Generally speaking, babies do not talk.
There are a lot of things they don't do, to be honest. Walking, cycling, swimming, singing, contributing a little bit here and there to the household expenses... Babies don't do any of that stuff. They're like the worst kind of loser boyfriend, depending totally on you to do every last thing for them.
Keep me warm, they say with their too-large baby eyes, keep me safe. Clothe me in clean linen, sing to me when I feel sad, feed me every three hours.
Pay my rent, just this month. Lend me bus fare every morning so I can go to my minimum wage job and spend the proceeds on cider and computer games. Do my laundry, cook my tea, sort the bills out, clean the bog. Please? I've had such a long day and you do all that stuff better than me anyway. It's my go next time.
It's possible that babies, much like loser ex boyfriends, are incapable of any kind of rational thought process that might enable them to take charge of their own lives and do things for themselves.
However, unlike ex boyfriends, they are very small, and new to this being alive malarkey, which we all know takes a bit of practice. (The practice that the loser boyfriend never had to put in, because he is so mollycoddled by his doting mother that he thinks chips just come straight from the ground hot and covered in cheese and gravy.)
Anyway, babies are babies, not ex boyfriends. Well, some babies might be ex boyfriends one day, but I'm not going to wait about for that to happen. There's stuff to be getting on with.
So, we have established that babies probably aren't deliberately lazy and thoughtless. In fact, they might not be thoughtless at all. The fact they can't communicate it to adults does not mean in and of itself that they do not engage in a perfectly logical thought process of their own devising.
As such, Bracken's baby lay in its lumpy bed and thought,
"I wonder where Bracken is."
Then it thought,
Then it thought,
"I wonder where I am?"
"Maybe I did something bad? But that's not it. I'm too small for punishments."
The wean listened carefully. All he heard was silence.
"Maybe they did something bad and got taken away from me? But that doesn't make sense. Nicky and Bracken are stand up members of the local community. They don’t do crimes. They've got me to think of."
The wean wondered whether this was his own original thought. It sounded like the sort of thing he might have heard other people saying.
He looked around him.
He was lying in a cot with a lumpy mattress, located in the centre of a room with blue walls and an unusual smell. The only concession to the fact a child inhabited it was a picture of a Care Bear on one wall. It looked as though it had been cut out of a newspaper and stuck up as an afterthought, which wasn't all that surprising, because it had been.
"I'm hungry," thought the wean. "I wonder if I should cry."
It didn't usually work in this place, the crying till someone came thing. There were two meals a day, with a snack in the morning because the guard had muttered something to the woman in charge about weaning, and that was your lot.
The wean wasn't sure how he knew that the person in charge of the facility was a woman, but he didn't have any doubts about it. She went out of her way to disguise her identity with odd costumes and voices and the way she carried herself, and the whole bizarre act seemed to fool most of her employees, but the wean knew.
Perhaps children are more perceptive than adults. Or perhaps they are less conditioned into thinking that the bad guys are always men.
The wean assumed that although the boss lady was a lady, she didn’t have any children. If she had, she would be more inclined to feed him properly. Ladies who already have babies like other people’s babies. Sometimes they like them even more than their own.
He thought about him and Bracken’s trips to the library. There were always old ladies there cooing over him and looking disapprovingly or sympathetically at Bracken. He knew she found it discomfiting, but had noticed that she tended to laugh it off. This could have been for his sake, he thought, or possibly it was meant to maintain some semblance of dignity. Then she’d mumble something about how fast he was growing, even though he was small for his age, and sidle off towards the board books.
Like all children, the wean enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
The door of the small blue room creaked open, an hour ahead of schedule.
The wean turned to see who the intruder was.
It was one of the guards, the one with unusual purple markings on her face. It was a pretty colour of purple, but the wean couldn’t help thinking that the lady didn’t like it very much.
“Hello little one,” she cooed, much like the sort of ladies he remembered from his trips out and about with Bracken.
He gurgled endearingly for her.
“Aw,” she said, “coochie coo. This is no place for a little guy like you.”
She picked him up for a cuddle. The wean thought it would be odd, being hugged by a stranger in strange surroundings, but it was alright. Comforting, even. It felt like it had been an awful long time since he had been held by someone who wanted to pick him up.
He gurgled some more.
“I wish things hadn’t turned out like this,” the guard said wistfully. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”
The wean pricked up his ears. This might be interesting, he thought. Although that didn’t really matter, given that he had no way of passing on any information he might get.
But then the door opened again, and the guard put him back down in the cot hurriedly, pulling the tatty blanket back across him.
She whirled to face the new visitor, her mind racing to come up with an explanation as to why she was breaking the strictly enforced ‘no contact’ rule.
The wean could appreciate that her body language was tense, she stood rigid and ready for confrontation. But then she recognized the other person, and sagged with relief.
“Oh,” she said, “its you. Thank goodness.”
“Yes,” the man replied, “but you ought to be more careful. We’re all under surveillance you know.”
“Not all of the time,” she pointed out defensively.
“I know,” he said gently, “but its still not safe.”
She pouted attractively, and picked up the wean once more.
“Is this another McCracken?”
“Yes,” she said, “or at least that’s the name we’ve got on his files.”
Cryptic, thought the wean, taking a moment to be impressed with himself for knowing the word cryptic. He hiccupped.
The man smoothed his hair back nervously, and tickled the wean under the chin.
“Hi little fella,” he introduced himself, “my name’s Bert. I’m –” he hesitated a moment here, “ – a friend of Nicky’s.”
The wean smiled at the mention of his favourite uncle. Nicky did finger painting with him every Tuesday and Thursday while Bracken was out lollipopping, and they got the paint all over the kitchen. The wean liked all the colours. He thought maybe Nicky liked winding up Bracken. She always pretended to be annoyed and then mellowed considerably when she saw all the pictures they had made for her. Pictures of the three of them living together in an enormous castle with orchards and ponies in the expansive grounds. Well, that was what the wean was going for. But it mainly looked like splodges. Bracken always said that she loved them though.
“Aw,” the guard said, “is oo hungry?”
“I’m alright thanks,” Bert joked.
“Not you,” she replied, missing the humour.
She produced a warm bottle from her pocket.
“I think he’s a bit big for bottles, but there doesn’t seem to be a blender in the kitchen so I couldn’t mash anything up for him.”
Bert nodded his assent, not really knowing what else to do.
“Sorry wee man,” she addressed the wean.
He didn’t mind in the slightest. Any food was good food, as far as he was concerned.
“So are you going to help?”
This was Bert speaking. The wean examined him as he drank his milk.
Bert was of average height and slight build, with a shock of white hair and movements a bit like a sparrow. He was dressed in a very white lab coat, with a blue spot where a biro had burst in his top pocket, and a white jumpsuit underneath. It was sort of futuristic as people thought the future might look during the 1970s. The wean had watched a lot of Buck Rodgers on daytime TV with Uncle Nicky, which was how he knew.
Bert also had a large amount of very white hair, which stuck up in tufts all over his head. He looked a little wild. The wean liked him.
“I’d like to,” she began, “but I’m worried about the repercussions.”
“If we move fast, there don’t have to be any. We can blow the operation wide open!”
“I don’t know,” she said, concentrating on the bottle, “the facility has people on every continent.”
“Yeah but if the boss is in jail the whole operation will fall apart.”
“No it won’t,” she said anxiously, “there’ll be a contingency plan. And who’d believe us, anyway? The whole thing’s just too bizarre. The Chamber, the medication, the –”
“Sssh,” he interrupted, putting a finger on her lips. “We don’t know who’s listening.”
She was silent.
The wean yawned. The milk was all gone and he felt relaxed and sleepy, although slightly concerned about all the ominous chat the adults were engaging in. He thought they’d probably sort it out though. That’s what grown ups do, isn’t it. Sort things out.
“He’s fallen asleep,” the scarred guard whispered, rocking the wean gently.
“Just as well he’s too young to understand all this. It’d be too much to take in. All these different people thinking they’re his mum, and him being taken away from the real one when he was too small to know the difference.”
Bert smiled sadly and put an arm around her shoulder.
“Let him go down for the moment, Patti,” he said soothingly. “You’ll have him back soon enough.”