A SHORT STORY
Michael’s Pillow

December 1992By J. Mulrooney

J. Mulrooney is a short-story writer in Rochester, New York.

In its tiny crib, the baby cried and cried. Its wail passed through the wooden bars, through the air, and even through the small hands of Michael, who had them pressed against his ears to keep out the wailing. When it got in anyway, he rolled over to look out the window. There was a tall dark oak tree that sparkled under the moon, God’s beard rustling in the night. He asked God to stop the baby’s crying and watched the beard roll slightly from side to side, shaking his head no in the breeze. Michael wanted to get up and tell his mother to come, but Clyde was over. He always got whacked if he bothered her at night when Clyde was there, and Clyde would laugh at him and grip him in his big hands and hairy knuckles. Michael wrapped the pillow around his head and waited.

In the next room, Michael’s mother and Clyde lay naked on the bed. They did not hear the baby for a long time. Finally the mu­sic on the tape machine ran out with a clack, waking them back to the ordinary world.

“The baby,” exclaimed its mother. She rolled away from Clyde and sat up on the bed, reaching for her underwear. Clyde grab­bed her breasts from behind, pinching the nipples until she squealed. Hot milk trickled through his fingers.

“To hell with the baby, Bert,” he said, and pulled her back. With an agile foot, Bert flicked the switch on the tape machine, and music filled the room.

One night Michael’s mother had forgotten to pick him up at daycare, and he went home for dinner with the teacher, Mrs. Redbock. Mrs. Redbock’s house had no elevator; she had a stair­case and carpets and a hundred rooms. They had hot red meat at dinner and he tasted the blood mixed with butter on his tongue. He sat on Mr. Redbock’s lap after dinner and listened to him burp while they watched a beautiful woman on television. Mrs. Redbock tried to phone his mother, and he played with the other children. He liked a red toy soldier and tried to hide it in his pocket, but it itched and he took it out. Michael did not notice his mother was there until she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out into the street. He cried. Her breath smelled like old bottles.


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