The Baptism of Baby Jessica
Jared was passed out drunk on the couch again and Karen's eyes weren't blue anymore. She couldn't believe he drank all the beer. What an asshole—he knows Uncle Tommy won't babysit if there isn't any beer in the fridge. He'll just wander off to the Sidetrack again and God only knows what we'll find Carly up to when we get home, she thought, knowing there was no point in fighting and no hope of reasoning with Jared. At least the jerk finally fell asleep. Poor Carly, what's she gonna think of us when she grows up?
Karen's eyelids twitched when she tried to keep them open. It's been that way a lot since the doctor put her on the "medicine". Jared says it's bullshit—if she wants to quit she'll just quit and he can't stand paying 45 dollars a week just to give his lazy wife an excuse for being sleepy. But Karen thinks the doctor knows what he's talking about. "I have a disease," she always says, "and I need my medicine if I want to get better."
Karen's feet had little cuts all over them from walking on glass but she didn't really notice. She had the hard, curved feet of a ballerina, which could be rivaled only by those of a billion (mostly) dead Chinese women in their tolerance for pain. And anyway, what ballet couldn't numb, the methadone could. Karen never even noticed the bloody little footprints with which she decorated the house in her virtual sleepwalk. Jared will probably notice tomorrow and another TV set might get broken, but for now everything was calm—even the things that were bleeding. Sarafina was licking sores, but without all of the usual smacking noises. Somewhere on the counter, above the piles of junk mail, broken toys, food scraps, and sticky stuff, a flea squirmed—it kicked, fussed, scooted around on its back. I'd hate to know exactly what it was that could make a flea squirm.
The house smelled like cat shit and I'm sorry but there's no nice way of saying that. Cat shit, brown rice, cigarettes, and liquid aminos—a strange combination to be certain, but Jared aimed to get healthy despite the drinking and even if the cat was dying and the wife was a chain-smoking junky. There was something else, too, something less honest than shit and thirty-three times as foul, but no one could ever quite put their finger on it—maybe it was all the tumors in Sarafina's milk ducts. Does cancer have a smell?
Before Jared passed out he told Karen there was no God and Carly was worried about him. She didn't want her daddy to go to hell. She cried for a few minutes in the playroom, but she said her prayers and wiped her eyes real good before she came out—she didn't want to make her mommy any sadder.
On her way out of the playroom, Carly stopped and picked up Baby Jessica (who could cry real tears if you squeezed her arm and even wet her diapers like a real baby girl, and whose face had been tattooed so many times with crayon and marker it would never be flesh-colored again) and started teaching her the alphabet.
"A, B, C, D, E, F, G…" she sang. Baby Jessica wasn't singing along, but that was okay—most girls don't learn the alphabet 'til they're five anyway, Carly knew. Carly got bored with the alphabet song and had made a big decision.
"Mommy?" she asked.
"Yeah, hun?" Karen returned in a medicated, half-asleep, cracked and raspy voice.
"Will you fill up the sink?"
"Ohhhhh," Karen sighed, "I suppose…are you gonna give Baby Jessica another bath?"
"No mommy, I'm not…I'm going to baptize her…so she can go to Heaven when she dies and be with me and you and Jesus and Sarafina."
Karen thought it was too cute to bother correcting her doctrine; it was so cute she almost started crying. She walked over to Carly, mussed her adorable blonde curls, kissed her puffy, flea-bitten cheek, and squeezed her so tight it almost hurt. "What would I do without you?" she asked, composing herself as her bloody feet carried her into the kitchen.
Karen moved all of the filthy dishes to one side of the sink, and began filling the other with lukewarm water. Just right for a comfortable baptism, she thought, remembering how cold hers was and forgetting for a second that this was for a doll.
"Sink's ready Carly-Girl," Karen called as she sat down on a barstool and pulled out a cigarette. Carly walked the resolute walk of a child on a mission from God. She stepped into the kitchen, Baby Jessica in her arms, took one look at Karen and said "Mommy, you can't smoke at a baptism."
"I'm sorry Honey, you're absolutely right," Karen exclaimed as she knocked off the cherry and tucked her three-fourths of a perfectly good cigarette away into a safe corner of the ashtray for later, and cupped her hands for prayer.
"Will you say a prayer?"
"I sure will, close your eyes…" Carly and Karen closed their eyes and bowed their heads. "Dear Lord Jesus," Karen prayed "thank You for loving us and please accept Baby Jessica into your Heavenly family, A-men."
"Okay, mommy, now it's my turn, keep your eyes closed," Carly commanded, as she inched nearer the sink and raised Baby Jessica in preparation for the ceremony. "Dear Lord Jesus," she began "thank you for loving me and mommy and Sarafina and please forgive daddy and please bless this water so it can wash away all of Baby Jessica's sins and she can go to Heaven with you…" Carly prayed as she lowered Baby Jessica into the lukewarm water and…
Karen opened her eyes and jumped to her feet and grabbed Carly and was trying to figure out what was going on when she saw just one of its hairy legs barely touch the water as it crawled out from under Baby Jessica's dress and hopped onto the counter.
"AHHHHHHHH!!!!" Karen screamed.
"AHHHHHHHH!!!!" Carly screamed again, the two of them as frightened and frantic as any two girls have ever been in any of Jared's favorite movies.
Jared stumbled, fumbled, flopped, and ran into the kitchen in a disoriented, still-drunk and still-sleeping but ready-to-kill stupor, bumping his shoulder quite fiercely against the wall as he passed through the doorway, and screamingly inquired: "What the fuck is going on out here?!?!!!?"
"Over there!!! Over there!!!" Karen frantically pointed, certain it was looking her right in the eyes and ready to pounce at any second.
"Oh shit…shit…what the fuck is that? It's not a fucking brown recluse, is it?" Jared anxiously inquired, getting nervous and feeling a bit of a tingle in the vagina-shaped scar on his arm—the one from which they drained all the pus the last time he'd been bitten. The one that made every spider look poisonous and enormous.
"Oh God, Oh God, calm down…I think it's a fucking wolf spider," Karen assured him.
"It's not a fucking wolf spider…what the fuck is it? Jesus fucking Christ, look at its eyes!" he retorted.
Jared grabbed a piece of newspaper from the pile of crap on the counter and rolled it up. Carly had run clear to the other end of the kitchen, her skin was crawling with fear. Karen was jumping up and down and cringing and putting the “feminazis” back a hundred years. Jared was just about to bring the newspaper down with a primal ferocity when Karen screamed "NO!!"
She grabbed his arm, halting the swing, handed him a jar and was practically crying when she said:
"We can't kill it, it's been baptized."