“Excuse me, I’d like to make a return?”
The mail clerk looked up at the woman who’d just approached the counter. The tips of his white mustache curved upward as he gave her a friendly smile.
“Certainly,” he told her, “I just need the return address and the package you’re sending.”
“I didn’t receive a return address,” the woman informed him. She wasn’t sure how to continue. She’d never heard of this happening before, so she wasn’t sure of the proper steps to take in this particular situation. Finally, she just said, “And they sent me this.”
She placed a basket on the post office counter. Laying in the basket was a tight-fisted, wriggling baby peering at the mail clerk through slitted eyes.
“Well, that isn’t right!” he exclaimed. “The U.S. postal service delivered this to you?”
“I have no clue who delivered it! I found it on my doorstep this morning.” She dug round in her purse. “Along with this shipping invoice.”
The mail clerk read the invoice:
996 Tecomb Ave.
Payette, ID. 83661-2563
Baby Boy, Ethnicity:Caucasian, Eyes:Blue, Hair:Brown, Mint Condition, Defects:None
Quantity - 1
“Yes, this is certainly odd,” the mail clerk told her. “The U.S.P.S. wouldn’t allow the shipment of a child, not these days anyway.” He thought for a moment, the look in his eyes going far away, and then he said, “Yes, I believe the last time a child was sent through the United States postal service was in 1915. There were already regulations against it at that point, of course. But a three-year-old girl named Maud Smith was mailed forty miles across Kentucky to visit her ailing mother.”
The mail clerk nodded and looked pleased with himself for remembering and relaying this fact.
Rose was far less impressed.
“Look,” she said, “I don’t want this, I didn’t order it, I doubt it’s even legal to receive a mail-order baby!” She took a deep breath to calm down. “I just want to get rid of it. Do you know of anyone who can help me with that?”
“Hmm.” The mail clerk started thinking again. “Can’t say that I d— well…maybe…there is the hospital. I mean, folks do go there to get their babies delivered. Maybe they’re making home deliveries now?”
Rose watched him for a moment to make sure that he was actually serious.
He shrugged. “It’s a thought.”
“Okay, then,” she said, lifting the basket. “I’ll try there next. Thanks for your time.”
“No problem!” the mail clerk told her. “Have a wonderful day!”
Rose backed her way through the post office’s door, sighing as she did so, and made sure not the crush the basket. She didn’t want to get stuck with “the thing” because she’d damaged the merchandise. The baby watched her and worked its mouth around a yawn. It whimpered a bit and she worried that it might start crying—that she would have to take it out and hold it and attempt to soothe it—but it seemed to calm when she returned its gaze.
She got into her car and did her best to buckle the basket into the passenger’s seat. The baby regarded her and kicked the nubbins of its feet under the blanket it’d come swaddled in.
“Don’t worry, whoever’s-baby-you-are,” she told it, “we’re going to figure out where you’re supposed to go and then we can be done with each other. Alright?”
The baby didn’t give her an answer.
Rose drove to the hospital and, after a moment’s consideration, decided to go through the emergency entrance. She approached the woman at the reception desk, who looked up at her and smiled.
“Yes? What can I do for you today?”
“This was left on my doorstep this morning.” Rose placed the basket on the woman’s desk. “With this shipping invoice.”
The woman glanced through the shipping invoice.
“Hmm. Well, this is definitely strange. And no return address? Who could’ve sent it?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Rose paused before continuing, “You’re not doing home deliveries now are you?” She felt stupid for asking it.
“No, we are not offering at-home delivery at this time. You must come to the hospital for that.”
“Yeah, I figured. It’s just that…I thought…maybe that there was a mix up with the paperwork and someone else’s baby got sent to me and…. You know what? Never mind.”
“It’s alright,” the woman told her. “Let me try to get this sorted out for you. Just a moment, please.” The woman picked up the phone on her desk and dialed an internal number. “Yes? Harry? I have a woman here who received a baby this morning, with shipping invoice and everything, and I’m at a loss as to what I should tell her.”
Rose could hear a muffled response.
“No,” the woman continued, “there’s no return address. There’s nothing on the invoice to tell us who sent the baby. Any ideas?”
Another muffled response.
“Really? Are they in business anymore?” … “No, I guess not.” … “Really? Well, if that’s the best we can do for her.” … “Thanks, Harry.”
She hung up.
“We believe that you may have received this child from the Stork Company.”
Rose had no idea what this meant, nor how to respond.
The woman continued, “Now, the Stork Company was meant to cease its operations in 1889 when sex education began to be taught in schools. You know, no need for the Stork anymore once the youth is being taught proper baby-making procedures.” She gave a small smile. “But, as I’ve just learned from my associate, there have been rumors going around of couples—or even individuals—finding babies on their doorsteps. It’s not known yet if this is the Stork Company illegally resuming operations, or if there’s a different company behind it, but our best advice to you right is to seek legal counsel.”
“Really? Is that really the best you can do for me? I have to take this court? That’s ridiculous!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but there’s really nothing the hospital can do to help you.”
Rose sniffed. She did not want to cry in front of this woman. “It’s just that I took the day off from work in order to take care of this, and it’s beginning to sound like I’m going to be stuck with it for awhile.”
The woman looked empathetic. “I’m sorry, but that’s really the best we can do for you. Until they find who’s sending the babies there’s no recourse that can be taken.” She regarded Rose. “Will you be okay? I can send some formula along with you.”
Rose sniffed again. “Yeah. I’d appreciate that. Thanks.”
Back in the car, she looked up legal services on her phone and drove to the nearest office. She got in to see the lawyer quickly and explained her situation to him.
“Unfortunately,” he told her, “there have been a string of unwillful child trafficking cases as of late, numbering in the thousands all across the country. Authorities are in the process of investigating the Stork Company to see if they’re involved in any way, and a class action lawsuit is being put together as we speak against whomever is responsible. It’s just a matter of time before we know what’s going to happen.”
“But what am I supposed to do now? I can’t be taking care of a baby. I have a job to go to, and no one to watch it while I’m gone.”
He shrugged. “And Child Services is swamped already as it is. But, there is a daycare nearby that I send my kids to. I can give you their number. That’s a step in the right direction, right?”
Rose began to tear up.
“I just want it gone! I’m not ready for a baby yet! I don’t even have a boyfriend right now!”
The lawyer handed her a box of tissues sitting on his desk. He waited as she composed herself. “It’s overwhelming, I know,” he told her. “It always is. Especially the first time. But you’ll pull through, trust me.”
“I don’t want to pull through! I just…I just want…”
“Listen,” he said, “take the number of the daycare. Give them a call this afternoon and set something up. In the meantime, go to the store and get the essentials. Enroll yourself in a baby-care class. You can take them online these days. But, most importantly, keep your head above water. Okay? You’ve got this.”
Rose dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose.
“I’ll give you a call as soon as I’ve heard something,” her lawyer told her. “Justice will be served. I promise.”
“Okay…okay…thank you.” She stood up to leave.
He stopped her. “By the way, have you given the little tike a name yet?”
She looked down at the baby in its basket. It grimaced back at her. “No, I hadn’t thought about it really. I was hoping I’d be rid of it by the end of today.”
“Well, you should give him a name. I think it’ll make you both feel a whole lot better about this situation.”
Out in her car again, she paused. The wheels of her mind reluctantly turned and a thought clicked into place. “Michael?” she said, turning to the baby. Reminiscing, “I used to walk to school with a boy named Michael. I’ve kind of always liked the name. What do you think of that?”
The boy wriggled around and waved his tiny fists. He settled and stared deeply into her eyes.
“Alright,” she announced, “Michael it is then. This is going to be an adventure, Mike. I hope you’re ready.”
She started the car and pulled away from the lawyer’s office.
“Because I’m certainly not.”