I feel bad for baby Raph the more I mention him. In Mikey's eyes, he spent every minute crying. If I found little Mikey wandering around at three or four years old, I'd keep him too. I might keep Leo or Don. I'd probably give Raph away.
"So does any of this look familiar?" Elaine asked for the hundredth time as she held Mikey's bemittened hand. He trotted along happily singing "I'm a Little Teapot" over and over.
"Nope. Can we have ice cream! I love ice cream, but we only had it once and it was kind of runny. We was going up to the top because we runned out of food and had nothing for a whole day and Raphie was crying 'cause he was hungry."
Her heart hurt for the little cutie. She watched as he skipped lightly over the cracks in the pavement, full of contentment.
Did this alley look familiar? Mikey stopped skipping and pointed down the alley excitedly. "I know this place! We get food from that big box!"
They ate out of dumpsters? She would find this Sensei and give him a piece of her mind. No little children, especially ones as cute as her Mikey should eat out of dumpsters. His hand slipped out of hers and he waddled down the alley, the snowsuit stiffening his knees. He moved with amazing speed despite his encumbrance.
"Sensei!" Mikey called sweetly down the alley. "I'm back now! Come out and take me home."
Elaine followed him, careful not to step on any icy spots. Alleys weren't salted like sidewalks. "I don't know if he's right out here in the open, waiting, pumpkin. He might be at home. Is your house near here?"
"No. This ain't where we live…" His eyes widened and he looked around. "Wassat?"
Elaine tilted her head. "I don't hear…" But she did hear something. A slight scraping inside the dumpster. "Oh, it's probably a cat or something. Let's go, little Mikey. We should get some warm food in your belly. Let's go to a restaurant and I'll get you some soup."
Mikey jumped up and down, grunting when he couldn't reach the dumpster lid. "We gotta look."
"Okay, but then we're going to go eat. Now stand back in case the kitty gets scared and runs away real fast."
He obediently took a few steps away. Elaine swallowed, hoping that she didn't get scratched. A woman at her church had died of cat scratch fever in the 1970's and she'd always had a little bit of fear because of it.
Elaine opened the lid of the dumpster. Nothing. Just a bunch of trash. Although one of the bags moved suspiciously, as if motivated by more than just the wind. And then she saw a tiny green foot sticking out of the bag, trembling. Another one. One of Mikey's brothers.
"Hello there," Elaine said. "It's okay. I'm a friend. Your brother Mikey is with me."
"Brother! My brother! Lemme see! Lemme see!" Mikey grabbed her leg and hopped up and down.
The foot disappeared into the garbage bag, which convulsed. She wouldn't leave the little thing here in the dumpster. How awful. A little child sleeping in a dumpster? How did their father let that happen? She moved some bags aside until she saw a pair of terrified yellow eyes staring back at her. This one was a darker green than her Mikey. Sort of a John Deere green. Not nearly as cute and trembling all over. He was also smaller. Shorter, but with thicker limbs. He blinked and his bottom lip wiggled as tears welled up. "D-d-don't hurt me, mean lady!" he said, in a slightly heavier tone that Mikey. "I-I-I's goes home and tells on you."
"Raphie! Raphie!" Mikey hopped up and down, giggling with glee. "That's Raphie! Lemme see!"
"Calm down, Mikey. I'll get him out. I'll take him to get some soup with us. Would you like that, little Raphie?"
"Y-y-you go aways!" He turned his head and lay trembling in a ball in the garbage. It was one of the most pathetic things she'd ever seen. His baby arms and legs all curled up and quivering with the cold and fear.
She reached in and put her hands under his arms. He didn't look too heavy. He squealed with fright and all his limbs wind milled in the air, fighting to escape. "No! No! No! Y-y-ou's one of the b-b-bad peoples. They t-t-takes us aways and d-d-does bad things to us!"
"No she don't!" Mikey said happily as Elaine set the squirming toddler on the ground at her feet.
As soon as her hands left his trembling body, he threw himself at Mikey, wrapping his arms around his neck, weeping loudly. Mikey patted his brother's shell, a smile on his face, as if this were an everyday occurrence. "Don't be scared, Raphie! We're gonna go get soup!"
"I's scawed!" Raphie yelled into Mikey's shoulder.
"You're freezing too. Did you spend all night in that thing?" She couldn't conceal the disgust in her voice.
Raphie's body heaved with sobbing and it was clear that he was not going to answer any of her questions. She reached down to pick him up and he turned around suddenly, planting his teeth into her hand.
"Ouch! Bad boy!" she yelled, shaking her finger.
"You's n-n-no hurts my Mikey!" He balled up his little fists and stamped his foot.
Elaine definitely did not have the same tender feelings for little Raphie that she had for little Mikey. But he was scared and cold and lost and she had a duty to take care of this one too. "I'm just going to get you some food and get you warmed up. You look really cold."
"I's not c-c-cold!" he said defiantly through his chattering teeth, his whole body shuddering.
Mikey held Raphie's hand and said helpfully, "Raphie talks real funny. I think it's 'cause he's stupid."
Raphie nodded in solemn agreement and said, "Yeah, I's stupid."
She scratched her head. She could barely handle Mikey and now she had his brother, who seemed to be an even bigger handful. "I'm sure you're not stupid. I knew a little girl who had a stutter like you and she went on to be a school principal."
"Was dat?" Raphie asked. He cuddled himself against Mikey's side, shielding himself from her. "Dat s-s-some kind of m-m-monster? I's scawed of dem."
She took off her jacket again and held it out for Raphie. He knitted his brow, struggling between his fear of the stranger and his desire to be warm. Desire won out and he crept up to her, his eyes wide and lips tightly squeezed together. "Don't be scared," she said. "I haven't hurt Mikey, have I?"
"N-n-no. But we's to stay out of s-s-sight. I's gets paddled at home. I's real bad."
Finally, she gathered up his shaking body in her jacket and set him into the basket of her walker. Mikey stood in front of her, his arms held up in obedience. She set him next to Raphie, who instantly clamped his arms around his brother's middle, hiding his face in his chest. Mikey bundled him up in the jacket and hummed "I'm a Little Teapot" again.
Elaine carefully pushed the walker back over the ice and on to the sidewalk. She looked down at the two green toddlers cuddling in her walker. Raphie was so cold and scared. How could she send him back? Huddled in a dumpster all night. She burned with anger at the idea. This Sensei didn't deserve these little angels. Well, Mikey was an angel. She didn't know what Raphie was exactly.
She tucked the jacket more closely around Raphie and felt his body wince at her touch. Did he have an anxiety disorder? The walker jammed in the doorway of the restaurant as she pushed it over the threshold. She didn't usually carry so much weight in it.
Dan polished the counter and leaned down to see the new additions to her basket. "Those your grandkids?"
"No," Mikey said, standing up to see in the display case. Raphie squeaked as his security object left his arms. "We going home. That's lots of food."
Raphie grabbed Mikey by the knees and he fell back in the cart. "You's comes back here!"
Elaine tapped Raphie on the shoulder and felt him shy away from her touch. She bundled him back in the jacket to conceal his green skin from Dan. "You stop hitting your brother, Raphie. These are the neighbor kids. I'm watching them today. I think we're going to have one bowl of soup and a cup for each of the little ones. Could we have them to go?"
"Don't want to stay?" Dan asked as he spooned some chicken noodle soup into a foam container.
"I want to s-s-stay," said Raphie's voice from his nest of trembling jacket. It seemed cruel to make the little thing go out into the cold again so soon.
"Alright," she said reluctantly. "Sit back down, Mikey. You two have to sit and be good or we'll leave. Raphie has to stay in the cart in the jacket." She mentally prepared herself to clean chicken noodle soup off her jacket when they got home.
She picked the booth at the far end of the diner. Thankfully, they were the only ones there. Mikey jumped out of the cart before she could help him and nimbly set himself on the seat. His nose came up to the table and he said, "I'm real short." Elaine fetched him a booster seat and sat him in it, watching his legs kick against the plastic.
As soon as Elaine sat down to eat her soup she heard a little whimper from the jacket and Raphie said, "Oopsie. I spilled. I's gets paddled now?"
"It's time for bed, you two," Elaine said. She'd thrown the jacket into the washing machine as soon as she got home and also Mikey's snowsuit since he'd been afraid to ask to go to the bathroom on the way home and wet himself. Both Raphie and Mikey were bouncing on the bed, giggling.
Toddlers. So hard. Too hard. Maybe Michelle would watch them. Her daughter could handle them for a while. But how would she introduce them to her? What would she say? I found some green children who look like turtles in an alley and I want you to babysit them? These are your two new brothers, Michelle.
Mikey crawled under the covers, but Raphie ignored her and kept jumping. "Raphie, I'm serious. Come to bed now." He stopped jumping and watched her, with a small frown. "I n-n-no want to."
"It's okay, baby. Come here." She patted the bed next to her.
He shook his head vigorously, his yellow eyes wide with terror.
"Then sleep on Mikey's other side. Then he'll be in between us."
Raph came towards her slowly, his hands behind his shell. He crept into bed next to Mikey and cuddled him. Mikey patted him on the head and said, "You okay, Raphie. I take care of you. I gonna kiss you now." And he kissed Raphie, who giggled. Mikey said, "Night night!" and kissed him again. Raphie giggled louder. Mikey recognized his success as an entertainer and kissed him again. "Night night!"
Elaine suppressed the coo that threatened to escape and said, "Now be quiet. I'm going to read you a story and then we're going to sleep. This is a really old story." She pulled out her Bible and the book fell open from use, the binding broken many years ago. Her church gave it to her for her high school graduation. Blue ink underlined many passages and tiny handwritten notes filled the yellow margins. Every few pages held an old church bulletin or prayer prompter.
"No pitchers?" Mikey asked, curling up under her arm and examining the book as if he could read the tiny print.
She wasn't sure what to read to them. "Do you two go to Sunday school?"
"We're too little for school," Mikey said. "We gonna start when I can use the potty good."
Raphie said, "Mikey potties on me lots."
Elaine hoped that Raphie wouldn't remember than as an adult. "Now listen." She put an arm around Mikey and felt Raphie move away to the other side of the bed, where he sat alone, craning his neck to see the pages. "'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me…'"
"Who's the Lord?" Mikey asked. "Is he your dad?"
"He's a n-n-ninja like Master Spwinter," Raphie said as if it were very obvious.
"No, the Lord is God."
Mikey wrinkled up his green face and said, "What's God?"
She was too tired to describe the concept at this hour. How could she take them to church on Sunday? Maybe if they stayed in their snowsuits and they all sat in the back. "Let's talk about it later. I'll tell you who he is on Sunday. 'He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul…'"
At the end of the Psalm, which wasn't very long, she felt Mikey's warm head asleep against her shoulder. Raphie was asleep sitting up, his head lolling back and forth as he tried not to fall down, his eyes opening for a split second and then closing again.
She put her hand on Raphie's arm to guide him onto the bed and his eyes opened. "Master Spwinter?" he asked, pouting. "I's not s-s-sleepy." He looked around drowsily and then pointed at a picture on her bedside table. "Who dat?"
"That's my little son Dennis. He died when he was eight."
Raphie squinted at the picture and said, "He looks funny."
"He was sick. He was so sick that he died."
"He good boy?"
She pulled the picture from the table and let him hold it for a better look. "He was a very good boy. But he had polio. His legs and back were funny because he got sick. That's what polio was. He got so sick that his legs didn't work and he couldn't breathe."
"Good boys shouldn't d-d-d…" He sighed with frustration. "D-d-d…d-d…" He threw the picture down and burrowed into the blankets. "I's gonna get sick too?" she heard his tiny voice ask from his hole.
"No, you won't get sick. People don't get polio now. Go to sleep."
She pulled the blankets down from his face so he could breathe and found that he had tears in his eyes. "I's sick too. I's talks so bad."
"Oh, you do okay."
Mikey snored, his arms and legs in every direction, the bunny clutched above his head with one hand.
She woke up feeling stiff and wondering why. Then she remembered that she was sixty five. Sometimes Elaine woke up surprised that she still wasn't twenty. The bed was warm and empty and she rolled her eyes, wondering if they had gone to the bathroom without her and cringed when she realized the trouble they could have gotten into. Especially Mikey.
Not in Dennis' room playing with his old toys. Maybe they were too old fashioned. A slinky dog and a jack in the box. Some old jacks.
Not in the bathroom. The floor was wet with urine and she was sure that Mikey had had an accident on the way or else missed the toilet entirely.
Not in the living room or the kitchen. But the cupboards had been ransacked by little hands. Small two toed footprints on the counter where one of them stood to get to the cereal. And two snowsuits were gone. They weren't anywhere in the house.
They were alone. Out in the world by themselves, wandering the neighborhood.