Tennessee Rescue(4)

By: Carolyn McSparren

Had he come to arrest her for harboring her three orphans? Just let him try. She opened the door and said, “Yes?” in her coolest executive-of-the-month voice.

“You wanted help.” He held out a small jar full of white stuff that sloshed. “I have an old kitten syringe. You can squirt some milk down their throats. How many, by the way?”

This was more like it. She morphed from uppity to Scarlet O’Hara helpless in one breath, flashed him what she hoped was a killer smile and stood aside so he could come in. “Three. Two girls and a boy.”

“Tell me you haven’t named them.” He hung his dripping poncho and hat on the old hat rack and slipped out of his sodden muckers. He was wearing a khaki sock and a red one.

Big, tough government official couldn’t even match his socks. Probably meant there was no woman living with him. If there was, she didn’t take very good care of him. Trip would no more wear mismatched socks than he’d wear bunny ears to an international conference.

But it was kind of endearing in a goofy way. She smiled at him. He didn’t smile back. “I had to call them something to tell them apart.”

He sighed. “Not a good idea. Keep them depersonalized. Makes it easier afterward. So what did you call them?”

“I thought maybe Chanel, Arpege and Brut, but then I decided that might get me in trouble with copyrights,” she joked. “So at this point they’re Rose, Peony and Sycamore.”

He just shut his eyes and shook his head. “Okay, let me see them.”

He handed her the jar of milk and the syringe, followed her to the pantry and dropped onto his haunches beside their makeshift bed. “They’re cold. You got a heating pad?”

“No, I don’t.”

He glanced up at her. “Well, I do. Let’s get them fed and I’ll go get it. Give me the stuff.”

She handed the jar to him carefully. She didn’t want it to slip out of her hands and break on the pantry floor. No worry there. He enveloped the jar with a paw that would make Bigfoot feel inadequate.

For a moment he simply gazed down at the babies. “Cute little buggers,” he said. He went up a good ten points in her estimation.

He took two pairs of rubber gloves from his pocket, handed the second set to her.

“Come here, critter,” he whispered and picked up the nearest baby. There was a comic strip in her local newspaper in which one of the characters was so huge that he could hold his baby in the palm of his hand. This little one was cradled just as effectively.

“Here, fill the syringe with milk,” he said, “then lift the corner of its mouth and slip it in. Do not, I repeat not, jab it in and shoot it down the throat. The milk’ll wind up going into the lungs. They’ve got enough troubles without pneumonia.”

She gulped. Great way to make her feel competent. She lifted the corner of the tiny mouth with her index finger, then with her other hand inserted the syringe and pushed the plunger so that a drop of milk went into the baby’s mouth.

Wonder of wonders, its little throat moved and the milk disappeared. After a dozen further drops, the baby seemed to get the idea.

“Okay, now try the center of the mouth. Easy!” he said. A moment later she actually held a suckling baby—a very hungry baby. The others were stirring, making mewling noises and swimming toward her the way puppies supposedly did when they were just born. They must smell the milk.

“Whoa,” he said and took the syringe. “Don’t you have any brothers or sisters? You can’t let the baby drink down to the last drop. It’ll get a stomach full of air. Besides, it’s had enough.” He set the complaining baby back on the towel and picked up the second. “Okay, this is one of your girls.”

“That’s Rose. She’s the one with the two broad stripes on her head. Peony’s are narrower. Sycamore has two all the way down his back.” This time the nursing went better, and Emma felt she was getting the hang of it. The third baby had problems, but eventually managed a few sips. When she set her down, the towel had begun to smell and felt damp. “I thought they didn’t have any scent yet,” she said.

He grinned up at her. “They don’t. That’s baby poop. In the wild, Momma would take care of it. Since you’ve elected yourself their foster mother, it’s your responsibility. Incidentally, they’ll have to be fed every four hours around the clock and stimulated to go to the bathroom.”