Jul/Aug 2018  •   Fiction

The Children

by Jeannette Garrett

Image courtesy of British Library Photostream

Image courtesy of British Library Photostream

At first it was one child, which was perfectly reasonable. A couple, the McClouds, unable to bear fruit of their loins, welcomed a two-year-old into their home, having passed the rigorous State Adoption League exam.

(Sample Question: What do you do when a one-year old cries at night and you've had no sleep for 48 hours? Answer: Nothing. You matter, too. They'll fall back to sleep soon enough.)

The toddler, name Greg, blonde-haired, chubby, gurgly with happiness, brightened their days and the days of anyone who stopped by the house—the milk man, the post man, the paper delivery woman. The happy couple lived on a farm in Vermont, and they immediately put Greg to work, sensing, correctly, it was the best way to make him feel a part of the family. He swiftly took to shelling English peas into an aluminum mixing bowl while watching Sesame Street.

Next thing you know, the Finns came to town. Talk about blonde! Blonde of hair, blonde of face, blue of eye. They were being carted around because their parents had died in a fiery crash outside Helsinki and the Union of Unitarian Universalists were seeking to place them with a worthy family. The McClouds, big churchgoers, immediately thrust their hands in the air. "Choose us, choose us," they shouted. The Finns were four in number and spaced with Nordic precision: four, six, eight, and ten. They spoke no English and the McClouds no Finnish, but no matter, farm work could be demonstrated. You hold the hoe so; the tractor runs thus; watch out for the big wheels.

A newspaper from the larger town over caught wind of the growing family and photographed them, all working blondely and happily on the farm. The reporter showed up with a Finnish interpreter, and the McClouds' praises were sung loud and liltingly by all the children.

Naturally, this brought more orphans and wannabe orphans almost daily. Having no bus fare, they hitchhiked in, their little thumbs barely visible from the weeds on the side of the road, their crayon-made signs, "McClouds or bust," charming and eye-catching. No one was turned away. Half of the cow barn was turned into a dormitory, the bunk beds stacked three high. At night the children fell asleep to the lowing of cattle.

The McClouds, Marge and Harold, on the other hand, were beginning to have nightmares. They were getting an earful of horror with each new arrival: cigarette burns, babies in microwaves, electrical cord, rat poison, ruptured intestines, bruises, broken bones, dislocated joints, concussions, chains, days-on-end hunger. They became overwhelmed, cried at night, woke up listless and groggy in the morning, but the children took up the slack, bringing them warm milk to help them sleep, drying their tears with pressed handkerchiefs. After a vote by the older ones, a moratorium was imposed which they thoughtfully kept from Marge and Harold. We'll open again soon, the children promised. We recognize the need. Trust us, we do.