by Sharlyn Guthrie
The street was empty and dark except for flickering television sets illuminating the clouded windows of broken down trailers. A woman’s shrieks shredded the silence, but no one noticed. An infant’s cry soon erupted. Lucy Bryant had given birth to her fourth child. The twenty two year old slumped back onto her filthy bed, leaving the wet, scrawny infant untouched between her legs.
“Mama?” Jasmine’s eyes stretched as wide as lollipops.
“What’re you lookin’ at? Git! And take him with you. He needs a bath.” Lucy used the kitchen knife from the nightstand to slice through the cord.
Regarding the wiggling creature with wonder, the six-year-old gathered him up in a bed sheet. “Mama, can we keep this one?”
“Dunno. Just let me get some sleep.”
“I’d like you gooder if you was a sister, but you can’t help it you’re a boy.” Jasmine filled the bathroom sink half-full of water, dipped her brother in and out several times, then rubbed him dry with the bed sheet. His head wobbled and his legs stiffened as he screamed, reddening his transparent skin.
Several hours later, Lucy found them nestled together, the newborn swaddled in Jasmine’s outgrown Little Mermaid tee shirt. Despair overwhelmed her. Light-headed and weak, Lucy packed a few essentials and fled.
Falls Creek Bible Church would begin its summer children’s program next week. As Laura Rayburn drove home from the planning meeting, something or Someone urged her to turn along the rough, narrow lane she usually passed without a thought. Guilt and shame tore at her tender heart as she drove through the impoverished community. Why hadn’t she or her church family ever reached out to these hurting people?
Silently petitioning the Lord for protection and courage, Laura stretched across two broken steps to rap on a door. Putrid air poured out of the dilapidated trailer, surrounding the wisp of a girl who appeared. Dark half-moons under the child’s eyes made her appear old and haggard.
“Hi, I’m Laura. May I speak to your mother or father?”
“I’m Jasmine. I don’t got no mother or father.”
“May I come in?” The question from her own mouth startled Laura. She hadn’t planned to go inside, and yet something or Someone propelled her forward, through the open door.
Laura gasped when the rag doll on the couch suddenly drew breath and wailed. “That’s my brother.” Jasmine intoned.
‘What’s his name?” Laura questioned.
“I dunno. I just call him Brother.”
Apprehension nibbled at Laura’s insides, but she reached for the child. “May I?”
“You can’t have him. He’s mine.”
“Oh, Honey, I’m not taking him, I just want to hold him.”
“His head isn’t on very tight.”
“Okay, I’ll be careful.” The bit of childish wisdom produced a wan smile.
The infant was weak and much too thin, Laura realized with alarm. He wasn’t even wearing a diaper. “When did he last have a bottle?”
“Oh! I give him one whenever he cries. I found Jake’s old bottle in the cupboard.”
“He was my brother, too. A social worker took him away with the last baby. Are you a social worker?”
“No.” Laura sank into the couch, nauseated and tearful. “I came here to tell you that Jesus loves you. Do you know about Jesus?”
“I don’t know any Jesus. Is he a friend of yours?”
“Well, yes. He is. He wants to be your friend, too, Jasmine. Could you use some help taking care of this little guy?”
Jasmine’s eyes searched the floor surrounding her dirty bare feet. “I guess so. We’re out of milk. Babies got to have milk, don’t they? He needs diapers, too. I hafta keep changing his shirts. Can Jesus help me take care of him?”
“Listen, Jasmine,” Laura squatted, peering into two deep, serious eyes. “Jesus is God’s Son. We can’t see Him, but He hears our prayers. I’m going to pray right now and ask Him to get you the help you need. Okay?”
Jasmine had an invisible friend, too, but she knew that hers was make-believe. Laura seemed to think her friend, Jesus, was real. Jasmine liked the way Laura smiled when she talked to Him. Brother cuddled into Laura’s shoulder and Jasmine slid slender arms around Laura’s waist, pressing into her as she dialed for help on her cell phone.
Surprised by the warmth surging through her, Jasmine exclaimed, “This must be love!” Then, closing her eyes as Laura had done, she whispered, “Thank you, Jesus.”
Karlene is Hosting Fiction Friday at Homespun Expressions today. Please pay her a visit to find more great fiction or to post your own story.