Why does everyone buy milk? The thought perplexed him as he traversed the aisles of Jack's Mini Mart. Toilet paper makes sense, I mean if you are stuck in the house for days you’re going to need toilet paper but very few survival shows list milk as an essential item.
The original forecast was for a light dusting but as the hours passed the predictions grew more and more grim. Two inches then four then a foot or more. He had been brought up in the backwoods of Louisiana where snow was as rare as a democrat. You’d see them both every now and then but neither amounted to much or hung around too long. This was different though, this was rural Wisconsin and a blizzard was coming and he needed toilet paper. Oh, and milk.
Stores in Wisconsin were not at all like the ones down south. In his home town everyone knew the name of the girl behind the counter and more often than not you had gone to school with her brother, or sister or cousin. You called her by name, asked about her mom, and would actually listen to the response because you cared. In Wisconsin, even rural Wisconsin, there was a new cashier almost weekly and if you asked too many questions you were likely to get a visit from the local sheriff.
He didn’t notice who was behind the counter when he entered the store and in truth he wasn’t sure if anyone was manning the register. He hadn’t been greeted on his way in and his mind was focused elsewhere, he needed toilet paper and milk
It’s a funny thing about snow, there is a silence to it. Most people stay home when it’s snowing so, unlike regular frantic days, time seems to slow and noise fades to the background. If you decide to venture into a snowstorm it isn’t unusual to be totally alone allowing you to be immersed in thought and at the pleasant mercy of your other senses. You see more, you feel more, you appreciate the vastness hidden by the everyday.
As he pushed his cart up one aisle and down the next he began to realize he hadn’t passed a single soul since he entered the store. He expected the crowd to be small, after all just outside a blizzard was raging but this was disconcerting. His palms became sweaty, his stomach felt queasy, and the silence almost made his quickening heartbeat audible. All of a sudden the two items in his cart, toilet paper and milk, seemed to be enough, it was time to check out and leave. He executed a quick 180 and, at a rate faster than normal, pushed his cart back to the front of the store, back to the cash register, back toward the exit which he now longed to use. Turning the corner at the end of the aisle he was now in position to see the single check out counter just inside the front door but there was no one within eyesight. He waited until he had positioned himself at the front of a line that didn’t exist before he started to survey his surroundings hoping to see a friendly face or even an angry one as long as it came on a person wearing the familiar smock of the supermarket chain. To his dismay there was no one to be found and as he cast his glance out the large window he noticed his car as the only one in the parking lot. He knew there must be a logical explanation for the anomaly but in the moment none came to mind.
“Hello” he said in an almost hushed tone not wanting to appear impatient. “Is anyone there?” The question itself seemed ridiculous, someone must be there, the store was open, the lights were on and it was the middle of business hours. “Hello” he said again, more forcefully this time, growing eager to leave. “I’m ready to check out!” The emptiness of the store and the corresponding silence caused an echo effect as his words seemed to come back to him. All of a sudden milk and even toilet paper seemed unimportant, he was alone in the store and he couldn’t help but feel as if something was terribly wrong.
In an instant he made his decision, he was getting out of there. Instinctively he knew he shouldn’t be there and he was beginning to feel trapped by his isolation and the snow that was quickly piling up outside. Leaving the cart and it’s contents as they stood, he turned to the door and took a step, then he heard it. The sound was faint and distant but for the first time since he had entered the store it had broken the silence. He couldn’t tell if it was words or mumbling or a low whimper but it was definitely human and whoever it was, they sounded as if they were in distress. Every fiber in his being told him to walk out the door and yet he turned in the direction of the sound and began to move towards it. As he continued his exploration it became apparent the sound was coming from the back corner of the store but he still could not discern who it was or what they were saying. When he finally reached the origin of the sound to his surprise and dismay he found a little baby, laying on the floor, swaddled and cooing. As out of place as the newborn seemed what was more puzzling was it didn’t appear as if the baby was frightened and as soon as their eyes met a smile spread across the child’s face. It was as if the child knew and was glad to see him.
Without a second's hesitation he reached down and pulled the baby to his chest. He didn’t know where this precious child's mother was but he knew no baby belonged alone on the floor of an abandoned supermarket. Holding the baby firmly he shouted, “Is anybody here? I need help!” His words were sharp and his tone concerned. There could be little doubt there was no corner of the small store where his questions would be unheard but when no response came he called out again, “I need help. Whose baby is this?” No answer. Just as it had been since he entered the store he was alone and now he couldn’t just leave, he had to take care of this little one. Fate had brought them together and he had no choice but to step up and help. He couldn’t remember the last time he had held a baby. In that moment he couldn’t remember if he had ever held one and yet it felt natural having this one in his arms. Repositioning the child to allow access to his jacket pocket he pulled out his cell phone with every intention of dialing 911. No signal, none, not a single bar. He didn’t know if it was a location issue or a storm issue but his phone was useless. There must be a phone in the office. He thought to himself as he made his way towards the back of the store. He didn’t like the idea of entering into a space reserved for employees but desperate times called for desperate measures.
The door to the office was conveniently unlocked and the phone on the desk gave him a temporary feeling of hope, temporary because when he lifted the receiver to his ear there was no dial tone. He was alone in the store with an abandoned baby and had no way to reach out to anyone for help. The idea of leaving the store with the child seemed like the worst possible idea. What if the child’s mother was there, somewhere, and saw him leave with the child. Would she or anyone believe his motives were altruistic? Would he be thought to be a kidnapper? It definitely seemed like the worst possible idea but reality was starting to sink in, it was the only solution.
It took him only a few seconds to get to his car and start the engine. The roads were almost undrivable which complicated his thought process as he contemplated his next move. The police station was five miles away and the hospital just under seven. His house, however, was less than two blocks and he could get there without using any main roads. He had no car seat to secure the child and right now safety was of the utmost importance, so he put his car in drive, slowly pulled out of the parking lot, and made the turn for home. In his life he could never remember driving that slow. There was almost no chance of him sliding off the road but there was also almost no chance he would find an unattended baby in a supermarket. In the best of conditions the trip would take less than five minutes and even at this snail’s pace he pulled into his driveway in just under seven. A feeling of relief swept over him as he turned off the car and picked up the child. He had used the passenger side seat belt, as best he could, to secure the precious cargo during the short drive. Opening the door, he gently exited the car, careful to place each foot solidly on the ground avoiding even the chance of slipping as headed to his front door.
Coming from rural Louisiana and living in rural Wisconsin he never locked his front door and for that he was grateful because right now getting this child inside and calling the police was all he could think about. As he turned the handle and pushed open the door he was immediately greeted by an obviously flustered woman who scooped the child right out of his hands. “What could you possibly be thinking, taking our son out in weather like this, without his car seat? Are you crazy? I swear you’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached. Where is the toilet paper? Did you forget again? Can you please go get it while I put him to bed?” And with that she headed into the back room with the child firmly held in her loving arms. He watched her disappear into what, even from the front door he could see, was obviously a nursery. “What are you waiting for?” came the voice from the backroom. “The roads aren’t getting any better, you need to go before the store closes.” Confused and a bit disoriented, he turned back to the door and as he opened it she called out to him and added, “Oh and don't forget the milk.” and with that he headed back into the storm.