It was May. School was almost over for the year, even now it was only half-days. After class, what to do with the rest of the day–go home? Boring. Not just boring but the noise of his sisters and mother, the T.V. blaring reality shows was too much to take. After the chaos and roar of school, all he wanted was a quiet place to–to what? Think? Rest? Just be.
The sun was hot for May, 90 degrees. He put on his baseball hat and sunglasses, swung his backpack over his shoulder and instead of riding the school bus home, he strode off the school grounds and headed to the river–through the suburban neighborhood of manicured lawns. The streets were shaded by huge magnolia trees, chestnuts and oaks. An occasional car speed by him as he walked–facing traffic.
Finally, he came upon a path to the river, a path through the woods–a deer path. He followed it, past the creek, behind the houses, down to the river bank. The river was wide and fast–nothing but water and ripples marking where the current flowed. He sat down on a fallen tree trunk, tossed his backpack on the ground and rested with only the river noises for company.
It only took two days before the neighborhood social media, “Nextdoor” buzzed with comments–a suspicious person in a baseball hat, The police came–trespassing was the charge.
Easter is on my mind. The earth has been in preparation for weeks, first with dandelions, then daffodils, pink buds on the red bud trees and now the dogwoods blooming. The deer are losing their grey winter coats and turning a warm tan color. The birds are building nests.
I want to celebrate, too. I want to put on a new spring dress, a hat, shoes and stockings and go somewhere where people gather. I want to hear singing–maybe Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
By 10 o’clock I was in the car and on my way to the studio, glad that it had stopped raining, the sun was out and the sky clear and blue again. It was cold, but on the first day of spring you can’t have everything. I turned on the CD player. I was almost at the end of a murder mystery audio book.
I know. CDs are old fashioned and Amazon Audible is all the go but Audible costs $25 a month and that’s $25 that I could spend on art supplies. Besides the audiobooks are free at the library although I hear they are phasing them out with digital streaming. If and when I get a new car, then it will have bluetooth and I’ll be up to date, for a minute.
That’s what the millennials say, anyway. A minute is, I think, more than 60 seconds and can be a short while or a long while–a very inclusive word.
Inclusive, another favorite word these days, although only in word. Word is another one, and I have no idea what that means. Maybe, hello? Or perhaps just another inclusive word.
In March I think a lot about my father. It’s his birthday month. He was the fourth child of nine. He talked sparingly of his childhood except that his mother was industrious and raised them with very little at hand. Dad’s father, my grandfather did not have a father. Well, of course he had a father but not one that acknowledged him. As it turned out, his father, my great grandfather was the sheriff of the county and quite the ladies’ man. I read that in a book that made reference to him. The book even had his picture, gun and all. So it would seem that my great grandmother was one of his ladies, his secretary actually. She not only bore him a son but four other children as well. This was back in the early 1800s so how about that?
In our family tree we have quite a few “squiggly lines”. The squiggly lines appeared when my grandfather passed away and someone took a look at his death certificate. It caused quite a ruckus.
My Dad was disappointed in his father because, not having an example to follow, Granddaddy knew nothing of taking care of a family. I’m told that he spent his money where he shouldn’t have and not on the family. But I liked my grandfather. He was the first one that took notice that I was good at art. He admired my coloring of a watermelon. He went on and on about how I got all the colors right. He called my sister and me knuckle-heads, which was an endearing nickname. He’d rub our heads with his knuckles and we’d laugh. He taught me to play checkers and as a result I am the champion checker player, unbeatable, in my household. At the dinner table, he would pour his coffee from the cup into the saucer and sip from the saucer much to my grandmother’s chagrin. And he ate his dessert first to be sure there was room enough in his stomach for it–no point in leaving that to chance. My grandmother was an excellent cook so I completely understood his reasoning. My mouth waters just thinking of anything she cooked, custards, cakes, pies, rolls, everything. I loved them both.
They lived in the country, in a house my Dad built for us. My mother didn’t like being so close to my grandmother, who lived at the top of the hill, so we moved to town and Grandma and Granddaddy moved down the hill into the new house. They had a farm with animals and a garden and it was lovely, rugged and comfy. The beds were iron frames,the mattresses were soft, and the pillowcases were embroidered by my grandmother. On summer nights, it was pitch dark unless there was a moon and there were a million stars. We’d sit on the front porch that didn’t have steps leading up to it–no one ever finished that part of the house. To enter the house, everyone came in from the backdoor. The front porch was accessed through the living room. It was pretty high off the ground, so as a little kid, it was kind of scary without steps. Summer evenings in the country were cool and pleasant. We’d sit on the front porch and the adults would talk and the children would listen. The adults spoke in code. They must have because we children didn’t have a clue about anything they discussed. There were family secrets, nothing truly bad, like abuse or anything, but things that were never discussed–except in code of course.
I am a grandmother myself now and the grandchildren love coming to spend the night with us. We don’t do anything special but they love it. I think I understand because I’d like to say right now, “Let’s go to Grandma’s house. Let’s go sit on the porch and play a little checkers. We can have ice tea or Kool Aid, and maybe a slice of chocolate cake with peaches and cream on the side. We can hear Grandma laugh and Granddaddy chuckle. He’ll spit some tobacco juice in the spittoon, a coffee can under the chair and Grandma will ignore it.”
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”.