Written by: Personalias
It had been Valentine’s Day when she had become a woman. She was 15 and the wait had been well worth while. Robbie had taken her out to dinner, and a movie. He had been a gentleman the whole night. After the movie, he took her out to lovers’ lane. He lowered the roof of his convertible so that they could see the stars.
It hadn’t snowed that night, so the sky was clear. It was so still cold though, so they cuddled up close together. One thing led to another (doesn’t it always), and he started kissing her neck. Everything tingled. Everything. She felt his hands, his gentle touch as he nibbled on her ear. She melted for him. He could have asked for the world, and she would have given it to him. All he had asked was for her to get into the back seat with him and turn him into a man.
She was saving herself for marriage. That’s what she told her parents, and all of her friends at school. But right then, she didn’t care. She was going to marry Robbie Simmons anyway, so it didn’t matter when they consummated their love. She was invincible.
She didn’t know then that months later Robbie would bail on her as soon as she told him what he had done to her. Deny the whole thing. Call her a whore and a slut. So she said the only word she could thing of. “Yes.”
Robbie scooped her up in his arms, and carried her out of the front seat, like a groom carrying his bride across the threshold. Then with a playful growl, he plopped her down in the backseat, hiked up her poodle skirt, and ripped her wet panties off of her so he could go to work.
Nearly 60 years later, it was still not lost on Lysa Strata that it was that one moment that changed the direction of her life, and after life. She had taken her first steps to claim her womanhood by letting someone hike up her skirt and remove her soiled undergarments so he could go to work. Now the same thing happened to her every day. Now though, her skirts were shorter and her panties were thicker; and nine out of ten times it was a different type of wetness between her legs.
Lysa had had many things in life and death. Beauty, energy, guts, determination, intuition, even brains. Judgment had never been her strong suit though. Her judgment was how she had ended up getting pregnant, running away from home, and dying on the street failing to birth her baby. Her inability to make good decisions was about to cost her again, dearly. This time, it would hurt someone else, too.
When Dante had first come in, she put on the tough girl act, the Rosie the Riveter. If this guy was going to turn out to be another Jamal then she was going to make sure he was afraid of her and listened to what she had to say.
Goddamn Jamal! This was his fault as much as hers. If anyone in Limbo deserved to be relocated to Hell, it was him. If one of the conditions of Limbo wasn’t forgetting how to dress and undress, Jamal would have raped her. Lysa had never been so glad to be diapered as she had on that day.
So she wove her little stories, leaving just enough truth in them, emotionally speaking, to resonate as fact. She resented her parents, perhaps unjustly so, so she made them the incompetents and villains. The Judy’s had insisted that Caroline was her sister for so long, that that lie was pie. And if she had had the courage to kill herself that day, she would have. Instead God did it for her. Lysa was tough, a survivor, and this new fish was going to know it.
But then, in the course of a day, something happened. He got with the program, and actually treated her like a person. Certainly not like Midori back in her prime. And the way he looked at her in the tub that first night: It was like how Robbie looked at her when they first started going steady and he offered her his ring. After she put out, Robbie never looked at her that way again.
She was going to tell him the truth the next morning, but then Dante came and told her about that dream of his. The same way she had run to Jorge after her first night in Limbo. He didn’t want a girl. He wanted a big sister. But he kept looking at her like that. The only reason he respected her was because of the shock and awe she gave him that first day. So she continued to Rosie it up for him. More bad judgment.
Then that snake in the grass got in Dante’s ears and told him just enough to unravel everything. Now she was just Lysa again. Lysa the failure. Lysa the screw-up. Lysa the Liar. She had almost gotten used to that title. It was appropriate to how she survived.
Dante avoided her the next day, even when they were put in the playpen together. He wouldn’t talk to her, wouldn’t look at her. Wouldn’t even acknowledge her presence. Lysa had slapped him once, to get his attention. He just glared at her and started crying his head off. That had earned her a five minute time out. Not worth it.
The other survivors weren’t treating Dante well, though. They had witnessed the break down where he beat himself in the face. They had heard his wailing carry on through the night. They knew. Word was out: Dante was damaged goods. They gave him the same treatment that he had given her. Idiots. Like they didn’t have issues of their own. It’s not like they’d catch it.
Worse yet, they gave her the cold shoulder, too. Jamal had acted fast and pointed out how Lysa the Liar‘s plans were backfiring on her again as she laid crying in the fetal position. Monster. Of course he was glossing over why she reacted by retreating back into herself. Son of a bitch was trying to go for a double play and get both of them to crack. Good luck fucker. She wasn’t much of a teacher, but she had been a great student.
The next day, Lysa had managed to sharpen a crayon to a decent point with her teeth and then jam it into Jamal’s eye before he could react. That got her another spanking and an all day time out. That wasn’t good for Dante. Isolation only sped the process up.
Dante was slipping: She had seen the signs. First he started wetting and messing himself without realizing it. Then his emotions got harder to control and he became subject to mood swings. The cry fest was only the beginning of that. If something wasn’t just right for Dante, his lip would start quivering. Left unattended, he’d whimper and eventually all out cry till a Judy came to check on him. Then they’d feed him, or change him, or tickle him, or give him a new toy- he started playing with the toys a few days ago-, and Dante would be back to himself again. Lysa had gotten a front row seat to one of those incidents while she was perched on the naughty stool the next day.
Vivian was seeing it too, but she didn’t interfere; she just went back to her paints. Selfish bitch. Why was Lysa the only one in this place that looked out for someone by herself. Then again Vivian might not realize that it hadn’t always been this way, poor girl. What was Kevin’s excuse though? AIDS as far as she knew didn’t make you forgetful or stupid. Every survivor, had at least one big baby in their care group anyways. It’s not like they didn’t know what was happening, either. Did they really think they’d catch whatever was making Dante regress?
Next came the oral fixation. Dante put everything in his mouth that he could get his hands on. The Judy’s safety-pinned a pacifier and a ribbon to his shirt so that he’d always have something to suck on. Most of the time, that kept Dante calm. Most of the time.
Then came the baby talk. Not quite gibberish, but people seemed to develop cute little speech impediment as their personalities slid backwards . Dante was no exception. “Pwease tawk to me, guys! Pwease! He had begged as he crawled after a group of survivors like a lost puppy, looking for a home. Complete and utter assholes.
After that, starting yesterday, came the echolalia. As the prisoners approached the threshold of no return, they started losing words, and so just mimicked other people and used their words instead. “Uh-oooh! Wooks wike someone had a’ accident.” Dante said as a Judy checked his diaper. “Time foh a change.” It was bad enough he was turning into a parrot; but the intonation was all wrong too. He didn’t understand everything he was saying, but got the gist and delivered it as best he could, kind of like a bad Shakespearean actor.
Then came the loss of speech completely; and soon after, came the big sleep. They’d go to sleep, and when they woke up, they were a baby. Midori had actually made it till her bedtime, staying awake through naps before she disappeared forever and was replaced by big, stupid, goofy, loveable Dori.
Even with all of this, Dante stubbornly refused to talk to Lysa. It was like his pride wouldn’t let him. He’d rather sink into oblivion than accept her help, her meddling. Had Lysa hurt him that bad? Was what she was doing really all that wrong? What were a few white lies between friends? So what if she lied about who she was and how she got into this little corner of the after-life? It’s not like she had lied or sugar coated the other stuff.
Then again, she realized, how did he know that? Maybe she had a little growing up to do.
It had taken a total of two weeks after the massive public breakdown for Dante to get this far. That made it about a month, since Dante had arrived, the cutoff point for most new fish. The three other big babies that shared mealtimes with Lysa, Midori, and Dante had already crossed the threshold. They were ahead of schedule. They must’ve been suicides. Now they were some of Midori’s best friends, giggling and rolling around on the floor with her. They fit right in.
But it wasn’t playtime right now. It was just after breakfast, and the milk was wearing off. Dante, Lysa, and Midori were all in their giant playpen together. Ironically, or rather, appropriately, they were all dressed the same as the day they had met. Midori in her pink shirt with bows in her hair, sucking on her paci and playing with some blocks that their Judy had tossed into the pen. Lysa was in her too short baby dress, her hair up in stupid pigtails. Dante was in his baby blue onesie.
Instead of asking questions though, Dante was just staring out through the mesh of the playpen. What was he doing? What was he thinking? Was he even fighting it? Had he just given up. Lysa had to meddle. She had to set things right. Somehow.
She crawled up to Dante. As if sensing her presence he tensed slightly. If he had hairs on the back of his neck, they would be standing at attention, his body language read. Good. He hated her. That meant he was still inside there; she had something to work with.
“Dante?” she said. Trying to get his attention. “Dante?”
“Dante?” he echoed back. He didn’t turn around.
Lysa looked up to the ceiling. “Please, Lord,” she whispered, not daring to finish the thought. She shouldn’t pray, here, right now. If everything was to be believed, what she wanted was going against the divine plan. No point in asking the Big Guy upstairs to sabotage his own workshop.
“Dante, please turn around.” she said. It was more of a request. The kid needed kid gloves right now. Rosie the Riveter would just drive him away. Dante, looked over her shoulder, and slowly.
“Tuhn awound.” Dante growled back at her. As far as Lysa could tell, Dante was only echoing now. He was close to the threshold; too close. She’d never forgive herself if she didn’t try, though.
“Dante, I’m sorry.” she plead. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t want you to end up like this. I didn’t want US to end up like this. I’m so sorry.”
“I huwt you,” was all he said back. Lysa didn’t know if she should take that as a threat or an angry agreement. Even now on the brink, he wouldn’t actually listen to her. How infuriating could you get? Here she was still trying to help him, and even in his own limited way, he defied her. This must have been how Frankenstein’s Monster felt towards his creator: Angry and bitter, and driven to spite Victor Frankenstein for the lot in life it had inherited. But why did Lysa feel like she was the monster, right now?
“Damn it Dante! Stop copying me and talk to me! TALK. TO. ME. You’re not some dumb baby, now prove it!” Lysa ripped out her ribbons and undid her pigtails. She always did that when she was stressed. This was the top of the list.
“Damn it blabble abble abble abble ubble mama goo!” Dante shot back. His eyes widened with surprise and he clapped his hand over his own mouth . Baby babble. The last stage before the end. That had woken him up.
“No!” Dante yelled, “nabba gabba gabba!” His face turning red from frustration, his hair getting mussed as he pulled on it in frustration. “Frug ug ug ug ug, moogoo!” He slapped the mat for emphasis. In a fit he threw himself on the floor. The Judy did not come though. She just stayed in her rocking chair, peering into the playpen and watched intently.
SHE KNEW. IT WAS COMING AND SHE KNEW.
Dante screamed, and cried, and bawled. But all that came out was baby babble. A look of certainty and horror crossed Dante‘s face. The end was coming. He knew it too. He rolled on the ground and kicked his feet to try and fight it off, but there was no stopping it. The death of his adulthood was imminent.
It reminded Lysa of the scene from Pinocchio where the bad little boy was turning into a donkey. Nothing short of the blue fairy would be able to stop it or reverse it at that point. She hung her head in shame. She had lost again. Another playmate of hers would regress all the way and leave her alone. She had failed Dante. All she could do now was comfort him till the end.
She held open her arms wide for a hug. “I’m so sorry, Dante.” she whispered. Dante crawled over and accepted her hug. He whimpered in her ear, scared. Terrified really. And who could blame him? Not Lysa. “I know. I know. Midori went through the same thing. I was there for her,” she lied. “Now, I’m here for you.”
His whimpering quieted as she stroked his hair and rubbed his back. Dante’s adult mind was dying; going to sleep forever. Time for her to accept it and brace herself. The world blacked out around them. Time lost meaning. Lysa was vaguely aware of the Judy coming into the pen and then carrying Midori out. Maybe the angels did have a little mercy in them. She was being allowed to be alone with Dante in his final sentient moments.
Dante pulled back. His eyes looked tired, and scared. He was exhausted. The sleep was coming. Not bothering to babble, Dante pleaded to her with his eyes. All Lysa could do was shake her head. “I’m sorry Dante. There’s nothing I can do now.” She breathed in sharply and held her breath to keep from sobbing.
She adjusted herself, so that she was sitting on her heels. She guided Dante’s head onto her lap and laid it there. Lysa caressed his brow as he looked up at her. Time to give Dante a proper sendoff, to sing him a lullaby for the big sleep. But not a child’s lullaby. He didn’t deserve that indignity.
Lysa had never heard of his favorite song before he had told her. And “You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated” didn‘t really sound appropriate. But she didn’t really know any appropriate songs. Then like a boulder, it hit her. She’d sing him her favorite song. Not just her favorite song…but a song about her. She might not have written it, but it fit. The last thing Dante, the real Dante would hear, would be Lysa’s song.
“Do you like songs, Dante?” Dante meekly nodded up at her. Somehow, he knew what was coming too. Or maybe Lysa the Liar was lying to herself to make herself feel better. She sang for him.
“Say it’s only a paper moon,
Hanging under a cardboard sea.
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me.”
She sniffled a little. His eyelids were starting to droop. She went on.
“Yes, it’s only a canvas sky,
Hangin’ under a muslin tree.
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me.”
Getting there. She could see him smile faintly as his eyes closed and her vision blurred.
“Without your love,
It’s a honky-tonk parade.
Without your love,
It’s a melody played in a penny arcade.”
His breathing was slowing.
“It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,
Just as phony as it can be.
But it wouldn’t be make-believe-
Her voice caught in her throat. Dante lay in her lap, sleeping peacefully. Good-bye Dante. Lysa looked up to the sky, hoping no one saw her right now. She started to blink away her tears. She’d have another baby on her hands soon. It wouldn’t do any good to have lil’ Dante see her crying.
Then she heard it.
“If you believed in me.”
Lysa looked down. It was only five words. Five little words and six little notes. But they were the most beautiful six notes Lysa had ever heard. Dante’s eyes were opened. He smiled meekly back at her, but his eyes had a spark to them.
“Hey Lysa,” he whispered. “I think I found two of my anchors.”
“DANTE!” she screamed. Tears rained down from her face, and she bent over and showered him with kisses. They rolled around the pen, giggling like idiots. Like lovers. Then they did something more. If one of the conditions of Limbo wasn’t forgetting how to dress and undress, they would have done a LOT more. The spanking and ten minute time out they both got for “wrestling” was totally worth it. Totally.
All through the rest of the day, Dante’s songs rang out through the nursery. Some say even the magic that filtered outside sounds from the cubicle walls couldn’t keep it out. Some songs, Lysa sang along with in harmony, others she sat in awe of him and just listened. But Dante never stopped singing. Some say, on that day, even the Judy’s paused and heard something more than just baby babble.
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