by Kim Rush
part 1 of 2
Ian Dough turned the car into a wide arcing spin on the empty, snow-covered parking lot in front of the closed video arcade. He leaned away from the steering wheel as the centrifugal force pulled at him as the spin tightened.
Baby May squealed in delight.
“Ride it, Baby May,” Ian said to his daughter, and pushed the gas pedal a touch harder. Baby May held onto her car seat and gurgled laughter at her dad. Ian’s laughter joined with his daughter’s sweet baby voice, laughing, together, in the spinning world.
“This is better than Disney World, Baby May,” Ian said. Green pine trees sprang into view through the winter-grey windshield — white store back — yellow side of Pancake Delight — red and dark movie theater — empty Jony’s Paint store, moved round outside the window.
The passenger side front wheel made a low, painful crunch of noise. Ian jerked his foot off the gas. He knew his old Duster. The spin slowed to a stop. “Gotta check this out, Baby Doll,” Ian said to his still smiling tiny girl. He pushed the old car’s large door open and stepped out into the cold.
He walked to the wheel and reached down to tug at it. Metal grated upon metal. It was a sound familiar to Ian. “Okay, you old ball joint. You need some grease.” He kicked the black rubber with his heavy work boot and returned to the driver’s seat.
“Old Betsy here won’t take that kinda stuff anymore,” he told his daughter as he patted the dashboard. “I’m gonna have to change those ball joints... but right now, Baby May, we gotta try to find your Momma a Christmas present. Something nice for forty-eight dollars,” he said and patted Baby May on the head.
He leaned over and wiped her chubby chin with the ever-present bib. “You sure are working your gums for those teeth.” Baby May hooked his little finger in her tiny fist, pulled it to her mouth, and gnawed at it. “Woah, kiddo. You got teeth in there,” Ian said, and pulled his hand away.
Leaning back into the seat, he said, “Let’s you and me go over to the new mall and see if we can find your Momma one of those dolls she wants.” Ian reached inside his coat to the left pocket of his shirt and pulled a paper from it. “Special Moments” was printed neatly in Molly’s handwriting. “A collectable baby doll,” she had called it.
“Okay, Baby May, let’s you and me go get this doll for your Momma. Something she can cuddle with while I’m at work at night — of course, she’s got you, but you, Baby Doll, need your sleep.”
Ian eased the Duster out of the parking lot ahead of the stop light on Main Street. A driver, stopped on the other side of the light, blow her horn at him. Ian watched in the rearview mirror as a silky-black Corvette pulled from the changed light and slipped past him in an instant.
“D’you see that, Baby May? Like a black arrow. Ha, d’you see the lady driving it? She looked like Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith Show.” The Corvette squirted through the traffic ahead of the Duster in quick slicing movements. It quickly disappeared into the rows of cars that jammed the mall parking lot.
Ian eased the Duster up onto the black-streaked bottom of the dump pile of the snow plows. The snow crunched loudly under the weight of the car. He ignored it, unhooked Baby May, and joined the stream of people moving into the mall. “Okay, Baby May, this is gonna be fun. But it’s gonna be crowded,” he added as a little woman pushed past him when he opened the mall door.
Inside, he moved quickly to a corner of an entrance at the Sporty You sports shop and looked over the crowd of bobbing heads. He watched the people pouring into the mall and the people spilling back out like the overflow of Cheerios in an over-full child’s breakfast bowl. Baby May’s little head tried to turn every way to see everything.
“Pretty amazin’ isn’t it?” Ian said, and stepped into a lull in the line of humanity and angled off to the glowing floor map of the mall that split the wave of people into the two main wings of the mall.
“Okay, Baby May, we’re looking for a store named, Pins `N Things — where the hell they get these names?” The map put Pins `N Things the next floor up and half way down the mall.
“Okay, Baby May, here we go. Hang on sweetie.” He firmed his arm protectively around her. He stepped back into the crowd and joined the line to the escalators. He watched Baby May’s face turn this way and that. He watched her black pupils expand when she felt the movement upward. “I thought you’d like that. Disney World’s got a future lover in you. I can see it. Maybe you’ll get to do a commercial after you win the Super Bowl.” Ian laughed at himself and a flash of memory of a high-school football game filled his mind.
Short and stocky Dave Hacinski, the running back, had run a good game for the Rockets. Every time Dave had touched the ball, his old man had jumped up onto the bleacher seat and yelled at the top of his thin voice, “That’sa ma boy! That’sa ma boy, Davey!”
Ian had been with the guys after the game when they had begun teasing Dave about his old man. Dave had turned and faced them. In a perfect imitation of his father, he scanned their eyes and said, “That’sa my Old Man. That’sa my Old Man.” The teasing immediately stopped.
Ian stepped off the escalator while quashing that weird queasy feeling you get when you step from moving stairs to solid floor. He squeezed his way past two perfectly groomed men who were quietly arguing over something green and fuzzy between their hands. Ian was lucky and caught a spot at the counter in Pins `N Things, setting Baby May on its forever durable top.
A chubby, blonde girl asked if she could help him and he fished out his paper and asked her if the store carried Special Moments dolls. She threw a thumb over her shoulder at the glass-encased wall behind her. Shelf after shelf of porcelain statuettes of cute figures of elves, gnomes, dogs, cats, ducks, and many only imagined creatures looked back at Ian.
“Jeeese oww, I thought they were baby dolls. What one does she want?” he said to himself. “Oh, how much are they?” He directed the question to the girl.
“Well, they’re different prices. They run from sixty-two dollars up to over five hundred.”
Ian smiled. “Okay, thanks,” he said and scooped Baby May off the counter and moved out of the store into the people. “Well, kiddo, so much for that idea — sixty-two bucks. Oh well, let’s see what else this place has.” Ian went with the flow of people until the crowd gnarled up at a line to see Santa Claus.
Ian moved through the people and stopped at a corner of the elf table. A large sign above the elves read: “Donations for Big Adults; People Helping People.” People were dropping dollar bills into a large plastic barrel and then taking Candy Canes that were proffered to them on a stick by a very shapely female elf.
Ian turned and slipped back into the crowd. He stopped by a vending machine that seemed to have its own personal space. He pulled out his wallet and pushed it between Baby May and his chest. “This calls for a little bit of schemery. But you, Baby Doll, don’t know that,” he added. He pulled out a dollar bill and leaned over to look at it in the dim light thrown off by the castle-shaped vending machine.
Baby May smacked him in the face with three short, sharp smacks of her little hand. “Jeese ow, kid, don’t do that,” Ian said, pulling back his face. He tore the bill into two pieces, being careful to leave the full serial number on one piece. He fished out the Special Moments paper and rolled it under the small piece of bill that lacked the serial numbers. The number 1 showed nicely in the right place. He moved back to the elves and dropped the piece of bill into the pot and took a prize of three candy canes.
Baby May began a serious gumming attack on the candy after Ian touched it to her tongue. “This is gonna take some cleaning up,” Ian said as he watched pink slobber run down the candy cane to the little clenched fist. “Let’s find the bathrooms, kiddo.”
The startling white of the hallway to the bathrooms made Ian feel uneasy as he shook off the noisy crowd in the quiet hollowness of the passageway. He walked down the hallway and turned into the men’s room. Wet paper towels sopped up the sticky slobber and Ian stuffed some towels into his pocket, wishing he had brought the baby bag with him.
The hallway was still empty when Ian stepped back into it. He turned and walked farther on to the apex of the T shaped by the perpendicular halls. He looked down the crossing hallway, trying to see if it had an exit door. He didn’t want to face the crowd again, so he turned in the direction he thought his car was in and walked down the hall.
His boots made soft clumping sounds that echoed back from the walls as he walked the long passage to two stairwell doors at its end. A lower, more persistent sound, just on the edge of perception, tickled at Ian’s mind and he stopped to listen. He was sure he’d heard this sound before. Yes, it was just like the sound outside the steel mill where his dad had worked.
He remembered sitting in the car with his mom waiting for his dad to get off work. The sound was a rhythmic rumble that rose and fell; long hot coils of steel being run through machinery, being shaped for future use. This sound was not as powerful, but on the same note.
“Oh,” Ian said to Baby May, “it’s the crowd out in the mall.” Baby May dropped the hand that held the Candy Cane to her side and snuggled her sticky face into her dad’s coat. Ian took the candy and wrapped it into a paper towel, stuffed it into his pocket, and went on.
Ian opened the doors and walked down the stairs, hoping that a door to the outside was below. He reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped. The stairwell ended at the front of an office door. Large red letters on the smoky glass window of the door read: STERLING PRODUCTS.
Ian turned and looked back up the stairs. “Well, sleeping girl, what do we do? Retrace our steps or...” He turned back to the door, “or should we try and see if this place has a gift for your mom?” Baby May’s head was curled under and she made soft bubbly sounds as she slept.
“Okay, let’s try this place,” Ian said and opened the door to a brightly colored room. A short, grey-haired lady had her back to the door while she bent over a file cabinet looking into the middle file drawer. She turned when the doorbell tinkled and Ian saw it was the driver of the black Corvette.
“Hello,” she said in a mature voice that quavered slightly. “Can I help you?”
“Hey, I saw you out on Main Street; that’s a nice car you got.”
“Oh, why thank you,” the woman said, and fluffed the palm of her hand at her crown of grey hair. “What can I do for you?”
“I don’t know if there is anything you can do for me. I’m just looking for a Christmas gift for my wife. She wants a Special Moments doll, but... well, I can’t get her one of those. Although, it really wasn’t the first thing she wanted, anyway.” Ian felt his mouth running away on its own and wondered why. Sure, a Special Moments doll wasn’t Molly’s first choice, but her first choice was a Baby Alive doll, and those things started at six hundred dollars. He heard his mouth saying, “I’m looking for a doll — something like one of those Baby Alive dolls.”
The woman’s round face broke into a smile and she nodded her head and said, “Yes, yes, we can help you.” Ian felt his head nod with the woman’s. “Come in and sit down,” she said, pointing to two maroon, soft-looking chairs that seemed inviting against the bright yellow wall.
She reached into the file drawer and pulled out a large, gold colored book. “Here,” she said, and walked to the chairs with Ian. “This is the collector’s edition of our world famous catalogue. The Sterling dolls are in families all over the world. We have the finest, most alive-like dolls in the business. Our dolls are in all kinds of households. Why, even some of the royal families have purchased our dolls.”
She placed the golden book onto Ian’s lap and pulled one corner to spread it open. “We don’t manufacture our dolls; each one is put together by the world’s finest artist. Crafted and beautiful.”
Ian looked at a photograph of a chubby baby sitting in blankets and grinning an impossible grin. The photograph was matted on an off-white sheet of heavy bond paper that added to the contrast of the page and photograph, making the baby look very much alive.
Copyright © 2009 by Kim Rush