By: James Rumpel
Maggie Garber opened the door and was greeted by her visitor.
"Hello, I'm Susan Harold from the Department of Health and Services. We talked on the phone," announced the plump, middle-aged lady.
"Yes, nice to meet you," replied Maggie. "Please come in. I'm glad you were able to meet at such a late hour. My days are just too full."
Mrs. Harold stepped into the apartment, giving the small apartment a cursory inspection. "We don't normally make late visits like this, but it seems this is the only way we can get you signed up for services." Suddenly, her face contorted, and she let out an earth-shattering sneeze. "Excuse me," she said, shaking her head. "I have a dander allergy. You don't have pets, do you?"
"No, it's just me and Tommy." Maggie offered her guest a seat on the sofa.
"Tommy's your son? What about his father?" Mrs. Harold sat down, setting a large fabric bag, adorned with hand-crafted daisies, at her feet.
"Tommy's father is not in the picture. In fact, I really don't know much about him. It was kind of I guess you could call it a one-night stand." Maggie frowned. "But I'm okay without him. I don't need an animal like that in my life."
Mrs. Harold's concern was obvious in her expression. "You should have contacted our office earlier. We could have helped find him and hold him responsible."
"Oh, I'm pretty sure he doesn't care about Tommy's life or anyone else's as far as that goes. Trust me, we're better off without that monster in our lives."
"Well, if you didn't contact us to help track down the father, what do you want from our agency?" Again, Mrs. Harold sneezed loudly.
"It's about Tommy. That's him sleeping in the playpen." Maggie pointed to a beat-up wooden contraption with chicken wire wrapped around the bars and across the top. "He tends to sleep a lot during the day and is up most of the night. He slept quite a bit today, so I'm guessing he'll be a handful tonight."
"Why is the playpen encased in chicken wire? And what are all those scratches in the wood along the bottom? I thought you said you didn't have any pets?"
Maggie shrugged. "Tommy's a bit of a climber. Especially on a bright night like tonight."
"If getting him to sleep is a problem, we might be able to help," began Mrs. Harold. She reached into her bag and pulled out a handful of pamphlets. "We offer many different services. We even have training for young mothers on childcare. We should be able to help you get Tommy onto a more normal schedule." She shuffled through the papers, found the one she was looking for, and handed it to Maggie.
"Thank you," said Maggie as she took the brochure. "When he sleeps isn't the problem. You see, Tommy is a special child."
"Really," said a surprised Mrs. Harold. "I looked over his papers and there were no medical or intellectual issues listed."
"That's because everything was fine for the first couple of weeks. It's only been the last few months that Tommy's issues have come up."
"And what exactly are these issues? Is his development slowed?"
"Oh no," chuckled Maggie, "just the opposite. He's only four months old and can already climb out of his crib some nights."
"That is amazing." Mrs. Harold walked over to examine the sleeping child. "He doesn't look to be large for his age. I'm surprised he is strong enough to pull himself up. Is he crawling?"
"Oh, there are nights that he's a regular terror on all fours."
The older woman returned to the sofa, sniffling. "Well, I guess I still don't see what the problem is."
"The problem is that I'm having a difficult time keeping him fed. He has a ravenous appetite. I was hoping there was some way for you to help me acquire food." Maggie stood and began spreading a stained drop-cloth across the floor.
"I think we can help with that. Have you ever applied for food stamps? To be honest, we didn't need a meeting for that. I could have gotten all the information over the phone." Mrs. Harold began digging in her ample sized bag once again.
"I really appreciate this," said Maggie. "I can't tell you how hard it is to find fresh food for Tommy every month. I'm beginning to run out of ideas." She moved to Tommy's playpen, unlatched the wire cover, and lifted the lid.
"Well, like I said, you didn't need to make me come down here at night just for a food stamp application." Mrs. Harold grumbled as she pulled a stack of forms from a folder and rifled through them.
"Actually, I did," replied Maggie as she pulled up the shades on the window next to Tommy's playpen revealing a brilliant full moon climbing above the horizon. "Tommy," she called, "time to wake up. Your dinner's here."