Read Magic Street Online

Authors: Orson Scott Card

Tags: #sf, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Science fiction; American, #Fantasy fiction; American, #Los Angeles (Calif.), #Abandoned children, #Baldwin Hills (Los Angeles; Calif.)

Magic Street (5 page)

BOOK: Magic Street
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"I don't want nobody asking me questions, I got a bag of weed on me," said Raymo.

"It's probably nothing but parsley and broccoli or something anyway," said Ceese. "Nobody gives you good weed for free." Ceese leaned down and picked up the grocery bag by the handles.

"What you going to do with that thing?"

"Take it to Mama," said Ceese. "She know about babies."

The baby was lighter than Ceese expected. But it still felt wrong to hold it by the handles of the sack. What was he going to do, walk along swinging it like a dead squirrel?

He lifted it higher, to cradle it in his arms. That's when he saw that the baby was covered with ants inside the sack. And the outside of the sack was swarming with them. A lot of them were already racing up his arm.

Ceese set down the sack and started brushing the ants off his arms.

"What you doing, you dumbass?" said Raymo. "You doing some kind of wacko I-got-a-baby dance? Or you got to pee?"

"Baby's got ants all over it."

"I heard babies sometimes eat ants cause they need it in their diet."

"Was that on Discovery Channel or Animal Planet?" asked Ceese. The last of the ants was off him. He peeled back the sack and lifted the baby in his hands, holding it far away from his body.

"Come here and brush the ants off this baby."

"Don't go telling me what to do," said Raymo. "You don't tell me what to do."

"We got to get the ants off this baby. You want to hold it while I brush, that's just fine with me."

"I ain't holding no baby. Get my fingerprints on it? No way."

"Then brush off the ants." And then, in deference to Raymo's superiority, Ceese turned it from a demand into a request. "Puh-leeeeeeze."

"Well, since you asked like such a polite dumbass." Raymo brushed off the baby's naked limbs and trunk.

"Careful with the top of his head, babies got a soft spot."

"I know that, Cecil," said Raymo. Then he suddenly backed away, looking scared.

"What!" demanded Ceese.

"Ant come out of his nose!" said Raymo.

"Brush it off! It won't bite you."

Raymo steeled himself for a moment, then came back and flipped the ant off the baby's cheek.

"Freak me out, that's all."

"Ants probably in there eating the baby's brains," said Ceese. "Baby probably retarded now, they ate so much."

The baby wiggled and made a mewing sound. Just like a kitten.

Thinking of a kitten made Ceese pull the baby back from Raymo, because of that time Raymo took a baby kitten and stepped on its head just to see it squish. Raymo called it a "biology experiment." When Ceese asked him what he learned from it, Raymo said, "Brains be looser than liver, and wetter, and they kind of splash." Ceese didn't want Raymo to start thinking scientifically about this baby.

"Just leave it," said Raymo. "Girl who left it there, she want it dead."

"How do you know it was a girl?"

"Boys don't have babies," said Raymo. "Surprised you didn't know."

"Maybe she hoped somebody find it."

"You want somebody to find it, you leave it on they doorstep, buttgas."

"Buttgas?"

"Worse than a dumbass," said Raymo.

"Well we did find it, and I'm not going to let it die."

"No," said Raymo. "Not let it die."

That was it. Ceese clutched the baby as close as a football and started for the edge of the grass.

Raymo just laughed at him, but Ceese was used to that.

"Hey, buttgas!" called Raymo. "You know who owns this skateboard?"

Ceese looked back. Raymo was standing at the edge of the road, right at the hairpin turn, where Ceese's skateboard had flipped to. Ceese was clear down by the fancy white house at the end of the little valley.

"You know it's mine!" called Ceese.

"Don't see nobody's name on it!" called Raymo.

Ceese didn't know for sure what Raymo was about, but either he was trying to provoke Ceese into walking all the way up the steepest part of the road to get his skateboard, and then probably trying to goad him into riding it home while holding the baby—or he was planning to steal the board and taunt Ceese while he was doing it, just so Ceese would feel helpless and small.

But standing there with that baby in his arms, Ceese wanted with all his heart to be free of Raymo and everybody else like him, all the bullies who kept looking for nasty stuff to do, and always had to have an audience for their nastiness, and didn't care much about the distinction between audience and victim.

Sure enough, Raymo had been heading right for him. But he wasn't going to crash into a hedge just for a lame joke.

So he hooted at Ceese and got back out on the road. "Mama Ceese got herself a widdo baby!"

He was holding his own skateboard and riding Ceese's. Of course.

Ceese didn't say anything. Just watched him go.

Why've I been hanging with that vienna sausage anyway? Makes no sense. Sure thing I got no desire ever to see him again. Why did I put up with all his crap for so long?

Right up to the minute I found this baby, and not a minute longer.

Ceese's face burned with—what, embarrassment? Or the flush of sudden realization?

Maybe he had spent all this time with Raymo, making his mother all worried and coming close to getting into trouble a dozen times, just so he'd be at the drainpipe today, to find this baby.

That was just crazy. Who could arrange something like that, God? And God sure as hell wasn't going to use a dipstick like Raymo as an instrument of his divine will. That would be like the devil sending Gabriel to fetch his laundry, only in reverse.

When Ceese got to Du Ray, Raymo was nowhere to be seen. No surprise there. Ceese took the left on Du Ray, then the next left on Sanchez. It wasn't far. And when he got to the front door, Mama was there, holding it open behind the screen.

"Just tell me that what you got ain't yours," she said coldly.

"Don't know whose it is," said Ceese.

"You mean you don't know if you're the daddy?" There was real menace in her voice.

"I mean I found it. I don't know who the mama is. And I sure know I ain't no baby's daddy.

Less it can happen by looking at pictures."

Mama gasped. So did Ceese. He'd never talked like that to his mama in his life. Which, he was sure, was the only reason he was still alive. And from Mama's face, that was about to come to a quick end.

At that moment, the baby cried softly. Which was about the only thing that could have changed the subject from how Ceese had just said his last words.

"Inside a Lucky's bag and covered with ants," said Ceese. "It's a boy. He's alive."

"Seeing how I'm not blind and stupid, I already knew that."

"Sorry, Mama." He said it fervently enough that it might cover for what he said before.

"Before you ask, no, you can't keep it."

"It's real little, Mama."

"They get bigger."

"I don't want to keep it, Mama, I just don't want it to die."

"I know that," said Mama. "I'm thinking. Okay, I've thought. Take it over to Miz Smitcher. She's a nurse."

"Don't you want to take it?" said Ceese.

"No, I don't," said Mama. "That baby was conceived in sin and left to die in shame. Don't want no sin or shame in my house."

Ceese wanted to yell at her that the baby didn't commit any sins and the baby had nothing to be ashamed of, and what about "Even as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren" and "suffer little children to come unto me"? But he wasn't so stupid as to throw Bible verses into Mama's face.

She'd have ten more to answer him with, and no supper as punishment for blasphemy or whatever religious felony she convicted him of. The most common one was failing to honor his father and mother, even though he was the politest kid he knew of. Or maybe just the most beat-down.

Not wishing any further argument with Mama, Ceese walked to the gap in the fence they always used to get between Miz Smitcher's house and their own. It wasn't a gate—it was just a gap where two separate fences had sagged apart. And now that he was there, he realized that holding a baby made it a lot harder to squeeze through. He ended up holding the baby ahead of him in one hand, and he near dropped it.

He got through just in time. Miz Smitcher was a night-shift nurse, and she was heading out the front door to her car when Ceese started banging on the back.

"What is it?" she said. "I got no time right now for—"

Seeing the baby changed her whole attitude. "Please God, let that not be yours."

"Found it," said Ceese. "Covered with ants up in that little valley on Cloverdale. Mama said take it to you."

"Why? Does she think it's mine?" said Miz Smitcher.

Miz Smitcher sighed. "Let's get that baby to the hospital."

Ceese made as if to hand the baby to her.

She recoiled. "I got to drive, boy! You got a baby seat in your pocket? No? Then you coming along to hold that child."

Ceese didn't argue. Seemed like once he picked that baby up, he couldn't get nobody else to take it no matter what he said or did.

Chapter 4

COPROCEPHALIC It irritated Ura Lee, the way folks just assumed that because she was a nurse, she'd take care of their problems, no matter what. Found a baby in a field? Why, give it to the nurse lady! Never mind that she's never had a baby in her life and never worked with newborns on the job.

Only people I ever diapered were Alzheimer's patients and stroke victims. Madeline Tucker, now, she's taken care of four sons, she's got diapering down to a science, not to mention bathing and feeding babies. She's got a car at home, no job that she's already running late for, and it's her boy found the baby. But it never crosses her mind to take the baby to the hospital herself, does it?

Because Ura Lee Smitcher is a nurse, so it's her job.

"Fasten your seat belt," she told Ceese.

When he didn't obey, she glared at him. He was moving his head and shoulders in a weird way.

It finally dawned on her that he was trying to snake his head through the shoulder strap.

"Use your hands, child, or do you think God stuck them on the ends of your arms so you could count to ten without getting lost?"

"I'm holding the baby!" Ceese protested.

"Your lap is holding the baby," said Ura Lee. "Use your head."

"I was," Ceese murmured as he let go of the baby and pulled the seatbelt across his middle.

Of course, the baby's head flopped down and hung like fruit from a tree. Ura Lee reached over and supported the head. "You don't just let go of the head, you want to break its neck?"

"You said to... I was just..."

"What were you doing with Raymo? Smoking something made you stupid?"

At first she thought he was being smart-mouthed and she was about to smack him when she saw that his eyes were glistening. It occurred to her that maybe this boy had been called stupid a few times too often.

His seatbelt fastened, he got his hand back under the baby's head, and she was free to shift into gear. She backed the car out of the carport and onto Burnside, then headed for Coliseum and then La Cienega. She drove gently, because she wasn't sure this boy could hold on to the baby. It looked like he was being so gentle that he couldn't get a decent grip on it.

"You sure you got no idea where that baby comes from?" she asked.

"I know exactly where it came from," said Ceese coldly.

"All right then," she said. "Who's the mother?"

"How should I know?"

"You said—"

"They showed us a movie in P.E.," said Ceese scornfully. "But it didn't tell us how to figure out who's the mother of a naked ant-covered baby you find in the grass by a rusty old drainpipe. I guess they only teach that to nurses."

Well, that was an interesting reaction. Seemed like young Ceese Tucker didn't take crap from anybody. Maybe there was more to the boy than tagging along after Raymo Vine.

At a light, she reached into her purse, pulled out her cellphone, and called work to tell them she was late because she had to bring a baby to the emergency room. She was explaining it for the second time to her supervisor, who seemed to think Ura Lee was so stupid that this is the kind of excuse she'd invent for being late to work, when she realized that the car in front of her was stopping suddenly. She jammed on the brakes and saw the baby fly forward out of Ceese's arms. It hit the dashboard—with its naked butt, fortunately, instead of its head—and dropped like a rock onto the floor.

The baby lay there, silent. Not crying, not whimpering, not even squeaking.

"God have mercy on you boy, if you killed that baby!"

"Why'd you stop so fast?" Ceese shouted back at her.

"What did you want me to do, you smart-mouthed little coprocephalic? Run into the car in front of me?"

"He's breathing," said Ceese. "You got so many McDonald's wrappers on the floor it probably saved his life."

"You criticizing how I keep my car, now?" brakes without warning!"

"I couldn't make the car in front of me disappear!"

"And I couldn't repeal the law of inertia that made this baby fly out of my arms," said Ceese.

"What you yelling at me for?"

It was a question to which Ura Lee had no rational answer. "Because you're here and I'm mad," said Ura Lee. "Are you going to pick the baby up or use it as a footrest?"

He bent over and scooped it up. Clumsily, but then it's not the kind of thing people got to practice much, picking up babies off the floors of cars. The baby still didn't make a sound. Hadn't made a sound the whole time, before or after falling on the floor.

Ceese was stroking the baby. Murmuring to it. "You all right? You okay?"

He wasn't careless with this baby. She'd judged him wrong.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you," she said.

He didn't look at her.

"I was just upset and I took it out on you," she said.

"That's okay," he murmured, so soft she could hardly hear him.

"That how you accept an apology?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said. "Nobody ever apologize to me before."

"Oh, now, that's just silly," she said.

"Sorry," he said.

Then again, he was the youngest, with nothing but brothers, and she didn't see Madeline or Winston doing much apologizing to their baby.

"Was that true?" she asked. "Nobody ever told you sorry?"

"Sure," he said. "My brothers. All the time. One of them hits me upside the head, he says,

'Sorry.' One of them walks by and knocks me against the wall, he says, 'Sorry.' "

"I get the idea," said Ura Lee.

"One of them comes up to me when I'm playing with a friend and pulls my pants down, undershorts and all, and flips me there where it really hurts and when I'm crying and my friend's run off home, he says, 'Sorry, Cecil.' "

"Damn right," said Ceese softly.

"What did you say?"

"Damn right, ma'am," said Ceese, loudly this time.

And Ura Lee busted out laughing. This boy was something. Or maybe holding a baby in his arms made him feel like more the equal of an adult. So he could give sass instead of just taking it.

"Is that really what it's like to have brothers?" she asked him.

"That's what it was like to have my brothers," said Ceese.

"But if you had a little brother, you wouldn't treat him like that?"

Ceese barked out a little laugh. "Miz Smitcher, I would be the best damn brother any kid ever had. But no way is my mom going to let me keep this baby, so you can forget it."

Ura Lee hadn't been thinking that at all. Hadn't crossed her mind. But now that she was thinking about it, she couldn't imagine why she had said that to him at all. How was he going to have a little brother, indeed?

Of course, one way might be to keep the child herself. Then Ceese would be the next-door neighbor. Not that they'd play much together. But when this baby was first growing up, he'd have Ceese next door as an example of a decent kind of boy. Kind of a protector maybe. Wasn't that what Ceese already was? This baby's protector?

She pulled into the hospital parking lot. For a moment she thought of taking the baby right to Emergency, but then she'd have to come out later and move her car, and it's not like the baby was choking or having respiratory difficulty or diarrhea. It was just naked and newborn and dirty, unless the doctors found something that wasn't visible to the naked eye.

Just take the stray to the vet, have him look it over to make sure it didn't have worms or the mange, and you take it home and voila! You had yourself a pet!

What in the world was she thinking? Keep the child herself! How could she possibly keep a child, what with them locking her up in a mental ward, since taking on some little lost baby would be sure proof that she'd lost her mind?

"Don't get out of the car yet," she snapped at Ceese as she brought the car to a stop in the parking space. "Let me come around and take that baby out of your arms."

"How am I going to get home?" asked Ceese.

She slammed her own door and walked around the back and opened his door. As she took the baby, she answered his question. "I'm gonna give you money for the bus."

"Then I'll tell you the bus route."

"What if I get off at the wrong stop?"

"Here's an idea: Don't get off at the wrong stop."

By now he was out of the car, tagging along behind her as she carried the baby toward Emergency. "Why can't I just stay here?"

"Because this is a working hospital and there isn't a soul to look after you."

"I could work. I know how to clean stuff. I help Mom with the housework all the time."

"You don't know how to do hospital clean, boy," said Ura Lee. "And they got people paid to do that anyway."

"Don't they have magazines? Like the doctor's office? I could read magazines."

It dawned on her that maybe this boy was really attached to the baby he'd found.

Or maybe he was just bored silly with life in the summertime, and he figured hanging around a hospital was better than walking up Cloverdale to ride down it on his skateboard.

"Tell you what," said Ura Lee. "They're going to tie me up with paperwork for an hour at least.

So I'm already missing half my shift. I'll take you home. When I got this baby admitted."

"Cool," said Ceese.

She was about to launch into a long list of warnings about don't talk and don't wander around and don't pick stuff up and for heaven's sake don't open drawers or cupboards or somebody's going to assume you looking for drugs.

Only before she said any of it, she remembered that this was a pretty good kid. Gotta give him a chance to prove he's an idiot or a criminal before you treat him like one.

This kid knew about Newton's laws of motion, which meant maybe he actually paid attention in school. Bill Cosby would be downright proud of this boy!

More than that, Ceese actually understood that coprocephalic meant "shithead." That made him so smart it was almost creepy.

She was going to have to watch this boy.

BOOK: Magic Street
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