Chapter 71: Self-Soothing Super Market Sweep
Chapter Description: Clark is taken grocery shopping and has more to worry about than just what kind of diapers will end up in the cart.
Chapter 71: Self-Soothing Super Market Sweep
Late Saturday morning. Just before lunch. Plans were for me to stoically allow myself to be stuffed with ravioli and then fall asleep in a semi-bloated haze. But first; grocery shopping. The cart glided down the dairy aisle.
“Huh,” Janet said, picking up the tremendous jug of milk. “Goat’s milk. Let’s give it a try.” She put it in the cart and moved on. “Eggs? Sure. We need eggs.” It went into the cart behind me. I sat in the cart’s built-in baby seat, a wire mesh basket with two holes for my legs to dangle through and a hard plastic flap that went up when an infant or a Little wasn’t occupying the space. It wasn’t made for comfort, the only cushioning I got was currently taped around me and more than slightly damp.
Diapers go through a kind of life cycle. The first wetting is often absorbed so quickly that it’s easy to forget you peed within seconds; not unlike flushing a toilet and walking away. By the time you’re washing your hands, your brain is onto other things. Around wetting two or three, you start to feel it. You’re obviously wet, and feel the soft pulpy squish with every movement and it’s swollen to the point where it’s pressing up against you as much as you’ve pressed up against it. The ratio of pillow to sponge is roughly fifty fifty.
After that, the feeling gets physically disgusting; gruesome even. The thing starts sagging so much that the tapes aren’t holding it up as much as willpower and whatever you’ve got on over it. The ratio of pee to padding has shifted in the pee’s favor and your privates start to feel like they’re being dipped into microwaved swamp water. Even if you wet up front, the moisture travels all the way to the back before it settles in, and the feeling of dryness becomes almost like a foreign thought, a word like ‘schadenfreude’ that describes a complex feeling that doesn’t exist in your own language.
But, you keep going, because after a few weeks of being forced to wear diapers, you adapt to having a laissez faire attitude. A little damp stops being so bad and if it gets too damp, you ask for a change. Even if you don’t or the Amazon won’t listen, sometimes it feels easier to just release into an already soaked diaper. Languishing in an uncomfortably wet diaper, and then holding your bladder becomes a mental exercise that rapidly fatigues you. Why bother? If you hold it, the dry one that replaces it won’t stay dry for long. Might as well deal with it and hope whoever is in charge of your pants takes the hint.
I sat in that shopping cart, as happy as I could manage, which is to say not particularly so, but nothing had stirred my anger or resentment just yet. I’d had two bottles since breakfast, both in the confines of Janet’s lap, and she hadn’t checked or changed me since just after getting me out of the crib. As a result my pants were in that state where they could go either way. Not good, but good enough considering the context I’d been forced to live in.
The last bits of Summer had faded and the temperature had just started to shift so that it was chilly first thing in the morning but by ten if not earlier, the heat had returned in force. This was enough of an excuse for Janet to dress me in overalls, which was nice. Yeah, they still had snaps along the inseam, and anyone who stared at my waist could likely tell what I was wearing, but at least I didn’t have a light plastic waistband constantly peaking out over the top of my shorts. This might have been the first time in nearly a month that I’d had anything other than socks or footie jammies covering my ankles.
Too bad they weren’t denim. If the overalls had been a plain blue denim, I might have been able to fantasize about being back in Misty Brook, where Bert and his friends- Littles far handier than I- tinkered and built while tromping around homemade construction sites in dust and grime coated coverings. The white and blue pinstripes I’d been dressed in made me look more like a train engineer out of a children’s book than any sort of construction worker.
With Lion wedged in the basket by my side, I also had something to crush and squeeze in the event that Janet inevitably said something to get my teeth gnashing. Speaking of teeth gnashing, a binky had been clipped to the bib of the overalls, but the bulb remained dry and dangling. I wasn’t going to give her that satisfaction.
As the cart moved, I pivoted and turned around in the seat to see where we were going. I didn’t know the layout of this particular grocery store. Other than the Modest Proposal, which was a kind of treat I indulged in a few times a year, grocery shopping had not been a big part of my life. Everything had to be delivered and left at the front door of my house. The delivery fee, in a way, was a tax I’d paid to prevent giant people from trying to diaper me.
That battle having been lost, I had to twist my head and pivot in my seat every which way to see where we were going. The baby seat wanted me to just stare at Janet as the center of my world; or more likely, make it easier for Janet to look at me and make sure I wasn’t stealing anything from passing shelves. To be fair, that had been an idea the moment she told me where we were going. I’d never been to a Wall-Roxie, but the idea of taking anything and everything and subtly dumping it in the cart, pressuring Janet to pay for it was...appealing.
Too bad she started at the dairy aisle. With products behind heavy glass refrigeration doors, the cart was nowhere near the goods and I had no hope of reaching far enough to snag something. Not that it would have mattered in that instance, the smallest size container was a gallon. I wasn’t going to be able to lift much. Maybe the cookie aisle or something would bring me better luck.
“Someone’s excited to be going to the grocery store with his Mommy.” Janet chirped.
I squeezed Lion’s paw. “No, I’m not. Janet. I’m just not used to looking backwards.”
Janet’s expression soured like I’d just cussed at her. “Clark, I thought we agreed that you’d call me ‘Mommy’ in public.”
“And I thought you agreed to let me see my wife. That hasn’t happened yet.” Janet looked like she’d just been slapped. I felt like I’d just slapped her. The gasp leapt out of me and I just stared at my hands like I’d struck her. That was only supposed to have been something I thought, not something I said.
Other shoppers, Tweeners and Amazons milled around. Some had Littles in carts like mine. Others had their, children actual or adopted, tag along them holding hands or walking beside them. The social invisibility factor had kicked in. If any passerby noticed our growing tiff, they didn’t say anything.. I was just a fussy baby with a doting Mommy trying to manage me.
The pain on Janet’s face shifted and contorted into an almost Beouf-like mask of neutrality. “I know you’re dealing with a lot of big feelings, but that’s not fair to me. I did my best and acted in good faith.”
I shrunk down and shriveled up in my seat. “Yeah…” I did not and would not apologize, however.
Like a chameleon her tone shifted immediately, the pain gone with my admission. “We should play a game.”
Her eyes drifted down to my bib. “How about the quiet game? I bet you don’t have the willpower to keep quiet and keep your pacifier in your mouth the whole trip while I do our shopping.”
I crossed my arms, bringing Lion up to my chest. “What if I win?”
“I’ll take you to the potty before we leave.” My pacifier was in my mouth before she’d finished speaking. “As long as you’re not already wet or poopy.”
The pacifier went back to dangling immediately. “That’s not fair!”
Janet broke out into a full out witch’s titter. “Gotcha!” She leaned in and nuzzled my forehead. “I knew it, you little stinker, you! Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha!”
It’s a good thing Lion didn’t have bones and his insides were made entirely out of cotton. If not I might have committed animal-slaughter. “That’s not fair, Janet, and you know it,” I whined loudly.
For a moment, Janet’s embarrassment mirrored my own. Her face was just as red and her mannerisms just as skittish as my own. For her, having other ‘Grown-Ups’ hear me call her by her first name was akin to her signaling to any given passerby that I was sitting in wet pants. Weird, right?
We both inhaled through our mouths and then exhaled through our noses before either of us continued. “Okay,” she said. “You don’t like using your pacifier because it embarrasses you.” She said softly.
“Even though it helps you self-soothe and everybody else in your class does it.”
She kept going. “It also embarrasses me when you call me by my first name, especially in public.”
“But I’m not going to purposefully silence you by getting one of those inflatable pacifiers.”
I was actually quite thankful for that. “Good.”
Produce started going by on the periphery. We were walking and talking. “I’m not going to spank you, either.”
“So I’m not sure what I'm supposed to do to get you to do what you promised.” There was no inkling of threat.
I shrugged. “Sucks to be you, I guess.”
“If I can’t trust you to keep your word, how can I trust you with anything?” She countered. “Grading papers? Telling me about your day? Whether your teachers are being nice to you? Whether or not you know you need to go to the bathroom? I have to trust you, baby.”
I bristled at being called that. She shouldn’t trust me. Yet thinking back on Little Voices and the game with the feathers, I needed her to trust me. “What do you suggest?”
“How about, from now on, you don’t have to suck your pacifier…”
I wasn’t falling into this trap a second time. “Unless?”
“Unless you call me Ja-” she stopped herself, “Unless you call me something other than ‘Mommy’.” Damn, I was hoping to get her on that technicality. She was learning. “If you call me something other than ‘Mommy’ in public you have to keep your pacifier in your mouth until I think I can trust you to talk.” Then she tacked on, “Unless you don’t think you can do it....”
“You’re trying to use my competitiveness against me.” Actually I was kind of impressed.
The right side of her mouth creeped up into a smirk. “It’s working, isn’t it?”
My lip curled and I gave Lion one last squeeze. I put him back to my side. “Kind of. Deal.”
She offered her hand out to me, almost like we were equals. I took it and shook it, even though her palm literally dwarfed mine. “Deal.”
The shopping trip continued, as one might expect: Janet took stuff off of shelves and pretended to examine them when she knew full well what she was going to buy anyways, and then placed it in the cart. Once or twice I had the opportunity to grab some random item and toss it in among the growing pile, but that line about ‘trust’ had caused me to hesitate. I instead took the opportunity of knowing she wasn’t looking directly at me to empty out more of that morning’s apple juice, wincing as I sat back and felt the dampness go past my taint.
Janet really was playing me.
There was no rhyme or reason to how she shopped, as far as I could tell. Where other people might make a list and slowly walk through the store, aisle by aisle, scanning the shelves for whatever they might have on a list, Janet did the exact opposite. She’d look on the list she’d made and try to find the corresponding section of the store. Then she’d zero in on it and move on, even if there was another item we needed somewhere down the list. Lots of “Oops, we need this”, or “Almost forgot that.” I almost wanted to help.
When we got to the cereal aisle, she deigned to ask my opinion. “So what do you want for breakfast tomorrow?”
Janet seemed to hem and haw over something. She didn’t want to tell me now, but she wanted to pivot. “Mrs. Beouf says you’re a very good eater at school.”
“Did she tell you that if I’m not I’m not allowed to leave? Even if I’ve pooped and am sitting in my mess? Even if I”m keeping all the others waiting?” I let out a huff and stared back at Lion as if he were sharing in my commiseration.
“She did, actually,” Janet replied. “She said she’s going to be fixing that..”
A creeping feeling worked its way into my head. “When did she…?”
“The first day that you got to bring Lion to school.” That hadn’t come up around me when Beouf was giving her daily report. More confirmation that my ex-friends were talking about me behind my back.
Janet didn’t give me time to sulk. “How about this?” She went and grabbed two cereals off a shelf. The boxes were nearly identical, with the same dopey looking bird hovering a bowl of cereal that two cartoon children were wolfing down. The only difference was that in one box, the bird and cereal were pink and in the other they were both brown. “Chocolate or Strawberry?”
“Do I have to eat it with goat’s milk?” I asked.
“That or have it dry.”
“Chocolate,” I said.
The winding zig-zag trip went on and on. Janet included me in a few more choices. What type of peanut butter, what flavor jelly, what flavor ice cream to get for dessert did I want raisins or dried bananas as a healthy snack; that sort of thing. Then came the part I’d been dreading. I knew it had been coming. Janet had saved it for last, on purpose no doubt.
Cleaners, paper towels and garbage bags zoomed by, and the cart U-Turned into the next aisle. Packages and packages containing pictures of babies and adult Littles smiled out at me with unblinking eyes and silly rictus grins. I looked past Janet’s head and read the hanging sign above the row. Disposable Diapers, Training Pants, Formula, Baby Food, Baby Wipes, Baby Needs.
I quickly took in the displays and started trying not to lose my temper. The jars of mush had pictures of actual infants on them. The buckets of formula were specially marketed for either “Littles” or “Infants”, kind of like how different brands of dog chow specialized in large or small breeds. The packages and boxes of diapers had a nearly fifty-fifty split on whether a Little was depicted on them or not, often within the same brand and size.
Yet another example of typical Amazon propaganda: It was supposed to be the Baby Needs section, but ‘Little’ and ‘Baby’ were practically interchangeable here. Meanwhile, any incontinence product that could fit on one of the giants was discretely stashed away with the tampons, maxi-pads and other hygiene products closest to the store’s pharmacy. ‘Incontinence’ hadn’t even been on any of the signs.
A body would have to know where those diapers were and find them in their discreet packaging at the very end of the row near the back. The most embarrassing thing on them were the pictures of the plain white and gray pull-up diapers themselves.
My diapers were out in the open with half a dozen other Littles faces attached to them, forced to pretend that they were super happy waddling and crawling around in garments they’d long since outgrown. How much of the pain in those Littles’ eyes was just my own reflected back at me?
“Mommy,” I said, “Can we please leave here?” I wasn’t sure whether playing up the M-Word and giving her what she wanted would make her more pliable or not.
“We’re almost done, baby, just a few more things.” The cart sped up for a few strides until we were right in the thick of it. She wasn’t oblivious to my discomfort. “Mommy had a lot stocked up before she brought you home, but we’re almost out of diapers.”
I sulked. “I can live with that.”
“But your clothes and bedsheets can’t.” She tossed a small package of Monkeez Nighttime onto the cart pile, and moved a whole heaping box of the daytime ones under the cart. “Barely,” she huffed to herself. I got a good look at the box, both Littles and Amazon infants were featured on opposite yet otherwise identical sides. Turn the baby around one-hundred eighty degrees and you saw the Little in the exact same pose.
“Why can’t we just order them online through an app?” I whined. “Diaper Dash or BabHub or something?”
“We’re already here, hon,” she said. “And those apps get expensive over time. Let’s just get what you need, and get out of here.”
I quietly caved Lion’s skull in. “Fine.” No sense in arguing that I didn’t need them. She was in no mood to hear that song.
She grabbed two smaller packs of diapers. “While we’re here, why don’t we get something different besides Monkeez?”
Something different?! Alarm bells started going off in my brain. “What?” I yelped “Why?”
“Some of these look cute,” she said. “And some might work better than what you’re wearing.” There was just enough space in the cart for her to poke the front of my pants and feel the sodden sopping squish.
For reasons I couldn’t immediately articulate, the thought of being changed into a different style of diaper sent off all kinds of alarm bells. My pulse started racing, and even though we were the only ones in the baby aisle at the time, I felt like the entire store was looking and listening into that conversation right there. I thought I was getting over it. Suffice it to say, becoming numb and desensitized doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it happen at a steady pace or in a straight line.
“A diaper is a diaper,” I said through gritted teeth. “What does it matter how they look? Nobody but you and Beouf or Zoge or Jessica is gonna see them.”
My face was on fire. “Mommy!”
She took a second to suppress a guffaw. “I’m just saying, Clark. Your diaper isn’t anything to be embarrassed about, and sometimes just a t-shirt and diaper is enough for you. You spend most weekends laying around the house in just your Monkeez. It’s cute!”
Too loud! Way too loud! There were people on the other sides of the shelves. There had to be! And they were hearing every word. About me. In my diapers. I lowered my voice, hoping she would follow my lead. “That’s because that’s all you put me in some days.”
She didn’t follow my lead. “Well if I have to look at your wet and messy diapers when I’m changing you, I think I should have a say in what they look like.” If anything she was getting louder.
“J...Mommy...stop. You’re embarrassing me!”
She quieted herself. “And I keep telling you, baby boy, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re safe with me. Maturosis is perfectly natural. Just go with it and let it happen.”
I was not convinced. “Easy for you to say.
She pivoted, reached up, and presented two packs, relatively small ones, twenty-four count. Wouldn’t last more than a week, tops. One was blue with hippos on it, and the other was white with smiling cartoon bees on it. “Which one do you want to try? Bee Gees or Hippobottomuses?”
“Why do the bees not have stingers?”
Janet looked at the front of the package, allowing me to see the back: “Leak Free Guarantee” it said, and “For babies of all ages: Little, Tweener, or Amazon.”
“If they had stingers, they’d probably cause leaks,” Janet mused. “That or maybe they’re baby bees. Bay-bees.” She laughed lightly at her own lame pun. “Is that the one you want me to get for you?”
I remembered something from Amy. “Aren’t bees grown, too? Shouldn’t they be Larva-Gees or something if those are supposed to be babies?”
“Clark. You’re stalling.”
My ‘Mommy’ wanted me to stall? Fine. Let’s stall. Lion in hand, threw my arms up into the air. “What do you mean ‘stalling’? I’m just asking quest-IONS?!” Just as planned, my stuffie slipped loose from grasp and went behind me. Far far behind me, skidding almost to the end of the aisle before he stopped. It had been a really good and lucky toss. I did my best to look confused and bewildered. “Lion?! Mommy?”
Janet growled a bit and huffed. “I really shouldn’t…” This was true.
“It was an accident,” I lied.
Had it been the beginning of our outing, Janet might have pushed the cart the twenty or so odd feet over to Lion and picked him up. The cart was full now, and inertia was still a thing. She did what was easier and walked over to my stuffie, bent over, and brought him back. Given how fast and wide her stride was, it wasn’t very long. It was still enough time for me to reach back, grab the pack of night time diapers off the pile in the cart and toss them on the nearest shelf. She wouldn’t miss those until it was too late.
My ex-friend gave me back my stuffie. “If it happens again, he’s staying with me.”
“Yes ma’am.” I cuddled Lion to hide my guilty grin.
“Now,” she said, re-grabbing the two packs. “Which one do you want?”
She was getting irritated enough that I could see her chewing on her tongue and puffing up her cheeks. “Okay. Let’s try this another way. Do you want the Bee Gees? Yes or no?”
“Okay then.” She put the Bee Gees back and put the package of hippo diapers in the cart. “Hippobottomuses it is.”
Those were the type that Amy had been changed into at the zoo. Not my favorite parallel. “Hey! That’s not-!”
“I made it very clear that you were getting one or the other, hon. Those were your choices and you made it.” My cage on wheels was already moving away, down to the other end where the training pants were. None of the kids on the training pants packages were Littles...
“NOOOOOOO! NOOOO! MOMMY! NOOOOOOOOOO!” My impending tirade, likely starting with the word ‘Janet’ was cut off by a child screaming bloody murder. Rounding the corner, dragging along an absolutely distraught child, was a very pregnant Tweener woman. “NOOO! I’M NOT A BABY! I’M NOT A BABY! I’M NOT A LITTLE!”
Oh no. I didn’t have to turn around. I didn’t need to look to see who it was. I shouldn’t have looked. I didn’t want to look.
I did, though.
I recognized them both. His features were chubbier, hers more bird like, but they had the same flaxen hair. “I already told you,” Elmer’s mom said. “We’re not getting the diapers for you, honey. We’re getting them for your sister for when she gets out of my tummy in a few weeks.”
Elmer wasn’t having any of it. “NOOOOOOOO!”
“Janet!” I tried to whisper. “Stop! Turn around! Pl-!” The pacifier went into my lips so fast it might have been a reflex on Janet’s part.
“Ah-ah-ah.” Janet waved her finger at me. Taking her hand off the push bar slowed our roll. “Deal’s a deal.”
My hands impotently jerked at the air and fidgeted as I resisted the urge to take the pacifier out and beg Janet to turn around and take us out and around the back of the store. Doing that might upset Janet. She might say my name and Elmer or his mom would hear. Doing a U-Turn and exiting out the back would give them a better look at my face.
The social invisibility of being ‘just another baby’ wouldn’t work. Not with Elmer and a parent whom I’d actually met. Another no-win situation. I really thought I’d be used to it by this point.
Pleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseeme. We slowed down. Too slow. Janet was looking at pouches of applesauce and baby food. I started sucking on the pacifier to quiet myself, and burying my face in Lion. Pleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseeme.
“I know you’re having a rough time at school,” Elmer’s Mom said. “But I promise those training pants we bought are just so that Miss Ambrose doesn’t bother you anymore. No one is gonna turn you into a baby.”
“Or a Little?” Elmer sniffed.
I tensed up. I wish I’d been mistaken. It was Elmer. Should I turn my head more and deliberately look away or would that only draw more attention?
“Or a…” Elmer’s mom gasped. “Mr. Gibs-?!” Three things happened in that moment: I sheepishly peered out from behind Lion, Janet whipped her head around and looked down at the pregnant woman who only came up to her breast and Elmer ducked behind his mother’s legs like it might save him.
“Oh. Hello.” She readjusted her gaze to meet Janet. “I’m sorry. I thought your um...baby was someone else. From behind he looked familiar.”
Janet smiled lightly and nodded, oblivious to the Tweener’s discomfort. “Do you know Clark?”
The woman looked at me sucking on my pacifier and then back to Janet. She was doing the same kind of social calculus in her head that one did when interacting with a stranger Janet’s size. “I think maybe...that is to say I thought...um...I’m really sorry if my child’s screaming bothered you or your baby, ma’am. He’s going through a phase. He’s normally such a good boy.”
From behind his mother, Elmer eeked out a pathetic, “I’m not a baby,” but did his best to stay obscured. Poor kid. He couldn’t articulate it, but he was absolutely terrified to end up like me. Poor me. I hid behind my pacifier and Lion.
“Oh he’s fine. Kids will be kids.” As tall as she was, Janet could see Elmer just fine, much to his dismay. “Say...does your son go to Oakshire Elementary?”
Elmer’s mother placed her hand behind her back and held her son’s hand. “Yes…?”
Janet immediately brightened. “That’s why he looked so familiar! He was part of Clark’s class!” She finally read the look of pure worry on the Tweener’s face. “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I’m so sorry! Janet Grange. I’m a teacher, too. Third grade. Before Clark’s Maturosis expressed I watched his class while he was in meetings once or twice.” She pointed around the mother. “Elroy?”
“Elmer,” his mother corrected. She seemed a bit relieved as it all sunk in. She wasn’t in any real danger to begin with, being pregnant and Janet having me, but a stranger doesn’t seem so strange when they say they’re a teacher at your child’s school.
There was a beat, and then Janet threw a curveball at all three of us. “I’m sorry that this all happened so suddenly,” she told them. “I adopted Clark because I wanted to make sure he got the best care possible. He deserves that much.”
“Yeah…” the Tweener agreed in that way that people do when they’re not sure what else to say. “Mr. Gi...Clark deserved,” she stopped and looked at me, “deserves the best he can get.”
“That doesn’t make it easier,” Janet said. “On anybody. Especially his students. Year’s already started and they’ve got a new teacher all of a sudden. That’s a lot to get used to for a bunch of three and four year olds.”
“There’s definitely been some adjustments.” Elmer’s mom left it at that. “Anyway, I’m just getting some-”
“Can I ask you for some advice, mother to mother? I’m still learning some things.”
The Tweener hesitated. “Uh, I don’t know if I can help, but sure.”
“I’ve got Clark in Monkeez right now,” Janet said, and my heartbeat thudded in my ears so loudly I couldn’t hear the end of the question. Doesn’t mean I didn’t know what it was.
Elmer’s mother pointed near the top shelf. “If you’re looking for other diapers, these new Koddles have a wetness indicator,” she said. “Right down the middle, changes colors when the baby’s wet.”
Janet reached up, just by the training pants and pulled a package down. “Hmmm...Are these for potty training?”
“No, but they could help. Makes it so you can catch it and change him right away.”
The Amazon frowned lightly. Wrong answer. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Janet had no interest in letting me pee outside my pants.
“The Hippobottomuses fade when wet, too.”
“Uh...uh...also makes it so it’s easier to check him,” the Tweener woman said. “You can just pull down his pants or pop open a few snaps and see how wet he is by looking at how long the blue line is. A lot easier to see than fade away. Plus they have lots of different decorations on them, Fairy tale creatures and such! Different diapers have different characters on them!” She kept looking at me and I wasn’t sure whether she was silently apologizing for digging me in deeper or whether she thought she might be doing me some kind of favor.
“Hmmm,” Janet considered the small package. “Yeah. That’s worth a shot.” In it went with the blue hippo diapers. By the end of the day I’d have a variety stack under my changing table. “Thank you.” She started to go.
“Ma’am,” Elmer’s mom said to Janet. “Can I say something to your baby for a moment?”
The Tweener reached up and placed her hand on top of mine. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’m really glad that you were Elmer’s first teacher. You’ve helped him a lot.” Beouf had said something similar to me after I’d woken up from the bug zapper she’d crammed me into. Beouf was a fucking traitor who chose her worldview over ten years of friendship. This lady who I’d known for a lot less time than Beouf meant it from the bottom of her heart. She was trying to do right by me.
It’s a good thing I had Lion in my other arm and the pacifier in my mouth. If I hadn’t had something to pour the stress I was feeling into just then, I’d have completely burst into tears and started sobbing. I didn’t want Elmer to see me like that. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. This is why Littles in my class sucked on pacifiers and hugged stuffies. It was either that or completely break down and lose control. The world got blurry and it started getting harder to breathe. I buried my face and looked away.
“Thank you,” Janet said for me. “That means a lot to him.”
Part of me wants to say that’s where the story of my first outing to the grocery store as a ‘baby’ went. It got so much worse though…
I kept suckling on my pacifier and squeezing Lion with every tense muscle in my body. I slammed my eyes shut to keep them from leaking. Based on the feeling in my pants, my eyes weren’t the only thing in danger of leaking; my diaper had passed into that swampy stage.
“That was a lot,” Janet whispered to me. “It’s okay to cry if you want.”
No. It wasn’t. “Mmmm-mmm!” I shook my head.
“That’s fine,” she said, her voice taking on an almost musical, soothing quality, not unlike Zoge but without the accent. “I understand why you broke the rule there. You weren’t being naughty, you were just nervous. You can spit the pacifier out if you want. We can reset. Start over again.”
“Okay,” Janet petted me and I flinched. “That’s fine. Do whatever you want. You’re fine. This is fine.”
I squeezed Lion harder, somehow. I sucked so hard on the rubber nipple in my mouth I briefly thought I might be loosening my front teeth.
I wasn’t enjoying this at all. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment or malicious compliance or any of the other darkly uplifting victories I’d accrued over the last several weeks. Upon reflection, I don’t even think it was pure contrarianism. It was just some stupid, immature, adolescent part of me now wanted- no, needed- to keep the pacifier in. I needed to feel pain and anguish and hurt. I needed to keep all the pressure up and weighing down on me. I needed to keep that negative feedback loop going and that pressure on, because if I didn’t I’d break down and it wouldn’t feel like a choice.
The cart slowed to a stop and moved forward slowly in jolts. We were in the checkout line. The electronic beeps and boops of the price scanner mixed in with the ambient noise of shoppers entering.
“Daddy! Daddy!” A passing voice called. “I want a that lion! I want a lion like that!” I didn’t open my eyes. The voice came from far away enough that I couldn’t tell if it was a mind fucked Little or an actual kid.
Did it matter?
I finally untensed myself and slowly opened my eyes. The beeping was loudest here, meaning it was our turn. My breathing had slowed. My muscles ached and unclenched, not to mention my mouth. I kept the pacifier in, just in case. I was right to.
“Wow! Lotta stuff here,” a heavy set woman with a nametag that read ‘Maude’ remarked. Her face was double chinned and her hair was snowy white. She was sixty, if she was a day. “All of this for just you two?”
“‘Fraid so,” Janet said. “Had a lot stockpiled up but we’re almost out, so...you know.” Idle and meaningless chit chat at the check out, the great retail tradition. “Everything goes faster with an extra mouth.”
I tried to just gaze off into the middle distance and tune the drivel out, but only succeeded at staring at Janet’s v-neck top. Had her breasts always been that big? I did a double take. They were almost as big as the overweight cashier’s. Was she putting on weight? Stress eating? Because of me? That gave me some good grim feelings.
The cashier’s voice went up almost an octave. “Hi buddy!” she waved. “Are all these just for you?” She indicated the Monkeez and other diapers Janet had gotten while a teenage Tweener was busily bagging it all up. Half a dozen snarky comebacks would beam themselves into my head on the ride back to Janet’s. In the meantime, I retreated into the back of Lion’s mane.
“Seriously,” she said over to Janet, talking in a ‘Grown-Up’ voice again. “Are they all for him? I see a couple different packs. We offer discounts to daycare people. Got some good bargains if you’re buying in bulk.”
Janet smiled, politely, “Oh no. They’re just for him. A box of his old reliables and something different just to try it.”
“He’ll go through them fast enough.”
“But that’s okay,” Janet tousled my hair, now even curlier than it had been when she’d first taken me. “When we’re all out, we’ll just get more. Isn’t that right, Clark?”
I was bristeling again, tensing up. People talking over you about you soiling yourself is not something that’s easy to get over.
“I remember when my grandson was his size,” Maude said. “Almost didn’t get him potty trained in time for school. You’ve got the right idea. Just skip it.”
Janet stiffened. “Excuse me?”
“Frankly, I don’t know why we bother potty training them to begin with.” To make her point she waved her hand toward me. “If we didn’t make ‘em, they’d just sit in their diapers all day, perfectly happy.” Her face scrunched up and her voice went squeaky. “Wouldn’t ya, buddy? Wouldn’t ya.” Her fat fingers ringed forward to pinch my cheeks. I leaned away.
All good nature and compassion left Janet’s face. Her countenance transmogrified into stone and her pupils went ablaze with a quiet fury. Then she said the words that every retail worker not-so-secretly dreads “I’m going to need to talk to your manager….”
“Hmm?” Maude said. “I was just saying-”
“Littles are perfectly valid with thoughts and feelings!” She half-shouted. The people behind us in line were starting to back away. Others from out of line were drawing closer to the scene. “Would you say something like that to a chronological chi-?”
“Whoah whoah whoah!” Maude took a step back and held her hands up. “I wasn’t talking about Littles, ma’am. I meant boys! Boys! Men!” A beat. “They’re all like that!”
Complete silence. No one breathed. I took a few pulls from my pacifier.
“Oh my god, you’re so right,” Janet finally said, all tension gone from her. The rest of the checkout line resumed their positions, and Maude kept scanning the items. The awful small talk continued in earnest.
“I swear, if he could get away with it, my husband would wear diapers, too. He’d watch football, drink all the beer, and then make me change him at halftime.”
“Right?!” Janet agreed. “It’s much cuter though when I change Clark during his shows. Right there on the floor so he doesn’t miss anything!”
My pacifier popped out. “Mommy!”
“Sorry, baby.” She wasn’t. Clearly.
“Nothin’ to be embarrassed about, munchkin.” The cashier chuckled. “Your Mommy and me are just havin’ some gal talk.”
The cashier shrugged. “Point taken.” She finished ringing Janet up, and let her swipe her card. “Have a nice day, you two.”
“Thanks!” Janet called back. I chose not to reply.
From the checkout line, the shopping cart should have turned left. We turned right. “Where are we going?”
Janet’s eyes honed in on the restrooms. “Diaper change.”
I looked down at myself. The bulge from my oversaturated Monkeez made it look like I had a water balloon where my underwear should be. Okay. Fair call. I’d done a number on this one.
My dark haired ex-friend ruffled through the grocery bags and took out a fresh packet of baby wipes she’d tossed in with the diapers. She rummaged around the bag. “Just. Gotta. Get. It. Open.”
Open? “J…Mommy?” I stuttered. “Where’s the diaper bag?”
She stood up with a single, bright blue diaper, dotted with cartoonish hippo stencils. “In the car,” she said. “I accidentally left it there when I dug Lion out.”
My everything jumped up into my throat.. My forehead started to become as clammy as my Monkeez. “Can we just go change me, “ I gulped, “in the car?”
Fresh diaper in hand, Janet picked me up. “Nope.”
“Can it at least be a Monkeez?”
“I am not breaking open that big box here and now. Do you want me to put you in a night-night diaper?”
The corners of my mouth plummeted. I couldn’t let her go looking for what I’d stashed away. “But...but...but…”
She took me inside the “family restroom”, a smaller room with a single toilet, sink and changing station. It was only slightly bigger than Beouf’s bathroom, and that was because it thought to accommodate space for Amazon sized wheelchairs and such. Janet pulled down the changing station and laid me down. I sat back up.
“Clark? What’s wrong? I’ve changed you in public before.”
I broke out into a sweat and stared past the locked door, imagining Elmer, or his mother, or any number of people who knew me were outside. Waiting. Watching. I’d misdiagnosed my neuroses back in the OT/PT room. I’d been okay with being so exposed, but it had less so to do with the people who saw me like that and more to do with where it was happening.
Oakshire Elementary, for all the anxiety it caused me, was still a place of familiarity and therefore a place of emotional strength. This was a friggin’ grocery store bathroom.
Janet petted my hair. “Clark? Talk to me.”
“No.” That bit of automatic defiance whistled right out.
She picked me back up and I thought I’d won. She was only doing so so she could poke her head out the door and get Lion. “Here.” She sat me so my legs were dangling off the table. “Hold Lion. Maybe he can tell me.”
I shook. I shuddered. “No.”
“Clark. I’m going to change you, one way or another. But I want to know why you’re acting like this. You’re hurting and I want to understand.”
I put Lion in a chokehold. “Because everybody will know, Janet! Everybody will know!”
“Know what? That you just got changed?”
Mutely I nodded, fighting to stay in control.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, honey,” Janet said. “But most people have known for a while now. It’s not a secret. It’s not supposed to be.”
“It was to me!”
Janet cocked her head as if I’d spoken in tongues.
I loosened my grip on Lion but held onto him tight. “All Monkeez look the same. Plain white diaper. Size indicator. Cartoon monkeys on the front.”
“Uh-huh…” She wasn’t getting it. To be fair, I hadn’t gotten it until I’d started saying it just then.
“So when I get changed, I get to pretend, even if it’s just to myself, even for just a second, that I’m wearing the same…” I blushed. “You know…”
“And if I put you in a blue hippo diaper,” Janet said, “you can’t pretend that anymore.”
I hung my head. It was so stupid. “And one of my kids is out there. And he’s scared of being a Little and being a baby because Ambrose put him in a diaper and...and…” I closed off Lion’s windpipe just as my own airflow started getting more and more difficult.
Janet- my jailer, my tormentor, my confidant- said nothing. I hadn’t realized that I’d shut my eyes again until I felt her lean in and hug me. I didn’t hug her back, but I didn’t shove her off either.
“It’s okay,” she cooed softly to me. “He’s gone. He left with his mother.” It was a lie. She had no way of knowing. But those words were the ones that I needed to hear just then. “He won’t see you. He won’t know. You’ve got your overalls on. Nobody will know. And if anybody out there asks, I’ll lie and tell them that you went potty like a big boy.”
I pulled back from her bosom just so I could see the look in her face. It was crazy. But it was also kind; compassionate even. “You’d do that?”
“Of course.” Slowly she guided me back into a lying position. “Let’s get you comfy.”
Keeping Lion close to my chest, I closed my eyes and pretended this was any other day. I’d never admit it out loud, and I’d trade so much to be rid of the forced necessity, but sometimes a good diaper change felt like a mini-spa day. I felt, more than heard, the poppers up my legs come undone, followed by the bathroom air traveling up past my knees and tickling the backs of my sweaty thighs.
What I did hear was a very uncomfortable “Oooof…”
I lifted my head and looked down at my body. “What?”
Janet sucked on her teeth and put a hand on my chest. That wasn’t sweat on the back of my thighs. “You leaked.”
My body started thrashing, twisting and kicking itself against Janet’s gigantic strength. “No! No! No! No! Stop! Stop! Don’t!”
“Clark, I’m sorry. I need to take your overalls off.”
“No!” I screamed “No! Change me! Just change me and put them back on!” My hands gripped at her wrist, as if that would do anything
Her free hand unbuckled the shoulders. “I’m sorry kiddo. I can’t let you sit in leaked in pee-pee clothes. Not in good conscience.”
“Fuck your conscience!” I yelled up. My fighting was nothing to her. My struggling only made it so she had to switch hands once or twice, stripping me down to just a t-shirt and destroyed Monkeez. She switched a second time pulling the changing station’s strap over my chest, and pulling it taught.
She flapped out the overalls like a towel and held them up to the light. “Look,” she said. “You see these spots?” Two massive crescent moon shaped patches discolored the blue and white pinstripes just below where my ass would have been. “If anyone saw these, they’d know that you leaked.”
“No one would see them with me in the cart.” I spat
“They might in the parking light or just as we come out of the bathroom.” She was already folding them up and placing them on the sink. “They won’t see much of your new diaper either. This isn’t up for discussion.”
“I hate you.”
She picked up Lion from the floor where my struggling had sent him. “You know I’m right. You can suck on your pacifier if you want to scream.” Lion went back to me. She carefully inserted the pacifier back into my mouth. “Be brave. For Lion.”
“Uh hayph yuh.”
I tried not to look while she ripped the tapes off and started wiping my groin. I covered Lion’s eyes when my ankles were crossed and Janet started caressing the back of my legs all the way down to the crack of my ass. I suckled a little harder and flinched when the wipe made it’s way between my cheeks, just in case.
The new, blue diaper was slid underneath me before my ankles were released. She’d gotten good at unfolding them one handed. I watched in silent horror as Janet carefully pulled it up between my legs. “This one’s cut a little differently.” She had to lift my legs back up and adjust. I could only lay in quiet agony.
It was the first day all over again. They would know. They would all know. Everyone.
I watched as the Hippobottomuses took shape around me and Janet pulled the tapes taught, going so far as to smooth them out. “All done.”
Clean and dry, I felt grosser than I did when I’d been wallowing in my piss. I was wearing a beacon now. A crinkly happy blue marker that broadcast my infantile state even more. “Cheer up,” Janet told me. “My underwear looks different from day to day, too.” My expression said enough. “Sorry…”
We didn’t leave the bathroom right away. No one was knocking, or jiggling the handle, trying to get in, and frankly I didn’t care if someone stole from our shopping cart. Maybe they’d make off with the new diapers. Janet unbuckled me and just held me for about half a minute.
I’d run out of words. So had Lion.
“You’re being really brave.” Janet told me. “How about when we get home, you can help me grade some papers?”
I liked that idea. Needed it after this ordeal. Something quiet. Something that I could control. Something that I was good at besides stealth peeing and annoying Amazons. Silently, I nodded, gently nuzzling Janet’s shoulder.
“Let’s get you home.”