The Cuddler

“Waah! Waah! Waah!”

Sadie Powell can hear the baby crying before she exists the elevator. Another little one in desperate and dire need of her services. Powell is a retired widow who works three nights a week as a professional cuddler for St. Thomas Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A cuddler volunteer, according to the brochure, is an adult trained to provide extra love and emotional support to newborns under the guidance and supervision of medical staff. But Sadie will tell you that she never needed any training. She’s been providing extra love and emotional support all her life. She loves cuddling babies because babies love cuddling her back. Cuddling isn’t just a routine or series of memorized steps for Sadie. Cuddling is instinct. Cuddling is hugging, embracing and not letting go. Cuddling is providing sanctuary to terrified souls. Cuddling is giving someone permission to lower their defenses. 

“Thank goodness you’re here,” says the lady at the nurse station. “That girl has been whining for five minutes straight.”

“Let me at her,” Sadie gleefully rubs her hands.

Navigating her way through a maze of hospital workers and medicine carts, Sadie Powell finally locates the little damsel in distress. A brown cherub dressed in a pink romper with a mouth open wide enough to reveal her tonsils and arms flailing about like a humming bird. This is the one. 

“Waah! Waah! Waah!”

Sadie recognizes the same crying voice from the elevator. The poor thing is all alone in the world and terrified about it and Sadie is determined to cuddle those blues away. But another volunteer has gotten to the baby first and there is protocol. So Sadie sits beside them and waits. 

“Hi. I’m Sadie Powell. New here?” The other woman is initially startled by Sadie’s introduction and scoots away toward the end of the bench. 

“No.” The pretty young lady cradles the wailing baby in her arms. “I’m quite old actually. I practically live here.” She slowly turns her body facing Sadie again. 

“Me too. I volunteer three times a week. I guess our paths have never crossed before.”

“No. I’ve seen you before. But you never saw me. You were always too busy comforting the children to notice.” The young woman stands up and rocks the baby back and forth. “But we were destined to meet sooner or later. Hello, Sadie Powell.”

“So what’s her name?” Sadie stands up facing the woman’s back but in full view of the child on her shoulder.  

“Here. Let me have her.” The taller woman tilts the crying newborn to Sadie. 

“Okay, Sadie. But it’s your funeral.” The child is throwing a temper tantrum. 

“Shhh. Shhh,” Sadie says as she takes the child in her arms. “Hush little baby don’t say a word. Momma’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…”

“Waah! Waah!...” Silence.  

“How did you do that?” 

“Do what?” Sadie says. The baby is now asleep in her arms. “And lower your voice.”

“How did you make her stop crying and go to sleep? I’ve been holding her for fifteen minutes and she’s been holding a temper tantrum.” The woman whispers. 

“You just have to know the secret.”

“What secret?” 

“Look at this child,” Sadie tilts the baby’s head providing Maria a good view. “She’s not a toddler or infant. She’s a newborn. She just got here. She doesn’t know anything about the world. No life experience at all. This is all new to her.”

“So?”

“So,” Sadie repeats her words. “A newborn baby doesn’t understand being sleepy. It’s scary your first time.” 

“You telling me she was crying because she didn’t know she was exhausted?”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. She was crying because exhaustion and sleepiness are foreign concepts to her She doesn’t realize she’ll just fall asleep for a few hours and wake up later. She thinks this is it.  Losing consciousness is terrifying for her. She thinks she was going to die!”

“No!” The woman is incredulous.

“Yes!” Sadie reassures her. “She’s not fighting sleep. She doesn’t know what that is. She was fighting the Grim Reaper!” 

“Really?” The woman chuckles. 

“What do you think all that crying was about? She’s mourning what she believes to be her own demise.” 

“Looks like she’s pretty quiet now,” the woman peeps over Sadie’s shoulder. 

“Yeah. All you have to do is cuddle them. It reassures them. Puts their mind at ease. Enable them to rest in peace.” 

Sadie places the baby in her bed and pats her lovingly on the bottom. The child is quiet now. Too quiet. The other woman looks at Sadie Powell and Sadie freezes. The younger woman is younger no more. She is now older. Much older. Decaying skin and bones. A living corpse. 

Instinctively, Sadie reaches for the baby. She picks her up in an effort to protect the child and notices her armband. The little girl’s name is Sadie Powell. The skeletal woman reaches out with her cold hands and Sadie screams. The baby is now gone and Sadie is sobbing trying to reach the exit door. The other cuddler opens her arms for an embrace and whispers.

“Shhhh. Shhhh. Hush little baby don’t say a word. Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…”

The End

This story was submitted by J. Kelley, a ten year resident of Houston, Texas. He can be found on Twitter @Doctor_Hue

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