The Baby Drop
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
November 3, 1980
In her hiding place seated beneath the leafless trees, Marissa Fleming clutched the beige athletic bag against her chest. She watched as a heavy-set, thirty-something woman got out of a blue Ford and walked into the grocery store.
Marissa ached everywhere, but her heart hurt the most. She’d thought long and hard about it. This was the right thing to do. The best for her, for…everyone.
Then why did it hurt so much?
The super maxi pad between her legs was warm and heavy with blood. She should change it, should lie down and rest. But not yet.
When the woman disappeared into the building, Marissa struggled to her feet and shuffled through the thick brown mat of leaves to the parking lot.
It was too early in the morning for anyone she knew to be on Water Street. Too early for much traffic at the grocery store either, but that couldn’t be helped. Maybe the woman was somebody’s mom rushing to pick up milk for breakfast. Marissa hoped so. But if that were true, she didn’t have much time.
She urged herself forward. It didn’t matter that she wished she weren’t there. It didn’t matter that she would rather have been in bed at the dorm or in the cafeteria at Davies Center having breakfast. Or even at the dentist having a cavity filled. She was there to do what needed to be done.
Sweat trickled down her back despite the cold autumn wind that cut through her gray sweatshirt. Her hair hung lank and uncombed around her shoulders instead of how she usually wore it, up in a perky side ponytail ala Chrissy Snow of Three’s Company. She paused to pluck at a strand stuck to her cheek before pulling up her hood. It was appropriate she looked like crap. It was all just part of the nightmare.
She forced herself to take another step. Just one. Tears stung her eyes. She’d been over it again and again. There was no other choice. People were counting on her. She was the first girl in her family to attend college. She couldn’t let them down. She had classes to take. A degree in finance to earn. She wasn’t ready for this. This…mess just wasn’t in her plans.
Taking a deep breath, she crossed Kerm’s nearly empty parking lot. She gently placed the bag on the cold cement under a sign by the store’s door.
“I’m sorry. This is for the best. It is. It really is.” Her throat ached as she forced herself to turn away. She tried to swallow the painful lump, but it wouldn’t move. Too many things she couldn’t swallow. The enormity of what she’d done, what she was doing, almost overwhelmed her.
She stumbled back across the parking lot. Part of her wanted to run, to rejoice. She’d done it! She was free! Another part wanted to shove this memory behind the door with all the other bad dreams. A quieter part just curled into a ball and cried. Trying to hold it all together, Marissa wrapped her arms around herself. She returned to the rough woods above the river and lowered herself onto a frost-coated log to watch.
Inside Kerm’s grocery store, Libby Armstrong brought her half-filled cart to the check out. She unloaded her groceries onto the conveyer belt and smiled at the clerk. “Pretty quiet this morning.”
“Yep.” The middle-aged checker smacked her gum, her fingers flying across the cash register keys. “No one seems to wanna shop this early. It’ll pick up once the college kids finish class. Paper or plastic?”
“Think I’ll try the plastic this time.” Libby smiled as she paid for her groceries. Sometimes it seemed as if the only conversations she had were with sales clerks and patients at the clinic.
It was too early for the carryout boys to come in, so she pushed the cart to the door and paused to zip up her jacket before going outside.
Her cart rattled past a beige bag she noticed lying on the concrete outside the door. She walked on by, opened the trunk of her car and placed her purchases inside. Then returning the empty cart to the corral by the door, Libby thought she saw a slight motion out of the corner of her eye. She stopped with a jerk and stared at the athletic bag on the ground.
The cloth bag moved again and then emitted a thin cry. It sounded like a kitten. What kind of person would leave a bag of kittens on a cold sidewalk to die? Poor things. Her hands trembled as she tugged at the zipper. The bag opened slowly, almost reluctantly. Expecting a bundle of fur, Libby froze in shock. She stared at the red, wrinkled face of a newborn child.
“Oh.” Her breath left in a gush.
Glancing around for the bag’s owner, Libby saw no one. Who would leave a baby like this? She knew what she should do. Go in the store. Call the police. But she couldn’t. They’d send the baby to foster care. It’d be passed from one family to the next while the powers that be searched for its mother. There’d be months—maybe years—of court proceedings to sever the birth mother’s rights before it’d be put up for adoption. She remembered what had happened when she and Jenny were little. Remembered it too well to put an innocent baby through that kind of upheaval.
Instead, she scooped up the bag and, cradling it in her arms, walked to her car. Once safely inside the blue Ford, her heart beat a strange tattoo. She scoured the surrounding area for signs of life. Where was the mother?
She started the car, turned on the heat, and waited for it to kick in before she unwrapped the silent child, swaddled in an old towel.
Tears filled her eyes. “You’re beautiful. Dear God, you are so beautiful.”
The tiny boy was perfect and obviously just newly born. A light fringe of black hair stuck to his scalp with the waxy, white vernix and dried blood still present. His sweet, oval head was slightly crooked from his journey into life. Long, black lashes adorned the tightly closed eyes and pale, yellow dots topped his nose. His rosebud mouth moved slightly as he sucked on his tongue and slept.
Libby had seen her sister Jenny’s babies as newborns, had raised the youngest since infancy, so she knew this baby’s scrawny body and wrinkled skin were normal. The baby’s umbilical cord had been clamped with a piece of string, and his little feet were folded against his shinbones.
“Why would someone leave you in a bag?” Libby asked the sleeping infant. Her heart hurt for him. She looked out the window for the mother. Where was she?
“I should turn you in,” Libby acknowledged. It wasn’t too late. She could drive to the police station or the hospital, explain how she’d found him. Maybe foster care wouldn’t be so bad for a newborn.
She shook her head, remembering how she’d fought to keep Jenny with her. A ten-year-old fighting the system. The old pain and helplessness rose like a specter. It seemed as if she’d always been fighting for Jenny. Fought for her even as she died. Two years of battling cancer had shrunk her vibrant sister to a shadow. Despite the stories Libby told, the kids couldn’t remember what their mom had been like before she’d become sick. They’d been Libby’s to love and care for.
Then six months after the funeral, Libby’s brother-in-law, Mark, had remarried. He’d sold the house in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and
moved to North Carolina last spring. Starting a new life, he’d called it. It was another death for Libby. An unexpected one that still made her cry at night. Now, half a continent separated her from her only remaining family. Libby was alone. Since there was nothing but painful memories left in Marshfield, she had moved a couple hundred miles to Eau Claire.
She looked again for the baby’s mother. Nothing moved. The three other cars in the parking lot were empty. She stroked the newborn’s cheek before gently tucking the towel around him. Her decision was made. There’d be no impersonal foster care for this little one. No. If his birth mother wanted to throw him away, Libby would take him.
Copyright © 2012 Laurel Bradley