“One day the fog will come and Mrs. Gamp will arrive.”
“When will that be?”
Kenzie looks down at the little boy. He still wears a diaper though he is near the age of five. Other than a dirty white shirt with an odd yellow character from some cartoon, he wears nothing else. A smudge of mustard clings to his chubby right cheek and one hand grips tight to a stick that once held a corn dog.
“I don’t know.” She hates lying, but what else is she to do? Telling the kid the truth isn’t something she feels she can do.
“But you said she will come.”
Kenzie takes a deep breath, releases it. “Yes, I did.”
The kid puts the stick to his lips and takes a bite of the nonexistent corndog. “How will you know?” he says around a mouthful of nothing.
Curiosity. It’s a wonderful thing for children, Kenzie thinks. Mackie has always been inquisitive, even now on the doorstep of death. A few steps up onto its porch and all they need to do is knock, knock, knock and the end would come. It always does.
“Legend has it,” Kenzie starts, “Mrs. Gamp appears on foggy mornings after the first fall rain. She shows up wearing a long coat and nice shoes. Some say they are boots. Mrs. Mary-Anne down on Hollow Road says the boots lace up. I think she’s a little shy of the ‘all together here’ department if you ask me.”
“Is she really?”
“Are you asking me?”
“Yes, she is.” Kenzie leans on the handle of her closed parasol.
“Crazy Mrs. Mary-Anne.” Mackie giggles the way only little children can. It is the sound of someone in on a joke no one else knows about.
Kenzie looks down at him. His pudgy face has a gray tint to it; his skin a waxen sheen that has an odd shine in the predawn hour, even with the clouds still overhead and threatening more rain.
Not much time, she thinks.
“Supposedly, she wears a top hat like you see at the carnivals or the circus.”
“And an umbrella,” Mackie adds. It sounds forced.
“And an umbrella,” she repeats.
“A yellow umbrella.”
“Yes. A Yellow umbrella.”
Mackie sits on the roadside curb. A streetlamp, still on from the previous night, shines a cone of misty white down on them “What does she do, Kenzie? Why does she come?” He takes a deep breath, pulling a wheeze with it.
Kenzie swallows. She hates this part. No matter how many times she tells the story, this part is difficult, especially when they are so young, so naive … so lost. She licks her lips. When she looks down at him, his head is drooping and his eyes stare at her feet, at the boots on them. The hand with the stick in it rests in his lap.
“Mrs. Gamp comes to take the good little boys and girls to another place … another home. Somewhere … better, maybe.”
“Somewhere better,” Mackie repeats. His voice sounds tired, almost nonexistent.
Better? She wants to laugh at this. Not all boys and girls are good and certainly not all of them go to better places. She thinks Mackie might, but she is just a messenger and the news she brings is rarely received well by those older than this one.
Mackie’s eyes, which had been drooping seconds earlier, snaps open. “Kenzie, your boots … they lace up.”
“They do,” she says.
Mackie raises the hand not holding the stick and touches the strings on one of Kenzie’s boots. He looks up. Kenzie imagines from where Mackie sits, it must be like looking up the side of a tall building.
A rumble of thunder comes from high above them.
“It rained last night.” He sounds out of breath, as if his airwaves are trying to close.
“Is that why you’re wearing a coat?”
“Sure, Mackie. That’s why.”
The child leans to his right, sways on his diapered bottom. One arm goes around Kenzie’s leg. Mackie looks up. His face is now blue. His eyes bulge. His lips have a dark purple tint to them. When he speaks, it is nothing more than a squeak from his thoughts through lips that don’t move. “Kenzie, can I wear your hat?”
She takes it off her head, looks at it with all the sadness of a mother saying goodbye to a child for the last time. She kneels and sets the hat on Mackie’s head, covering the mop of greasy brown hair. It makes him look like a sickly magician, one at the end of his rope with no more tricks up his sleeve.
Mackie sways, the arm around her leg loosens. She swoops him up into her left arm before he can fall onto the wet concrete. His mouth is open, and his eyes are now, mercifully, closed. She sees the piece of corndog lodged in his throat. Tears fall from her eyes as she stands, the spirit of a dead child in her arm.
Kenzie thinks about opening the yellow umbrella in her right hand and lifting it to cover them. As the rain comes, she thinks better of the idea and walks away, the umbrella hooked on her arm and the child tight to her chest. For once, she allows the rain to wash away her tears.
Previously published in Beautiful Minds, January 6, 2019. Reprinted here by permission of the author.