Nursing the baby had not come easily to Sheila. Chloe was born late, yet Sheila’s milk dribbled in. Other mothers in the “Mommy and Me” group would just lift or slide and the baby would latch, suck. When baby Chloe did latch, she chomped. Maybe too many days of no real nutrition made her ornery. Sheila had no sense of the days or when her baby had eaten. Or when either of them had slept.
A florescent purple flash from the refrigerator door scratched Sheila’s bloodshot eye… there must be some cheese inside — cheddar or pepper jack. Crap. Only moldy shredded parmesan. The purple flash on the closing door now shook Sheila’s head. She froze. A “Barney the Dinosaur” 1-year-old birthday party for her sister’s son was the next day at the Green Hills Mall food court. “Who the hell has a birthday party at a food court,” Sheila screamed, crumbled on the linoleum floor, her plaid flannel pajama pants hanging under her belly.
She should had listened to the warnings: “It is hard enough to have a child when you have a partner, but raising one on your own…”
That night Chloe snuggled next to Sheila, ate only twice and without gums. If Sheila went to the birthday party, she could eat and maybe Chloe would nap in the butterfly-decorated stroller she had borrowed from a neighbor.
They arrived at 12:15, only 15 minutes late, but the food court was already full of crawling, toddling, drooling, mostly hairless children. Fathers, armed with Nikon video cameras, were posed to get film of their children playing with the man impersonating a fat purple dinosaur.
Sheila now understood why her sister would have a party at a food court. Kids could run wild while their moms and dads socialized, mostly comparing developmental statistics.
Chloe was calm and oblivious to the noise and the competition; her glazed eyes ostensibly conjuring butterflies. Sheila ate pizza off of a purple plastic plate, drank punch and flirted a bit. Chloe stirred; Sheila bent to her level.
“Duck,” screamed a toddler’s father.
A purple, splintered commotion shot from Barney’s direction. His oversized hand gave way to a revolver peeking out from his stuffed belly. A bullet struck Sheila in the left chest. Breast milk sprang out. She collapsed. “Take … take care of Chloe,” she pleaded to her sister. “You’re a natural at this.”
Kristen Henderson is a former journalist whose work was published in the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. Recently, she developed a passion for flash and short fiction, and her pieces have appeared in the Drabble, Limit Experience Journal, the 101 Word Story Journal, amongst others.