Transform Your Suffering Into Happiness
by Jodi Bloom
"Vera made the motion. Etta and Lucille seconded, raising their drinks in a hopeful toast. Katherine immediately offered the services of her
maid, Comelia Susana Larrosa, who had secured El Salvadoran nannies for theirs and several adjoining neighborhoods, and who, Katherine felt certain, would have ideas, if not a step-by-step procedure, on the how-to's of obtaining an infant."
After long hours of deliberation in a sun-dappled Florida room, after the dainty consumption of a pitcher of creamy iced coffee, her five dearest friends, who together were richer than God, decided to buy Irma Easter a baby. Perhaps it was simply the coffee, perhaps the arrival of spring, which happened to coincide with this emergency meeting. Or maybe it was the
naked innocence of the idea itself. But the moment the decision was finalized, a delicate hope for renewal flickered and fluttered about each of the women's aging hearts, like a butterfly on a lilac bush.
Poor Irma Easter was wilting. The women had discussed other possible cures for her enduring, and by now tedious doldrums, including an all-expense-paid week at a natural hot-springs spa, and the full tuition for a series of courses entitled "Transform Your Suffering Into Happiness," taught by an authentic Tibetan Buddhist philosopher and never before offered in America. Redecorating was also entertained. If Irma hadn't so very recently done her living
room (in an inappropriate explosion of bright primary colors) and dining room (primary
colors thankfully subdued by indirect lighting), they would have settled on this tried and true remedy.
Purchasing the baby was Gloria Hall's idea. Hadn't Irma's dreadful decorating scheme, with its silly Crayola colors, been nothing more than a lonely widow's cry for help, a craving for the simplicity of childhood, the comfort of mothering? Besides, though she kept it strictly to herself, Gloria knew that this baby, fresh and sweet as a rosebud, could infuse the energy of a certain unnameable something into their collective female spirit, a spirit over which the boredom of wealth and middle age had settled like dust on furniture. The idea had no sooner formulated into a thought, the thought into a coherent sentence joyfully tumbling from Gloria's lips, than a wave of that exact unnameable something rippled through Vera Vickson and Etta Ray, Lucille Fox and Katherine Orchard, leaving a flush of high color on their pale
Vera made the motion. Etta and Lucille seconded, raising their drinks in a hopeful toast. Katherine immediately offered the services of her maid, Comelia Susana Larrosa, who had secured El Salvadoran nannies for theirs and several adjoining neighborhoods, and who, Katherine felt certain, would have ideas, if not a step-by-step procedure, on the how-to's of obtaining an infant. The vote was unanimous. The double rescue-salvation of an impoverished child with no future, and deliverance of their dear friend Irma from melancholy and ennui, would prove, once and for all, that happiness might indeed be bought, if one had piles and piles of money, oodles and oodles of cleverness, and an abiding devotion to the unnameable something, which we shall, giving the women the benefit of the doubt, call love.
"This will not be so easy," Comelia Susana said, arching one black eyebrow. "Mucho dinero," she added, arching the other.
"Sí," Katherine said. She squared her shoulders and narrowed her clear blue eyes at her maid. "Everything costs, doesn't it? Like the nannies, yes?"
"More than a dozen nannies," Comelia Susana said, narrowing her eyes back at Mrs. Orchard.
The baby, a little girl, cost twenty thousand dollars, which was eight thousand dollars more than a dozen El Salvadoran nannies. Although it was never spoken aloud, each woman, contributing from her own personal checking account, felt cheated, in her own personal way. Providing the idea, Gloria thought, should have been worthy of a significant discount. The
service of her maid, Katherine believed, should have counted against her balance due. The conception, so to speak, had occurred in her lovely Florida room, Vera noted, pondering her share of the investment. A sliding scale would have been far more reasonable, whispered Etta and Lucille (whose husbands were of slightly lower financial stature) as they commiserated with one another about the injustice. In the end, the outlay remained an equal split: four thousand each across the board.
Comelia Susana's cousin in El Salvador, Orlando Ortega, located the baby through his wife Mercedes Ortega and her busy-body network of clucking hens. Orlando's best friend Manuel De Luna, who owned a gun and was afraid of nothing, carried the cash which Comelia Susana had mailed to El Salvador wrapped in one of Katherine Orchard's fancy French dishtowels to a house made of mud, a house filled to brimming with the smell of overcooked habichuelas rosadas, and the buzzing soundtrack of a hundred flies. And full of niños, barefoot and brown, some crying, some smiling, some even giggling, the way babies will, no matter the circumstances.
The mother, Dinora Fuentes, was paid two thousand American dollars, more money than she had ever seen in her life or would ever see again, but which would never be enough to fill the hole in her heart left by her missing baby. The father of the child, another wide open space on the landscape of Dinora's heart, thankfully was gone, and thus, did not need his palm separately greased, as was often the case in these matters.
Comelia Susana had skimmed a thousand off the top for her trouble. Orlando Ortega kept five thousand as his finder's fee; Manuel De Luna also kept five. The rest of the money was paid in fees and expenses to a man known [only] as César, who took himself and the baby wrapped in Katherine's fine French dishtowel on three sweltering buses, then on an airplane from San Salvador to Atlanta, Georgia, where he was met by a group of rich-looking white ladies, around whose heads he watched as five angels danced merrily with el Diablo, himself.
The baby was brown and scrawny, and did not in any way resemble the sweet fresh rosebud that Gloria and the others had dreamed up that day in the Florida room. Despite these unseemly characteristics, Gloria, into whose possession the baby temporarily fell, named her Rose.
"She'll need some fattening up first," she explained to the other women, when they inquired about the wheres and hows of the gift delivery. Perhaps there would be a suprise cocktail party, or a pretty white box with a big pink satin bow, left on Irma's doorstep. They'd ring the bell and run like schoolgirls.
"She looks so…unwell," Vera remarked, frowning.
"We just need to fatten her up," Gloria repeated.
"Like a Christmas goose!" Etta and Lucille joked, and it was decided that they would wait until the baby was at least presentable, if not glowing with health and happiness.
In the meantime, Rose secretly lived in Randolph Hall's abandoned tool shed, which the women had smartly outfitted with a matching crib and bassinet set, painting the walls a pale shade of pink. Katherine kept the infant formula flowing while Vera bought toys and a lovely mobile made of wooden angels to hang above the baby's head. Etta provided curtains, hand-sewn of gauzy dotted swiss and Lucille stenciled a pattern of blooming roses around the room. The air-conditioned toolshed made a perfect nursery. Erecting it had been Phase One of Randolph's stress-reduction plan to become a suburban farmer spending the spare time from his work as an architect growing tomatoes, lettuce, corn, radishes, whatever struck his farmer's fancy. Phase Two would be the planting itself, Phase Three, the harvest, and a roadside stand on weekends, where he would sit proudly in a booth with a green and white striped awning, behind a table piled high with his plump juicy home-grown vegetables. Although Gloria had been skeptical, it did look good--the drawings of the shed and roadside stand, and the neat rows of plants mapped out in little squares of space on her husband's blue-lined graph paper. Randolph managed to
get the shed built, and some seeds into the ground. But in the end he hadn't the time, nor the energy, to reduce his stress in such a consuming and… well… stressful manner.
Nothing seemed to grow but weeds. Randolph spent hours every evening pulling at the troublesome crabgrass and relentless dandelions, cursing his bad luck. Finally, his knees raw, his back aching, and not one tomato to show for months of grueling labor, Randolph Hall hung his spade and hoe in the shed and closed the door on his high hopes for farming, allowing the weeds to resume their propriety.
Irma Easter's five friends had plenty of time and a new burst of combined energy that could possibly have moved a small mountain, but somehow could not make little Rose glow with either health or happiness. In fact, as summer turned to fall, instead of glowing, or growing, as the women had hoped, the baby Rose appeared to darken and shrink with each passing day. At first
they'd fought amongst themselves for the privilege of feeding and rocking her, like children fawning over a new sibling. Then, after several weeks passed, with no visible positive results, the privileges became chores, the chores, drudgery.
"This is terrible," Lucille said to Etta, one crisp afternoon as they sipped hot tea in Etta's kitchen. "What have we done?"
"We've done nothing more than fail at being good samaritans," Etta sighed.
"We should take her to a doctor," Lucile suggested.
"And how shall we explain this child's presence in our lives?" Gloria asked.
The women fell silent.
"It's hopeless," Gloria Hall finally declared, in another emergency meeting in the Florida room. "This poor thing must go back where it came from. Katherine, you'll speak to Comelia Susana won't you? Tell her we'd like a refund, at the very least, an exchange."
"All sales are final," Comelia Susana snapped when Katherine presented her request. "What did you think? This is your Neiman Marcos department store with a sale on bebés? This is not your Neiman Marcos department store."
"Marcus, Comelia, Marcus. But listen to me. This baby you've brought us isn't healthy; she's not happy," Katherine pleaded. "And neither are we."
"And maybe neither is her mamacita," Comelia said, although this was not her deepest concern. She had been troubled by gripping stomach cramps since the arrival of the child and suddenly saw an opportunity to remove the curse which she had fondly named el chancho que come el intestino, the pig eating my intestine. "So," she said. "I'll see what I can do."
Orlando Ortega was contacted once more, as were Mercedes' clucking hens and Manuel De Luna, who was dispatched to see if Dinora Fuentes would like to transform her sufrimiento into felicidad, by purchasing back her child, at a higher price, of course. But Dinora had disappeared without a trace. Her shame over what she had done had followed her around the Catholic neighborhood like an evil smell. "Tu dinero es mierda," the milkman told her, wrinkling his nose and refusing to sell. "Eres un Judas y tu dinero es corrompido con la
sangre de tu bebé," the butcher said, waving his hand down across his bloody apron and turning his back. "Es el dinero del Diablo," the sales girl at Tienda de Modas said with a huff. All of which, loosely translated, meant: take your filthy blood money somewhere else, lady. Dinora fled and left no forwarding address.
"I'm sorry,"Comelia Susana reported, clutching her stomach. "Lo que pasó ya pasó. What is done is done."
Rose faded steadily. At Gloria's suggestion, her formula was doubled, but the child simply belched it up into puddles of cheesy bile.
"Look at this," Vera said, delicately lifting one of the bony arms and shaking her head back and forth.
"Honestly," Etta sighed, "I think she may disappear into thin air."
"Like mother, like daughter," Lucille agreed.
The baby did not disappear. She did grow weaker and sicker and finally died. Gloria and the others buried her in the field next to the shed. Vera Vickson, the most beautiful and vain of the women, remained calm, tucking one of the wooden angels under the baby's little arm and wrapping her in a flannel blanket, but for the rest of her life she had difficulty sleeping, her nights troubled by dark dreams, her looks finally ruined by deep black circles beneath her eyes, circles that no amount of make up could hide. Katherine Orchard, the strongest among them, dug the hole, gasping for air with a sudden attack of [asthma, a disease] she had been rid of since childhood but which took up permanent residence in her aging body. Etta Ray and Lucille Fox, such a sweetly content pair, were content no more, crying bitterly forever after, silently into their pillows at night, and sometimes in unison when they were together.
Gloria Hall, whose selfishness had tricked her by masquerading as love, lowered the small bundle into the ground and felt a distinct stabbing in her chest, which she attributed to the indigestion of a rather rich salmon with cream sauce that she'd eaten for lunch earlier that day. But the sharp pain had nothing to do with salmon, or cream sauce; it was actually Phase
One of God's project to carve a large hole in Gloria's heart, a hole that would match exactly in diameter and depth the hole in Dinora Fuente's heart.
Irma Easter was awarded, as a generous gift from her five dearest friends, a course in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, from which she graduated with honors, but with no more happiness than when she'd started.
The following year, Randolph Hall retired from architecture and took up farming once more, remarking that the walls of his tool shed seemed whiter and cleaner than he ever remembered. Then, a few days after he'd first reentered the shed, the room began to glow with a dusky shade of pink and a pattern of blooming roses appeared from beneath the white paint. This Randolph took as a sign from the Lord Himself, that his barren fields would become fertile,
his harvest something other than weeds.
He located his old plans for the garden, with their rows of vegetables aligned and spaced on the graph paper, and his careful notations for watering and feeding penned below in his tidy architect's hand. Randolph even purchased a suburban farmer's miniature plow, the kind he could drive around his property, tilling the soil and mixing the weeds with the rocks and minerals, stirring the worms and grubs and various fertilizers with the unseen buried bones
of a small female child, all of it blending into a welcoming bed of rich moist earth.
When, by mid summer, the relentless weeds of years past had not returned, when the land began to yield tomatoes as plump and luscious as any he'd ever tasted, huge green heads of lettuce with crisp crunchy leaves, and stalks of sweet corn as tall as he was, Randolph knelt to the ground and thanked God for finally bestowing His blessing.
What perplexed him though, as the high yellow sun of summer gave way to the warm golden tones of fall, was his wife Gloria's steadfast refusal to partake of the fruits of his labor, and her increasing insistence upon sitting alone for long hours in their darkened house. While Randolph's plants prospered, thriving under his tender care, his own wife, under the same tender care, sat on the sofa, or the bed, or at the kitchen table, wilting and shrinking
into old age, as if life itself were one of her shadowy rooms, its window shades drawn low against the merciless light of day.
Jodi Bloom lives in Takoma Park, DC, and is co-owner of a graphic design and Mac consulting studio. Her fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Washington Review, Spelunker Flophouse, Happy, Wordwrights!, and membrane, among others. A chapbook, Brain Freeze & Other Stories, was published in 1996, and a limited number are being offered free for an email. Send request with snailmail address to email@example.com.
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