To make it work, she borrowed babies–blue ones with bloated cheeks and the rheumy eyes of old men. In the dressing rooms she crawled beneath the stall slits while customers examined themselves in mirrors, verbose salesclerks lurching over shoulders like bleach-blonde jack o’ lanterns.
The junk people carried around astonished her. She’d been taught to ignore it, just grab cash, but still their oddity had a perverse attraction, like the strong pull of pornography, and so she kept some items: a gold-plated nail file, an old-fashioned opal broach with a rusted clip, day glow condoms, a paring knife, one lone shotgun shell.
She always brought the babies back by dusk. The exchange was not dissimilar to summers when she’d unload gunny sacks of potatoes from her Uncle Ernie’s truck. Uncle Ernie with his Polish jokes, his ratchet laugh and carrot-thick fingers busy up inside her.
Now, one of the infants follows her movements as if it wants to be hypnotized.
“He likes you,” the mother or relative or whomever says.
The other babies blink and bawl at the sound of an adult voice somewhat happy.
“He don’t like me,” she says, angry now. “He’s starving. Don’t you ever feed these kids?”
The babies go still.
She takes the baggy filled with bindles. She can’t tell by their weight if it’s a fair exchange. Later when it’s cooked up and boiling in her veins, she’ll know for sure.