It was old, but not that old. What? Maybe 70 years? There were older buildings still standing, in use–200 years old. But Mary could feel it, the tremors, every now and then. The construction next door had taken its toll. The machines, the pounding, the noise, the digging, the water seeping into the foundation–constructive and destructive in the same instants. She wondered if the building would survive or would it be torn down and replaced? If so, she’d be out of a job.
With her bottle of disinfectant and rag in hand, she walked the hallways, spraying and wiping door knobs, light switches–anything anyone might have touched. Every two hours, she made the sweep, in case, just in case a miniscule germ had landed on a surface–so many surfaces.
It was her last sweep of the day. Everyone had gone home and she did her final cleaning. The next day, they’d start all over again. She made her way down the hallway to the breakroom. Every surface needed cleaning, the microwave, the refrigerator–inside and out, the tables, the chairs. It would take her an hour. She started with the tables. She cleaned the three in the seating area, distanced six feet apart. Then she cleaned the counter. Beside the coffee maker someone had left a newspaper–crumpled and bunched up. A newspaper is a relic these days. Most people use their phones to read the news. The newspaper moved. Another building tremor she thought. Then she heard a whimper, a small cry. She approached and gingerly touched the edges of the papers, pulled the top layer up. A baby, an infant–so tiny, a newborn, naked, male, pitiful.
She turned to her cart and grabbed three clean rags from a box on the bottom shelf. She picked up the baby and wrapped him in the cloth. “Poor little thing,” she thought.
It snuggled up against her and closed its eyes.
What to do? Call the police? They were occupied with the protests and riots. They’d stopped responding to calls months ago. Contact social service? She looked up the number, the city, social services and pressed in the numbers. A recording, of course, to be expected. She listened to a series of instructions. Which number to press? She ended up pressing each one, in turn with the same result–a loop back to the main menu. She kept calling until her phone blinked, “low battery”.
The baby cried. Maybe she could find some milk. There was no grocery store in this neighborhood and the Dollar Store that stocked food was boarded up. Maybe the drug store would have some milk, she thought and then remembered their sign taped on the door, closed “indefinitely”. The shelves were stripped bare by the looters.
She rearranged the box of clean rags into a bed and placed the baby in the box, then she rolled the cleaning cart into the utility closet. She put on her coat, gathered up her purse and keys. She lifted the box from the cart. The baby, exhausted now, had dropped off to sleep. She left the building, the door locking behind her and headed toward her car.
She made her way up the street toward the parking lot. The parking spaces on the street were crowded with construction workers’ cars and trucks-day and night. The construction never stopped. The few spaces the company rented for the employees, what few there were with a job these days, was five blocks away, a long trek in the cold weather. She came upon a new sign, “sidewalk closed”, erected during her shift sometime, she guessed. She crossed the street, easy at night with so few cars on the road. During the day, it was another matter. You could wait for a quarter of an hour to get a break in traffic and then would have to run across the street–a difficult thing to do for someone as old as she. Mary walked another block, shifted the box in her arms and then had to cross the street again–sidewalk closed.It was getting windy, a biting cold. Still the baby slept.
Across the street, she entered a make-shift fenced-walkway, a tunnel of sorts built to protect pedestrians from debris from the building site. Thankfully it was lit but the pavement was uneven. You had to be careful. She couldn’t see her feet as she walked. The box blocked her view and she stepped into a stream of mud and water, pouring from the construction site. Normally she would have avoided the puddles and holes. She lost her footing and slipped but somehow, as she fell, she held onto the box. Her head hit the wooden fence.
Something was broken. Her ankle? Her wrist started to swell. She slid the box out of the mud in which she lay. The baby whimpered beneath the rags. Blood ran from Mary’s head. She sat for a while, stunned and then looked around for her purse–her phone. She would call for help. She crawled over to where her purse landed, two feet away. With one hand she reached into her purse and found the phone. She tried to turn it on, dead battery.
Fear crept over her. Realizing that no one would see them where they lay, she shivered and then threw up. “Maybe a concussion,” she said out loud and touched her bleeding head.
The baby started to wail, a cry, a particular sound only a newborn can make. Mary dragged herself to the box. “Poor little fella,” she said. “I can’t help you. I can’t help myself.”
She lay her hand on the bundle of rags. “I can’t pick you up little guy. I might drop you in the mud. So I’m just going to rub you and warm you up.”
The baby cried harder. Mary covered his little head to keep it warm. What to do? She remembered reading about a mother and baby being trapped under rubble from an earthquake somewhere in South America. The mother pricked her finger and fed the baby her blood. They survived for days until rescued.
“It’s worth a try.” She placed her finger in the wound on her head. She put her finger in the baby’s mouth. It sucked greedily. Mary fed the baby until the wound held no more blood. But still the baby cried.
“If only we could get to some place where someone could see us,” she shivered. Mary looked at the entrance–maybe 50 feet. She had to try. She pushed the box ahead of her and crawled inch by inch. Push the box, then crawl. Stop for breath. Push the box, crawl, stop for breath. Push, crawl, breathe. Dizzy, rest, push, crawl, rest, rest.
So dizzy. The baby cried, weakly. “I’m coming, Joey,” she called. If only she could get up out of the bed. This isn’t real. It’s a nightmare. I always came when he cried for help. So dizzy, Joey. I’m trying.”
No, Joey’s grown up. Moved away. A cute baby, a sweet boy but then what happened? What did I do? Too much? Too little. Gone. Contributing? Protesting? What?
Elderly woman and infant found near construction site in Enterprise Zone in South-side. The woman, identified as Mary Brown, was declared dead on arrival at City Memorial Hospital. The baby is alive and in satisfactory condition. Social Services is in search of the mother of the child. Anyone having information, please contact the number listed below.
While driving home from work, Allen Front noticed a person and a box on 4th street around 2 a.m. Tuesday. He stopped and seeing the body and baby in the box, he called 911. After waiting 30 minutes, Allen took the baby to City Memorial Hospital. The hospital sent an ambulance to recover the body of the woman. “I didn’t know what to do. There lay a dead woman and a very weak baby, about to freeze to death. So I put the baby in my car and turned the heat on high and headed to the hospital. The poor little thing had dried blood around its mouth. I don’t know what that was about. I just hope it will be OK.”
I wrote this story during the 2020 Pandemic. At first I thought I’d have the woman decide against caring for the baby and put it somewhere for someone else to tend to, leave it to its fate. The woman had enough of tending to people who are ungrateful, the entitled generation. But she didn’t, she gave it her lifeblood.
My new book is available on Amazon, just in time for the holidays!
I’ve dedicated it to children and adults everywhere who find the courage to overcome fear of the unknown.
I live in Richmond, Virginia. The James River runs through Richmond and provides a home for much wildlife including deer, raccoons, beavers, squirrels and of course birds. I noticed the small yellow birds sampling the seeds in my birdfeeder and decided to write a story about the Yellow Warbler. Peep is the result. You’ll notice two children in the book. They are my grandchildren, Wilson and Kelsey. The dog is my son’s sweet “Bash”.
Before the empires, before the wars, before the migrations, back to the source, the motherland, that unnamed place from whence we all came–I came.
We, I existed in their seed–long, long ago–and I am, we are here. We, I existed in the bodies of the ages. Am I not then native to this land? Are not you, also?
Like you, I had no choice, no voice in any of the migrations, wars, empires that brought me here nor the circumstances whether conqueror, indentured, slave, warrior, merchant. And although these people carried our future selves in their bodies, we did not participate in their actions, we do not bear their guilt.
We, I belong here. It is your birthright. It is my birthright. We are American–native. We can not change the past. We can only be in the present. That is the task at hand
She had no idea, not a clue, although there were plenty of signs that something was amiss. For instance, why were things so difficult? Why did it take forever to get anything rolling? Why was there so much opposition to every move she made, every breath she took?
“But it’s always been this way,” she would say when I nettled her. And she’d dismiss me like a fleeting thought.
She was constantly examining the issues. “There’s got to be a way out of this,” she’d say. And when she’d say something like this I would perk up, like a deer hearing a sudden noise–all alert, listening, at the ready for action. Forever the optimist, I’d think, “maybe this time, she’s seeing the light–almost”. But always, always, she’d be overcome with opposition, points of contention, small though they were, but the pure volume, millions of them, held her back.
“I’m stuck here,” she said one day. “It’s like I’m moving through mud.”
“That’s it, yes, you are exactly right–almost.”
It took a pandemic before she noticed. Everything s-l-o-w-e-d down. The world ground to a halt. Don’t go out, stay at home, if you do go out, wash your hands, and for Pete’s sake, wear a fucking mask–cover your nose and mouth. No, no, don’t wear it on your chin. That’s right pull that damn thing up over the parts of your face that breathe air in and breathe air out.
She had time to notice, finally. It was like moving through mud. Actually it was quicksand. And the day she opened her eyes, she saw exactly where she was–in a pit of quicksand–sinking slowly. She reached forth her hand, globs of goo falling, plopping into the sand around her. And being the best of the best, golden light that I am, I reached forth too and pulled her out and set her free.
“Boy am I glad that’s over,” she said, shaking granules from herself, casting off everything that wasn’t purely, authentically her.
I’m in the piedmont but it feels like the mountains today. On the wooden fence, the honeysuckle is blooming still, ready for a deer tall enough to reach it and eat it for a snack. They will be by later–the deer–sometimes a herd of six or seven, sometimes just three–a doe and her two fawns. The fawns are losing their spots now and the doe’s coat is growing darker. Mid-September, the perfect time of the year here in Virginia.
June and Waylin, the hound dogs are out. They are city dogs and have been kept inside all summer, on a leash for walks in the suburbs. A copperhead almost bit Waylin, in their backyard, up close and personal. Maybe the snakes are gone now and the hounds are allowed outside. The snake man was coming to treat the yard–whatever that means. It’s a jungle back there–a woodland tangle of growth–tall pines, a few hardwoods and lots of scrub brush. On my side of the fence, someone has clear out things but it wants to come back, ivy winding itself up the oat trees, Virginia Creeper smothering the shrubs.
The dogs are barking now. Mountain hound dogs wouldn’t be making such a racket. If Waylin and June were mountain dogs, they’d be a little less frisky. They would be lazying around, napping under the porch, until the hunt is on–that is and then Katie bar the door. Mountain dogs would grab the snake and shake it good. I’ve seen two of hounds, one on each end, stretching a snake between them–in the country.
But I’m in the Piedmont, in the suburbs of the city, old suburbs–almost forgotten, with creeks and lakes feeding into the river–sections of land that can’t be developed any further, perfect for the deer, rabbits, and squirrels. Here, garages are not attached, kitchens have not been updated with their shiny, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Bathrooms are small and closets hold a reasonable number of clothes. Perfect, or perfect enough if you can’t live in the mountains. Here I pretend on a cool September day, with the warm sun on my shoulders and the quiet of the outdoors, pretend that I’m up on the Blue Ridge.
It was a Sunday when they cordoned off the street and imploded the building. The building was 35 stories high–made of concrete, metal, and glass. It collapsed into itself and great billows of dust rushed forth and swirled upward and out–out onto the streets, the cars, the buildings that were close by.
The huge pile of rubble set for a week, untouched. No one went near it. It shifted and settled. Finally, men in machines came. The machines were great yellow things with claws that opened and closed. Even so, compared to the mountain of debris that was once was headquarters of the electric company, the bulldozers and loaders looked like toys. Every day they nibbled away at the pile of concrete and metal. A bite here, a bite there was loaded into trucks that hauled it away–piece by piece. The building so carefully planned–first from blueprints, renderings, and drawings of every component–from the structure to electrical, plumbing, exterior, and interior, weights and measures, balances, and counter-balances to the actual building of the structure, pouring of concrete, laying of foundations, erection of walls, steel, and glass, heating and cooling, roofing and signage–the building–was now a pile of disorganized debris. Slowly, day by day, it was disappearing.
We used to work there. It was not a fun place. The people were very strange. They were intimate with each other and hated each other. And the projects were equally strange–pieces parts. Was there a big picture where it all fit together? No one knew. Everyone did a piece, nibbling away at something we were never sure of.
In the end, we walked away. It was just as well. Look at it now.