“Where’s Blue Baby?” I asked rubbing my eyes and following the smell of burning biscuits downstairs. I found my brother sitting at Grandma’s kitchen table helping himself to still-sizzling bacon served right out of a cast iron pan. I eyed his bowl of Cream of Wheat with its square dollop of butter forming a perfect yellow pool. I hated being the last one awake.
“Grandma’s almost ready for Sunday school. Better hurry up, ” he said, licking his spoon.
Grandma was humming Amazing Grace from behind the bathroom door.
“But I can’t find Blue Baby.” Panic prickled my skin. I knew I had gone to sleep with her because I did every night. My arms didn’t feel right without her tucked inside them.
I became Blue Baby’s mama when I turned two. She had the perfect blue gingham dress– just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I loved her more than any person alive, but my Grandma was my favorite alive person.
Without looking up my brother mumbled, “Grandma put her in the burning can.” I knew Blue Baby had an enemy in Grandma, because Baby Blue had bald spots on her head. Grandma asked me why I pulled her hair, and I told her the truth: “Because I loved her so much.”
I was the only one who still thought she looked beautiful. Because she was.
I knew I was on Grandma’s list of favorite people, ranking somewhere after Jesus who did miracles, like bringing my daddy home safely from Vietnam. I also thought she loved my cousin Susan more than me because Susan knew a lot about the Bible, and she lived in California so Grandma got to fly in a plane to visit her.
I didn’t believe my Grandma would put my doll in the burning can, the place where country people light their trash on fire. Sometimes Grandma let me strike the match, but I wasn’t supposed to tell my mom or dad.
That morning, my brother wouldn’t look at me. I got scared he was telling the truth.
I ran out the door as fast as my bare feet could carry me. I saw the rusty barrel where just the night before we had taken turns setting trash on fire and marveling as flames devoured our dinner scraps.
I wasn’t tall enough to see all the way inside even standing on my tippy toes. I ran to the kitchen to grab a stool.
Once I steadied the stool in the grass, I climbed up and could see all the way inside the barrel. I saw Blue Baby sleeping on ashy ghosts of burned newspaper pages. Her dress was covered in fine black dust. I grabbed my baby and held her sooty body. I whispered in her ear that I would never let her go.
“Grandma must have had a good reason for putting you there,” I assured her.
“She must have had a good reason.”