Written by: Personalias
Dante sat in the stroller, eyes blank. Time and feeling had decided to take a backseat yet again. His intellect though was already playing catch up. It all made sense, now: The baby instinctively reaching for Lysa’s breasts, Lysa’s death glare at the wet nurse, Jamal’s crack about maternal instinct. Lysa saying she would never lactate, get pregnant or have her period AGAIN. God, how could he have been so naïve? (To be fair, he thought the AGAIN only applied to her period.)
Even the Judy’s insistence on Caroline being Lysa’s baby “sister”, made some sense. The Judy’s were determined to baby everyone, and no matter what the figure of speech was, babies simply couldn‘t have babies. That just wouldn’t go with their methods or programming or whatever it was that made them do what they do. So instead, the Judy’s created a lie, and Lysa went along with it. But why?
“Lysa,” Dante said, feeling an ache as his emotions thought to creep in. “why the hell did you lie to me about who Caroline was?” Lysa looked deep into Dante’s eyes, her pigtails framing her face. Her tough façade melted, and she became softer. Her lip quivered a little.
“I was scared to tell you,” she said. “I thought you would judge me. That you’d condemn me as some whore who got knocked up and not listen to what I have to say.”
“Really?” Dante asked.
“Really.” Lysa said. “I told Dori the truth about me, and she completely turned her back on me. She thought, she was better than me. She ignored everything I had to tell her; everything that Jorge had taught me before he finally ran for it.
“Without me, or anyone else, she slipped away. First she started wetting and not realizing it, then she started baby babbling. Then one day she went to sleep, and when she woke up, she was pretty much like you know her now. She’s a lot nicer to hang out with now, but I still miss the real her, even if she was a bit of a bitch.”
Dante couldn’t imagine Midori as anything other than a babbling kidfant. Had Midori once been a regular girl? A raver maybe, or a bit of a know-it-all catty bitch? The Midori he knew was such a simple creature. All she was concerned with was attention, affection, and what she could and could not put in her mouth. Little things like who you were before she knew you or what was going on in her underwear didn’t matter to her.
“I didn’t want that to happen to you, and it was still the first day,” Lysa told him, “so I lied to make things simpler.”
“Simpler?” Dante asked. “What do you mean?”
Lysa’s eyes remained sincere; honest. Her jaw set. “If I had told you that my parents had given me up for adoption when I was little, because they couldn’t afford me, AND that I was an unwed teenage mother, AND that my foster father and foster mother were the ones that were arguing that night…about me and my daughter. Would you have believed me?”
“Yeah…” Dante said. Lysa pinched his cheek a little bit and gave her sad smile as they were rolled back into the Limbo nursery. It was just after nap time, and so the nursery was opened up into a free for all; toys and babies scattered all over the place.
“Well then,” she said. “That means you’re either a horrible liar, or a really swell guy, Dante.” Her eyes darted down, the sad smile still on her face. She was glowing, really. Well, not literally…but…skip it. As soon as she was unbuckled from the stroller, she leaned over and gave Dante a peck on the cheek. Awesome.
He was about to reciprocate when the Judy lifted him out of the stroller and shifted him over to his hip; the front of his diaper squishing as she moved him. Oh yeah. That. Lysa was helped out of the stroller, and crawled away to go play. Dante was carried over to a nearby changing table and was laid on it.
As the Judy undid the tapes, Dante buzzed at having just been kissed. It wasn’t much of a kiss, just a peck on the cheek, really. Still, it felt amazing. With him figuring out how to use the potty today, and then feeling Lysa’s soft lips on his cheek today might be the best –
“Looks like someone likes having their diaper changed!” the Judy noted Dante’s growing erection at the thought of his playmate. Dante grimaced slightly at that comment, made worse by the cold wipes beings dragged across his groin. He was aroused because a girl that he liked had kissed him, not because he had peed his Pampers! (Wait, these weren’t Pampers. Not Huggies either. No diaper brand really looked like these things. Cherubs? Angel’s Choice? Cushies? Naw. Who would name a diaper brand that?)
“Wow, Dante,” the angel went on, “we made it just in time, bubba. You were THIS close to leaking.” She finished wiping Dante, balled up the used diaper (Bambino? Cuddlez? Comfies? Oh Skip it! A baby diaper is a baby diaper), and threw it in a nearby trashcan. “You must be dehydrated, mister.”
Hold on. Dante could have sworn that not twenty minutes ago, Judy had proclaimed Dante only “a little wet.” Had Dante really wet his diaper even more since he was checked? He hadn’t even noticed. Was everything he gained while around his grandparents leaving him already? He took his thumb out of his mouth when the Judy offered him up a bottle of apple juice. (When the hell did he stick his thumb in his mouth?!)
He sucked down the apple juice as his bum was lowered onto a fresh diaper. How do you use the potty? Remember. Remember. First you need to- his stream of thought was interrupted by another stream coming out of him. “Whoopsie!” the Judy giggled as she quickly and deftly yanked the diaper up to block the air born urine. Most of it was soaked up by the diaper. Just a little got on the changing table and the floor. None of it, of course, got on the Judy.
Dante giggled, then gurgled a bit around the nipple of his ba-ba. He was drinking juice-juice and going pee-pee at the same time. That felt good. And Mama Judy was so silly! She was making those faces at him while she held the front of the diaper down to cover him up. “Geez, Dante”, Mama Judy smiled sweetly down at him. “you could give me a little warning next time.” Dante smiled up at her. “You couldn’t have done that earlier? Or at least wait till I had the diaper all the way up? Oh well,” she smirked, peeling the sodden garment back, “here we go again.”
Something was wrong. Dante shook himself awake and yanked the bottle from his lips. He wasn’t even drinking milk, and was acting like a complete idiot. Going pee-pee while drinking a ba-ba…fuck…urinating while drinking, was something Midori would do, not Dante. He wasn’t even paralyzed on the changing table, he realized. He had had almost total motor control while the Judy was changing him. It seemed anytime he let his mind wander, babyish thoughts and tendencies came right in and made themselves at home in his brain. He might have had a brief respite by the gates of Heaven, but back in Limbo, he was still making negative progress.
The Judy finished changing him for the second time in a row, and sat him down on the floor. Dante quickly crawled over to a corner to sulk in peace. He didn’t want Lysa, or anyone seeing him like this. The fact that he was dressed like Tommy Pickles, and had no way to hide his diaper made him feel more self-conscious after what had just happened. If he had been wearing shortalls or even a onesie, he could have maintained some form of dignity. Instead, all he had on was a T-shirt that came down to his belly-button, and a bulky diaper on full display between his legs.
Speaking of which, the bulk between his legs seemed a little, well, bulkier. Was he wearing a thicker diaper? Were they padding him up because of his extra wetting? Or worse yet- Dante remembered something about newborn diapers being relatively bulkier- were they getting him ready for the…DON’T. EVEN. THINK. ABOUT. IT.
Dante poked at his crotch and experimentally tried to bring his legs together. All the same. No difference. Just his imagination. The extra puffiness was just in his head. Jamal Adams crawled up to his corner of solitude. As always, Jamal wore his usual asshole smile, as well as a white t-shirt and denim shortalls. (Son of a bitch). You could barely see where the diaper was unless you knew what to look for.
“Heeeeey buddy,” Jamal said, all teeth, not even trying to conceal his insincerity. “Hoooow-ya-doin?” he sang.
“Fuck off, dude. I’m in no mood.” Dante tensed, “I know what just happened by the changing table, alright. You can go around making fun of me. Just leave me alone.”
“For the record, kid,” Jamal replied, “it’s not like everyone just stops and watches every time the Judy’s gather ’round you so they can see you humiliate yourself.” he paused. “But yes, I did see it, and likely so did most of the playroom the way you two were carrying on. Her all cheery and giggly that you were pissing into the wind, and you acting like you…that is to say, a freakshow baby.”
Dante just stared at him. It would be so totally worth it to punch him in the face. Right now. One swing.
“Anyway,” Jamal went on, ignoring Dante’s death glare, “I just thought I take my time to say my goodbyes.”
“Where are you going?” Dante asked. Shit. He just walked into that one.
“I’m not going anywhere, kid.” Jamal answered, “It’s you.” (Told ya.) When a kid starts acting like well, how YOU were just a minute ago without the aid of angel milk, that means their getting close to the threshold.” Dante was confu-
“And before you cock an eyebrow and go ‘Threshold?’,” Jamal interrupted Dante’s train of thought, “let me break it down for ya. You‘re close to crossing the line, kid, that point of no return. A few more awkward steps, and everything that you are takes a permanent vacation, and everything that you were circa- I‘m guessing 1995?- takes up residence. Nice knowin‘ ya kid.”
Dante bit his lip. He wanted to argue, but he couldn’t right then. He just couldn’t. Jamal tilted his head, and an emotion that might have been sympathy crossed his face.
“Well this isn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be,” he said. He sat against a wall so that he was more or less sitting beside Dante instead of in front of him. “Look kid,” Jamal said, dropping his arm around Dante all chummy-like, “if it makes you feel any better, it’s not really your fault. You never really stood a chance.” Dante didn’t reply or ask. He just listened.
“I’m guessing you had a relatively normal and stable life, am I right? Sure I am.” Jamal went on, not waiting for Dante to respond. “Your parents loved you, you loved them, all that good stuff. Kids like you? You don’t last here in this place. You just don’t. You have all of these happy, fuzzy memories of child hood. That way, it’s easier to slip back into those old roles. You secretly want to, even if you don’t want to admit it.” He took his arm away.
“Me and the rest of us who survive here- not so much. None of us had it good back then, so we keep our sanity now. Take Kevin over there.” he pointed to Kevin, the play-doh kid. “Kevin died of AIDS, before they even really knew what AIDS was. Bad blood transfusion or something.
“He was so angry with life that he got kicked out of 3 different schools for fighting. Funny thing is, everyone was so scared of catching his AIDS, that nobody ever fought back; they didn’t want to make him bleed. He told me once that he started making the play-doh people when he was a kid to use them like voo-doo dolls on the kids he picked fights with.
“Vivian,” Jamal pointed to her who was even now making an exquisite piece of art using nothing but finger paint and construction paper, “is a genius. But she has a rare mental disorder that makes it impossible for her to differentiate the passage of time. If you pissed her off once a year ago, all of those feelings, all that anger, that hurt, is just as fresh to her now as if you had just insulted her today. Even I don’t mess with her. I hear the painting helps with that though. Meh.”
“You know what little Dori was?” Jamal asked rhetorically. “A schoolgirl. An average school girl that had the bad luck to get hit by a drunk driver. But she’s all better now. And soon you will be, too.” Midori was busy rolling on the floor and giggling at the top of her lungs.
“And what about you?” Dante asked. “What’s your story?”
“I’d tell you kid.” Jamal answered, “But seeing as how you just got changed into a fresh one, I’d hate to ruin it by telling you. Besides, you forgot to ask about your little Lysa.” Dante’s eyes narrowed. “I saw the kiss. Good huh? That kiss means that she has you wrapped around her finger. Did she tell you that you were a swell guy? She loves that line.”. Dante wanted to tell Jamal where he could stick it. He wanted to punch Jamal’s teeth down his throat, but something made him stay silent and still.
“Lysa’s the oldest kid still sane in this place.” Jamal whispered, “She’s a true survivor. Fuck, she might be my role model if she wasn’t a sociopath and a compulsive liar.” He shot Dante a smile. It wasn’t friendly. “She tell you one about how her dad killed her little sister, then she killed him and offed herself in grief?”
“It was her daughter, and her foster father.” Dante growled.
“Oh, so you already caught her in that first lie, eh?” Jamal hissed. “That’s her favorite. You must have had her cornered for her to whip out her backup. If you call her on that one, she does a one-eighty and is the hooker with the heart of gold. You really think she killed herself?”
“She did kill herself,” Dante insisted.
“Wake up kid!” Jamal practically shouted. Then backed down to a whisper. “Suicides don’t last here. They don’t make it a month, yet alone close to sixty years. Self-haters didn’t have the will to go on in the first life. Why would they persevere in the after-life? Besides, she keeps fucking one big thing up.” He shuffled around so that he was looking Dante straight in the eye.
“When she told you that story? Did she say she cut her wrists like this?” He dragged his fingers across his wrist, just like Lysa had. Dante nodded. “Where have you been dude?” Jamal said. “Everybody knows, that for wrist slitting it’s go ‘down-the-lane’ not ‘across-the-street‘”. He mimed slitting his own wrist downward. “It’s like she almost wants to get caught.”
He was right. How had that slipped by him? “How do you know all this?” Dante asked.
“Because, kid.” Jamal looked Dante straight in the eye. “Once upon a time, I was you. When I first got here, they put me in that playpen with Lysa and Midori and I heard the same lies that you’ve heard. About keeping control, accepting it, not thinking of escape, fighting it by not fighting. Sound familiar?” Dante must have nodded with his eyes if not with his head.
“Yeah, I thought so.” Jamal nodded. “New fish always get brought to Lysa, especially the fighters. Because she cracks them. By the time she’s done with them, they‘re nothing more than Dori over there. She destroys your sense of self better than the Judy’s ever could just by babying you.
“I don’t know if she’s a screw up, or plays the Judy’s game so that they go easy on her, or what. Truth is, I don’t care. But Lysa gets respected around here because she’s the litmus test that determines whether or not you keep your shit together in here.”
“Wanna know how I passed?” Jamal asked, grinning wickedly. Dante shook his head. Jamal answered anyway. “I beat the shit out of her. When I realized what she was doing to me; that I was becoming more infant than man, I knew I had to break ties with her. Had to get her voice out of my head. So I beat her. Badly.” Dante’s eyes went wide. The lump in his throat expanded. He started to sweat.
“I won’t go into the details, but it was pretty fucked up.” Jamal grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “Good thing nobody can actually die here, and the Judy’s can kiss it all better in an instant. But the real finishing touch? I bit off her ear and swallowed it. She got it back, eventually. Best change I ever had. Heheh, why do you think Lysa trained Midori to be her attack dog?” There was silence for a few minutes. Jamal, a cat staring at Dante as if he were a piece of meat. Dante, a mouse hearing about salvation from the Devil.
“Then what happened?” Dante finally asked.
Jamal’s face softened, his grin becoming a thin smile. “I got my freedom. The Judy’s whooped up on me. Put me in time out and did some extra punishments, but it all went uphill from there, friend. They decided me and Lysa should be separated; so I was assigned to a new playgroup. Now sure why I’m telling you all this. Just, you know…food for thought.” If it was possible to swagger and crawl at the same time, Jamal would have just done it.
Dante sat there. Stunned. Amazed. Disbelieving. He didn’t want to believe. But too much of it made sense. He brought his knees up to his chest and hugged them hard, as if they were his anchor to reality. He buried his face and closed his eyes, trying to shut out his senses. Maybe he fell asleep. When next he knew, Lysa was sitting next to him.
“You okay, Dante?” she asked. Dante just looked at her. His vision blurry, his eyes glassy. Had he been crying? He couldn’t remember?
“Why did you lie to me?” he whispered. Lysa brushed his almost too shaggy hair out of his face and looked him in the eyes.
“Sweetie, I already told you. It was the first day.”
“I meant today,” Dante pressed. Lysa looked confused. Hurt even. Was Jamal the one who was manipulating him? Had he fallen for some cruel practical joke? No. “You didn’t kill yourself. You cut your wrists the wrong way for you to bleed out.” Lysa shook her head, spasmed really.
“No, I said I slashed them left to right, not up to”
“It’s up to down to bleed out.” Dante growled. She HAD lied to him. She didn’t know the first thing about what she was speaking of.
“Oh,” Lysa paused. “Then it must have been the gunshot-”
“The gunshot?” Dante interrupted. “The one that killed your father?”
“It backfired on me when I went to shoot my dad again. I was dying anyways, so I slit my wrists to speed the process up. Make it less painful, you know.”
“You just told me this afternoon, that it was your foster father that you killed. That’s why your real parents were in Heaven.” Lysa’s jaw dropped. He had her trapped. He had her trapped and he hated it. Lysa bit her lip and bowed her head.
“Fine, you want the truth? Here’s the truth: I’m a royal fuckup. Just like you. My parents loved me, and gave me everything I ever wanted. Then I went and got pregnant.” Lysa looked up. Tears were flowing down her cheeks.
“I was lucky. I didn’t start showing till about six months. By then, everyone in school knew it, but my parents were clueless. It was…a different time then.” She wiped away here tears as more came seemingly unbidden.
“I was too ashamed to tell my parents, so I ran away. I lived on the streets doing…things…things I’m not proud of.” The phrase “hooker with the heart of gold” echoed in Dante’s mind. “I didn’t live well, but I lived. You’d be surprised,” she sniffed, “there’s a demand and a market for everything, even underage pregnant…” she sobbed a little, not finishing her sentence.
“I died giving birth to Caroline out on the streets. No hospital would take me. I never even got to feed her.” she cried. “And now we’re here. Forever. Because of me she never even got to have a life!”
Dante deadened himself inside. This was just too tragic to be true. He fought every compassionate instinct, every impulse to hold her and tell her it was okay. “You expect me to believe that story?” he managed to choke out.
“It’s the truth,” she whispered. “I swear. The only thing my parents ever did to me was let me choose whether or not I got baptized.” Either she was telling the truth, or she was a brilliant liar. No. Nononono. Fuck her. She lied to him She was probably lying now.
She must have sensed this. “You wanna know what my real anchor is, Dante?” she said wiping her nose on her sleeve, her face beet red. “Guilt. I’m the biggest screw-up in Limbo. Not only did I trap my daughter here, but almost every single person I’ve tried to help has ended up like Dori. I don’t deserve to check out mentally or escape. I don’t deserve to let go of that guilt.
“I tell those stories and lies about myself to try and help people. No one wants help from the screw-up. You feel sorry for the screw-up, but you never rely on them. Even if a screw-up is saying the exact thing you need to know and hear, you’re gonna ignore them. I didn’t want you to think I was a screw-up Dante. I wanted to help you. And now that I know you, I don’t want to lose you!”
She was baring her soul to him. But all Dante could feel right now was resentment, anger, rage. She had manipulated him so that she could feel better about herself. That no good little bitch. He had almost fallen in love with her, and all he was to her was a pet project to improve her track record. “Say something, Dante” she whispered, “please talk to me. I- I’m sorry. I…I…I…I lo-”
“- And you’re going to fail me too so you can have more guilt to hang onto? Is that it?! I’m part of your pity party?!” Dante couldn’t let her finish that sentence. He’d have been trapped forever if she had finished that sentence. Lysa just shook her head. She was biting her lip so hard, a bit of blood trickled out. “You gonna keep telling me lies? Distract me till I end up like Dori? That way you can teach me pet tricks so I’ll bite and cry on command too?!”
Lysa pleaded with him. “That’s not it at all! Please….just listen to m-”
“FUCK YOU!” Dante roared, “YOU DON’T GET TO BE THE VICTIM HERE. YOU AREN’T THE VICTIM! YOU NEVER WERE! YOU’RE JUST A STUPID SPOILED WHOR-”
Lysa’s hand came right across Dante’s face. The whole play area stopped. Silent. Everyone was looking at them. There was no covering it up this time. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jamal, smiling, giving him the thumbs up. Now was the time. It was now or never.
Dante reared back his hand, clenching it into a fist. Lysa shrunk back. “You talked to Jamal,” she whispered, her voice quavering with fear.” Dante clenched his fist, and closed his eyes, and swung. His aim hit true.
Dante Willis broke his own nose as he punched himself in the face. He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t bring himself to hit her, even after the truth came out. He hated her right now. Hated her lies, her meddling, her stupid fucking pigtails. Note amended: FUCK. HER. But he couldn’t bring himself to strike her. It was wrong. He was not Jamal Adams and he never would be, even if meant he was doomed to become a baby.
Blood gushed from his nose and his vision flooded with saline. Lyrics danced around his brain as he continued to brutalize himself. “I wanna put my tender, heart in a blender, watch it spin around to a beautiful oblivion. Rendezvous then I’m through with you.” Great. Just great. Here he flipping out, and the best his brain could manage was Eve 6. Lysa just staid there, crying, pulling on her pigtails as she curled up in a fetal position; reliving a past trauma she had suffered.
Judy’s rushed to Dante. They kissed his nose and it healed. Even the blood was instantly gone. He didn’t care. He kept crying. They checked his diaper and found him dry. He kept crying. They blew raspberries on his tummy. He giggled for two seconds as a wave of happiness surged through him, and then cried harder.
They were forced to treat him like any mother without super powers would. All they could do was just take turns holding him, and try to comfort him with their presence and touch. He let them. He didn’t put up a fight. If he cried loud enough, the mommies would pay more attention to him, and he needed attention right now. At least the Judy’s were honest in their intentions. You knew what to expect from them.
Dante Willis cried all through dinner, all through bath time, and eventually bawled himself to sleep. He didn’t know whether his tears were that of a whining child or of a heart-broken man. And that was what scared him the most.