A woman asked me if I could look after her child for a second: she wanted to go to the store in front of which I found myself by pure chance, accessible only through a two meters long ramp.
I offered to help her taking the pram up.
Too much traffic, she said, waving her hand. It would have been easier if I just waited for her. While she was already going up, she added that it would take her only five minutes. Perhaps nobody would have helped her bringing the pram back, so I thought it would be okay to watch it for her.
The child was submerged in a thick duvet. Just by looking at the bottom, in the pram, I managed to find his bounded up head, laying on its side. He was quiet, probably sleeping.
I did not know the child’s mother, even if we probably lived in the same neighbourhood because I had seen her around often. But we had never said a word. It looked like having seen me around was enough for her to trust me to the point of leaving her son with me.
It was getting dark and on that road the street lights came on. It was a warm evening, an unusual heat had squeezed in, in the middle of winter. The coats were too thick, scarves too, and sweat would soak tops and shirts, which would stick to your skin. In this muddy heat, the boy must have been suffering under such a thick duvet. I did not dare checking.
I waited fifteen minutes and then I finally saw her coming out of the store with a bag full of stuff. As she arrived I was ready to leave, but as soon as I turned around she said that she would still need my help. „It will not last long”, she assured me while walking away, leaving the pram with me. I followed her, pushing the pram, wondering what was the reason that made her walk so fast. I called her several times while trying to keep up, but she kept running towards a place I had yet to discover.
She stopped only when we arrived at the front door of the house. The elevator was out of service, she said, she had to take everything to the second floor. She was sure I would have helped her, she would have never made it by herself, after all. I grabbed one side of the pram, she grabbed it from the opposite side and we carried it up the stairs. From a small window on the first floor I saw that it had just started raining. From a distance, barely audible, thunder broke free from full sky.
„Will you not come and have a coffee?” she asked after opening the door. She pushed the pram in and pulled me by the arm. She immediately locked the door turning the key. She unbuttoned her coat and hung it on the hanger, along with her scarf. She turned and looked at me as she stretched out her arm, waiting for me to take my jacket off and give it to her. When I gave it to her, she noticed that the lining was all wet from sweat. She put her hand inside and rolled up the sleeves so that they could dry. She then hung it next to hers.
„Tea or coffee?” she asked. I do not know, I replied. She went into the kitchen but returned immediately to ask me to follow her. I sat down at the table. I watched her pull out a pot from a cupboard, fill it with water and place it on the stove. The high-pitched noise of the lighter was two steel balls colliding. The flame lighted immediately. She pulled out a tea bag from a box and sat down next to me. She got up, remembering something, and left the kitchen. I heard a sudden babble, low, deep, continuous. I realised that it was the gargling of a tap, the water was going down in a bathtub. She was back in the kitchen. You’re all sweaty. You need to get a hot bath.
Steam rose above the pot. Outside it no longer had thundered. Maybe it was still raining. She turned off the gas and put the tea bag in the pot. After a minute of silence, she withdrew the bag and left it on the sink. Here, she said, handing me a cup with hot tea. Strange, but we haven’t even been introduced. The tea was steaming, now I was anxious to drink it. I took a sip and I burned my tongue and palate. I tried to ignore it, even though I had tears in my eyes from the pain. Poor, you’re burned, she said, coming close to me to caress my hair. I said nothing. There was nothing to say. At that moment, the tears came down from my face, crying became so strong that I didn’t realise right away that I had been cuddled, she hugged me against her belly, pressing my face. I cried, sobbing into her dress, completely wetting my face, moistening her sweater. She began to rock me, holding me in her arms until I calmed down.
After a while she got up cautiously, still keeping me close to her, dragging me into the bathroom. She began to undress me, she turned off the water and as soon as she had taken off my socks and underpants I slipped into the tub. The water was warm and covered me with foam. I took a deep breath. My face was still wet, but now it was the bath water to moisten my cheeks. The sobs diminished, until it stopped altogether, as she soaped and massaged my head and hair. She spent a sponge slowly down my back, my arms and my legs. I smiled at her.
She bandaged me in a huge towel and pressed it gently against my skin. From a cabinet she pulled out a bottle and covered me with a white, fine and fragrant powder. She sat down and took me in her arms. I heard how she pulled away from me slightly, lifted her sweater and her blouse to unfasten her bra. She pulled her breasts free next to my lips, holding two fingers so that I could grab it. The warm milk had the taste of her skin, sucking I could feel my mouth filling with a calmative, penetrating me deeply and wrapping my mind.
Shortly after she tied back her bra and put back her blouse and sweater, as I continued to watch her. She put me down onto the towel lying on the floor and left the bathroom. She returned immediately. She had brought some clean and dry clothes. She dressed me before she picked me up and took me into the hall, where the baby carriage was waiting. Now it’s better, she said.
She pulled out the doll from under the covers of the baby carriage, got rid of it with a throw and put me in her place under the duvet.
The short story was first published in the magazine fermomag (fermoeditore.it), november 2012, in English and Italian.