Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mrs. Delaney

They took Mrs. Delaney away last Wednesday for carrying around a dead baby.  They didn’t take her to jail because she didn’t kill it, but they did take her to Stafford State Hospital because she carried it around all day.  The strange part of it, aside from the very core of the event, was that the baby wasn’t even hers.
            I actually saw Mrs. Delaney and the dead baby that afternoon.  She smiled at me as I passed her sitting at the bus stop, holding a limp body in her lap, its head resting comfortably against her chest and its arms hanging.  I assumed Mrs. Delaney was babysitting and I assumed the baby was sleeping.  Apparently, so did everyone on the bus that day, as well as in Appleton’s Candy Store, the Osh Kosh B’Gosh outlet, and up and down Starbury Road. 
            Our town isn’t small.  That’s why nobody who knew Mrs. Delaney really thought twice about not recognizing the baby in her tight arms.  It could’ve been family.  Maybe a neighbor; Mrs. Delaney was always helping people out that way.  And our town isn’t big, either.  That’s how so many people happened to notice Dear Old Mrs. Delaney that day.  She read to the children at Campbell East Library every Saturday morning at ten.  She also led the Single Seniors Sunday School class at Calvary Methodist.  She lost her husband at thirty-six, she once told me, to some freakishly acute case of testicular cancer.  After he died, she said she could never love another man.  So to make up, I suppose, she loves everyone else as much as she can.  Mrs. Delaney gave me piano lessons until I turned thirteen and decided I’d rather play soccer.  She was a wonderful pianist and sometimes if I were mad at my mother, I’d find myself wandering four houses down to sit and listen to her play.  I think she got lonely sometimes and liked the company.  I liked listening to Beethoven and she always had a bowl full of butterscotch candies by the piano.  Mrs. Delaney was sixty-two when they took her away.
            Most people who know Mrs. Delaney I think tend to have the same, loving opinion of her.  She’s always been a friendly and outgoing woman, lunching with Lucy Bridges who manages the Osh Kosh B’Gosh store in town, or Margaret over at Sally’s Beauty Salon quite often.  I hear she even dated Mr. Appleton of Appleton’s Candy Store back in her younger years.  They went to school together, anyway.  Mr. Appleton said she was in that day with the baby, talking to it sweetly and telling it how good the pecan cookies were.  He said it was a busy day and he didn’t get a chance to speak to her, although he did wonder what she was doing with a baby.  Knowing her, he’d said, a young mother had a job interview or a doctor’s appointment and good Mrs. Delaney was doing her a favor.  Joanne Aberle, who also happened to be in Appleton’s at the same time, said that Mrs. Delaney seemed to be trying to entice the sleeping infant with candy and cookies, oblivious to anyone else shuffling around inside the little candy store.  Mrs. Delaney left without buying a thing, just waltzed right out of the store with a sigh.  Apparently, the baby wasn’t hungry.
            Lucy over at Osh Kosh said she saw Mrs. Delaney, too.  Mrs. Delaney and the baby.  They came in around lunchtime, just as Lucy was on her way out.  Lucy was late for a lunch date with her attorney and so didn’t stop to chat, but called a hello and waved as she left.  She said Mrs. Delaney smiled as always, waved, and went on with her browsing in the infant section.  A girl working the register later said that Mrs. Delaney never put the baby down, but quietly asked its opinion of several miniature outfits, picking through the racks.
            Mrs. Delaney carried that baby around with her the entire day and no one said a word to her about it.  It wasn’t until she stopped in at a new pet shop on the corner of Starbury and 5th that anyone noticed this little baby was sleeping much deeper than anyone imagined.  Jim Mitchell, the owner of the shop, was in checking on business when Mrs. Delaney wandered in looking at the puppies in the front.  He said she cooed and giggled, pointing with her free hand at a beagle puppy that was out in the playpen for customers to pet.  According to him, she didn’t say anything to anyone else in the store until she wanted to pick up the puppy to show to her shopping buddy.  She asked if she could pet the dog and if he was nice around babies.  Mr. Mitchell told her of course and before he could assist her, she carefully laid the sleeping baby down on top of a dog food display in order to free her hands to pick up the dog.  He first jumped forward to catch the baby, assuming it would stir and roll right off, but stopped short when it didn’t make a move.  As Mrs. Delaney leaned over to pick up the beagle, Mr. Mitchell stepped closer to the baby, watching its belly.  It wasn’t breathing.  When he reached out and touched its arm, the cold bit his hand and he jerked back in disgust.  Only then did he realize it was dead and began to yell for someone to call the police.  Mrs. Delaney became very upset and when she tried to grab the baby an employee restrained her.  They said she became hysterical and kept calling out, “Daisy!  Oh, Daisy!  My baby!”  When the police showed up and the sheriff, who was also her brother-in-law, told her that the baby she’d been carrying was dead, she hyperventilated and passed out.
            The coroner’s report assured that the baby had been dead for two days already and that it had died from suffocation.  It was only a week old.  They questioned Mrs. Delaney but soon found she wasn’t in her right mind.  She kept insisting that they let her go, and that they bring her child to her immediately or she was going to press charges.  This was an outrage.  The sheriff came in and explained to her that the baby couldn’t have been hers because it was a week old and she hadn’t been pregnant.  “But I was pregnant, Roy,” she cried.  He asked her where she got it and she kept right on insisting that it was hers. 
            By Saturday she’d been questioned enough to satisfy the inquiring minds of the authorities of our town.  Sheriff Wright gave a statement to the local TV station, saying that Mrs. Joy Delaney who had been found carrying a dead baby on Wednesday was now at Stafford State Hospital and that police still didn’t know where the baby had come from.  He asked that if anyone had any information regarding the week old infant to please call the local police, and so on and so on.  That same night, Sheriff Wright and his wife were over to our house for dinner, seeing as my mother and Mrs. Wright sold Avon together.  At our house, Sheriff Wright said that Joy, his dear sister-in-law, apparently had suffered some post-traumatic stress episode and convinced herself that the baby was hers.  The therapist and investigator who worked together to get anything they could out of her at Stafford said she went into a crying fit at one point, saying that all she wanted to do was make Daisy happy, but she didn’t want candy and she didn’t want dresses.  All she wanted was to make her happy.  She wanted Daisy to forgive her.  Forgive her, I asked?  Sheriff Wright sighed and gave my mom a look, one of those, ‘it’s such a shame these things that happen’ kind of look.  From a jumble of hysterical rants and sobbing wails that somewhat resembled some kind of step back in time, the investigator was able to piece together that Mrs. Delaney did have a baby at one time… something about money being tight, then something about the abortion leaving her in bed for two weeks, passed off as the flu.  Apparently she never told her husband, but here Daisy’d come back and all she wanted was to make her happy so that maybe she’d forgive her for what she had done to her so long ago.
            Mrs. Delaney stayed at Stafford and we all went about our regular lives.  They never did find out where the baby had come from, but gave it a proper burial anyway.

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