It seemed a gloomy evening from the beginning. Janner was in one of her moods, and as I flat-kicked the pop machine, which dispensed my Big Red to begin my evening, I was hoping the night would go by quickly. Janner was young and I inherited her on her first day, when she came to us as an 18 year old. She was from a broken family with‑an alcoholic father whom she said she hated. She was decidedly homely, and had no love interests, but once I had her on board with me, I kept her, because of one trait:‑ she was surely a descendent of Magellan. She had a keen awareness of how to get to places, knew all the shortcuts, and had mastered an awareness that still awes me, since it is my weakest trait. So, even though she was hard to put up with at times, with her sullen, moody ways, I needed her.
About the third run of the night, our radio crackled to attention. Mick, in his methodical steady tone, dispatched us to a 10-82 code three. He added, “be advised the subject is an infant.” “Sick kid, I muttered.”‑ And in the district we were in, the deep west end, it would probably be a runny nose and crying that was disturbing everyone. The house was a battered run-down dump that should have been vacated and boarded up, and would have been, had it been in any other section of town. As we approached the house, I took my K-light out and used it as a doorknocker, standing, as I always did, to the far side of the door. This was learned early on at EMS. Never stand facing the door. The shotgun that may be on the other side will hit you square in the face or body. For years after leaving EMS I would still stand with my body clear of any door. At any rate, there was no crying heard from inside the house.
After several knocks and then pounding with my K-lite, the door was tentatively opened and a face that blended in with the darkness appeared. I shone the light on the face, which flinched at the light, and drew back. I asked if anyone had called an ambulance. No answer was given, but the girl stepped back and allowed us in. There were no requests, and no urgency was noted. There were bodies everywhere, sleeping on the floor, on beat-up dirty mattresses, and hung over-stuffed chairs, which had more stuffing out than in. The girl only pointed. She seemed to be the only one awake. No one else responded or moved from where they lay stoned or drunk.
Entering the bedroom, I saw a small body in a crib. The light was dim and I used my K-lite to illuminate the scene. There, in the crib lay a baby who could not have been more than three or four months old. It had lay dead so long that the face of the baby had, by gravity, sunk to the dependent side of the head. That is to say, if you had picked the baby up, it would have been so distorted that it would not have had a symmetrical face. It was as if it had been made of water that lay at its lowest point. It was horror in stillness. The girl stood at the door, not speaking. I noted that there were tiny multiple indentations all around the nose and mouth, as if one had taken a teeny tiny melon ball scooper and scooped out small parts of the baby’s flesh. I had never seen anything like it, and the cockroaches that had been scurrying over the baby’s body were now scattered with the intrusion of the light. I did not pick the baby up, as it was so obviously rigored. I had no idea how long it had lain there. I went to the girl-child, and asked her who the mother was. She put her hand on her chest. My God, this kid couldn’t have been over 13 years old. I asked her if her mother was there (of all the people, I thought surely one would be her mother). She awakened someone, and I told the girl, along with the adult, that the baby was dead. No emotions were expressed, which is an anomaly in that community. Then I explained procedures that no one understood, but which had to be done. I wanted to take the girl-child in my arms and comfort her, but she was so blank, and unapproachable that I found myself adrift in a blank void space.
The coroner came, and I offered my condolences to the girl, and left. I was unable to think of anything but the condition of the baby’s face. I knew that cockroaches are not carnivorous, and I could not figure out what had made the tiny melon ball cutouts on the baby’s face. Several days later, the scene still haunted and puzzled me. I contacted the coroner and he immediately knew the case I was inquiring about. He said, “Yes, it is true that cockroaches are not carnivores, but they will feed off dead flesh.” I could not speak further, so I thanked him and hung up. My mind went back to that horrendous project housing where a little baby lay, whilst all the adults drank, got stoned, and partied, throwing bones,‑remnants of food and empty bottles about, until they passed out, while a little baby died and was fed on by cockroaches.‑I sometimes wonder what became of the girl who stood alone in the darkness where her baby lay dead.
There is a human element that lives in the shadows of all our environments that are never seen. They lay where they die, and are fed upon by opportunistic creatures. And we, well, we never notice as we go about our everyday routines, unaware of the dark underbelly, which lives and dies without notice.
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