by MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© 2011, M. E. Raines
The two newborn babies, a girl and a boy, are diapered and placed side by side. One of them is me, Kevin. It is the beginning of my new life, and I am sound asleep.
The other baby, whom I shall call Muffy, startles in surprise as she becomes aware of me lying next to her.
We are, of course, unable to speak to one another in words. There is, however, a psychic connection that we babies have that is as powerful as spoken language, and our silent thought projections are exactly like dialogue.
“Kevin,” Muffy cries out. “Kevin? Is that you?! Oh, I can't believe this!”
I awaken reluctantly, and open my eyes. “Huh? Where am I?” I say. “Who are you? What’s happening?”
I am upset. I cry, because that’s what we babies do when we are upset.
“Kevin! It's me, Muffy,” she says. “Your wife.”
My sobs subside. “Muffy?” I ask, confused.
“Is this freaky, or what? I know it's definitely you, Kevin, but you look just like a newborn baby!”
I find that with great effort I am able to turn my head in her direction. I gaze at her. Our eyesight is still pretty blurry, and colors are not yet concrete. All I can make out is a tiny creature in a diaper next to me…a tiny creature, but one with Muffy’s vibe.
“You seem to be a baby, too,” I say in bewilderment. “This is weird, man! I don’t like it. I’m getting up. I’ve gotta see what the hell is going on here!”
I try to move. I find that I am unable even to lift my own head, much less get up. I tentatively attempt to raise one of my little arms. All I can do is flail. I hit myself in the forehead. Next, I try to lift my legs. It’s impossible to move them in the direction I intend. They just kick out randomly. No matter how much effort I put into it, I am unable to coordinate my movements.
“Geez, it’s so hard to move my body! Nothing goes where I want it to,” I say in frustration. “That’s just not right. I mean, hell, I'm an athlete!”
“An athlete? Watching golf on TV suddenly makes you an athlete?” says the other baby. The biting tone of her thought projection confirms that it is indeed Muffy lying next to me.
“Hey, I played on Saturdays,” I retort, “and I’ll have you know I had a good swing. The golf pro even told me so once.” I sigh. “Man, this sucks!”
I cry some more. Then we lie there in silence, Muffy and I, trying to absorb it all.
Muffy had been my showpiece wife, a would-be actress without a lot of talent. She had been blonde (thanks to an excellent hairdresser), blue-eyed (thanks to contact lenses), thin (thanks to the latest fad diets and more than a touch of bulimia), busty (thanks to a good plastic surgeon), and rich (thanks to me, a successful investment broker). Before we met, she’d landed a gig on a sitcom that lasted for one season. Her role consisted mostly of prancing around wordlessly in a very small bikini. This brought her a little bit of fame, and aroused a decided taste for a life of privilege and partying. She married me and got the life she’d wished for. My needs were less complex. I simply wanted a stacked blonde on my arm. We both had our desires fulfilled. Our marriage was not a good one.
I am trying to piece things together.
“Hey, Muffy, what's the last thing you remember? Before us being babies?”
She thinks for a moment, and then gurgles happily, projecting a place with bright golden light, tremendous love, wisdom, warmth, and a peace that is beyond description.
“You remember that, don’t you Kevin?” she says. “The Light? All that unconditional love? Do you think it was heaven?”
I strain to think. Nope, no peace. No love. No heaven. All I can remember is zooming headlong through a tunnel. She picks up my thought. She remembers the tunnel as well.
I struggle to recall what occurred before the tunnel. I have a nagging feeling that something really important happened, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Which is a funny expression for me to be using, seeing as I can’t put my fingers anyplace…well, except for sticking my thumb into my mouth. That seems to be my one achievable task, although it takes considerable conscious effort. I decide to jam it into my mouth now, and hit the bullseye. It feels curiously soothing to suck on my thumb.
In answer to my unspoken question about what happened before the tunnel, Muffy projects a thought. Apparently we had been attending a very nice function. At least in her mind it was a very nice fuction. In our current state, our faces have pretty limited expressions: being awake, being asleep, and crying. We are not yet mature enough to smile, unless it happens accidentally when we pass gas. But if she could have smiled, she would have. It had been a party.
“Whoa! Stop! Back up,” I say. “Prior to entering the tunnel, we were at a party?”
Her would-be smile fades as her remembrance expands.
“Damn it, Kevin, I told you not to drink so much! I told you to let me drive! I told you not to get behind the wheel!”
I start to remember bits and pieces. The party had been at Arthur’s house. Arthur was my boss from the brokerage. Muffy projects a tingly glow when she thinks about Arthur, but it evaporates as soon as she turns her thoughts to me.
“You were drinking too much, Kevin. Totally sloshed as usual,” she says accusingly, “and when I tried to stop you, you called me a whore—in front of everyone, I might add—and I tried to take the car keys away, but you pushed me onto the front seat, and I couldn't go back in the house to call a cab because you had humiliated me so badly, and besides, Arthur lives out in the boonies where there are no taxis…”
She lets out a sob. Memories of that night are slowly trickling in, but they’re still pretty fuzzy.
“And then you crashed us head-on into a truck! A very big truck…”
I don’t pay attention. There is something about the kitchen that is important here. I’m trying to bring it into focus.
“…and we died,” continues Muffy bitterly. “We DIED! All because you didn't know when to stop drinking. Thank you so very much, Kevin, for killing me.”
She scrunches up her face, preparing to cry. If she could have crossed her arms and frowned at me in disapproval, she would be doing that. Muffy used to cross her arms and frown at me a lot when she was my wife…or at least she’d tried to. It’s hard to frown when your face is full of Botox.
I’m still stuck on the kitchen. There is something important that I need to remember about the kitchen. What is it?
Suddenly it hits me. Muffy had been in the kitchen. With Arthur. Embracing him.
“That’s what it was,” I gasp, as a clearer image suddenly pops into my brain. “You were in the kitchen…kissing Arthur—my boss, Arthur!”
I turn my head to the side and stare darkly at Muffy. Muffy squirms, trying to dodge my accusation.
“How can you say that?” Her thoughts reek of evasion. “I’ll bet Arthur was kissing…um…his wife. Yeah, that's it. He was probably kissing his wife. She and I were both wearing blue. You couldn’t tell. By that time, Kevin, you were so drunk, you couldn’t see your own nose.”
“Whaddya mean I couldn't see my own nose?” I say.
She glances sideways at me to see if I have swallowed her story. I have not. I’m still stuck on that see-your-own-nose bit. I pull my thumb out of my mouth.
“Muffy, nobody can see their own nose. Unless they're cross-eyed.”
“Well, you certainly had enough martinis to accomplish that,” she crows triumphantly. A little drool spills out of the side of her mouth.
“Look, I did not even start to drink until after I saw you in the kitchen. Kissing my boss,” I counter. With mounting satisfaction. “And that's why I shoved you into the car seat, Muffy. Now I remember!”
“Kevin, I simply can't imagine how you could possibly believe that I would be kissing your boss in the kitchen,” she mumbles.
My response is vehement. “Liar! Do you deny it? Your tongue was so deep inside Arthur's mouth, I'm surprised it didn't come out his asshole!”
I project a picture.
“Don’t be so crude, Kevin,” says Muffy indignantly.
“Oh, I'm the crude one? I am not the one who was kissing Arthur in the kitchen. I've been one-hundred percent faithful to you throughout our marriage, Muffy, and, believe me, it wasn't easy. You know my clientele. I had numerous—numerous—opportunities to cheat. But I turned them all down,” I say self-righteously.
“Oh, I’m aware of all the bimbos who hit on you. But let’s be clear. You weren’t faithful because you’re noble. You would have cheated at the drop of a dime if you could have, but honey, you drank too much for certain parts of your anatomy to function. Anyway, by the end of the day, you were just too plastered to do anything but come home and pass out,” she retorted.
“Muffy, I have remained completely and absolutely loyal to you by choice,” I insist. “So tell me. What else did you and Arthur do together with your tongues, or any other appendages and orifices?”
“Would you please stop? You’re disgusting, “ she says. “This entire situation is so typical.”
“Typical?” I kick my legs helplessly. “My wife cheats on me with my boss, in my extreme distress I drink a little too much, a truck hits us—that's A TRUCK HITS US, not KEVIN HITS A TRUCK—and we die, we go through this tunnel thing, we get reborn as babies. And you’re saying that’s typical?”
“Yes. It’s typical of you, Kevin. It really is.” She clenches her little fist. “Here we are in this extraordinarily bizarre circumstance. We appear to be newborn babies. We have no idea how we got here, we are bewildered as to what's going on, but instead of calmly assessing our situation and trying to understand what's happening, you launch an attack on me! You always do this! It always winds up the same way. You twist it around so that I'm at fault. Nothing else matters except what Muffy did to poor Kevin. Let's all get angry at Muffy.
“Welcome to our marriage, day in and day out,” she continues. “Whether we’re on our honeymoon in Mexico and circumstances beyond our control force us to leave early, or whether a defective curling iron starts a fire in the bathroom, or…or…or whether we're trapped some place in a blizzard, every single time, you manage to turn it around so that it’s my fault. You’re always making me look like the bad one!”
She emits an audible sputter.
“Hey, Baby, it wasn’t me who lost a contact lens and demanded that we cut our honeymoon short because somebody we won't name balked at the idea of going to a Mexican eye doctor for a replacement,” I retort.
“Don’t call me Baby,” she says in a huff. Which is pretty amusing, considering our circumstances.
I continue my defense. “It wasn’t me who left a curling iron on high for 48 hours straight. It wasn’t me who…wait. Blizzard? What blizzard?”
Even though my memory is dim just now, I am positive that we were never trapped in a blizzard. That’s Muffy for you. Always exaggerating wildly in hopes of getting pity and attention.
Naturally Muffy picks up my thought. “And you wonder, Kevin, why I was attracted to Arthur,” she says.
“Ah-HAH,” I cry. “So you don't deny it?”
There is a sound from around the corner.
“Shhh. Shhh. Someone's coming,” says Muffy.
A woman dressed in odd clothing enters and places another baby next to us. After chucking each of us under the chin—which, surprisingly, feels quite delightful—she scurries out, leaving us alone.
“Oh, my God,” says Muffy after the woman exits.
“This baby lying next to us. I think I know who it is,” she says.
Our new companion opens his eyes and blinks sleepily. “Where am I?”
Muffy lies in the center of our trio. She turns her head toward the new baby. “Arthur? Is that you?” she asks.
Arthur thrashes uncomfortably. His little hands brush against the fabric of a diaper. Startled, he says in a demanding way, “What the hell is going on here? What is this on my ass? Is this a diaper?! And who are you people?”
I think it’s hilarious. Even as a newborn infant, Arthur can’t stop being the executive.
Muffy gets all mushy. “Oh, Arthur, dear, it's me…your darling Muffy.
“Who’s the other kid?”
I try to wave hello, and wind up hitting myself in the forehead again.
“It’s only Kevin,” she says, screwing up her mouth as though she had just tasted something sour. “I’m afraid Kevin's present with us as well.”
“Muffy?…Kevin?” says Arthur, bewildered. “I don’t get it.”
“That’s okay, buddy,” I say consolingly. “I don’t get it either.”
We lie there for a few minutes, adjusting to our new bodies.
Then Muffy turns her thoughts to Arthur. “So Arthur, what's the very last thing you remember?” she asks.
He thinks for a moment.
“There was a tunnel,” he says finally. “And there was this big angel-type person saying stuff like, ‘You have to return. You have important lessons to learn.’”
“What about before the tunnel?” persists Muffy. “What do you remember happening before you went into the tunnel? Think!”
Pondering for a few seconds, Arthur remembers. If his face could have registered it, he would look shocked.
“Oh, God! The phone call!” he cries. “I got a phone call saying that the two of you had just been killed in a car crash. They said that Kevin hit a truck…”
“The truck hit me,” I sigh.
“…and then I got this terrible crushing pain in my chest and…oh my Lord, I must have had a heart attack!”
Arthur tries unsuccessfully to rub his chest with his little wrinkled hands. Then he screws up his eyes and cries for a while. Muffy and I join him. Why not?
When our sobfest subsides, he takes on the role of the boss again.
“All right, we need to figure this out. What’s going on? Where are we?”
“Beats the hell outta me,” I say with a shrug.
“The picture is pretty obvious. All three of us are little babies,” says Muffy.
You would have thought recognizing that he was in a diaper would have made the situation clear, but apparently our new forms hadn’t completely impressed themselves on Arthur before this point.
“Good God. We’re babies?” he exclaims, aghast. He thinks for a minute. “We've been reincarnated, then? As babies?”
“That’s what it looks like,” says Muffy.
Then I start getting a vibe. “Hey, you two,” I say, “I’m picking up a strong possibility that the three of us are related. Don’t ask me how I know this. It just feels like we are.”
“Brothers and a sister?” says Arthur. “You've gotta be kidding me! You think we've been reborn as brothers and a sister?”
“Kevin, I feel the same thing,” Muffy chimes in. “Do you know what I'm sensing? Call it women's intuition, but I am certain that we’ve come back as triplets.”
It makes sense. “Yup. We're triplets all right. How about that!” I chortle.
A new thought strikes me. “Say, Muffy,” I ask slowly, “are you a girl or a boy?”
She tenses with apprehension. “I’m sure I’m a girl,” she says nervously. “I would have to come back as a girl, wouldn’t I? People don't come back as different sexes. Do they?”
“You’re asking me?” I say. “Nobody gave me the manual on reincarnation.” I burp.
“I've got to be a girl,” continues Muffy. “But, oh gee, I don't know. I can't tell. How can we find out with these diapers on?”
Then Arthur pipes up and says, “Pee. We should all take a pee. Then we’ll know.” He goes for it, and with scarcely any effort at all, manages to wet his diaper.
“Huh. That’s very interesting. Seems like I've come back as a girl,” he says. He is not displeased.
“You’re saying I should pee? In a diaper? How gross!” cries Muffy. Despite her distaste, after a bit of straining, she completes the act. “Ew, I have a thingy,” she cries. “I'm a boy!”
As for me, I find out to my dismay that I’m a girl.
“Can you believe it?” I grumble. “Me, a girl? Aw, man! This is not the way it’s supposed to be!”
Muffy glances sideways at me. “A-hah. You see! Look at you, Kevin. I knew it! I knew it!”
“Knew what?” I protest. “Hey, I didn’t hit the truck! The truck hit ME.”
“I always knew you were a sexist pig,” Muffy crows. “A male chauvinist sexist pig, that's what. You used to deny it, but I always suspected.”
“Wait, me? What about you? What’s with, ‘Ew, I have a thingy…’?”
She ignores me. “You regard women as inferior, don't you? You can't stand the thought of not coming back as a guy, can you?!”
Arthur chimes in. “Well, maybe Kevin doesn’t like being a girl, but not me. Personally, I find it fascinating! Just think about it, Kevin. You and I are gonna grow…” He stops and steals a look at Muffy. Then he makes an attempt to cup his hands in front of his chest. He is unsuccessful, but of course his thoughts are easy for us to translate. “Well, you know what we’re going to grow!”
This does not inspire me. I am bummed out about this uninvited sex change. Muffy is actually not wrong on that point.
“Is that all we've got to look forward to, Arthur?” I reply disconsolately. “Training bras?”
Muffy, meanwhile, is absorbed in her own sensations. “This is completely weird. I, um, have my own pair to contend with…but a lot lower this time. It feels so strange down there.”
“I don’t see why,” I retort dryly. “It’s not like having balls is going to be a new experience for you, Muffy.”
Muffy attempts to stare me down, but all she can do is emit little hiccups.
“Hey, c'mon you guys,” says Arthur. “Cut out the bickering. Let’s work on what's happening here and figure out a course of action. Obviously we've been reincarnated. Do either of you know anything about reincarnation?”
“Isn’t it like the Golden Rule in reverse: that whatever stuff you did to other people is going to happen to you?” says Muffy.
“Yeah, yeah,” he replies. “One of my clients produced a TV special about that. If you do something lousy to someone, or if you don't like each other, you keep on getting reborn with them, over and over, until you get it right.”
“Karma,” I say. “It's called karma, kids.”
Muffy tries her best to toss her head self-righteously, the way she used to when she was my wife. “Well, I'm certainly glad I'm not in your shoes, Kevin.”
I do not understand.
“God knows what your karma will be for drinking so much!” She flaps her hands in the air for emphasis.
“Excuse me, Ms. High-and-Mighty Muffin,” I say. “On the topic of karmic payback, were you or were you not cheating on me with Arthur?”
Muffy stiffens. “Our affair was an entirely different matter, Kevin. I was going to tell you, but, as you know,” she continues bitterly, “we seem to have died before I had the chance. You ran into a truck.”
If I had possessed any teeth, I would be clenching them. “A truck ran into ME!” I say.
“Anyway, Arthur and I are in love,” continues Muffy. “He was going to leave his wife for me, and as soon as he did that, I was going to get a divorce from you. Isn’t that so, Arthur?”
Arthur wiggles uncomfortably and wets his diaper a little bit more.
“You actually told her that?” I say gleefully. “Oh man, that is precious! Hah hah hah! Arthur, you sly devil, you!”
“What in the world are you talking about?” asks Muffy warily.
It is my turn to be smug. “Muffy. Dearest Muffy,” I say, “Arthur was never going to leave his wife. Not for you, not for anyone.”
“That's not true! Arthur, tell him about us. Go ahead!” she cries.
Arthur remains awkwardly silent.
“Arthur?” she repeats weakly, her heart sinking.
I don’t feel sorry for her. “Now that we're dead, Arthur, and I am no longer in your employ, I can reveal this without fear of retribution. Muffy, to be blunt, my former boss, Arthur, was the kind of man who chased anything and anyone with two legs, and even then, I might be limiting him. Arthur, a successful executive, to be sure, had a teeny little failing. One of his organs was hyperactive, and it wasn’t his brain. You see, your dearest lover and my former boss nailed just about every single person in the office.”
I want to smile triumphantly. All that happens, though, is that a little bubble of saliva escapes my mouth.
Muffy turns to look fiercely at Arthur. “Arthur, is that right? You had an affair with every woman in the office?”
“Listen to me carefully, Muffy,” I say, slowing down my transmission of thoughts so that she will pay careful attention. “I didn’t say every woman. I said every person.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean, every person?”
“Tell her, Arthur,” I prompt. “Go ahead.”
Arthur tightens his lips. He is actually able to do that somewhat. I am impressed. No wonder he was the boss.
“Kevin, you're fired,” he says.
He turns to face Muffy.
“Listen, Muffy. You were great in the sack. We had some fine times together. But you were the one who started talking about getting divorces and running away together. I never promised that.”
“What do you mean, every person?” she repeats.
“You might as well know the whole truth, Muffy,” says Arthur. “I'm bi. You know. Bisexual.”
Finally! It’s out! I succeed in kicking both my arms and my legs joyously.
“What exactly do you mean?” says Muffy sternly.
“I mean that I’ve always been attracted to men just as much as women,” shrugs Arthur. “So sue me.”
“But you were married,” exclaims Muffy.
I point out to her that she was married, too. She ignores me and continues.
“And I thought it was only me you were with. How could you cheat with so many people when you were married!”
“My wife and I had an understanding,” he replies. “I made a lot of money, and she enjoyed spending it. We got along well.”
“How could you do this to me, Arthur?” whimpers Muffy. “You were sleeping with other people? At the same time as me?”
“Feels great to have the person you love cheat on you, doesn't it, Muffy?” I crow.
Muffy continues to ignore me. As usual. “You're saying you slept with men? Men and women, both? But the promises…the lies,” she sputters. A new thought strikes her. “And the diseases! You could have caught something! You could've given it to me!”
“I don't suppose it matters what you might have given to me,” I mutter.
“First of all, Muffy,” says Arthur, “I always used protection. Secondly, anybody can have a disease. Thirdly, who cares any more? We're dead!”
“I'm really upset,” wails Muffy.
“You think you’re upset,” I say. “I just did something super disgusting in my diaper.”
Through her tears, Muffy continues her inquisition of Arthur: “You slept with everyone in the firm?”
“And then some,” I say happily.
“Well, not everyone,” responds Arthur slowly, projecting his thoughts with sudden emotion. “There was one person I could never reach…one person I loved more than anybody else. Maybe I was promiscuous because I knew I could never have that person. For him, I would have left my wife. With him, there might have been a chance to make a life together. But knowing he would never return my love, well, nothing mattered any more.”
Arthur turns and, looking across Muffy, stares longingly at me.
“Oh, hey, no! No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I say.
“Kevin,” says Arthur, still staring, “I can speak freely now. Finally. I've always loved you! I married my wife only after you married Muffy. I wanted to be accepted by you. All those affairs I had? They were meaningless.”
“Even me?!” bawls Muffy in dismay.
“Muffy, quite frankly, you were simply a way of getting closer to Kevin. If I couldn't be with him, well then, at least I could be with someone near to him.”
Her face red, crying hard, Muffy shouts, “I hate you! Both of you!”
Meanwhile, in an attempt to avoid eye contact with Arthur, I am glancing around, taking in our immediate environment.
“Hey, siblings, I don't want to bring you down from your current state of euphoria,” I say, “but have you taken a good look at our surroundings?”
“What surroundings,” sniffles Muffy. “We're in a hospital, right? I mean, we've just been born. I WANT MY MOMMY!”
Unlike Muffy, Arthur gets it. “This isn't like any hospital I've ever seen,” he says slowly. “Hospitals don’t have thatched roofs.”
“And have you noticed how hot and muggy it is?” I say.
“What are you suggesting, Kevin?” asks Muffy.
“I'm saying that I don't think we've been born into your typical upscale circumstances,” I answer. “This isn't exactly Cedars Sinai. I don't even think we're in the United States.”
“Oh, no,” gasps Muffy as a sobering thought hits her. “Kevin, what color are we? Why can't I tell? Oh boy, we'd better be Caucasian. Please, please, God! Let me be white!”
“Why, Muffy, you little bigot,” I sneer, “do you care that much what color your skin is?”
“Why of course not,” she responds indignantly. “I am not prejudiced, Kevin. Not one bit. Only, I just really, really, really, really want to be white. I need to be white! I mean, why should I have to be the socially disadvantaged one? Please, God, can't I be white?!?”
She whiffles her hands in the air and stares hard at them. Then she lets them fall back down.
“We're not white,” she moans. She stuffs one of her hands into her mouth and sucks noisily on the knuckles.
“Whatever our race, by the look of things, we've been born into extreme poverty,” says Arthur. “This is not good, kids.”
“Oh, no. We're poor, too? We're dark-skinned and we're poor? But that's so unfair!” cries Muffy. “We're just BABIES!”
“So this is how karma works,” I muse. “We three lived lives of luxury and power, and we come back as disadvantaged third-world triplets.”
“And as triplets, we’re stuck with each other,” whimpers Muffy, catching on. “I’m tied to you, Kevin. I can’t leave you and you can’t leave me. You can’t avoid facing Arthur, either; you’re stuck with him, too. And Arthur, you can't go to bed with either one of us!”
“But I can take a nap,” says Arthur with a huge yawn. “Which I’m going to do right now. I'm so tired, my eyes can’t stay open…g'night.” He closes his eyes and falls sound asleep.
And Muffy and I? We begin to cry.