Blood Baby’s first request was for a dolly, padded with fuzzy pink carpet; not a toy for little girls, a flat wooden platform with wheels, one that’s used to move furniture or anything ungainly and heavy, across a smooth surface. BB propels the dolly like a bumper car, pushing against the walls and careening across the floor of the empty apartment.
This is apartment 2B. B is for backside. My great aunt lived at the back of the building. Her bedroom and living room windows look over a garden consisting of lawn. The tiny window in her narrow kitchen opens out into an air shaft. The apartment is empty except for a few essentials; her bed, bedside table and lamp, a card table in the dining room and dinner ware for two. Every couple of days I’d come by for dinner. We dined on Ray’s Pizza, plain extra cheese, or Charlie Mom, #2 or #3 appetizers, an order of #26 Chef Special, and a glass of generic red table wine, her treat. Dinner was followed by a few rounds of Kings Corners. The game of chance took quiet concentration on both our parts, disturbed only by the harsh sound of knocking knuckles against the wooden table crisply indicating the next players turn.
It wasn’t until recently that I took the chance to get to know my great aunt. I had come by for a visit after a lapse that covered my teens and most of my 20’s. We were bound to bump into each other if I didn’t hurry up and make an appearance. Knocking and waiting for her to get to the door identified as 2 B, I imagined she’d see me and say I was too old for blue hair, a chained up belt and the largish Narwhale tattoo that flipped it’s tail round my neck and dove down my back. But she didn’t. She opened 2B and invited me and my souped up self in for a cup of tea, lots of cups of tea. We sat on her tiny sofa and she asked me what kind of dye I use.
I said, “It’s called Vicious”. She laughed and said hers was called Octogenarian. We started calling ourselves a couple of bottled blues and hanging out.
Lois usually had some little thing she needed help with and figured bribing me with buttery saltine crackers and tea would get results, which of course it did. In the last two years her instinct to find new homes for her collection of artifacts was very strong. Not only was “Pair down to bare essentials!” her motto, but it was a job that encompassed much of her time and energy. I was her happy go lackey distributor. We mailed or hand delivered old photographs, hand painted plates, quilts, the porcelain and wooden doll collection, one hundred and fifty year old American furniture, and leather bound books to the historical society, distant relatives and friends. I joined her on trips to the nearest dumpster and Salvation Army for the rest. We argued about keeping silver silverware and porcelain dishes. In her feverish point of view plastic forks and paper plates would do. On the other hand, Lois never thought twice about keeping the Royal typewriter even though she didn’t use it anymore. I tucked it away under her bed. The Royal had sentimental value, but she didn’t want to be reminded of all that on a daily basis. Practical.
When Lois died, I inherited her nearly empty apartment. Even the furniture had finally been given away, but the typewriter was still there, pushed into the corner of the living room. She wanted me to start living there. That was her plan A. I could have moved all my stuff into her apartment and become an owner rather than the renter I still am. Or, I could have sold her apartment and started saving for my future, my plan B. Being in this town always felt like gassing up and testing my gear, pit stopped. I’d just begun to pursue plan B, but then Tuesday happened.
Now, despite good intentions, I’m still spending money on my apartment and taking care of hers. At the moment I’m resigned to sticking to my routine of dropping by every couple days. So, back and forth I go, down the block and around the corner. My apartment, 8B has the same two-room lay out, is fully furnished and fully cluttered. Both B apartments are in the same block of connected buildings. Lois was sunrise East and I’m sunset West. All the back apartments look out onto the lawn garden, a green rectangle created by the wrap-around block of buildings.
BB starts talking the second I get through Lois’s door, voice, perky and somewhat imperious with the tempo of a child who wants to keep your attention.
“Have you noticed, I’m less bloody these days?”
“Yeah, sort of”, I say. “I still consider the scabs, rather blood-like.”
“No. Scabs are dried blood, no longer blood. A raisin was a grape, no longer grape. It’s as if all the little underground rivers are rising to the surface of the planet and gushing out like geysers. Why? Because, of a change in atmospheric pressure. The blood wants out. I’m merely covered with the blood that was once in me! Sometimes, it just evaporates through my pores, surrounding me in a red fog.”
“Hey, take it easy. More Gatorade? It’s important to keep hydrated. Take a couple salt tablets with it. Here, I’ll sprits you with some nice cold H2O. The sunlight seems to be doing you good.”
“It’s almost five o’clock. Push me over to the window,” BB demands. “Look, the West building, 8th floor. Have you seen that lady in the window? She waters her spider plant every two days, talks to them too. She says, ‘my god Spidy, what a lot of nice shoots you have.’
Those are the baby spider plants that shoot off the mother plant. Then the lady whispers, so I can barely hear, ‘Maybe it’s time to cut off some of these baby Spidys and plant them in their own pots. O.K. Spidy? Oh good, Spidy. I’m glad you like the idea. You just need a little more room for your self.’
“But, Spidy doesn’t like the idea at all. Those aren’t baby plants. They are part of the spider plants information system. The farther they branch out, feeling their way into new territory, the more information Spidy has about its environment. That’s important. Spidy doesn’t want to stay there forever. What the lady wants is to divide and conquer. All any shoot will know is the rim of its own pot. As soon as it grows bunches of extending shoots enabling it to reach far enough for a truly informative reconnaissance mission, the lady will come along and snip them off.”
“BB, she’s probably a very nice lady just trying to care for the plant. Give it a break. I’ve got to go now. Where do you want me to leave you?”
“I’ll manage. Just get the stuff on my list, O.K.” BB’s voice trails after me. “Don’t you want to see the nice lady?”
BB’s gotten pretty good at typing out lists, although, the paper usually ends up a little wet and slimy smearing inky smudgy spots.
& lots of straws
“No Problem.” I’m going to do some errands anyway.
BB is the product of two pints of blood and a smattering of green microspores, pollen stuff. For a brief period in the Spring a fine green layer of dust encrusts the neighborhood. My great aunt’s apartment is no exception. Microspores cover the street, the sidewalk, the windshield of my car and infiltrate every apartment. The green dust floats easily through open windows or simply gets tracked in, clinging stickily to the treads of shoes.
The blood came from the lab where I work as a technician. On Tuesdays, my job description is to transport a small amount of blood from one cool climate to the next, lab to hospital. My schedule did not include a personal pit stop to my recently inherited apartment, but I had some last minute cleaning to do. I figured I’d just revitalize the limp cold-packs by sticking them in the freezer, take the bag of blood out of the thermal carrying case and keep it in the refrigerator.
I was about to put apartment 2B on the market. A lump of cash would be useful, especially if my plan to move to Alaska congealed. As long as I’m doing low level technical work, or the equivalent of what a pizza delivery guy could do, I might as well be in an environment that interests me, anywhere with whales, like the Oceanographic Institute at Bristol Bay.
I rushed through the cleaning; Mop and Glow floors, Fantastic countertops and Windex windows. My mind wandered around a rocky coast line pummeled by thirty foot waves. Finished with the cleaning, I grabbed the cold blood from the fridge. The blood sloshed in the clear plastic bag held by hands too sweaty to shake with. As I thought about what a disaster it would be to lose my grip, I dropped the bag of blood.
Too stunned for expletives, I took in the expanding dimensions of my blunder.
The ripped plastic still contained some of the blood as it lay on the floor, surrounded by the rest puddling concentrically around it. Contaminated immediately by invisible germs and of course the very visible plant dust, red blood and green pollen swirled together, bubbling and sliming in ways one only expects to see in a mad scientist’s laboratory. I stood back, with a wad of paper towels in hand, entranced.
In one day the spill developed into a mass of gelatinous and scabby blood, whose form resembled a partially melted snowman. Upon closer examination I observed that the spill was contained by a web like root system. Triangulating tubes created a mesh on the epidermal surface working inward as if to keep the form from eroding.
The resulting translucent blood blob began a creep along the floor. Turning slow somersaults around the apartment picking up pennies, an ancient hair net and dust with its sticky body, it managed to achieve an infinitely more thorough clean up job than I had. I stay clear. After the entire apartment has been scavenged, the blob comes to a halt by the living room window.
Encouraged by the afternoon sun, the spill sprouts stems and wiry tendrils leafing out in hairy tangles. Limbs branch outward with long multi-knuckled fingers as dexterous as any of mine. With the same insistent growth spurt, its name pushes its way through my vocal chords and out my mouth, Blood Baby.
I watch Blood Baby finger the pull string on the Venetian blinds jerking the shade up and down without any clear intent. An irregular growth pattern evolves as BB fills in and out. I gaze into its tangled interior. Murky and rather beautiful, the sunlight filters through BB’s form casting a pink shadow on the wall.
I am no stranger to laboratory experiments and regard this project with reverent interest and a healthy modicum of fear. I’m glad to have the chance to use my training in the art of scientific observation, and have simply pushed myself into a far corner of the living room for the duration. Ball point pen in hand, I scribble notes onto sheet after sheet of undecorated two ply paper towels.
Mouth, eyes and ears are hard to recognize since they are completely camouflaged. I only locate these features when BB is moving them, looking around or talking. BB winks, eyes rolling in different directions, then settles into an hours long glance at me. The face ended up where I expected it to, somewhere around the crest.
BB can hear me. That’s obvious. After a period of growing and breathing Blood Baby begins to mimic any disjointed mumble that comes out of my mouth, sounding like a croaky, out of breath parrot. The ears may be small holes on the sides of its head, like whale ears. I haven’t actually seen them. If I enunciate and speak slowly and clearly, BB is easier to understand. The substance and sound of BB is pure mimicry, just distorted enough that I have to pay close attention.
I have camped out at my great aunt’s apartment since the spill. Called in sick to work, ordered in, #26 Chef Special and hunkered down. After two days of quiet parrot talk, BB blurted an independent thought, a plea for privacy; a boastful bark. “O.K. you can go home now, see you tomorrow.”
I’ve made no further effort to sell apartment 2B. The cost of the blood was taken out of my salary, along with a finger shaking reprimand from my boss.
The windows in the living room of my great aunt’s apartment had been painted shut for years. The kitchen and bedroom windows open but are closed and insulated around the edges with grey putty. Lois always felt chilled and preferred a hot, sunny but stuffy climate. No drafts please! She would roll putty into balls in the palms of her hands and then into thin snakes, each five inches long. The snakes squeezed into every corner, crevice or crack. She removed them in the summer time and stored them carefully in an old cigar box till the next season. The last three or four years she kept the snakes in full time. Blood Baby thinks the apartment is a terrarium.
It didn’t take as much effort as I thought to crack the windows, the painted shut ones, lifted after a couple hard but careful punches around the frame, leaving splinters of chipped paint on the sill. I carefully put the snakes back into the cigar box which was still in the top drawer in the kitchen. Musty old air made its escape and fresh 02 drifted into the rooms.
Sounds from all over the neighborhood filter through BB’s sensitive ears. There’s no other explanation for Blood Baby’s gurgle version of, “in the land of mars where the lady’s smoke cigars...” normally sung between waves of hysterical giggles by two hand clapping little girls three blocks away.
Occasionally a scab breaks and blood seeps out, or a leaf falls off onto the floor. Roots continue to grow into BB and blood either evaporates or oozes out. BB doesn’t mind any of this, and is inimical to the suggestion of using Band-Aids.
“I already have a fishing pole and razor blades, but I had to buy the rest. What are you going to do with it?” I ask, as I rip the double A batteries from their vacuum pack plastic and cardboard packaging, then stuff them positive side down the shaft of the flashlight.
“I will attempt a communication with forms of life outside the room.” BB is looking at me, eyebrow tendril things raised.
I suggest reinstalling the telephone, or maybe I should have just gotten a couple of cans and some string.
BB’s look is dismissive, so I leave. But it’s my apartment. Lois gave it to me. Showing up at work has gotten to be an aberration. Everyone at the lab thinks I’m still planning my move to Alaska. They already had a going away coffee, dohnut moment for me. No one thought it would take any time to sell the apartment. We’ve already said our good-byes and now I’m down to keeping a low profile. I could pack BB up and bring the blob with me, wonder if we’d get through airport security. Blood Baby says no way. BB is indigenous to this apartment and wouldn’t survive outside it. At least not until full gestation takes place, and neither one of us knows how long that will take. As BB explains it, the apartment and I play equal roles as its environment.
At first I thought I was the caretaker of this little experiment, and apartment 2B was just the apartment. Now it looks like my job is Umbilical Cord, and apartment 2B is Womb, womb 2B. I could have a bright future as BB’s belly button. But let’s face it, when BB’s ready to emerge, I’ll be cut, tied up and left to wither away.
Blood Baby’s Belly Button Bemoans Belatedly, BAH BAH!
At night crickets rub their wings together and Blood Baby plots. It’s dark and I’m in the garden between the buildings. I see a flashlight attached to the lure end of a fishing pole, cast out BB’s bedroom window. The badly cut hole in the window pane is repaired with silver duct tape. A two story length of straws dangles through a smaller hole cut into the adjacent pane of glass. The long straw touches the ground and is partly buried in the overgrown grass. I walk onto the lawn towards the straw. The flash light is suspended just beyond my reach. I am spot lit. I pick up the straw and hold the microphone end at my mouth.
“BB? Can you hear me? I hold the straw to my ear.
“Put the straw down!”
That’s remarkably loud for straw cable. I speak into the straw. “I’m coming up.”
I open the door of the apartment to see BB glued to the window, whispering into the straw and jostling the fishing pole.
“If you want to know, the grow light is an attention getter, bait if you will. I need advice.”
“Oh sure, what’s up?” I ask.
It’s clear that Blood Baby is not addressing me. One end of the straw is poking into Blood Baby’s ear and the other end is receiving Blades of Grass. BB listens intently.
“Blades of Grass to Blood Baby. We repeat, Blades of Grass to Blood Baby! You will need to enlist your friend to help rescue the Spider Plant from the nice lady.”
BB listens. I can hear the raspy whisper of the Blades, but I can’t make out what they’re saying.
BB turns to me, announcing triumphantly, “we’re going to save Spidy! We’ll need your help.”
“You mean Spidy the spider plant?” I catch my breath and look up at a window across the garden. I count up. It’s the eighth floor, apartment B, and there is the shadowed silhouette of an overgrown spider plant in my windowsill.
BB continues to dictate orders. “You’ll have to visit the nice lady.”
“What nice lady?”
“You remember. Bring her a gift. Cookies or something. Just say, welcome to the neighborhood.”
“But she may have been living there for years.”
“That doesn’t matter. Then walk over to the window where Spidy sits and casually point out the sites. The Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, Pyramids. Open the window so you can point better, and as you lean out, knock Spidy off the sill.”
“That’s an eight story drop, BB!”
“Don’t worry about that. We can take care of it from the ground.”
“We who”, I ask incredulously, voice very raised.
This time Blades of Grass are audible. They rustle loudly, “Spidy belongs with us!”
“What about the nice lady?” I’m looking at BB and trying to ignore Blades of Grass.
“What about her,” BB asks not seeming to get my point. “Run away.”
“This plan has a lot of flaws. Maybe someone in a small town where people live in houses would open their door to a stranger on a welcome to the neighborhood campaign. But, a high-rise city dweller will consider the custom of letting a stranger bearing cookies into her apartment risky to say the least. Besides, there are certain matters of etiquette that you obviously fail to realize. I can’t go up there, destroy the plant and run away.”
Like a good lackey, I find myself in the lobby of her building. Potted plants enjoy the company of their reflections filling the spare rooms provided by mirrored walls. The doorman sits at a tall desk designed to hide his coffee and newspaper. He’s on the phone, but puts his hand over the receiver momentarily to warn me that the floor is still slippery.
I wait for the elevator looking down at the sparkling floor. I can see my reflection. An image of Mr. Clean presents itself briefly. He winks, and mouths, hey nice lady. Old fashioned smarmy. I am not a nice lady! The elevator lifts me up to the eighth floor. I push one key into the top lock and then the other key into the bottom lock opening the door to my place.
The floor of the apartment is littered with books and newspapers. It doesn’t take much to achieve clutter. Dust bunnies hide under the couch waiting for me to vacuum them up. I feel like a wolf in my own apartment. The kitchen is tidy and bacteria free. By the window there is a spider plant that usually gets plenty of sun and could use a repotting. I open the window and peer out.
The Pyramids, Empire State Building and Eiffel tower can be seen clearly on a clear day, but it’s cloudy. I doubt I am any more distinct than a dark shadow to prying experiments looking from the building across the square lawn. I wave at Blood Baby anyway. It occurs to me that BB’s eyes are not as powerful as its ears.
I pick up the muted orange clay pot Spidy is planted in and set it on the outer window ledge. There isn’t anyone down on the lawn. There is weight, velocity and a copper penny dropped from a tall building onto crowded street. I nudge Spidy slightly. It doesn’t feel deliberate, and the eight story fall only takes a couple of seconds. The pot is broken in pieces, black earth spills out. The Spider plant looks intact. Blades of Grass help Spidy take root. Spidy becomes the best communication system they’ve ever had.
“I’m ready, are you?” the voice on the phone sounds out of breath. It sounds like...
“BB is that you?” On the telephone!
“All I had to do was plug the phone back in. The service has probably been on all along. Thanks for helping with Spidy. I took the liberty of calling the real estate agent, she’s had a buyer waiting for 2B, so I think we can wrap this up in a couple of days. Oh yeah, and your land lord says if you can be out of your rental by Wednesday you can have your deposit back. Nice, huh. So, I booked a ticket on Air Alaska for Wednesday, 5 o’clock. All you have to do is call back with your credit card number. You do have one don’t you?
“Wait, how did you know my number?” As if that’s the most important question I have to ask. “Is that really you?.”
“Your number is still on automatic dial” The impetuous tone in BB’s voice reassures me, but I can’t believe that BB did all this and is actually ready to leave the apartment. “I’m coming over.” I hang up the phone and rush out of my place slamming the door behind me, not even bothering to double lock. I always double lock. The elevator is slower than ever.
“Watch your step” I hear the doorman say automatically as I whiz past him. I run all the way.
The door of the almost sold apartment is ajar. Panting and out of breath I see immediately that BB is not here. The dolly’s gone.
There’s a note in the typewriter.
Dear Belly Button,
I have slithered away. Actually I’ve rolled using the dolly until I can slither and swim on my own. I will dump myself into the canal, two blocks away. That will get me to the river, the bay and so on. You know the geography. I am stringy vapor, a net of wet ooze, a pool of plant stuff about to make my way through a waterlogged world of slippery sea weed. Hard to say when I’ll catch up to you. Don’t forget my typewriter, and paper clips and the fishing pole.
Love and xx’s,
Enjoy the flight and pray that I don’t get eaten by other sea creatures.
It might take a while, so don’t worry.
Spidy doesn’t miss the Nice Lady.