THE TALE OF THE CABBAGE PATCH
Days – as empty as vacant downtown parking lots on rainy Sunday mornings – passed with Bobby sitting at the kitchen table and staring out the window, watching for a stork. His nose pressed to the window glass, his breath forming images of rabbits, he stared out at the cabbage patch, at the tiny heads of cabbage sprouting in rows in the dark, rich soil. He would sit there for hours, his square shoulders drooping and his handsome face growing pale and sad, and consider nothing but the events in the garden: the passing of snails, the emergence of a worm through a hole in the dirt, the appearance of a colorful butterfly.
There was, to Bobby, so much to see within the small square yard enclosed by a wooden fence, but his singular interest was in watching for a stork.
He planted more cabbage in the garden also, as if the cabbage would somehow entice the stork to make the visit that Bobby anticipated. I had watched him as he put the garden together, marveling that he would take such an interest in digging and weeding.
I would stroll out into the yard and touch his shoulder, or smooth his hair from his forehead, and he’d tell me, “We’ll be so happy when the baby comes.”
Often, during the days, I was no more than a shadow that passed him from one room to the next, or a reflection mixed with his in the kitchen window. I could stand at the back door and watch him for hours as he hoed and planted, and even when he noticed me he never smiled, or frowned. Stopping in his toiling for only a moment he would take the back of his hand and wipe it across his dry lips, and then continue working, wordlessly.
At night I found myself looking out at the cabbage patch, not watching for a stork, but noticing the way the polished-steel moon shining on the cabbages made them look like doll’s heads. Sometimes I would have to pause, thinking I’d heard the high-pitched squeal of a child calling out for “Dada.” I would walk among them, my slippers kicking up small piles of displaced soil, and bend to stroke a cabbage leaf or speak tenderly to an emerging head. Bobby wanted a child, and this is where he hoped to find it.
“Storks don’t need a cabbage patch to deliver a baby,” I once told him. “Storks come through the chimney, like Santa Clause, I think.”
“I’m not taking any chances,” he said quietly. He looked at me squarely, appraising me. “You do believe we’ll have a baby, don’t you?”
The kitchen window, and the garden beyond, was his world, and I didn’t question him about if waiting for a stork, or if watching a cabbage, made sense, as long as he was happy. He seemed content to tend the garden in his bare feet and sometimes he’d tell me of good-luck signs he saw while tending the cabbages: butterflies in pairs, falling leaves that twirled counter-clockwise when they fell, or three bees on a single flower.
At night when his reflection was the only thing to be seen at the window, he’d shower for a long time, washing the garden soil from every inch of his body, then slip into bed and curl up at my side.
“Maybe tomorrow,” he’d sigh.
He would stir there, his warm, clean skin inviting me to touch him. He’d accept a kiss, then another. I’d trace the shape of his lips with my tongue and explore his mouth, and sometimes I’d find words trapped there, or held there, waiting: baby bunting, Daddy’s gone-a-hunting, or rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top. I would roll him onto his stomach, turning him like a pink rose in our fern-colored sheets, and starting with the nape of his neck, lick the scents from his skin. I’d spread the fullness of his cheeks and enter him while he cuddled the pillow in his arm and cooed to it about baby carriages and perambulators, red wagons, doll buggies, and ponies at a circus ride.
He would fall asleep beneath me when we were done, and later, when the ticking of the bedside clock would lull me to sleep, I’d have a recurring dream.
In it, I am next to Bobby and we’re standing at the window looking out at the garden. A nurse in a white, freshly starched uniform would exit a passageway in a sterile hospital and walk into the garden and pick up a baby from behind a large head of cabbage. She would hold it up for us to see – proud parents viewing the newborn child – and we’d tap against the window glass and click our tongues and talk baby-talk. Butterflies, in pairs, would dance around the baby’s head.
In the morning, when I awoke to go to work, Bobby would be gone from the bed, and as the dream evaporated from my thoughts, I’d lie there for a while and inhale the scent of the freshly cut baby’s-breath Bobby had arranged in a vase at the bedside.
One morning I woke and felt the warm, inviting breeze of a summer morning coming in through the open bedroom window. The white curtains danced in the air-stream, flicking out at me in a joyful manner. From outside I could hear the distant sounds of children in a park, a lawn mower chugging nosily, birds singing from the tree tops. I sat up on the edge of the bed and wished that Bobby enjoyed making love in the morning, but he never had, as if night was the only time for such activity. I walked over to the window, the curtains brushing my bare skin, tickling, and when I looked out I saw Bobby in the garden. He was talking to a large white bird with a huge beak. It was a stork.
The stork was facing away from me, but I could see that it was paying close attention to what Bobby was saying, though I couldn’t hear him. The bird shook its head knowingly at several intervals, and once put its wing to its beak as if it were contemplating something of significance. Bobby was gesturing animatedly, his hands seeming loosely attached to his rapidly moving wrists. He frequently ran his hands through his thick hair, something he did only when he was very excited.
After a while, the stork nodded in a slow and deliberate way, then spread his wings, ran a few steps and lifted into the air. As he ascended, he saw me in the window, winked at me, then flew above the roof and out of sight.
Dumbfounded, I stared at the empty blue sky and wondered if I was still dreaming. When I had the presence of mind to look down at at where Bobby and the stork had been, I saw that Bobby was busily pulling weeds from between the neat rows of cabbage heads. He didn’t see me, and later when he was sitting at the kitchen window, I didn’t mention the stork. Neither did he.
Soon after the visit from the stork, Bobby and I were in bed and I placed my hand on his abdomen. It was full and round, like a warm loaf of home-baked bread, white as a bowl of milk. He put his hand over mine and together we rubbed the top and sides of his stomach. It was like a hill that sloped upward from beneath his chest, and smooth as a snowy mound, that led to the dark patch of hairs above his penis. With his hand in mine, I kissed his fingers and I whispered loving words to his skin.
I bent and put my ear to his stomach. “I don’t hear anything,” I said to him.
“It’s too soon,” he answered.
“How long will it be?”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
The days were soon filled with Bobby sitting in the warmth of the sun in a chair placed amidst the cabbage heads.
He took up knitting and quickly turned out thick, fuzzy baby socks and caps with colors of the rainbow. He created clothes to match the caps as his fingers deftly danced, making knitting-needle waltzes as he hummed lullabies. At noon I’d come home from work and tend to the chores and the garden, following Bobby’s instructions in the care of the cabbages, watering and tending them with new found happiness.
At night I decorated the baby’s room with hand-painted designs: castles and dragons, Cinderella’s mice and Snow White’s dwarfs. I painted the room in shades of blue and pink, with borders of bold and brilliant vermillion. Together we bought a white crib with a lace covered canopy and silver fringe all around, a bassinet with images of dancing pigs in ballet shoes and smiling lambs with red bow ties, and a pad that was decorated with pictures of miniature chickens with straw hats for changing the baby’s diapers.
I bought a carousel to set on the night stand beside the crib, and after winding it I could watch the yellow horses go around while the tune of Hush Little Baby played softly. I hung a mobile above the bed, and it was easy to imagine our baby reaching up to play with the miniature green airplanes, purple dirigibles and orange hot-air-balloons. In the crib, stuffed pets: Teddy, Rex and Dumbo, were waiting for the baby’s arrival, looking out between the slats in the crib with wide-opened marble eyes.
The days went by happily, but slowly, lingering like a fading photograph, and Bobby filled the baby’s dresser with stacks of neatly folded clothes. He also packed the hamper with diapers, and put jars of baby food in every bit of cabinet space. At night he would lie on his back and accept my hungry kisses, hold my hard penis in his hand, and talk about the joy that the baby would bring us, how our life would be so full.
“What shall we name him?” He asked.
“Him? Maybe it will be a girl,” I stated.
“We will love the baby, whatever its gender, in equal measure,” he said.
One night I put my ear to Bobby’s swollen abdomen and heard a beating heart down deep in my lover’s stomach and kissed the warmth of his flesh. I fell asleep there, listening.
One afternoon I was in the garden while Bobby was napping on the sofa in the living room. If it weren’t for the shadow that passed over me I wouldn’t have noticed the stork was descending toward me. I looked up at it, feeling neither fear or disbelief, but very curious that the stork had returned so early. It didn’t carry a baby bundled in a blanket and hanging from its beak, so I had no idea why the stork had come to visit. I stood up from where I had been kneeling to pull weeds, and waited for the stork to land.
“Good day,” the stork said, shaking it feathers and eyeing me curiously. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am the father-to-be. You are the stork who is going to bring us our baby, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Why, what an old wives tale,” the stork said with a hearty laugh that made his beak rattle. “I thought the other fellow was the only one who believed a such nonsense.”
“That is my husband and he believes it very much,” I replied, feeling as if the stork was bordering on being offensive. “You did come back to give us good news, didn’t you?”
“Duck-waddle!” The stork said with impatience. “Last time I was here I was merely asking for directions. He told me he was going to have a child, that you were the other father, or mother, or whatever the case may be, and wanted to know if this cabbage patch was being tended correctly. He didn’t believe it was a coincidence I just happened by.”
“You didn’t tell him you would bring a baby?”
“Duck-waddle no,” the stork answered. “I told him I knew nothing about cabbage patches, babies or any such thing. It made him quite upset.”
“But now he’s going to have a baby,” I exclaimed.
“Well, then there is no need for me to bring one, even if I could, now is there?”
I shook my head. “I guess not. But it is confusing that he would think you were bringing a baby when you gave no indication of doing so.”
“To me also,” the stork said. “We storks have a saying: hope survives a storm when logic sometimes perishes.” He raised his wings preparing to fly. “By the way, do you know where there is a good fish hatchery around here?” He flew away without waiting for an answer.
Later, when Bobby came out to the garden, I said nothing about the stork’s return visit.
“I can’t believe you’re adding to this insanity,” Bobby’s mother hissed at me. “Look at him, out there watering rows of cabbage, his stomach as big as a watermelon.” She was standing at the window watching her son, her arms crossed over he angrily-heaving breasts.
“He’s going to have a baby,” I answered as calmly as I could.
She whirled about and faced me with a hostile gaze. “No son of mine is going to have a baby without a woman as his wife,” she sneered. “I’m going to put an end to this craziness.”
“Bobby is very happy,” I said. “Let him be.”
“He’s not happy. He’s out of his mind.”
“Just look at him,” I told her. “You can see his belly is swollen.”
“It’s an hysterical pregnancy,” she snapped. “And you’re making things worse.”
“Mrs….,” I started, but before I could say another word she threw open the door and marched out into the garden. I followed behind, knowing she wouldn’t physically hurt Bobby, but fearful of what she might say.
Bobby, flush with good health, stood as his mother tramped across the rows of cabbages. “Watch out, Mother,” he said softly. “You’ll ruin the cabbage patch.”
“Stop this right now,” she demanded. “You’re not going to have a baby.”
Bobby smiled. “Of course I am, Mother.”
She was so enraged she stooped down and began pulling the heads of cabbage out of the dirt and flinging the cabbage in every direction.
“Please, don’t, Mother!” Bobby yelled.
She didn’t stop, but continued ripping cabbage heads from the ground, and as we watched, she destroyed the garden.
“Did you find the hatchery?” I asked the stork.
He was sitting on a pile of cabbage heads looking about in dismay. “Yes, the fish was very fresh, thank you,” he said distractedly. “What happened here?”
“Bobby’s mother doesn’t want us to have a baby so she destroyed the cabbage patch.”
The stork looked at me with one eye, then turned his head and looked at me with the other. “Of course, I’m only a bird, but one doesn’t need a cabbage patch to have a baby.”
“Bobby believes that you will bring the baby only if the cabbage patch is well-tended. He’s certain you won’t bring the baby now, not when the garden looks like this.”
The stork shook his head, preened a few feathers, then looked about. “She sure made a mess of things. I don’t care for cabbage myself, but it’s a shame to see such a fine garden turned into a mulch heap.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” I pleaded. “Bobby won’t get out of bed. He’s so depressed.”
“I could fly around and find someone else’s baby and bring it to you,” the stork suggested.
“That may be the answer if the parents were willing and we would love the baby as if it we had given birth to it, but can’t you please talk to him and tell him you don’t mind about the cabbage patch?”
The stork looked about again, then shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, all right, if it will make him happy. Besides, who am I to destroy a fairy tale?”
I hugged the stork then ran indoors and up the stairs to our bedroom. “The stork is here,” I shouted happily. Bobby stirred a bit, opened his tear-stained eyes and looked at me. “The stork doesn’t mind about the garden,” I told him as I went to his side.
“It’s too late,” Bobby murmured unhappily.
“But the stork is outside,” I said rushing to the window. I looked down at the ruined garden. The stork was gone.
“I told you it was craziness,” Bobby’s Mother said as she stirred a large pot of cabbage stew. “Whoever heard of a stork bringing two men a baby?”
“It was not craziness,” I answered boldly. “I met the stork. Twice.”
“You’re crazy too,” she replied. “If I had my way Bobby would leave you and come home with me where he’d be safe from such insanity.”
I said nothing, but looked at Bobby who sat at the window, his face against the glass, his pale hands resting on his flat stomach.
That night I crawled into bed and whispered into Bobby’s ears tales of magic and the cabbage patch and our baby to be brought by the adoption agency. I gave him a kiss gently on the cheek where a tear had withered, and put my hand over his heart and felt the beginning of our child’s life.
Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Literally Stories, The James White Review, and The Northland Review: An International Journal, among others. He has stories coming out soon in Culture Cult Magazine, Viewfinder,in an anthology by Fantasia Divinity Press and in Horror Sleaze Trash. His novel “Final Bell” is in serialization on channillo.com. He’s become somewhat of a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine. He has had his plays produced in several states including Arizona, Missouri and Ohio.