One morning, Olathe awoke to the sound of a continuously crying baby outside her window. Disturbed, she glanced out her window for a woman or man with a child, or even an abandoned child, but found nothing.
After being deprived of sleep again the next night, she’d had enough and stormed outside in her nightgown to search for whomever or whatever was creating the horrific racket. Charging into the bushes outside her apartment, she thrashed through the bushes for the source of the likely prank. Some people have to work, she grumbled. There had to be something there–a baby monitor, a walkie-talkie, or some other electronic device, broadcasting from afar. But she couldn’t find anything, except for an old rag.
As she dislodged herself from the brambles, the crying intensified. It seemed to be coming from the dingy pile of fabric. Disturbed and intrigued, she jostled it with her foot. It began to wail so loudly that she worried it would wake other neighbors. So, in a last-ditch effort, she scooped up the rag. Immediately, the rag stopped crying. Bringing it inside, she set it in a cardboard box next to the trash can in her kitchen, where it began to coo, eventually calming into silence.
When her boyfriend, Jesus, came home from work that afternoon, she told him the unusual tale. Looking over the burbling rag, he was as mystified as she was. She went back to getting ready for work, and he plunked down in front of the TV. Everything was fine until she gathered her purse and keys, preparing to leave. Then, the rag began to bawl uncontrollably. Frantically she tried to quiet it, but nothing would calm it down. She turned to her boyfriend.
“Look, babe, I can’t bring this noise-maker to the diner. Can you look after it?”
He just stated at her. “Look after it? What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. Pretend it’s one of our kids when they were babies.”
He chuckled as she left, and the rag continued to wail. Each time Jesus turned the volume up, the crying seemed to match it. Picking up the box, he hauled the rag over to the couch and began to rock it back and forth. It slowly began to quiet down again.
That night, Olathe returned from work to find Jesus passed out on the couch with the television blaring. Next to him, with a blanket wrapped around its box, was the rag. She remembered why, at one point, she’d almost married him. Snuggling up to him and the rag, she fell fast asleep.
Several days later, Olathe came home after a long shift filled with crabby customers and poor tippers, excited to see how their rag, or Dallas, Jr., which they’d named after their son, was doing. She was surprised to see Jesus, pale as a specter, sitting next to Dallas, Jr.’s empty box on the couch.
“Where DJ, baby?”
“Gone,” he mumbled. It looked as if he was trembling.
“Whatcha mean, ‘gone?'” But Jesus just rocked back and forth on the couch.
She checked behind the trash can, in the dryer, and inside the laundry hamper in their bedroom–all of DJ’s favorite spots. Nothing. She ran outside, searching through the bushes where they’d found him. Still nothing. Finally, she called her mother, wondering if DJ had made it over to her house. Her mother merely asked her why she cared what happened to a godless abomination. For a moment, she almost called the police before thinking twice about filing that missing person’s report.
At her wit’s end, she sat down next to Jesus, tears welling up in her eyes. As he saw the distress welling in the muddy cappuccino eyes of the woman he loved most in the world; the woman whose uptight parents wouldn’t let him marry because of his Catholic beliefs; the woman who brought their three beautiful children into this world; his shell-shock began to crack.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but DJ threatened us. He threatened us and said he was running away.”
“Oh God,” she clutched her chest, “just like Dallas…wait. He can talk? And how in heaven’s name could he possibly threaten us? He’s just a fucking rag.”
“I don’t know, honey. He’s a dish rag like a baby. None of this makes sense. Said he’d sit on our faces while we slept if I didn’t let him go, though.” He started to tear up.
For several weeks after DJ disappeared, Olathe fell into a deep depression. The parallels between DJ and Dallas were alarming. Their son had also run away from home after holding a knife to his father’s throat. Contemplating all this, the chasm of her despair seemed bottomless. What had she done wrong? What caused both of her sons to act so violently.
Two days later, when taking out the trash, Olathe heard a mumble from the shadows. When a car passed by, it lit up the shadows, revealing a familiar rag.
“DJ?” she whispered.
“Yeah. What’s up?”
“Don’t you ‘what’s up’ me, mister. What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you threaten your father. Why would you run away.”
“Look mom. Look lady. I gotta level with you.” His voice, while gritty and deep, was eerily familiar. “To be honest, I was gonna kill the both of you. The way you kept ignoring my lure, I was ravenous by the time you picked me up. Most people fall for that baby crying shit right away.”
“You were going to kill me?”
“That’s how I eat. It’s nothing personal, just survival.”
Olathe chewed her cheeks. “I can’t believe you would do that to your own parents.”
DJ’s voice softened a little. “After you guys treated me so nice, though, I couldn’t do it. I mean, my own parents were never nice like that.” An odd combination of fear and warmth bubbled through Olathe’s body. “That’s why I threatened dad, er, Jesus. I was getting so hungry, but I just couldn’t eat him. I had to get away before the hunger overtook me. Would’ve been so much easier if you’d just ignored me, and I’d eaten you.”
“Life’s never easy, sweetie. Now why don’t you come inside, and I’ll try to figure out something you can eat that isn’t us.”
“Uh, I don’t know, lady. Mom?”
She smiled. “You can call me mom, DJ.”
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do for this human flesh craving. of mine, though.”
“We’ll see what we can do about that, DJ. We’ll just see.”