We were out strolling in the Montparnasse and came across a bedraggled charwoman sweeping a stoop. Beside her, on the dirty pavement, laid a bundled baby tucked into a woven basket. Charles pulled great clouds of thought in through his windblown stogie and narrowed his eyes. He paused, addressing the tired woman with his eyebrows as if to ask permission to examine the “little beast” in the basket before us, as he invariably called all children. With an exhausted shrug, the woman consented non-committaly.
“Look at it,” he instructed me. I dutifully leaned over the bundle, adjusting my inspector’s monocle. The babe, a male, had undone is little green blanket with a sweaty miniature manliness, and now lay exposed to the sun like a little Greek god. Charles’ face bent over beside mine. Instantly, the child’s face became angry, or more accurately, perplexed. Vulnerable, bawling.
“Let us deposit this vile littleness in the nearest ashcan, at once,” Baudelaire suggested.
“Good God, Charles, why not stake the boy out on a pentagram with knitting needles dipped in vinegar and have done with it?”
“It,” continued Charles, not granting the living boy before us even the minor honor of its gender, “is not yet worth the trouble. All it has done so far with life is suck and shit.” He pulled a slow grey cloud in through wetted lips. “Surely this other creature sweeping her life away would be relieved if her little burden were to suddenly disappear. In fact, perhaps she could be persuaded to pay us a small fee, which we could then dedicate to Bacchus at The Bonnie Brit.“
He paused again, unwilling to give away any deeper purpose he might have had motivating this monstrous proposal. Keeping my composure, I decided to play his game, and retained an unfazed demeanor.
“A mother with no love for her child? Well, I suppose you have some experience to rest your judgment upon.” I laughed, a bit feebly, I must admit, not entirely liking my own humor in this moment. There was a sense of dislocation about the entire scene, as if it were the result of some unbidden recollection, rather than simply a sequence of spontaneously self-generating events.
“Mother… mother…” Baudelaire mused, puffing diffidently. He seemed almost amused by my having so cavalierly brought up so disconcerting a topic. “Ha ha, yes, indeed, I have some experience with such mothers, Bonadventure. Indeed I have. You have cheered me considerably. Perhaps you are not yet entirely without utility. Come, let us retire to The Bonnie Brit, and my Maman’s latest check will fill our cups!”
“But, what of the infant before us?”
“Today shall be his second birth day, and for the present, I shall give him the entire benefit of my dubious wisdom.” So saying, Baudelaire stooped most gently beside the child, solicitously handing his cigar to me to spare the boy the fumes. Baudelaire cupped his hand around the tiny ear and whispered something indistinct to the bawling babe. I could make out nothing of the words, which indeed sounded much like the baby’s babble, only in a lower register. Save the last thing that he said, and which may have been addressed more to himself than to the child, although Baudelaire’s gaze still rested on the miniature features.
“I, too,” he said softly, “have a mother.”
And the child had, mysteriously enough, ceased to cry.