Pheromones Eric M. Bahle August 23, 2008
The smell of cigarette smoke clung to the nurse’s clothes. It was under the smell of antiseptic soap, over the smell of Chantilly lace. Brandi probably would have missed it if the nurse hadn’t leaned so close to give her the baby. The baby fumbled at Brandi’s nipple and fussed and Brandi thought he might refuse again. The worried look on the nurse’s face said she thought the same thing. But after a few slobbery false starts the baby began to suck.
“There he goes,” said the nurse, excited but quiet. “That’s a good sign, darlin. That’s a real good sign.” The nurse smiled wide and Brandi tried to smile back.
“Y’all settle on a name for him?” the nurse said.
“Yes’m,” Brandi said. Brandi’s breast hurt. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant but there was definitely pain as the baby nursed. She bent her head to look close into the baby’s face. He had almost no scent, just a faint smell, like skin that’s hot from being in the sun. She murmured, “John.”
“Oh, darlin. After your, pa?” the nurse put a hand over her heart. “That’s nice. That’s real nice.” She patted Brandi on the thigh and started back to her station. Before closing the door she turned with a warm and glowing look. Brandi knew the nurse had completely mistaken her mood and her intent with the baby’s name.
She lay her head back and tried to ignore the pain from her overworked nipple. It was late and the hospital was quiet and Brandi closed her eyes. With eyes hooded the smell of the place pressed on her. The sour smell of sick people seemed to hang like a mist, still in the current less hallways. Of course over all was the stench of every hospital. The smell of clean that comes, not from the absence of filth, but from the abundance of chemicals.
It reminded her of John, her father not her son. Not because that man was clean but because he had died so recently in this very hospital. Just her and her ma, the hospital wouldn’t let Randy in, he wasn’t family, sitting beside the bed waiting for him to go. John was a logger and strong but even a strong man should have died more quickly after an accident like that. The doctors marveled but Brandi was more familiar with the man’s spiteful vigor. She didn’t sleep a wink for the entire four days and when he finally went she recoiled at the stench of his final breath. It smelled like roaches crawling out of a sewer.
Another stench reached her now, out of place in the sterile hospital room. The stench of eager decay from black marsh mud. The seminal stink of primordial slime that hangs over certain hollows that never see real sun. Brandi had gone down to just such a hollow not long ago and she kept her eyes closed against what shouldn’t be there.
“I knows yer awake girl. An’ I knows ye knows I’m here.” Brandi grimaced at that thin croak of a voice. She opened her eyes and even though the nurse had left the lights on the room was now dim.
“Ole Ezra’s here to collec wha’s owed ‘er.”
“How–” did you get in was what Brandi was going to say but stopped. It didn’t matter how, she was here. There was a movement in the shadows as the old lady laughed and Brandi thought of a misshapen bullfrog dripping foul mucus.
“A bit wiser than las time we jawed, eh?” Wet gleam of bald and black gums as Ezra grinned from the dim corner of the room. “An’ not jus in the ways o’ pink young flesh.” Those black gums smacked together obscenely and Ezra’s yellow eyes gleamed as she looked at the suckling infant.
“Please,” Brandi held the baby close and averted her eyes from the foul crone. “Please don’t take my baby.”
“Ain’t yourn,” she snapped. “It’s mine! Made a bargain ye did. Sealed wit a kiss.” The obscene smacking came again and Brandi shuddered.
“I didn’t know what I was askin,” her voice was on the verge of trembling. “I didn’t know what I was promising.”
“Ye knowed well enough to come to my cabin. Ye knowed enough to come down into the holler. Ye knowed plenty, ye pert hussy. Ezra held up her end. Ain’t yer daddy gone?”
“That was an accident.”
“Ye knows that weren’t no accident,” she hissed and the swamp miasma threatened to choke Brandi as Ezra moved closer. “It weren’t no accident that yer pa picked that tree that day. No accident that he was crushed like a worm far from help.”
“Please,” Brandi’s voice was shaking now and tears didn’t look far off. “You can’t take my baby.”
“I held up my end,” unrelenting, implacable. “Yer daddy ain’t here ta hit ye an’ yer ma. Is he? An’ ain’t yer young hound come to rut wit ya, bitch? Wha’s his name agin?”
“Randy,” she whispered, tears started falling.
“Randy he is too, I reckon,” The filthy rags Ezra wore flapped as she bucked her bony hips and Brandi felt like she might vomit. “Randy as a two peckered billy goat. He didn’t waste no time stickin’ his young pink cock in ya did he? Gimme wha’s owed.” Ghastly hands like a crow’s claws were thrust out but still Brandi tried.
“There must be some way,” she said. “Can’t you leave him?”
“There ain’t no other way. He’s mine an’ if ye don’t give ‘im up I’ll take ye instead. But before I finish ye I’ll make yer Randy young buck have a ‘accident’. One that’ll make yer pa’s look like a lover’s caress.”
The horrid kissing sound was almost in Brandi’s ear now and the swamp fetor was unbearable. Grasping hands were thrust out.
Ancient tendons creaked as the hands opened and closed, opened and closed.
Brandi thrust the baby away from her and into the greedy claws. The bright pink babe was swallowed in shadow as Ezra clasped him to her leathery chest. Brandi looked away as the shrunken fiend wrapped him in the folds of her rotting garment. Her eyes gleamed, yellow and malevolent.
“Wha’s his name?”
Milk dribbled down Brandi’s chest but she ignored it and covered her face. “John,” she said through her hands, voice flat and empty now of emotion.
Hours that seemed like days passed before she could be alone with Randy. Brandi was exhausted from the stream of doctors and nurses. From talking to the whole police force, all nine officers and the chief. To the sheriff and to a State Trooper who kept his hat on the whole time. All she could do now was lay in her hospital bed and hold Randy’s hand.
“You okay?” he said. “Everything went all right?”
“It went fine sweetie. She didn’t suspect a thing. After all the excitement dies down we can have a baby of our own.”