The Tale of the Cabbage Patch
Days passed with Bobby sitting at the kitchen table and staring out the window, watching for a stork. His nose pressed to the window glass, his breath forming images of rabbits, he stared out at the cabbage patch, at the tiny heads of cabbage sprouting in rows in the dark, rich soil. He would sit there for hours, his square shoulders drooping and his handsome face growing pale and sad, and consider nothing but the events in the garden: the passing of snails, the emergence of a worm through a hole in the dirt, the appearance of a colorful butterfly. For Bobby there was so much to see within the small square yard enclosed by a wooden fence.
He planted cabbage to entice the stork to bring the baby Bobby hoped for. I had watched him as he put the garden together, marveling that he would take such an interest in digging and weeding. I would stroll out into the yard and touch his shoulder, or smooth his hair from his forehead, and he'd tell me, “We'll be so happy when the baby comes.”
Often, during the days, I was no more than a shadow that passed him from one room to the next, or a reflection mixed with his in the kitchen window. I could stand at the back door and watch him for hours as he hoed and planted, and even when he noticed me he never smiled, or frowned. Stopping in his toiling for only a moment he would take the back of his hand and wipe it across his dry lips, and then continue working, wordlessly.
At night I found myself looking out at the cabbage patch, not watching for a stork, but noticing the way the polished-steel moon shining on the cabbages made them look like dolls heads. Sometimes I would have to pause, thinking I'd heard the high-pitched squeal of a child calling out for “da da.” I would walk among them, my slippers kicking up small piles of displaced soil, and bend to stroke a cabbage leaf or speak tenderly to an emerging head. Bobby wanted a child, and this is where he hoped to find it.
“Storks don't need a cabbage patch to deliver a baby,” I once told him. “Storks come through the chimney, like Santa Clause, I think.”
“I'm not taking any chances,” he said. He looked at me squarely, appraising me. “You do believe we'll have a baby one day, don't you?”
The kitchen window, and the garden beyond, was his world, and I didn't question him about if waiting for a stork, or if watching a cabbage patch, made sense, as long as he was happy. He seemed content to tend the garden in his bare feet and sometimes he'd tell me of good-luck signs he saw while tending the cabbages: butterflies in pairs, leaves that twirled counter-clockwise when they fell, or three bees on a single flower. At night he'd shower for a long time, washing the garden soil from every inch of his body, then slip into bed and curl up at my side.
“Maybe tomorrow,” he'd sigh.
He would stir there, his warm, clean skin inviting me to touch him. He'd accept a kiss, then another. Often we spooned as he held a pillow in his arms and cooed to it about baby carriages, red wagons, doll buggies, and ponies at a circus ride.
In the morning, Bobby would be gone from the bed and I'd lie there for a while and inhale the scent of the freshly cut baby's-breath Bobby had arranged in a vase at the bedside.
One morning I woke and felt the warm, inviting breeze of a summer morning coming in through the open bedroom window. The white curtains danced in the air-stream. From outside I could hear the distant sounds of children in a park, a lawn mower chugging noisily, birds singing from the tree tops. I walked over to the window, the curtains brushing my bare skin, tickling, and when I looked out I saw Bobby in the garden. He was talking to a large white bird with a huge beak. It was a stork.
The stork was facing away from me, but I could see that it was paying close attention to what Bobby was saying, though I couldn't hear him. The bird shook its head knowingly at several intervals, and once put its wing to its beak as if it were contemplating something of significance. Bobby was gesturing animatedly. He ran his hands through his thick hair, something he did only when he was very excited.
After a while, the stork nodded in a slow and deliberate way, then spread his wings, ran a few steps and lifted into the air. As he ascended, he saw me in the window, winked at me, then flew above the roof and out of sight. I stared at the empty blue sky and wondered if I was dreaming. When I had the presence of mind to look down at where Bobby and the stork had been, I saw that Bobby was busy pulling weeds from between the neat rows of cabbage heads. He didn't see me, and later when he was sitting at the kitchen window, I didn't mention the stork. Neither did he.
The days were soon filled with Bobby sitting in the warmth of the sun in a chair placed amidst the cabbage heads. He took up knitting and quickly turned out thick, fuzzy baby socks and caps with colors of the rainbow. He created clothes to match the caps as his fingers deftly danced, making knitting-needle waltzes as he hummed lullabies. At noon I'd come home from work and tend to the chores and the garden, following Bobby's instructions in the care of the cabbages, watering and tending them with new found happiness.
At night I decorated the baby's room with hand-painted designs: castles and dragons, Cinderella's mice, and Snow White's dwarves. I painted the room in shades of blue and pink. Together we bought a white crib with a lace covered canopy and silver fringe all around, a bassinet with prints of dancing pigs in ballet shoes, and smiling lambs with red bow ties, and a pad for changing the baby's diapers that was decorated with pictures of chickens with straw hats.
I bought a carousel to set on the night stand beside the crib, and after winding it I would watch the yellow horses go around while the tune of Hush Little Baby played softly. I hung a mobile above the bed, and it was easy to imagine our baby reaching up to play with the miniature airplanes, dirigibles, and hot-air-balloons. In the crib, stuffed pets, Teddy, Rex, and Dumbo - waiting for the baby's arrival - looked out between the slats in the crib with marble eyes.
The days went by, lingering like a fading photograph, and Bobby filled the baby's dresser with stacks of neatly folded clothes. He also packed the hamper with diapers and put jars of baby food in every bit of cabinet space.
“What shall we name him?” he asked.
“Him? Maybe it will be a girl,” I stated.
One night I put my ear to Bobby's abdomen and heard a beating heart down deep in my lover's stomach and kissed the warmth of his flesh. I fell asleep there, listening.
One afternoon I was in the garden while Bobby was napping on the sofa in the living room. If it weren't for the shadow that passed over me I wouldn't have noticed the stork was above me. I looked up at it, feeling neither fear or disbelief, but very curious that the stork had returned so early.
“Good day,” the stork said, shaking its feathers and eying me curiously. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I'm the father-to-be. You're the stork who's going to bring us our baby, aren't you?”
“Why, what an old wives tale,” the stork said with a hearty laugh that made his beak rattle. “I thought the other fellow was the only one who believed such nonsense.”
“That’s my husband and he believes it very much,” I replied, feeling as if the stork was bordering on being offensive. “You did come back to give us good news, didn't you?”
“Duck-waddle!” The stork said with impatience. “Last time I was here I was merely asking for directions. He wanted to know if this cabbage patch was being tended correctly. He didn't believe it was a coincidence I just happened by.”
“You didn't tell him you would bring a baby?”
“Duck-waddle no,” the stork answered. “I told him I knew nothing about cabbage patches, babies, or any such thing. It made him quite upset.”
“It's confusing that he would think you were bringing a baby when you gave no indication of doing so.”
“To me also,” the stork said. He raised his wings preparing to fly. “By the way, do you know where there's a good fish hatchery around here?”
Later, when Bobby came out to the garden, I said nothing about the stork's return visit.
Bobby's mother came for a visit.
“I can't believe you're adding to this insanity,” she hissed at me. “Look at him, out there watering rows of cabbage and waiting for a baby to be delivered.” She was standing at the window watching her son, her arms crossed. “I'm going to put an end to this craziness.”
“Bobby is very happy,” I said. “Let him be.”
“He's not happy. He's out of his mind.”
Before I could say another word she threw open the door and marched out into the garden. I followed behind, knowing she wouldn't physically hurt Bobby, but fearful of what she might say.
Bobby, flush with good health, stood as his mother tramped across the rows of cabbages. “Watch out, Mother,” he said softly. “You'll ruin the cabbage patch.”
“Stop this right now,” she demanded. “A baby’s not coming.”
Bobby smiled. “Of course one is, Mother.”
She stooped down and began pulling the heads of cabbage out of the dirt and flinging the cabbage in every direction.
“Please, don't, Mother!” Bobby yelled.
She didn't stop, but continued ripping cabbage heads from the ground, and as we watched, she destroyed the garden.
“Did you find the hatchery?” I asked the stork when I walked into the garden.
He was sitting on a pile of cabbage heads looking about in dismay. “Yes, the fish was very fresh, thank you,” he said distractedly. “What happened here?”
“Bobby's mother doesn't want us to have a baby so she destroyed the cabbage patch.”
The stork looked at me with one eye, then turned his head and looked at me with the other. “Of course, I'm only a bird, but one doesn't need a cabbage patch to have a baby.” The stork preened a few feathers, then looked about. “She sure made a mess of things. I don't care for cabbage myself but it's a shame to see such a fine garden turned into a mulch heap.”
“Isn't there anything you can do?” I pleaded. “Bobby won't get out of bed. He's so depressed.”
“I could fly around and find someone else's baby and bring it to you.”
“That may be the answer if the parents were willing, but can't you please talk to him and tell him you don't mind about the cabbage patch?”
The stork looked about again, then shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, all right, if it will make him happy. Besides, who am I to destroy a fairy tale?”
I hugged the stork then ran indoors and up the stairs to our bedroom. “The stork is here,” I shouted. Bobby stirred a bit, opened his eyes and looked at me. “The stork doesn't mind about the garden,” I told him as I went to his side.
“It's too late,” Bobby murmured. “There is no cabbage patch.”
“But the stork is outside,” I said, rushing to the window. I looked down at the ruined garden. The stork was gone.
“I told you it was craziness,” Bobby's Mother said as she stirred a large pot of cabbage stew. “Whoever heard of a stork bringing two men a baby?”
“It wasn't craziness,” I answered boldly. “I met the stork. Twice.”
“You're crazy too,” she replied. “If I had my way Bobby would leave you and come home with me where he'd be safe from such insanity.”
I said nothing, but looked at Bobby who sat at the window, his face against the glass.
That night I crawled into bed and whispered into Bobby's ears tales of magic and the cabbage patch. I gave him a kiss gently on the cheek where a tear had withered, and put my hand over his chest and felt the beating of our child's heart.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 270 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. He has two collections of short stories, Sand and Rain,that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His Twitter is @carrsteven960. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/