When mom told me she was taking me off her breast milk, you can bet I was plenty upset. Her happy bag was still my main source of nourishment, or at least my first choice for beverage and snacks and those quick meals where you don't have time to sit down at the table. Sure, I ate solid food like other kids my age, chili dogs and fries were my very favorite, and chimichangas at the Mexican's. And I liked soda pop and juice too, almost as much as any kid. I had a special fondness for root beer, and whenever I drank it I thought, Oh man... But when I got home from school, nothing picked me up or washed down that cookie or Little Deb's cake like a few sips from mother's bappy sack, another name I had for it. And at dinner when I didn't like what we were eating, it was swell to walk over and sit down in mom's lap and partake of bappy instead of trying to cut up some smelly lambchop or dealing with a glass of bland pasteurized. Mom, dad, and even my sister never minded before. Well, sis sometimes did, saying I was too old and the sight of me suckling like a piggy made her sick, but I always ignored her opinions. But why were mom and dad suddenly agreeing with her?
Their reasoning, when I heard it, was paper-thin. Everything was fine, no one objected to my feeding the natural way at home beyond what we all understood were the usual age parameters, even if, as I say, sis sometimes rolled her eyes and called me a nasty little fetishist. Like she didn't answer the phone in the living room whenever she felt like it naked as a two-year-old with her hairy thing showing. No one said anything to her about that. But it all came down, I was told, because of a scene I made in a crowded restaurant the night before, throwing a tantrum and screaming I wanted bappy right now. It was then they decided to pass a new law: I was off the breast, not only in restaurants, but at home too, so I wouldn't forget.
I didn't believe it. Surely my mother would relent. I expected her to come to my bedroom that first night and give me a quick feed before she turned in. But nothing. At school the next day I joined in the usual playground discussion groups, and we got going on our favorite drinks. Monty upheld the joyful fizz of a coke, and Bill said he died for those little boxes of sweet juice you poke a straw in. Then it was my turn. I hadn't mentioned my fondness for nature's drink to any but a few of my closest buds, and although they had certainly blabbed, the news of my unusual taste was far from school-wide. I mean, I knew it put me in the minority, so why give these twerps ammunition? But this day I said, for those who didn't already know it as well as for those who did, that when I got home from school, I bypassed the fridge and went straight to Carol, my mom, to lock my lips on her buttery brown nipple for a few good, life-giving pulls. My audience laughed, out of embarrassment, I guessed, or because they thought I was joking. One guy I hadn't spoken to in years told me later that he had a baby sister who nursed, and wondered what it tasted like. I told him to try it and he'd prefer it to Kool-aid or pop; but more than the taste it was setting your head in, feeling the warmth of the larger body flow into you, and drifting into another zone. It was beyond anything he could remember, I assured him.
But mom was firm. As soon as I hopped off the school bus that afternoon and ran inside, she crossed her arms over her chest and put on a stern expression, pretending to go on watching a TV talk show. She had put on a thick sweater too, as a guard against me, I figured. I walked out of the living room, where she was, and into the kitchen, and unleashed a few hints from there. "I sure am thirsty here," I called out, opening the fridge door but not looking inside. "Nothing in here for me," I added, "just beer, cow milk, and O.J., and I hate all those." I slammed the door shut. "I read where kids who nurse longer have higher I.Q.'s and greater resistance to disease," I tried. "And another thing, some South Seas islanders nurse their kids until they're 12 or so, and have a hundred percent literacy rate." As mom went on glaring at the set, her arms a capital X over her two udders and her expression grim as ever, I blurted out, "I'm parched!" After that, still without looking at me, she said, "That's enough, Jason. It went on far too long, and now it's over. None of your friends still nurse, I'm sure. Get yourself a glass of water."
Making a sound like "pah!" I scooted out the back door. Water wasn't going to do the trick, not in the mood I was in, and not even my favorite root beer sounded appealing. I went over to Roger Englehart's house, the kid who told me his mother was nursing. I hadn't played with Roge since kindergarten, but I remembered his mom well, and now seemed like a good time for Roge and me to rekindle our relationship. It had ended on a sour note the summer we were both five when I shot him with an air rifle stuffed with dog dirt. After pulling the trigger, I felt remorseful and went home. Also nervous. I turned on the TV, lay in front of it and acted casual, but then of course Roge's mother showed up at our door, hotter than a match. Well, dignified, but still hot. I didn't get the door, I let my mom do that, but I was called over on the spot, so I know. She was dragging poor Roge by the hand, and hadn't cleaned him up. He had been shirtless when I let the load fly, and stood there with bits of brown stuff clinging to him forehead to navel. He didn't look the least bit upset, though. He even smiled and waved to me with his free hand. His mother said she realized Roger was a bit of a pest, said that about her own kid, but added that with the weather so warm, this kind of treatment was way too much. At my mother's bidding I delivered a rather stiff apology, and after that sort of left Roger alone. He came by a few times, but I pretended to be busy. At school too, I was on the fast track while old Roge had joined the select group of near hold-backs, so we didn't have much contact there either.
Today, though, I sought him out. He was digging a hole in his backyard, right in the grass, and didn't seem surprised to see me. I joined him in the pointless earth moving for a while, thinking that his dad would probably blister his behind for it, and then I asked him what his mom was up to.
"My mom?" he said, as if he didn't realize he had one. "She's inside feeding Tim, I guess. She's always doing that."
"Tim would be your new brother, I suppose," I said. "That's sweet. I can see it now. Say, do you mind if I go on in and grab something to drink?"
Roge didn't mind, so I went quietly in the back door as he went on expanding his excavation. That kid had a real feeling for dirt. I had never been in his house before, and found myself in the kitchen. No Mrs. Englehart. I silently started to creep around and finally saw her, in a sunny corner of the living room, holding her maternal breast out to little Tod or whoever. She didn't hear me on the soft rug, and was absorbed, so to speak, in her activity, and I got real close.
Then I stood almost without breathing and watched as the lucky babe chowed down. The kid's face was hidden under the top of her shirt that she had pulled up,but I could see those little jaws going to beat the band. Man, how I envied him. My mouth began watering uncontrollably, and I wished I was a month old again. At last I made a helpless noise in my throat and Mrs. Englehart looked over.
"Oh!" she said. She had to check herself to keep from jumping up and dropping the kid, it seemed. But she stayed where she was and left him connected.
"Hello, Mrs. Englehart," I said. "It's been a long time."
She looked down at her breast and hunched over some to hide the goings-on, but didn't lose her nerve entirely.
"I didn't know anyone was here," she said, not mad or anything. "Where's Roger?"
"Outside," I said. "Golly, that baby looks like he's really enjoying lunch. Look at him go!"
"If you'll excuse us, Jason, isn't it?" As if she could have forgotten the guy who plastered her son with do-do. "Why don't you go back outside and play, or do you need something?"
"I'll be frank," I said. "I can't get that at home anymore, and I was wondering if I could have a sip or two."
She stared at me wide-eyed for a moment, not saying anything. Then she told me to go home, immediately. I did, pretty peeved, leaving Roge flabbergasted in his back yard. But seeing Mrs. Englehart nursing had reminded me of something from my earlier childhood. It was just a dim memory, but I was sure that a few years ago, my mother had taken my sister and me somewhere very noisy and crowded where I had seen a number of women nursing their infants right out in front of the whole world. Of course I was getting mine then and wasn't envious, but now this place, or my memory of it, arose in my mind like a Promised Land.
When I got home I went straight to mom. She was fixing dinner then, and I could see her big vanilla sacks move around under her thick sweater-shield as she bent this way and that to get pans out of the cupboard and lettuce out of the crisper and so forth. I had wanted to ask her earlier if she had her bra on, but now it seemed clear she didn't. I wondered if the sweater was getting milky inside. Then I asked her about this place she had taken me and sis to once, where women were nursing babies all over. Where were we, I said, in a hospital?
She glanced at me and told me to change the subject. But I told her I was just trying to remember, to get my life in the right chronological order. I described as best I could the mass of people, mainly women and kids, with the kids running wild and peeing on the floor while their moms sat on metal folding chairs looking bored, and finally mom's name was called over a loudspeaker, and she and sis and I had to go up some stairs to talk to a woman in an office like a clear plastic booth, and we were there what seemed like forever, and at one point mom had cried, and in the very booth next to ours, a young mother was breast-feeding her tot.
Listening to me mom stopped mucking about with dinner and took on a wistful look. Then she said that dad had gone away for a time when I was younger, probably too young to remember, and before she found a job she had to apply for food stamps. Probably I meant the welfare office downtown. She remembered a large and boisterous throng too, but wasn't sure about nursing mothers. In fact, my memory was better than she thought. I not only remembered the mothers, but something about dad's either running away with another woman or going into some kind of rehab a few years back, I wasn't sure which. I'd tried to pry it out of my sister, who I was sure knew, but she always told me it wasn't my affair. Like she knew what my affairs were. I didn't ask mom any more about it now, though, since I had other things on my mind. It would just have to wait.
I'd gone downtown with an older friend recently, and knew I had to take a bus. I called the bus company about routes and times and got it all nailed down. Then after my school bus dropped me off at school the next morning, I casually ditched my friends and, under the cover of morning darkness, strode off the school grounds to a main street. When a bus full of commuters pulled up at the stop I stood by, I boarded it with about nine grownups who were dressed, I would say, for the office, and who carried briefcases and newspapers. I still had my 50-pound sack of books on my back, and I counted on that to make it look like I was still going to school. I hoped there really were some schools downtown so that my trick made sense, but if someone said there weren't any, I'd say one was being built. A joke is sometimes a very good distraction, I've found.
No one spoke to me, not even the driver as I fed my coins in the slot, but I did feel several sets of eyes boring into me as I took an aisle seat next to a sleeping fat man. These busybodies soon lost interest, though, and went back to their papers. On the long ride I looked around the packed vehicle to see if perhaps any women had taken their breasts out to nurse their babies. Lots of women were talking, and lots were trying to catch a bit of a nap, but tiny ones in need of an eye-opener were not in evidence. I sat quietly until we got downtown, and then called out to the passengers around me, "Anybody know what stop the welfare office is?" This got the stares at me going again, but the woman right behind me told me to get off at the next stop and walk south. She called me "honey." I thanked her, noticing that her breasts looked small and hard inside her dress.
I found the welfare office all right, but it wasn't the way I remembered it, with bulging moms hanging out their basketball chests everywhere like a human dairy farm. First I had to pass by security guards and walk through a metal detector, and all that wasn't there before, or I'd forgotten it if it was. As I was going through, a guard waving a wand at me asked me where my mother was. "In there," I said, pointing ahead to I didn't know what. "She just sent me for a paper." And I jerked my thumb at my book bag, supposedly where I had stashed the paper. He couldn't have cared less. I was full of unnecessary ruses today.
Then I was in, and had a number of waiting areas to choose from, and an elevator to who knew how many floors of milk-filled women. Nothing was happening breastwise on the first floor, so I boarded the elevator with a young mother who was leading two kids and pushing one in a stroller. I decided to follow her wherever she went, since she might start nursing any minute. The kid in the stroller had a bottle, though, a bad sign, and the two older ones didn't look interested in what was inside mommy's none-too-clean sweatshirt. Probably, like me, they'd already been weaned. And what if these days all kids had bottles or were weaned? What if women, except of course for the wonderful Mrs. Englehart, no longer used their breasts for any practical purpose, but just stared at the useless things and wrapped them up in bras as if to put them in cold storage? I'd kill myself.
We got off on the third floor, and I trailed along after her as she went to a tiny waiting area near the elevator and went up to a desk to sign in for an appointment. What was it with these small, neat, efficient-looking waiting areas, with the seats and magazine tables all hooked together in mod units like a backyard swing set? I saw the same thing on the first floor. In my day there had been just one big waiting area like a human zoo, with tumultuous humanity at its rollicking best, as I mentioned. Where was that big room now? Obviously times had changed, and yet I saw, in a corner with her back to everyone, a woman, not the woman I had followed but another one, holding a baby and doing the deed. Oh she was modest, not just turning her back but just barely flipping up her shirt so that everything was hidden, but she was doing it. Thank the lord, I said to myself, that it hasn't gone out of style here like the metal folding chairs and large wait room and kids peeing all over the place.
I snuck up on her pretty much the way I snuck up on Mrs. Englehart. Women get all wrapped up in the process, and can fairly easily be crept up on. I was coming around one side of her and could see the baby's head tucked under the shelf of her clothed breast. She was very good at not exposing herself and may have had on one of those special bras that let out only the juicy tip. Eventually I got so close she saw me, but she didn't have a cow like Mrs. Englehart.
Instead she turned her head slowly toward me and gave me what seemed a sly look.
"What are you lookin' at, boy?" she said.
"That's so much healthier than using a bottle," I said. "Healthier for you, and for your infant."
"You go on and find your mama, now. Me and junior's havin' breakfast."
I was prepared for this moment. Knowing that women applying for welfare needed money, I fished out the dollar bill I had brought along and made my proposal.
"Look, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I was recently weaned against my wishes and I was wondering, do you think I could get a suck or two? I'll give you this dollar if you give me some."
Right then we were joined by a huge man dressed like a lumberjack who came out of the men's room beside us, and she began talking to him.
"Ted, Ted! You won't believe what this kid here is askin' me. The little pervert wants to give me a dollar to suck my titty."
I didn't like being called a pervert. I looked around the wait area to see who was taking it in when I felt Ted's hand close around the front strap of my book bag. Then he literally lifted me off the floor with one hand and I found myself dangling in midair with my face almost in his coppery beard.
"This is my woman, man," he said, almost suffocating me in his cigarette breath. It was clear he'd been smoking in the restroom, no doubt against regulations, and I considered turning him in, assuming I survived.
"You go get your own," he concluded, dropping me. My feet hit the floor first, but the weight of my books pulled me right over onto my back. They both laughed as I struggled to get up again, showing their stained, gapped teeth. I swore to myself, as I hightailed it back over to the elevator, that when I grew up I'd be so educated and employable that I'd never need to visit any welfare office.
I rode the elevator down to the first floor again,
crushed and angry. When I got off I saw a soda machine. No thanks, I thought,
and went on out to the street. I was thirsty, but not for that. Right outside
a group of women were smoking and talking. Breasts everywhere, I thought,
and not a drop to drink. Mama, this was going to be one tough transition.
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