Madame Gajikanes laid her plans. Old Man Coleson wouldn't want to deal with another infant. He was already in an uproar about John and Maggie, although he grudgingly acknowledged that the child was indeed adding to the value of the sideshow. Not that children were forbidden or even discouraged. They were doted upon by most of the regulars. It's just that Coleson hated surprises and he abhorred scandals.
And Granny knew for a fact that an abandoned baby was somebody's scandal; especially one abandoned at a Gypsy's tent. No matter that Madame Gajikanes wasn't a real Gypsy. The myths were as pervasive as they were fallacious, and Old Man Coleson was obsessive about avoiding trouble. His was a Sunday-school carnival of the first degree. He wouldn't want any headlines about baby-stealing to sully his reputation.
She had, of course, no bottles with which to feed a baby. Maggie did, but Granny couldn't trust her to keep a confidence. Some who knew Maggie best said her mouth was the very biggest thing about her. There was Lillian, on the other hand, whose prize Bengal had just given birth. Granny went to Lillian and told her a child had arrived from heaven.
She left with two bottles and a three-day supply of baby tiger formula. She mixed the formula with one of her own that kept the infant safely quiet in the back room of her tent. Her customers on Saturday and Sunday never guessed that while their secrets were being discovered in the wrinkles of their palms, Granny kept one of her own just a few feet away. And when the photographer from the Historical Society took a human-interest photo of the town's new babies at the gate to the fairgrounds, with the Centennial Fair and Hoosier Midways forming the backdrop, only two infants were featured: Eleanor Alice, born the tenth of June to Robert and Katherine Denson, and Sue Ellen Sue, born the fifth of January to Frederick and Elizabeth Tipton. The unnamed baby found the twenty-first of August by Nancy White (known to her clients as Madame Gajikanes) went entirely unremarked.
The sun came up Monday on a day that promised little relief from the heat. At the Breck farm, Melinda was too feverish to articulate her consternation. She was fairly sure she'd had a baby, but she couldn't seem to find it. Fitful sleep, strange dreams, flames, images of her skin like parchment paper catching fire at the edge then wafting up in ghostly white ash. "Mother," Lester called out from Melinda's bedside, where he had relieved Helen of the watch at four o'clock, when it was time to feed the chickens and milk the cows. "I think she's taking a turn for the worse."
Helen Breck finally admitted she was out of her league. She called Doctor Brubecker then, and reached his nurse, who told her the doctor was on vacation for another four days. Relieved, she called his back-up, who arrived from Hartford City just in time to watch Melinda draw her last breath. Helen professed astonishment when the doctor declared that Melinda appeared to have given birth very recently, and that under the circumstances he'd probably have to order an autopsy. She broke down and sobbed, beat her fists upon her stolid husband's chest and wondered aloud and copiously how Melinda could have done this to them; wondered, moreover, what could have happened to the baby. Even insisted that the Chicago Greyhound station be searched for what would be their first and only grandchild, their only hope of an heir.
Monday was strike day for the carnival. While the rest of the folks finished folding their tents and packing up their props, Granny announced that she was off for a minute or two to coax her old '38 Chevy to the gas station, fill the tank. And it was as easy as that to slip out of Heaven, go off to find another carnival where no one would question the sudden appearance of a new granddaughter. Later, Lillian, thinking quickly, told a furious Coleson that Granny had gotten an urgent letter from her estranged daughter Peggy on Saturday, and after a long-distance call on Sunday night, had felt compelled to make the trip to Ohio, where her help was needed.
Copyright Jan Maher 2000. All rights reservered
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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