Mothers and Fathers
Come quick, said The Triplets. We’ve found something.
By the caverns, half-buried in leaves, a woman lay with closed eyes and torn clothes.
Is she dead? asked Harold, his slingshot drawn.
Max began to cry, whimpering, No no no no no.
Just sleeping, promised Gillian, patting Max’s back.
Some birds had taken up in the woman’s hair, nesting in her curls. They sang, oblivious to it all.
Well, we have to help her, said Collette, holding her baby doll tight to her chest.
Together, we carried the woman back to our camp.
We are runaways, thirteen or eleven, depending upon if The Triplets are arguing or not. We’ve been at our camp for either a long time or no time at all. Caught somewhere between the last birthday and the next, we think our ages are as follows:
The Triplets, eleven times three.
Back at the camp, Millie brushed her hair near the campfire, and when she saw us returning, our woman lifted between us, rolled her eyes and asked, What did you do now?
Collette put her baby doll in its crib, gave it a kiss, and then said, Put her down by the fire. She’s probably cold.
We propped her up against the stack of firewood. The firelight threw shadows under her eyes. Her face was streaked with dirt.
Alfred and George and Charlie hopped down from their trees and threw rocks at the birds, shooing them from our woman’s hair. The birds angrily fluttered their wings before flying off.
The Triplets disappeared into their tent and returned with their blanket, swaddling it around our woman.
Will that make her better? asked Max, his eyes still watery.
It should, it should, said Collette. But just to be sure, sit in her lap, Max, and give her a hug. Careful, though, added Collette, as Max ran and threw his arms around our woman.
We laughed at how small the hug made Max look.
Lucy and Amelia returned from their walk in the woods, having collected, as they did every day, bright berries to color their faces.
Ewwwww, squealed Amelia.
Gross! shrieked Lucy.
Harold, said Collette, tell them to stop screaming. Our woman needs peace and quiet to rest.
Girls, girls, chided Harold, aiming his rock-loaded slingshot at a nearby twitching squirrel.
Lucy and Amelia pouted, then sat down on the opposite side of the fire to mash their berries.
How old do you think she is? asked Gillian.
One hundred and four! shouted Max, snuggled again against our woman’s breast.
Millie laughed and disappeared into her tent.
I’d say probably sixty, said Harold, loading his slingshot again. Just look at her face, it’s all saggy.
That’s not nice, said Collette. She doesn’t look older than forty.
Amelia, with red berry on her fingertips, asked, Do you even know what forty looks like?
Lucy giggled. Yeah, you could be forty and wouldn’t even know.
Well, she’s ours now, said Gillian, and I think she’s beautiful.
We all love our woman, each in our own way. Max sleeps in her lap every night. Gillian tells stories to her, spinning tales of life in the woods. Collette lets her hold her baby doll, gently, of course. Harold shows her how to shoot his slingshot. The Triplets teach her which way is true north. Amelia and Lucy touch up her face with streaks of mashed strawberries. Alfred and George and Charlie bring her acorns from the tallest tree. Mille, even, sometimes whispers to her late at night when she thinks we’re all asleep; we see, but let Millie have her time with our woman. That’s how important our woman is to us, everyone gets their turn, no matter what.
Later, The Triplets found another.
The man lay a rock’s toss from where we had found our woman.
There were worms in his pockets. Harold counted them—thirty-three—and spent most of the afternoon throwing them at Collette.
We brought him back to the camp, setting him next to our woman.
The Triplets raced to their tent to get their blanket, but when they stretched it around the new pair, the fabric ripped.
Pretty ugly, said Harold.
You’re right, said Gillian. They don’t really match.
Max crawled into our woman’s lap, but couldn’t get comfortable with the man leaning against her. There’s no room, he frowned.
Collette handed her baby doll to the man, but his arms were twisted and the baby nearly rolled to the ground. Oh no, that won’t do, said Collette, snuggling her baby tight.
We grew annoyed at the man. We couldn’t do the things we had done with our woman with him there. We began to hate our woman, too, for allowing the man to come between us.
Then, when we couldn’t stand either of them any longer, we carried them to the river, following the current to the waterfall where we pushed them in and laughed at the splashes they made. We didn’t wait to watch them float over the edge.
Jessica Love is a Fiction MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago, where she teaches Writing and Rhetoric. In addition to her work and study in academia, as most artists must do, Jessica bartends.