“Mama! You got a book today, too,” Henry exclaimed in that high-minded way toddlers have of announcing news. Tina made Henry carry his own books. She wanted to foster his independence and she was carrying her own book, plus a small backpack and twelve pounds of squirmy infant strapped to her chest, gearing up to demand his own lunch.
They lived a short walk from the library. One of the best things about the little house they rented was its location in an established neighborhood with a mix of trees and residents. There were retirees and families, working people who spent their weekends working in their yards. The little yards held evidence of family activity: trampled grass with play sets, bikes and picnic tables. A couple of the middle-school aged girls liked to coo over Henry and Tucker – if Luke ever got a night off maybe one would want to baby sit?
They tumbled into the kitchen. Henry was already pulling at his pants to get to the bathroom and Tina was extracting Tucker from the Baby Bjorn. He was red and sweaty like an overripe tomato, his small fists churning. Tina knew it was now a matter of minutes until let-down — she could feel that tingle. Now her dilemma was either to help Henry complete his foray to the bathroom or to settle herself to nurse Tucker and let Henry splash around in the sink creating puddles and extra laundry.
A hungry baby and the relief of sitting down won. Tina felt herself relax as Tucker latched on, his greedy snuffling making her smile as a bovine sense calm settled over her. Nursing the baby seemed to make time, and her brain, slow down. She could hear Henry talking to himself in the bathroom, the sound of water – as long as there wasn’t silence she could enjoy putting up her feet for ten minutes. She took another deep breath and felt her neck and shoulders relax.
“Mama, you have paper in your book,” Henry stated matter-of-factly as he waved what looked like a dollar bill from where as he sat on the living room floor.
Tina moved Tucker off her breast. She was always amazed at how enraptured he looked, sated by her milk, a sleepy smile on his wizened face. She glanced up at Henry as she hoisted Tucker up to her shoulder.
“Hold it still, Henry, let me see,” she said rubbing Tucker’s back with alternating pats and circles.
Henry came close to his mother and she put the “burping” arm around him. She wanted him to still feel close to her, too. It wasn’t that long ago he was her only baby. How did he get so big? She felt as though she was coming back from sleep, a light moving through her brain, waking her with a spark.
Henry was holding the paper in front of him and Tina saw that it was currency. Somebody used a dollar as a bookmark in a pinch, but then she saw that there wasn’t a picture of George Washington on it. It had to be a joke. There was no way somebody used a one hundred-dollar bill as a bookmark. Gently she said, “Henry, can I see that a minute?”
Her son handed it to her gravely. His own little fingers rubbing over the unfamiliar feel of the paper one last time. Tina held the note up in front of her face, mystified as to how it got into her home.
“Henry, where did you find this?” she asked lightly.
“In your book! I was putting all the books on the table and yours fell down. It fell out and I picked it up. What is it, Mama?”
Tina felt a little stunned. Maybe she had twenty bucks in her purse right now – a hundred-dollar bill seemed unreal. “It’s money, Henry, and thank you for finding it. I’ll put it somewhere safe and take care of it.” She folded the bill with one hand, leaned over onto one cheek and slipped it into the other back pocket of her worn and saggy jeans. With shaking hands she moved Tucker to her other breast as Henry resumed playing on the floor. Was she imagining it or was the baby studying her face? She cooed to Tucker and brushed his cheek with her nipple but he turned away.
Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin
Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev
Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City
Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties
Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1