Excerpt from Post Rock Limestone Caryatids: Maeve Visits Ladybug

by Rachel Creager Ireland

At the hospital, Maeve’s cube let her off at a foyer into the nursery wing, then parked itself, as usual. It had already notified Nancy that she was coming, and when she arrived. Maeve had to pause for a moment before entering the corridor, to allow the retina sensor to read her. If she were sponsored, she would have an arf implant in her hand that could be read instantly as she walked through the door.

The white-walled corridor was brightly lit and scrupulously clean. On one side were doors into what Maeve presumed were offices or storage. Midway down the corridor was a woman in a white janitor’s smock. She had close-cropped, curly hair in black and white concentric circles. Oddly, Maeve noticed she walked with a strange gait, as if one leg didn’t quite work right, and her right arm seemed to handle her mop with difficulty. As Maeve passed her on the way to the nursery door opposite the offices, the woman looked up and made eye contact. Maeve nodded briefly, but her attention was drawn to the wallscreens visible through the long bank of windows looking into the nursery. It was a big room filled with bassinets perfectly positioned in rows, all facing the screen, which showed constant moving images of happy babies’ faces, flowers, balls bouncing, and various cartoon animals smiling and talking to each other via cartoon screens. The point of view would shift as if the viewer were moving through the screen into the space where the animal user was. Black and white geometric shapes whirled and turned inside out behind the face of the hippo or the giraffe, periodically moving through the shape of the Holistilife logo. There were also occasional images of bigger kids and adults, drinking bottles of Holistilife brand water and smiling.

As she entered the room, it occurred to Maeve that, considering the number of infants in the room, it was surprising that there wasn’t constant crying. It would have driven Maeve insane to listen to that, but fortunately the babies were, generally, pretty placid. Nancy was at the other end of the room, in a white nurse’s dress and pushing a wheeled cart laden with boxes about the size of a shoe box. At the side of a bassinet, she glanced at a small screen mounted there, then said, in a high-pitched, singsong voice, “Well, hello, there, Henry, you’re just a sweet, calm, little baby today, aren’t you? Oh, yes, you always are, very sweet and quiet. Such a good little baby. I have a special present for you today.”

Maeve went quickly to Ladybug’s side and immediately picked up the drowsy, but awake, baby. There wasn’t much time, and she wanted to make the most of every second. She looked into Ladybug’s eyes and spoke in a similar high voice. “Hi sweetie, I love you, I missed you so much. How’s my little baby?” She hugged the baby, who grabbed her hair with one hand and clung tightly to her tunic with the other, making cooing noises.

At the door, an assistant nurse was bringing in another cart. Near the middle of the room, she located a particular bassinet and tapped the screen on it. “Hi there, Latifah, you’re just a sweet, calm little baby today, aren’t you? Oh, yes, you always are, very sweet and quiet. Such a good little baby. I have a special present for you today.”

Maeve rocked Ladybug in her arms. “Would you like to hear a song?” There was only one song she had ever heard anyone sing to a child. It was strange, and would probably seem frightening to a bigger child, but Ladybug wouldn’t understand it yet. “Rock-a-by baby, in the tree top . . .”

Nancy tapped the screen and glanced down at it as she pulled an object from one of the boxes. “This your own special Beebo. Beebo is your new friend and teacher.” It was about thirty centimeters tall, vaguely humanoid, and covered in fake fur, bright red except for the head, which had a black and white pattern. Nancy squeezed the belly and the Beebo said, “Hi, my name’s Beebo! What’s yours?”

Why wasn’t there a place to sit? Maeve rocked back and forth sideways on her feet. She hugged the baby tightly to her chest, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply so she could take in the scent of Ladybug’s hair. “I was thinking about you every minute this week. I love you so much, I wish I could see you more. My special little sweet little ladybug.” Of course, she had never seen a real ladybug, but she had seen pictures, knew that they were the friendliest of insects.

The assistant nurse said, “This is your own special Beebo. Beebo is your new friend and teacher.”

As a third nurse entered the room with a cart laden with Beebos, Maeve felt a desire to go somewhere else, anywhere, to be someplace private with Ladybug. She felt that these few precious moments with the baby were so intimate, she wanted them to be away from those hideous nurses. But she knew that Ladybug’s arf would signal the security system if she took the baby past the threshold of the room. She looked into her eyes again. “Oh, my sweetheart. I love you so much.” Ladybug smiled, and it seemed golden light emanated from her face. Or maybe it was just light reflecting off the wallscreen, where a baby’s face was smiling out of an image of the sun.