Chapter Description: Some people believe that God has a plan for all of us. And some are even willing to help it along.
A few days later, Ned lazily opened his eyes when he heard the soft sound of the door closing. Seeing he was alone in the dimly lit room, he allowed his eyes to close once again. He turned his head to feel the soft fuzz of the flannel brush against it. He was warm and cozy and all he wanted to do was to sink back into that deliciously tempting sea of slumber. His last conscious thoughts were of how lucky he was to find such a good woman to help him as his breathing went back to a slow rhythm.
Marva and Harriet stood stock still in the hallway as Marva’s hand was still on the doorknob to the baby’s room. They listened with intent to see if the baby had woken up from his nap. Upon hearing the silence, the two women smiled at each other. Harriet had stopped by to drop off a casserole and see how Marva and the baby was doing. The baby was still down for his morning nap, but Marva decided to let her friend take a peek. Harriet had covered her mouth in reaction to the sweetly adorable infant sleeping in the crib. She patted her friend on the arm in congratulations who smiled back in glowing pride.
“I hope you can help me.” Marva asked hopefully.
“Of course, I will. Don’t worry about it.” Harriet responded as she patted her friend on the shoulder.
Two days earlier, Marva stared down at the dozing infant in the crib as she thought what had transpired earlier that day. Looking at the baby, no one would have any idea that there was an adult intelligence behind those eyes. She had frozen when the identifiable words soaked into her consciousness as she held him on the changing table. She had been so enthralled with the little being that she had not recognized the words at first. It had taken a minute for her to discern what he had spoken. At first, she didn’t want to believe it. She bent down and peered into the baby’s face. It was only when the baby had repeated that she pulled her head back in shock.
“You can talk?” She stammered at the little face that was rockily looking up at her.
The baby nodded as he stared up at Marva. More unintelligible babble poured forth as the baby tried to communicate. She shook her head as the baby became more and more upset with his capabilities of speech. His chest heaved as frustration and exhaustion combined to overwhelm him as his face reddened as his chest began to heave. Ned wrinkled his face just as a blustering sob broke from his lips.
“Just nod or shake your head to my questions, okay?” Marva replied as she smoothed the back of the baby’s head, feeling the soft wisps under her fingers. She continued to stroke his head till he was calm again.
For the next twenty minutes, the two participated in a strange game of question and answer. Marva found out that the baby’s name, roughly how he came to become a baby and that the police were not to be notified. It seemed that Ned had been involved in some illegal activity and was looking for his partner. As the interview wore on, Ned’s head bounced as he fought against the impending wall of sleep that came crashing down on him. Marva had picked him up to lie across her shoulder and he was asleep in seconds. She lay him down in the crib and gently placed a soft baby blanket over him. She watched him sleep for several minutes as she pondered over the situation.
Finally, she left the room to go pray about it in her room. An hour later of seeking guidance from up above, she left her room feeling much better about the whole situation. When Ned woke up, she informed him that she was going to help him as she changed his wet diaper. It would be better to act like a baby around everyone else. No one else should know that he was anything else than what he appeared to be. Her husband was the pastor of a fundamentalist Christian church. So, unless he wanted to undergo an exorcism or be thrown onto the graces of the county child protective services, he should not let anyone know that he was anything other than a baby until she could find out something.
It was just then that the sound of the front door opening and Eli’s voice carried into the room. Marva called back that they would be out in a minute. She expectantly looked at Ned who stared back for a long moment and then he regretfully nodded. She pulled him up to her chest and carried him out to the living room.
“So, how’s he doing?” Eli asked as he sat down in the lounger in the living room.
“He’s much better. Here, why don’t you hold him while I get lunch together?” Marva responded as she bent down to put Ned in Eli’s arms.
Ned looked up at Marva with wide eyes and then turned to look at Eli’s smiling face.
“Hey, little one. I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. You had a lot of people praying for you.” Eli said as he picked up one of Ned’s hand in his fingers. Eli pulled the hand back and forth as he gently played with the baby. Ned froze in terror as he stared up at Eli. Sure, Eli seemed nice and all, but Marva had told him that Eli was a Hellfire and damnation minister. Ned wasn’t so sure it would be a pleasant experience in his present form to be a recipient of that ire.
In response to the uncomfortable attentions being paid to him, Ned slowly lifted his chin and curved his mouth into a pout. It only encouraged Eli to try to get a smile from Ned. Soon, Ned felt a finger tickling his jaw as Eli leaned over and made silly sounds. Almost against his will, Ned felt the corners of his mouth lift and a wavering smile appeared on his face.
“I got him to smile!” Eli tiumphantly called back to Marva in the kitchen.
“That’s great! He is feeling much better. Why don’t you bring him in here? I’ve got lunch almost ready.” Marva called back
“Let’s go eat!” Eli carefully rose from the lounger, making sure not to jounce the little body in his arms.
As Eli rounded the corner into the kitchen, Ned could see a grilled ham and cheese sandwich alongside a helping of carrot salad with potato chips on a plate. Marva was setting down a large glass of sweet tea as she looked up. On the other side of the table, the old wooden highchair stood with a large light blue terry cloth bib lying across the tray. A small jar of yellowish orange baby food stood open on the table with a small spoon laying beside it.
“Here, give him to me, so you can eat.” Marva said as she stretched out her arms to receive the infant.
Ned found himself being transferred into Marva’s arm for only a moment before his legs were being slid behind the tray of the highchair. Once he was secured in the chair, Ned looked round the room. Suddenly, Marva and Eli bent their heads over their hands as Eli gave a blessing. Ned shrank back in his chair as the thought of unholy retribution for his past sins might come swooping down on him.
"Amen." Eli and Marva said together..
Eli looked casually over as he picked up a half of the sandwich from the plate in front of him.
“Is that all he’s going to eat?” Eli asked nodding at the jar of strained peaches.
“He’s still got a bottle. I don’t want to give him too much heavy stuff yet.” Marva responded as she moved around to secure the large bib around Ned’s neck.
Ned enviously watched Eli tuck into his lunch before Marva caught his attention. Marva had sat down in front of him and dipped the spoon into the peaches.
“Here you go. You’ll like this, it’s peaches.” Marva coaxed as the spoon came nearer to Ned’s mouth.
His eyes flicking over at Eli on the other side of the table, Ned begrudgingly opened his mouth and the spoon was inserted. Ned closed his mouth and suddenly his whole system was jolted by the intense flavor in his mouth. He jumped in his seat and made a long sour face as he swallowed the peaches. He had never experienced a taste like that in his adult life. Was this how babies actually tasted things? It was so intense. He could taste it all over his mouth, even on the sides of his cheeks. Stunned, he blinked up at the sounds of amusement coming from Marva and Eli.
“Guess, that was a first for him!” Eli almost choked on his food as the sudden laughter hit him.
“Ooh, poor baby! It’s okay.” Marva cooed as she smothered her laughter while she consoled the baby by rubbing his leg under the tray. “You want to try some more?”
The spoon reappeared and deposited more peaches in Ned’s mouth. This time he was prepared for it and only gave a slight reaction. After more several spoonfuls, he began to enjoy the peaches very much and smiled a little at Marva. During the feeding, Eli finished his lunch and told Marva that he was going into his office to work on his sermon. Marva nodded, not taking her eyes off the baby.
Once the peaches were gone, Marva wiped most of the remains of the peaches from his face. She then moved over to the stove and pulled out the bottle of baby formula that warming in the pan. Coming back, she set the bottle on the table, while she pulled Ned out of the high chair. She sat down with him braced in her lap. She picked up the bottle and began to feed him with it.
Ned looked up as he nursed on the bottle. It wasn’t totally unpleasant. He felt warm and secure in her lap. The unexpectedly sweet taste of the formula swirled in his mouth before it traveled down his throat to give his stomach a nice content feeling. He couldn’t stop himself. He intensely wanted that formula. He was a little embarrassed at such behavior. He looked up sheepishly at Marva who beamed back at him with maternal satisfaction.
“You’re doing so good!” Marva proclaimed. Ned wondered for a minute if that comment was aimed at the baby or his portrayal of one. Regardless, the sensation be being appreciated was wonderful.
After Ned had gone down for his afternoon nap, Marva asked Eli to listen for the baby while she went out. Marva got in the car and drove to the church. Starting from the side door of the church, she was able to discern where Ned had come from. She methodically followed his trail. She found more and more of his clothes that she gathered until she came to the sight of the car crash. For a moment, she stared at the scorch mark left in the field by the car before turning and going back. Taking the driver’s license from the wallet with her, she lifted a loose floorboard in the shed behind the church and hid the clothes and wallet underneath it.
She stared at the information on the drivers license when she got to her car. Reading the name, she could now go about what kind of life Ned had been living. She planned to call Ruth Ann who worked over at the police station when she returned home. Ruth Ann was one of her bible circle, Marva knew that she would be glad to help in anyway she could.
That weekend, Ned found himself waking up in a baby seat that was sitting on the counter of the church’s kitchen. Marva was busily setting up the large coffee maker. It was still dark outside from where Ned could see of the windows. He turned his head to see a large cloth bag sitting beside him on the counter. On the far side of that he could see the trays of communion glasses set out with a jug of unopened grape juice beside it. It was just then that it dawned on him that he was in the church. Oh No! They had found out about him. Who knew what unholy ritual these crackpots were going to perform on him? He had to escape! He unsuccessfully plucked at the straps holding him firmly in the seat. He began to fuss with frustration. Marva moved over to the seat and was unbuckling it when a large woman appeared at the doorway.
“Good morning, Marva! I thought you might need a little help this morning, now with the baby and all.” Ruth Ann’s friendly greeting floated into the room as she walked in. “Is this the new little fella?”
In response, Ned broke out into a full fledged red faced crying fit. In the next instance, he was brought up to Marva’s shoulder as she bounced and patted his bottom. He wasn’t going to be so easily comforted. He threw his energy behind issuing out lusty yells as Marva smiled embarrassed at Ruth Ann.
“Thanks. He’s being a bit fussy right now. Maybe you could meet him later when he’s in a better mood.” Marva explained as she picked up the large bag and slung it over her opposite shoulder.
“Sure. Why don’t you take him down to the nursery. I’ll take care of things here.” Ruth Ann waved the woman and crying infant out of the room.
Walking down the linoleum hallway, Ned was terrified of where he found himself. Marva turned into a small room that held two cribs, a changing table and a round rug with assorted toys. In the corner, was a white rocking chair. Marva made her way over to it and began to rock Ned.
“Shh. Shh. It’s alright. Just calm down. Nothing’s going to happen to you, okay? I know it’s scary to wake up somewhere new and new people are around. It’s Sunday and we’re at the church.” Marva cooed to the baby. “You’ve done such a good job. No one would ever think you’re anything but a sweet innocent baby.”
Ned felt the unsettling feelings of dread and fear begin to slightly abate as he listened to Marva’s soothing voice. The two of them alone with the sound of Marva’s heartbeat thumping under his ear made him fell less vulnerable as they rocked together. He tucked the top of his head under her chin as he brought his thumb up to firmly plant it into his mouth. For a few minutes, all they did was rock as Ned’s breathing became even once again.
Two minutes later, Marva stood up and walked over to the changing table. Placing Ned on the table, she worked to get his sleeper off and his diaper changed. After that first initial day, Ned discovered that he really didn’t mind being handled by Marva. He looked up at her with complete trust as she lifted him by the ankles to place a new diaper under him. Once he was ensconced in a new diaper, he watched Marva dig into the diaper bag and bring out new clothes he hadn’t seen before. All he had been wearing to this point had been sleepers. Now it appeared that he was going to be dressed for church.
Ned watched as Mara lifted up one of his feet and wrestled small white socks onto them. She then pulled out a soft cotton yellow and blue romper. Marva undid the snaps at the shoulder and crotch as she bundled it into a small ring in-between her hands. She sat him up and leaned him forward as she pulled the small cloth ring over his head. She left it sitting on his shoulder as she managed to unravel the ring until the arm holes were available. Using her forearm to keep him pressed up against her body, she used both hands to navigate his small hand through the armhole of the romper’s short sleeves. The exercise was repeated for the other side. The remainder of the romper was pulled down over his torso. Marva laid him back down on the changing table. Ned notice that the top half of the romper was a solid pale yellow as Marva closed the snaps at the shoulders. There was an embroidered blue bird on the breast, made to look like it was hopping along. Just an inch below his armpits, the fabric changed to a pale blue and yellow plaid. It billowed out clownishly to encompass his diaper and gathered around the leg openings. Marva arranged the leg openings around each of his chubby thighs and then quickly snapped the crotch closed. Ned knew he should feel ridiculous in this outfit, but it was what Marva wanted and he would do anything to please her. She picked him up and smiled at him with such affection that he thought he would shatter in happiness.
“You’re so handsome! You looks so good in this outfit.” Marva praised him which made him wriggle in response.
Marva pulled him to her as she held him with one hand across his bottom. She leaned over to pick up his diaper bag again and returned to the rocker. She sat down with him as she dug in the bag once again. She pulled out a small bib and bottle of formula. Marva quickly tucked the small bib under his chin as she sat him on her lap. She uncapped the bottle and placed it in his mouth as she gently rocked the chair. Ned found himself eagerly working the bottle to pull the formula out. He fell into a type of Zen while he was drinking a bottle. The next thing he knew, he was being burped on Marva’s shoulder. He let out two good size burps before he was pulled away and his mouth was wiped. He leaned his head toward Marva. He didn’t know why, but he just liked being close to her. Her touch, being held by her gave him such a pleasant feeling that was indescribable in his mind.
“Okay, final steps. Let’s get you ready to meet your public, Noodle.” Marva said as she pulled out a soft baby brush to adjust the few wisps of hair across his forehead. She then pulled out a soft iridescent cardigan that she threaded onto his arms. She pulled out a pair of matching booties that once on, she tied around each ankle.
“Let’s go.” Marva said as she stood. Ned looked up at Marva and smiled, totally content. He reached over and entwined his fingers in her necklace.
As they moved down the hall back to the Fellowship hall, Marva could hear a number of voices. As she turned the corner, she was surprised to see a number of her bible circle already there.
During the remaining hours of Sunday morning, Ned found himself in the church nursery during bible school and the church services. There were different shifts of ladies who monitored the nursery and Marva had left a well stocked bag of diapers and formula for the morning. There was only one other infant in the nursery with Ned. Her name was Abigail and she had been walking for the last month which meant the baby gate at the door way had to be kept in place. At one time during the morning, both Ned and Abigail were on the floor together. A busy quilt had been placed down for Ned as he lay on his stomach. The lady watching the pair made sure that Abigail’s unsteady walk did not carry her too close to Ned. Ned just lay there tonguing his fist as he watched Abigail circle him. Finally realizing that she was not allowed to walk up to Ned, the baby girl got down on her knees and crawled over. She lay on her side on the quilt beside him. She seemed fascinated with him. He calmly disregarded her as he concentrated on the rim of his fist. Abigail leaned over and clumsily kissed him on the side of his head which caused him to stare back at here. The lady in nursery took great joy in telling everyone that she witnessed the beginning of a great romance between the two. That is if Marva didn’t mind her baby seeing an older woman.
While Ned was in the nursery, Marva had a private meeting with a few select members of her bible circle. Marva passed Ned’s drivers license around as the women studied it. Before they left, they grasped each other’s hands in a prayer circle asking that their mission be successful.
During the following week, Ned began to become more and more comfortable with the role of an infant. He easily began to cry to convey his wants and needs, it was easier than attempting to communicate with nodding or shaking his head. Although, at first, he thought the idea of acting like an infant would be distateful; but he found his new lifestyle was incredibly pleasant. There was no fighting or scrabbling, everything was peaceful and secure. Marva took care of everything, she grew to be an angelic figure in Ned’s mind. During this time, Ned’s adult mind was unconsciously slipping away as they days went by. He became more and more subservient to the whims of his infant’s body as his adult mind retreated.
The next Sunday, Marva found out more about Ned. It turned out that Ned had a long criminal history going back to his adolescence. There was a car wreck in that field two weeks ago. There was only one passenger in the car. He had been taken to the hospital for a concussion, but he never mentioned his friend, Ned was in the car. Obviously, Ned was a much better friend to him than he was to Ned. Nothing could be brought up about a chemical theft. It must have been hushed up by the government. There was no trace of what happened to Ned. No one was looking for him or even cared. Marva and the ladies now knew what they must do.
By the start of the following month, all the papers had been signed and the adoption of the foundling in the church by the Pastor and his wife was complete. There was a large christening ceremony to be held the following Sunday. Ned found himself ensconced in a long white dress with ribbons trailing from it as he sat in Marva’s lap in the front pew. He kicked his legs against the weight of the material he felt there. On his head was a small lace cap that was tied under his chin. Normally at this time, he would be down for his morning nap; but he was in very good spirits that morning as he sat in church. He looked up at Marva as he raised his chubby hands toward her. He grinned and blew bubbles as she smiled down at his antics.
At the end of the service, Marva stood up and went up to the altar. Harriet and Caleb Morrison were there as god parents. Harriet was the judge that coordinated the quick adoption and Caleb was the sheriff of this small community. There could be no better candidates for godparents at little Eli Junior’s baptism.
Marva transferred Ned from her arms over to Harriet’s for the ceremony at the font. As Harriet gently removed Ned’s cap, Marva looked over at Eli. He was one of the most gentle men that she had ever come across. Their simple god fearing church promoted fellowship and understanding. Yes, she had lied to Ned when she learned of his situation, but it all worked out in God’s plan. It had come to Marva during her prayer vigil that God had a plan for everyone. Everything happens for a reason. If God had seen fit to give Ned a new chance, she was going to see to it that he got it! He would be raised to be a good Christian man, not a hoodlum. She stood there proudly as Ned was baptized as Elijah Matthew Junior. Little Eli looked up curiously at the adults while the water was being blotted from his forehead. Harriet handed the baby back to Marva. Marva moved over to stand next to Eli as he addressed the church.
Ned found himself being held up against Marva as all three of them looked out at the congregation of the church. Ned’s vision swam over the smiling faces in the pews, not really settling on any one of them in particular. At the noise of the door opening, Ned’s eye locked on a familiar face of someone entering the back of the church. There was something fascinating about that face. Suddenly, the remaining adult mind inside the baby came to the fore.
"IT WAS BART! IT WAS BART!" An almost forgtten voice from the back of his mind screamed inside his head. "Do something! You have to get his attention!" the voice demanded.
“BA….BA…BA….BA…BA” The baby loudly prattled as he wave an arm at the back of the church.
Pastor Eli stopped and looked over with paternal patience at the baby’s continued babbling.
“Hey, This is my job! You always have the next generation trying to show you up.” Pastor Eli joked to the congregation’s laughter. The baby began shaking his head in response to the laughter as he continued to try to get Bart’s attention.
A natural mother, Marva quickly slipped a pacifier in between the baby’s lips effectively quieting the infant as she began to bounce him. She knew the bouncing would distract him from whatever was troubling him. Sure enough, Ned’s mind relaxed and seemed to lose grasp of what was so important a few seconds ago. Working the pacifier, he soon became engrossed in a ribbon that he just happened to clutch in his hand.
Five minutes later, the congregation was filing out, each stopping to congratulate Marva and Eli on their new son. By the time the last few people came out of the church, Ned was so exhausted from the excitement and activity that he was barely awake. His eyes had already closed as the last person the chapel’s steps, it was Bart. He stopped by the couple with the dozing infant.
“Yeah. I’m just passing through. I was looking for someone. You don’t happen to know of anyone new in town, do ya?” Bart asked the Pastor, rather uncomfortably.
“The only new person I know of is this little guy.” Pastor Eli responded as he looked over proudly at Marva and the sleeping baby that she was slowly rocking.
“Oh, okay. Cute kid.” Bart responded.
“Yes, he’s a blessing.” The Pastor commented.