by Jessica Anya Blau
Elena found the baby in the snow, wearing only a diaper. It was on its back, silent, hands and legs spinning around like a turtle turned upside-down. She looked up and down the street, toward the houses with their walkways neatly shovelled, and their porch lights giving off a dim yellow glow that looked more like a stain than like a light. Elena pulled her purple knit mittens off and stuck them in the pocket of her long black wool coat. Then she reached down, picked up the baby, pressed it against her chest without thinking to wrap it in her coat, and ran home.
"Did you get the milk?" Harris called when she came in the door, a shadow of snow swooshing in behind her. He was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of hot tea in front of him. He couldn't drink it without milk.
"Store's closed," she said.
"It's a 7-Eleven," he said, "it's never closed." She heard him turn the page of the Sunday paperunlike most people, he didn't like to read it until after supper. Then he would go through it section by section, sipping tea and eating cookies until midnight or so when he went to bed. Elena didn't bother to hide the baby because she knew Harris wouldn't leave the kitchen and walk down the hall to where she was standing; but she moved quickly in case the baby began to cry, unwrapping her coat as she balanced the baby on alternate hips. Elena's heart thumped as she kicked off her rubber boots, she bounced the baby, who smiled at her, revealing two jagged lower teeth.
"Shhhhhh," Elena said. The baby had yet to make a sound.
"Why was it closed?" Harris shouted.
"It was closed," Elena said, and she rushed upstairs and into the bathroom where she locked the door behind her. Elena set the baby on its back on the green, shag bath-mat, then reached over and turned on the bath water. The baby's skin was mottled pink and white, like swirled ice-cream. Its face was fat and pink. It was bald and had shiny, furry eyes pressed against the sides of its head. The baby's lips were like a puffy little heart, and its eyes were tiny brown "O"s. Holding Elena's stare, the baby seldom blinked.
"Hello," Elena, said, and she kneeled on the floor and kissed the baby's cold, round stomach. She opened the diaper and smiled.
"A girl," she whispered, "I'm so happy you're a girl." The diaper was clean, as if the baby had been left in the snow only seconds before Elena arrived. Elena imagined her falling out of a sack of groceries, or falling off the edge of an arm, as if the owner, the parent, were carrying too many things into the house at once and accidentally let something fall. Elena undressed, picked up the baby and stepped into the warm tub. She held the naked baby against her chest and hummed the tune to Itsy Bitsy Spider. The baby felt solid and sturdy, she held her head up and wrapped her arms around Elena's neck. When Elena placed her hand under the baby's behind, the flesh bunched up and dimpled like and orange peel. Elena squeezed the baby's doughy legs where the fat folded over into four separate sections.
"You're delicious," Elena whispered, "you're like a sweet little fruit."
The door handle clicked on the locked bathroom door.
"Elena," her husband called.
"I'm in the tub," she said, and splashed as if for proof.
"What are you doing? About my tea? You said you'd get milk for my tea."
"Oh, uh, we'll have to talk about it when I get out," Elena said.
"What do you mean we'll have to talk about it?" His voice was concerned, but not angry. Harris seldom got angry, in fact he tried to please his wife whenever possible.
"Can we please just talk about it when I get out," Elena said, and she splashed again, just in case the baby decided to squeal.
"But the paper," Harris said, "How can I read the paper without tea?"
"Well, maybe they're open now," Elena said, "Maybe you should walk down there yourself and see if they're open now."
"Were they robbed or something?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Were the police there?"
"No, they were just closed," Elena said. "Please, can we talk about this later?"
"Elena, did you steal something?"
"What do you mean?" Elena asked. With the baby facing her on her lap, she leaned forward and slid her slippery cheek against the baby's. The baby squeaked, short and quick, like a rubber dog toy. Harris didn't seem to notice.
"Did you steal something?" he asked.
Elena didn't answer.
"That crazy kleptomania stage where you were stealing a new piece of underwear every day is not so far behind us, you know."
"That was six years ago "
"Well, maybe those things came back. You tell me if it did."
"If what did?"
"If that crazy kleptomania came back?"
"I don't think so," Elena said. Then she kissed the baby lightly on each eye and said, "I'm not sure. But we can talk about it later. After you get back from the store or something."
"Okay," Harris said, he sighed and went gently down the stairs.
A few moments later Elena heard the front door shut.
"You can talk now," Elena said, to the baby, who still had only just squeaked. Elena sat the baby in the tub, facing her, and splashed lightly so the water sprayed the baby's neck. The baby flapped her arms up and down splashing, she smiled and screamed, "BA BA BA BA BA."
Elena said, "BA BA," and splashed some more. Drops of water dripped down Elena's forehead and into her eyes. She began to cry, lightly, as she splashed and laughed with the baby.
"Oh my god," she said, and she leaned forward and clutched the baby, pushing its slippery skin against her own, "I've never been so happy. This is the happiest bath of my life."
The baby said "BA," and squirmed to get out of Elena's arms and back into the deeper water where she could splash.
Harris forgot to wear his hat. The cold nipped his ears and beat through the sparse tufts of blonde hair on the top of his head. He looked into the houses with their big square windows glowing from the well-lit living rooms and dining rooms. He could see wallpaper, people sitting at the table, paintings that were illuminated with special lights perched above the frames, and the spastic blue light from televisions. It was a nice neighborhood with gentle people. Harris felt a flush of pride as he strolled his block. As a teenager Harris never would have imagined that he'd end up in a house like his, with neighbors like his. He had spent most of his youth smoking pot in church parking lots and the bathrooms of gas stations, with friends he couldn't stand and his father despised. Although he couldn't compete with his father, who was a heart-surgeon, Harris had fared well enough to become an anesthesiologist. No one was as impressed with his career as Harris himself.
Harris turned the corner and saw the rotating red lights of two police cars. Not here, he though, not in this part of town. He quickened his pace, heading toward the police cars. When he arrived he heard shrieking inside, a woman, perhaps, or a child; it was shrill and cutting and made him shiver. Harris stood outside and stared at the open front door. The corner of the snowed-over lawn was cordoned off with yellow police tape adhered to white sticks poking out from the ground at odd angles. A uniformed police man stepped out and walked down the grey stone walkway. Crumbs of balled salt crunched beneath his heavy boots.
"Can I help you?" He asked. He was about six inches taller than Harris and black. He had no hat on and his head was shaved. Harris wondered if he was cold.
"I live in the neighborhood and was just wondering what happened," Harris said, trying not to tilt his head as he looked up to speak to the officer.
The policeman pulled a pad of paper and a pen from his back pocket.
"What's your address," he asked.
"4105 Cedar," Harris said, "it's around the corner."
"Dr. Harris Gibson," he said, and he pulled his wallet from his pants pocket, removed a business card that said, "Dr. Harris B. Gibson, Anesthesiologist" and handed it to the man.
"Can you tell me, Mr. Gibson, did you see any strangers in the neighborhood, did you notice anyone unusual driving around or walking by this evening?"
"No," Harris said, "Not that I can think of. What happened?"
"Baby was stolen," the officer said.
"Stolen?" Harris choked. "Do you mean kidnapped?"
"Five year old big brother put her out in the snow while the father was doing the dishes and the mother was on the phone." The policeman pointed with his pen to the dent in the snow that was surrounded by the yellow DO-NOT-CROSS tape.
Two unmarked police cars zoomed up the street and parked behind the black and white cars. Four men, not in uniform, got out of the cars. Two of them examined the snow on the lawn, the other two went into the house.
The policeman who was talking to Harris nodded his head toward them. "She's pretty hysterical," he said, just before the men entered the house.
"You know now that I think about it," Harris said, and his voice began to shake, "I did see some guy driving really fast down my block ten minutes ago. And it wasn't a neighbor."
One of the men who was examining the snow walked over to Harris.
"You saw someone who wasn't a neighbor driving really fast down this street?"
"No, down my street," Harris said, "about ten minutes ago."
"How do you know it wasn't a neighbor," the man asked. He was wearing a spring trench coat, and also had no hat. His hair was shaggy and straight, as if he'd slept on it wet. He was closer to Harris in height, which made Harris relax a bit.
"Because he didn't look like someone from the neighborhood," Harris said, "I mean, I've seen most of the neighbors "
"What kind of car did he have?" the uniformed police officer asked, and he poised his pencil on the edge of his pad.
"It was a pick up truck," Harris said, "a bright red pick up truck. With a gun rack."
"With a gun rack," the officer said.
"What did the guy look like," the man in the trench coat asked, "white, black, long hair short hair "
"Black," Harris said, and he quickly diverted his eyes from the towering black officer in front of him, "short black hair wearing a Raiders jacket I think."
The black man said, "you saw a black guy wearing a Raiders jacket driving a red pick up truck with a gun rack speeding down your street about ten minutes ago, is that correct?"
"Yes it is," Harris said.
"Where were you when you saw him," the man in the trench coat asked.
"In my living room, I looked out the window."
"And you could see the Raiders jacket from there?"
"Yes well, I'm not sure if it was a Raiders jacket or not. It looked like a black jacket."
"I see. And where do you live?"
"On Cedar," the uniformed police man said, "I've got the address here."
"Do you mind if we come to your house and ask you some questions," the man in the trench coat asked.
"No, not at all," Harris said. "I was just on my way to 7-Eleven to buy some milk, I should be home in a few minutes."
"Okay," the man said, "We'll see you then."
Harris walked toward the 7-Eleven, then cut down an alleyway and ran back home. His heart was throbbing in his ears and his teeth ached.
"Honey," he yelled as he came in the house. "Elena, Elena?"
"Up here," she shouted.
Harris ran upstairs and found Elena sitting alone on the bed wearing a bathrobe with her hair up in a white towel. Her face was shiny and red, her eyes looked small and smooth, as they always did when she washed her make-up off.
"Oh god, Elena," Harris said, and put his hand to his heart in relief. "You didn't steal a baby did you?"
"No," Elena said, and she half snorted and waved her hand in the air for emphasis.
"God, thank god," Harris said, and he slumped against the wall, panting for breath. "The police are down the street, they'll be hear in a minute."
"Why?" Elena asked.
"Someone stole a baby from down the street, and I had this weird feeling that it might have been you, so I made up a lie and told them that I saw a black guy in a truck zooming down the street."
"A black guy in a truck?" Elena said, and she stood up, unwrapped her wet hair and began frantically rubbing the towel over her head.
"A black guy in a red truck with a gun rack wearing a Raiders jacket. Tell them you were in the kitchen on the phone, I told them I was sitting in the living room when I saw him."
"A black guy in a truck with a gun rack?" Elena dropped the bathrobe to the floor, her pale skin almost glowed in the dim light of the bedroom. She dressed in jeans, underwear and a shirt that she had already laid out on the bed.
"Yeah, a black guy in a truck wearing a Raiders jacket." Harris took his long wool coat off and threw it on the bed. It was identical to Elena's coat, except it had square front pockets instead of slanted.
"Why did you say a black guy in a truck?" Elena snapped. Her face was burning red and she stepped toward Harris. Tears were welling up in her eyes.
"I don't know " Harris stammered, "I thought that maybe you had "
"Who cares what you thought," Elena said, and she reached for her tennis shoes that began to put on without socks.
"Why are you so upset? Why are you putting your shoes on?" Harris' voice quavered, he pulled at the crotch of his pants.
"Everyone knows that black men don't drive trucks! Of all the idiotic things to say. Black man, fine. Raiders jacket, fine. But a truck? A truck? What black man do we know who drives a truck?" Elena frantically tied her shoes. Then she stood and paced the room, pulling clothes from drawers and dropping them into an empty Saks Fifth Avenue bag that happened to be sitting by the bed.
"We don't know any black men," Harris whined.
"I mean know of. I mean seen. I mean have you ever seen a black man in a truck? NO! Of course not. Black men don't drive trucks. They drive BMW's, or Celicas, or Jeeps, or Range Rovers, or Hondas, or beat up piece of shit gold Cadillacs, but they do not drive trucks!"
"Elena," Harris gasped, "Did you steal the baby? Did you take the baby?"
"I didn't steal it for Godsakes, I found it in the snow. They just left it there!"
Harris plopped onto the bed and slapped his hand against his forehead.
"Let's go," Elena said, "Let's get outa here before the police arrive,"
"If we go, they'll know you took her," Harris said. He was staring at the floor.
"I'm leaving," Elena said, "I'm leaving with the baby. You stay."
Elena walked into the guest room and snatched up the baby who was sleeping naked on a towel in the center of the bed. The baby jerked her head up and screamed. She kicked her arms and legs, wailing, and pulling her back away from Elena who held her at arms length so as not to be whacked in the face. Elena carried the screaming child into the bedroom. Harris peered over at Elena with a slow, donkey-like look on his face.
"For Godsake Harris," Elena shouted, "Help me! Help me calm her down!"
"What can I do," Harris whispered, but Elena couldn't hear him over the screaming.
Elena pressed the baby against her chest and tried to sing, the baby kicked her legs, then silenced for a second before she released a stream of urine that drenched Elena's shirt.
"Do something," Elena shouted, "The police are coming, you must do something."
Harris calmly stood. He went downstairs, then returned a moment later with a hypodermic needle in his hand.
"Hold her still," he instructed Elena. She clasped one arm around the back of the baby's thighs, the other around the top of her back, holding both the baby's arms against her body. Harris inserted the needle into the baby's dimpled bottom, slowly pushed the syringe, then stepped back and sighed.
The baby's cries faded into a whimper, then her chest raised and lowered and she fell silent and asleep.
"She'll be out for a few hours."
"Thank god," Elena said, sighing and rocking the silent baby. "Thank god."
Read the rest of "Baby"