BABY ON BOARD
by Rachael Biggs
Deliberately inhaling and exhaling the crisp morning air with force, Jane noticed one of the first leaves turning yellow and felt grateful that Autumn was not far off and that the tourists would soon depart with their I love NY T-shirts and dozens of pictures of signature landmarks that no one cared to look at.
She jogged by two women with strollers that were engulfed in conversation, probably about breastfeeding and stretch marks and baby’s first solid food. She smiled wanly, but without a baby, she was invisible to them. She consoled herself by turning around to look at their widened hips and sensible handbags full of bottles, wash cloths and whatever other nonsense they dutifully packed around. Aiming to beat her best time of six minutes around the perimeter of the park today, she left the matrons in her dust.
Sweaty and content she stopped for a seven-dollar latte and a leisurely read-through the Sunday Times, before arriving home to find a hand-made invitation to her cousin Sarah’s wedding shower waiting in the mailbox. “Fuck,” she whispered, as Bethany, her eighty-something landlady looked up from her mail with an understanding smirk.
“My cousin’s shower.”
“Is it leaking?” she laughed at her own joke.
“Worse. Another wedding.”
“You don’t like weddings?”
“I’m sick of pretending to care about another inane measurement of where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to be doing designed to keep us brain dead because we’re too busy picking out cakes to care about what’s really going on.”
“Are you angry about something, honey?”
Jane stepped down from her soap box.
“I beat my best time around the park today.”
“Now, that’s an accomplishment!”
“Don’t compare yourself to those people. One day they will have hit all the milestones they’re told they’re supposed to and there will be nothing left to strive for and even if there were, there wouldn’t be time between the hungry mouths and the baseball games. It’s the striving that makes us happy you know.”
“By next weekend I’m going to get my time down to five and a half minutes.”
“There used to be no choice for women. You were a spinster or a homosexual or just pitifully unfortunate if you didn’t have children.”
Jane could feel the likelihood of getting stuck talking to Bethany for another forty minutes increase with every word. She felt simultaneously guilty and fearful that one day she would be the old woman hanging around the mailboxes desperate for conversation.
“I know and I’m sorry you had to live through that. I’ve got to clean up. I’ve got a lunch date.”
She turned and started up the stairs smiling and waving, so as not to be rude.
“Have fun, darling,” Bethany called after her.
Once inside her apartment, Jane made herself a smoothie full of all the right things to keep her looking twenty-five until she was forty-five and sat on the floor with her back against the couch. She opened her computer and went to the dreaded social media sites created for an occasion just such as this, when an otherwise sane woman wanted to compare herself to others in order to perpetuate self-loathing.
She looked at her cousin’s page. There it was. The ring and the hashtags and the guy who’s primary role was to secure her cousin’s status as marriage-worthy. Jane remembered the days of buying her booze underage and hearing the stories of the losers she’d slept with when she blacked-out. This future husband of hers would never know that though. He would never hear the stories of blow jobs in bathroom stalls or tree sap in her hair from when she used to take suitors behind the portable in tenth grade. She was wife material now and her shiny ring proved it.
The following weekend Jane got her time down to 5 minutes and 46 seconds and though it wasn’t the five and a half she had hoped, it kept her striving.
She’d been out for dinner and a little too much wine last night with a co-worker’s brother and she felt it. The guy was partner at a prestigious law firm with a ski condo and a yoga habit at some passé studio everyone had heard of. No one told him that being six-feet-tall and able to buy material goods wasn’t meant to be substitute for a personality.
Jane was at the point in her life where dating struggling musicians or bartenders with coke habits was frowned upon though. She saw the judgement when she chose interesting men over secure ones. Her cousin’s wedding would be a melee of queries about why she wasn’t married or at the very least seriously involved. Did she even have a beau? They’d ask. Did she not want a family?
The truth was she didn’t know. It seemed like a nice idea. It sounded so easy to know that instead of being the oddball single, you could invite everyone to your suburban house for dinner by way of a Christmas card with a photo of some kids that resembled you or the other adult in the photo, save for a few missing teeth and unmanageable cowlicks. She fantasized about the photos she could post of her honeymoon in at an all-inclusive in the Cays or Cancun, as if this husband figure of hers would be enough to anesthetize her to the predictability of buffets and umbrella drinks.
And then there would be the babies. Would she she get a mini van? Oh, hell no. But who’s to say? Did her cousin think when she was throwing up a mouthful of some stranger’s semen that she would someday be baring a Baby on Board decal as if adult lives were somehow inferior? Never say never.
The following Sunday, Jane not only made her time, she beat it. Five minutes and 24 seconds. Smiling proudly she sat on a bench to catch her breath. Beside her a women with a fancy stroller filled with a fancy baby prattled on her phone about getting in shape whilst slurping a 700-calorie frozen coffee drink. She was focused on the jungle gym off in the distance, presumably at another of her spawn and didn’t seem to notice sweaty Jane.
The fancy baby did though. She watched Jane’s every move until she made eye-contact and joyfully returned the smile Jane still wore from beating her best time. The smiling baby was a girl, as evidenced by her decadent pink down coat complete with ears. Though she wasn’t sure what kind of animal had pink ears, (maybe a pig?) Jane was charmed in spite of herself.
She did her best to look stoic, but the happy girl-child was having none of it. She continued to smile and gaze at Jane with impish eyes that sparkled like the pond they sat beside. When she began to blow bubbles with her tiny bowed lips and wave her chubby little hands, Jane melted. Before long the twosome was engaged in passionate flirtation, neither able to get enough of the other.
A moment later, there was a scream in the distance, followed by a burst of dramatic tears and the presumed mother of this adorably gleeful baby tore herself off the bench and dashed toward the playground.
Jane didn’t pay much attention at first, smitten as she was with the baby who was now outright laughing at their game of peek-a-boo. It was quite possibly the sweetest sound in the world–like cherubic harps strumming, and clouds opening up to allow sunlight to beam solely on Jane. She felt overwhelmed with love for this child who just moments ago she hadn’t even known. Was this how it was for soul mates? Was this the love at first site she’d heard so many basic bitches babble about?
If this baby was hers, there’s no way in hell she would run away and leave her alone. Was it possible her mother didn’t want this gleaming little angel? Maybe the kid she’d run after was her favorite and she was she fed up with shitty diapers and someone hanging off her nipple.
She thought about stories of babies being left on doorstops or nowadays at fire stations and wondered if this was a fate such as that. She’d seen the bumper stickers on police cars and ambulances reading: ’Don’t Abandon Your Baby’ and wondered if seeing that in writing was enough to deter people who might actually be considering it. Jane’s face turned somber and the baby mimicked with concerned empathy. The connection with this child was undeniable.
The mother was well out of site now. Was this her cue? She looked around. No one was watching. If anyone were, they would assume Jane was the mother and having just finished a jog around the park, was heading home to her husband where he’d spend the day doing home improvements and she preparing a nutritious meal between laundry and a trip to Pottery Barn.
She imagined her real life with this baby. The rapture of waking up to her smile. Her first steps. The whimsical bedtime stories. The companionship. The sense of purpose and the relief to get out of her head and focus on someone else’s well-being was all that was missing from her life. Selflessness was what it was all about, right? This was the enlightenment the single ladies sought in their Kundalini and meditation classes.
She’d could tell people that she had adopted and that she’d wanted it to be a surprise. She’d come back from maternity leave glowing and force the photos on people that had been forced on her. They’d have to listen to her meaningless chatter about plain things the child had said or done that were truly remarkable to her. She would read the blogs on how to parent and be part of the complaining mom’s club. Heck, maybe a mini-van would be a practical mode of transportation once the girl became school-aged and carpool was needed for all of her friends to get to dance practice and sleepovers in the suburbs.
She stroked the baby’s downy hair and the little one yawned.
“Ohhh, are you tired honey-bear? Do you want to come home with me and have a snuggle?”
She stared longer at this gorgeous little nugget. Her innocence brought tears to Jane’s eyes.
“I’m going to take such good care of you. We’re going to be so happy together, you and I. We’re going to have to give you a name, aren’t we? Helena? Madeline? How about Harper? I’ve always liked Harper for a girl.
She looked toward the playground. She could see the woman that had been sitting beside her. She was wiping the nose of a four-year-old boy on her sleeve and talking gently to him, still with no mind of the baby she’d left alone.
Jane stood, planning the quickest route home in her mind. If anyone caught her she’d say she ran up and found the abandoned infant and was riddled with concern. She was going to take her to the nearest police station.
‘Why not call 911?’ the authorities might ask. Because she never brought her phone on runs. It was a much needed technology break.
The baby’s eyes were closing intermittently, on the brink of sleep where she might dream of lilies and doves and halos woven of baby’s breath, but then out of nowhere, she coughed, her little lungs needing to rid themselves of something impure. Jane’s plans to kidnap her perhaps.
The mother’s ears perked up like a German Shepard hearing his master’s car turn onto their street and she scooped her son up and started over in their direction. Jane picked up the coughing baby, knowing as fast as she was, she could get away on foot before the mother could give a decent eye-witness account, but along with the weight of the child in her arms, she felt the weight of being a mother beyond the first steps, whimsical bedtime stories and morning smiles when the baby sneezed forcefully, expelling an ungodly amount of green snot onto Jane’s cheek and into her hair.
Horrified, Jane did her best not to scream and drop the baby. She succeeded, but the fantasy came to a screeching halt.
What if she wasn’t cut out for wiping noses with her sleeve, interrupted sleep and making endless chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese? She didn’t feel confident that she wouldn’t be tempted to eat these foods if they were in the house for this child, and then what? Her body would go to shit, hell, he whole life could go to shit! And so when the baby’s haggard mother appeared, Jane handed over the child who had since stopped coughing and was back to her delightful disposition, playfully tapping Jane’s snot-soaked face.
“Oh, thank you so much for watching Daisy! My ‘adventurous’ son”, she laughed at her own air quotes, “had a spill and I could tell you were trustworthy. You’re so good with her; you must be mom.”
“I didn’t realize you’d seen me.”
“We see everything, don’t we?”
“Right. Mom’s see it all.”
“Do you have a picture of your kids?”
“No, I left my phone at home. Needed a technology break.”
Jane untangled her hair from the baby’s fist and handed her over.
“Gotta get back to my little ones. My husband’s re-tiling our downstairs bathroom today.” And with that, she sprung like a gazelle and made it home in her best time yet.
About the Author:
Rachael Biggs is an author whose memoir Yearning for Nothings and Nobodies published in 2012. She studied creative writing at Langara College and UCLA and holds a screen writing diploma from Vancouver Film School. Her short fiction has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, Horror Sleaze Trash, Charge Magazine and 5 on the Fifth. IG: @rachael_bigggs_author