.