When Billy runs into the house to tell me there’s a dead baby in the creek, a real live baby only it might be dead, I go with him.
Last week Mom came home from the hospital without our new baby brother or sister. Mom is upstairs in her bedroom; she won’t get out of bed and she cries all the time. Dad has been sleeping on the couch in the den so we can’t watch TV at night. We can’t watch Happy Days.
I run behind Billy through the Kinnleys’ backyard. I yell at him how this better not be a dumb gag. He slows down, waiting for me to catch up. We’re almost to the edge of the creek. I don’t know why I ask him this question, but ever since Mom came home I keep wondering what that baby, our baby, looked like. Not if it looked like us, me or Billy, or Mom and Dad, but what did it look like—dead? So I ask Billy, before we get there, I say, okay, Billy, what does the baby look like? It’s ugly, he says, and looks up at me like he might cry.
Both me and Billy love Happy Days. And we both love Fonzie. Before Mom went to the hospital, Billy told her we should name the new baby Fonzie, and she said okay. I stared at her with my mouth hanging open full of pancake, I thought maybe being pregnant made her crazy or deaf. I told her the baby would have to be named Arthur, because that was his real name, Arthur Fonzarelli. Both me and Billy thought for sure the baby was going to be a boy but Mom never told us what she thought, she just smiled. If there really is a dead baby in the creek, we’ll call him Arthur.
We’re at the edge of the creek. I don’t want to see little dead Arthur. I don’t want to look. Billy is saying, “There, there it is!” And I say to him, again, how this better not be some stupid and awful joke, and he says, “Swear to God, if I’m lying I’ll pay you a hundred dollars,” I tell him he doesn’t have a hundred dollars and I look in the water.
It’s caught in a bobbing tangle of logs and sticks green with algae, and I can see it’s just a doll—a baby doll.
I wade into the creek to get the doll but it’s caught right where I know there’s a drop-off, so I go back to shore. I break off a long branch from a crabapple tree dipping over the water’s edge, shading minnows swimming in the shallows. Billy is telling me to hurry up and I yell back at him how I just want to try again. I’m crying, but Billy can’t see me, and he wouldn’t understand anyway how I have to save Arthur.
All rights reserved to Kim Teeple.