Outside the store window, the Chicago sidewalks were scarcely visible behind the blinding white snow. Kit Keegan glanced down at her watch, clicking her tongue in disapproval at the amount of time remaining on her shift. She was alone, taking the graveyard shift at the store, wistfully remembering winters growing up in New Orleans, when temperatures scarcely dipped below fifty degrees.
Ah, well, Kit thought as she opened up the cash register to count the day’s wages, there’s good and bad wherever you go. At least hurricane season is a practical fable up here.
Elevator music played louder than ever, alerting Kit to the fact that she was alone. The lights flickered in reaction to the storm, and she wondered how she would get home. For want of something to do, Kit reapplied her bright red lipstick and checked her hair in the security mirror, then laughed at herself. At least an hour had passed since the last customer came through, a talkative older woman who warned Kit of the coming blizzard, as if Kit had the autonomy to close up the store and run home. At this point, it would be safer to stay put. After another hour passed with more snow and no customers, Kit called her manager.
“Hiya, how are you?” Kit said.
“Fine, how are you? Slow day?”
“We’re dead, yeah,” Kit said. “In fact, I was gonna ask if you’d mind if I locked up early? We won’t be doing any more business, as long as it’s coming down like it is.”
“Why don’t you give it one more hour, then go ahead and lock up. Listen, if it’s still as bad as it is right now, don’t you go trying to make it home, okay? Hang out there until the blizzard passes.”
“Yeah, that was my plan,” Kit said. “All right, well, thanks. I’ll talk to you later.”
“See ya tomorrow. Take care,” the manager hung up.
Kit picked up her newspaper from under the register to read. All day, she had obsessed over the latest review of the play in which she starred. It was her first starring role, her first taste of what life might be like if she could finally make it as an actress. She didn’t have any aspirations for fame, necessarily—at least, not anymore. As a girl, dreams of fame and glory entered her mind, as she assumed they did for most young girls at some point or another, to varying degrees of seriousness. As Kit grew up, though, she understood that her love for privacy would never mesh with fame, to say nothing of the statistical improbabilities. She acted because she loved it. On the stage, she could channel her emotions into another person, move the audience as she connected with her coworkers. The best part, for her, was the camaraderie backstage. Her closest friends were her fellow actors and actresses, and though there was always a touch of uncertainty as to how long any of the actors would remain with the troupe, that only made their bond all the stronger.
If she were honest with herself, of course, there was vanity involved. Not as much as there had been when she was younger, certainly, but it was still a factor. Kit figured people didn’t get into that sort of profession without a little vanity—then again, she figured no person in the world was completely devoid of that particular vice. In college, Kit was fairly popular among her acting professors and the student audiences. Her senior piece was well-received, and her mentor was eager to set her up with an agent and get her on the path to success. Then she was pregnant, and then she married Michael. It had been years since then, years since their marriage broke, but all the events of those unhappy years still unearthed themselves now and again. She figured she should consider a move away from Chicago. Perhaps she could go to New York City, or back down to DC, or even try a transition to film and television and take her chances in Los Angeles, although that didn’t appeal to her terribly. Her quirks made her enjoyable on stage, her individuality. That, she was sure, would be strategically beaten out of her in Tinseltown. Besides that, she didn’t want to leave Chicago, not really. Over the years, it had become her home, and she loved the local theater.
Kit shook her head, biting her polished nail as she read the review through for the umpteenth time. Weak, wooden, awkward…just a few of the choice words for her performance. Up until then, she had had a couple of decent reviews followed mostly by silence regarding her. The silence had hurt her, but now she missed it. She had been lucky to make it that far in the acting profession without having a scathing review under her belt, she knew as much, but it pained her nevertheless. Never mind, she thought. We’ll only have to try harder next time. She figured she’d be lucky to get into an audition after that review, though her cast mates insisted it wasn’t that bad, that she was blowing the review vastly out of proportion. She did, after all, have a tendency to blow things out of proportion.
In the midst of her musings, Kit heard a small cough and nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Didn’t think anyone was here,” she mumbled. She folded the newspaper back up and slid it under the cash register once more, then she decided to do a round of the store, cleaning up where it needed, organizing shelves, and checking to see if there were any customers there, or if she had been hearing things.
Upon rounding the corner into the frigid dairy aisle, Kit saw the baby. She froze and strained her eyes, wondering if she needed to change her prescription. Upon closer inspection, though, it was clear that her eyes did not deceive. Someone had left a baby in its carrier, all snug in a blanket and pompom hat, right beneath the milk and eggs.
“Hello?” Kit called. “Is anyone here?”
Only the radio, playing the same annoying five songs repeatedly, answered her call. She picked up the baby carrier and walked back to her station behind the cash register, where she spoke into the supermarket’s speaker, requesting that someone come claim the baby, who was now safely at the front of the store.
“Hello, little fella,” Kit cooed at the child, who was looking up at her with sleepy gray eyes, tiny brow furrowed in confusion. It was only a matter of time before the baby started wailing its head off, Kit figured. Her heart sank at the thought that a parent or caretaker had actually abandoned their child there, but she supposed it happened more frequently than she would care to know. Maybe his mother is in the bathroom, she thought, despite the stupidity of that consideration. What mother would leave her baby in the middle of a store while she went to the bathroom?
Kit had never been a mother herself—that is, she never quite got the chance, though she was supposed to. Old memories swam through her mind, her marriage to Michael O’Rourke, their gleeful, naïve excitement at the impending arrival of their little one. Both fresh out of college, they were too young to marry; both of them, looking back, had an awful lot of growing up to do, especially Michael, in Kit’s opinion. She was pregnant, though, and they were Catholic, and they did love each other, though she struggled to remember that fact now. There had been real affection there, in the two years they were together leading up to their marriage, and for the first year or so of married life. Then the car accident came, and the baby died in Kit’s womb. She had to give birth to him. They named him Sam before they buried him in a plot beside Michael’s deceased brother, Ethan.
Now Michael was there, too. Six months gone, following a cycling accident back in June. A result, Kit figured, of the recklessness that was always such a point of contention in their marriage. He was riding a road bike alone on a mountainous road in a thunderstorm without a helmet when a car hit him from behind. The shock would have been if he had lived. Even facing facts in that manner didn’t mask the fact that Kit was, ultimately, devastated when she heard what had happened. She regretted the way their relationship soured, and though she truly believed their marriage was a dead-end one, and that they were better off apart, she still wished they had talked things through once the wounds of their past had had a chance to mend. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the youthful romantic hidden beneath years of bitterness still thought she and Michael might end up together again, years down the road, when they were old and wrinkled and had lived their lives. Now that chapter was closed, that hope extinguished for good, and Michael O’Rourke was gone after thirty-two years.
Kit sighed, stroking the baby’s soft cheek. He seemed to enjoy that, offering her a little smile and a happy gurgle. She bought a banana and some formula, sat on the ground with the baby cradled in her arms, and fed him.
When the storm passed, Kit cleaned up the store and locked up, wrapping the baby in a blanket and heading down the sidewalk. The night crawled into the wee hours, so Kit figured she would take the baby back to her apartment for the night and, once morning broke, she would bring him to a police station or, perhaps, the Catholic children’s home down the street. Back in her apartment, Kit logged onto her laptop to research what to do with an abandoned child.
“Casual, everyday Internet searches,” she mumbled. The baby slept peacefully in Kit’s arms, snug in the fleece Chicago Cubs blanket she purchased at the store.
“This’ll be a fun story to tell the boss tomorrow,” Kit cooed at the sleeping child. In the dim blue glow of her laptop screen, the baby looked peaceful and content. Kit smiled softly, her heart aching at the possibilities. She knew she wouldn’t have been the best mother—when she was pregnant with Sam, in fact, she often fretted about what kind of parent she would be—but she hoped she would never feel desperate enough to abandon her child.
There, but for the grace of God, go I, she reminded herself. Mantras from years in therapy and anger management classes floated through her mind like beloved song lyrics: It could happen to anyone. You never know how you’ll respond to a situation until it happens to you. Don’t judge another person’s actions if you don’t know the whole story. Purely good and purely evil people only exist in comic books. Real human beings are much more complex than that.
That last sentence stuck with Kit the strongest over the years. In the aftermath of her divorce from Michael O’Rourke, she struggled to find her own value. Although she gawked at the suggestion of seeing a therapist, she gradually learned to love it. Her therapist helped her to see herself from a less critical vantage point; to realize when she made poor decisions, and to move on without dwelling too much on them. Mainly, she helped Kit stop seeing herself as the villain in her marriage, while acknowledging that she was not the victim, either. She and Michael were equally at fault—they brought out the worst in each other. When the baby woke, Kit changed his diaper and gave him a bath. She played with him and kissed him and bounced him on her knees until he finally drifted back to sleep. In the morning, Kit brought the baby to the Catholic children’s home and explained the situation. She kissed the baby’s cheek and watched as one of the sisters carried him away, her arms heavy with the baby’s absence.
“Have a good day, Miss Keegan,” the head nun said.
“Thank you,” Kit smiled. “You too, Sister Anne.”
The winter air was crisp and biting, the pristine white snow of last night now muddied slush on brushed to the sides of the sidewalks, which were wet and sprinkled with salt. The sun was out, the sky deep blue, giving the snow a distinct sparkle that had made Kit fall in love with Chicago so many years ago. Pulling her coat around her and adjusting her hat over her ears, she made her way to the cemetery, following the winding road down to the O’Rourke family plot, situated beneath a group of trees. Kit knelt in the snow, kissed her gloved fingers, and tapped the little headstone bearing her son’s name, Samuel O’Rourke, faded with age, and the headstone bearing her ex-husband’s name, still bright and new after six months. She closed her eyes and gave a thought to each of them, hoping that one day, her time to be a mother would come, and that she would be ready, and she wouldn’t resort to the actions that the woman at the supermarket took. After half an hour, Kit rose to her feet again and headed to work, ready to face another day.