“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Shakespeare, Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

The 5:17 from Union Station was over an hour late when it arrived at Batavia in the thick of a legendary Chicago blizzard. In spite of many fires kept burning on the train tracks to keep points from freezing, the great thundering diesel engine had been stopped in its tracks and was forced to wait for thawing equipment to do its job. Jane and her fellow passengers also waited for their own thawing equipment in the train’s bar car, which would do a roaring trade that evening. With several feet of snow on the ground and temperature at 8 degrees below zero, they needed some help. But Jane needed some extra help. She had felt dead and frozen since her lunch date with husband Mark, who had looked straight at her from his ice blue eyes, not with love, but to tell her he wanted a divorce. Jane’s very soul had frozen over. She had been struck dumb. They were eating Falafel at a little Middle Eastern café under the El tracks, and at his words Jane felt herself reeling: husband, café, people, traffic, the El all spinning around her. The ice blue eyes and cutting voice announced that he had moved his things out of their little house that morning and wouldn’t be back. Indignant and full of self-pity, he told her she lied to him all the time and was so selfish she wouldn’t even stop smoking when he asked her. Jane was used to Mark’s rants and over their past six years together he  had steadily worn her down and made her a nervous wreck, unable to quit smoking. Cigarettes were her one comfort.

Jane had been abandoned by her husband.

She managed her job that afternoon by disconnecting, a skill she had learned by being married to Mark, a “difficult” man. Still in a daze she began the short walk home from the train station, dreading the empty house awaiting her. It was so, so cold and Jane was shivering when, about halfway home, she walked past the A&P Supermarket and decided to go in to warm up for a while. Taking a cart to lean on, she slowly wandered the aisles, looking at everything but seeing nothing.

She didn’t really hear the store announcement that they would be closing in ten minutes and would shoppers please bring up their purchases to the checkouts. When the lights in the store began to go out, she gravitated to the far side where the big freezers gave off a little light. After a while Jane began to realize how dark and eerily quiet it was in the store. She shivered and made her way to the front checkouts, which were closed and dark. Nobody else seemed to be there.

The front doors were locked tight and she couldn’t see a way to open them. Jane was already too dazed to feel any panic, but an innate sense of self-preservation seemed to be at work, pushing her to check out the back of the store where there might still be some employees. But no, nobody was there. She found a door that opened on to the parking lot, but the blizzard was raging outside and she quickly shut it. In the employee’s breakroom she first smelled, then found a pot of still-hot coffee, poured herself a cup and sat at a table. Perhaps it was the warmth of the coffee or sitting down, because suddenly tears were streaming down Jane’s face, turning into wracking sobs.

She cried herself out, using most of the roll of paper towels on the table, and drank more hot coffee. At least she felt warmer, but the tears started again when she realized the irony of her situation: abandoned by her husband; abandoned by the store employees. What was going on? Was there some kind of message in this horrendous day?

And then she heard the baby crying. Jane had no children yet, but that sound was quite distinctive. It sounded weak and pitiful and tugged at her battered and broken heart, so she got up and went in search of the source of the crying.

Of course the baby was in the aisle with infant formula, baby food, and baby soap, wrapped in blankets in a laundry basket. There was a bottle of milk fallen beside it, a bag of diapers, clothes, baby supplies, and an envelope containing a birth certificate and a card with crude green writing that said “Plese take car of her”. The space on the birth certificate for the baby’s name was blank, which made Jane even more sad. She picked up the poor, nameless, crying baby and tried to soothe her. She took baby, bag and basket back to the breakroom, sat down and offered the bottle to the baby, who had stopped crying. She greedily drank from the bottle, and when Jane sat her upright, let out a big “burp” which made Jane laugh out loud. Oh, good heavens, she thought she couldn’t take any more irony, but here was another abandoned soul.

Vague thoughts played in Jane’s mind about calling the Police or Social Services to report the baby being left in the store, but how would she explain it all to an official, especially on a frigid Friday night during a blizzard. It sounded suspicious even to her. Her mind was like a scene from Wimbledon’s centre court, with the ball going back and forth from the “call police” side to the “take the baby home” side, over and over again till she felt quite dizzy.

She knew she was not exactly thinking straight after the day’s events, but she had hold of the seed of an idea, a plan that would help both her and the baby.

Jane had a mystical bent, and felt there was a reason an abandoned baby had been found by an abandoned woman in an abandoned supermarket. She wondered if she had been given an opportunity to love and care for the baby, which would help her to overcome her own heartbreak and start a new life. Jane was also a huge fan of Shakespeare and quoted to the baby, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” from Hamlet. The baby smiled.

Luckily for the baby, Jane was an eminently practical woman, who set about changing the poor little thing’s diaper, cleaning as she went, and collecting milk, diapers and anything she could fit in the bag that the baby might need, jotting down a list of what she took, as she planned to pay for these items later, if she could figure out a way to do it without getting herself and the baby into trouble. She threw the dirty old laundry basket in the trash.

If she was going to walk home, and it wasn’t far, she thought she should probably eat something, and chose a ham and cheese filled pita, which she heated in the none-too-clean microwave oven. It was not memorable, but it did warm her and it was filling. Then she ate a bar of dark chocolate and had a little more coffee, sadly cool now.

The store had a baby carrier that Jane put on, securing the baby snugly against her chest, for added warmth. At the front of the store Jane had seen a rack of ski jackets, and choosing an extra large blue one, she put it on over her own hat and coat and zipped it up. She was rather loaded down and thought she probably looked quite strange, but she was sure she could get home safely, even in the blizzard, which had calmed down to a mere few snowflakes falling. But it was still bitingly cold, a hand-numbing cold, a face stinging cold, when the little hairs inside your nose freeze and prickle. Jane, feeling like Nanook of the North, took a few deep breaths and set out for her apartment, which was only a couple of blocks away. By the time she got there, her boots were filled with snow from the deeper drifts.

Walking inside the empty, lonely apartment made Jane feel uneasy, but the baby was gurgling inside the big blue coat and she realized that she was most definitely not alone.

“We’ve come a long way, baby” Jane said to the baby as she began taking off their outer layers, suddenly knowing what she would call the baby. Since she first fell in love with the name Samantha as a child, although she couldn’t remember the book it came from, Jane had planned to give that name to her daughter, if she were lucky enough to have one. “Would you like to be called Samantha, and Sam for short?” she asked the baby, who responded with an honest-to-goodness smile, or toothless grin to be exact. Jane thought this was a sign they were making great progress. She wrote “Samantha” in the blank line of the Birth Certificate. Tomorrow she would check out the address and name given for the mother and father, and go on from there.

Jane made up some baby formula for Sam and hot chocolate for herself. She put a pillow and blanket in the deep dresser drawer that Mark had emptied of his sweaters, as a bed for Sam. She didn’t want to sleep in the bed she had shared with Mark, so with Sam beside her in the drawer, she sat on the sofa watching television to see if anyone had reported a missing baby, until they fell asleep.

In the morning she continued to watch local news, listen to the local radio station, and read the papers for reports of a missing baby. Jane planned to look for a new apartment, or at least change the locks, as Mark still had his keys, and she did not want him snooping around. He would not understand her feelings about the baby. They had tried to make a baby without success, which gave Mark an additional point to add to her list of failings. He had told Jane that being a father would probably “fix him,” and she remembered he wanted to marry her because he thought she could “fix him.” She was the one who had to go to the doctor to find out what the problem was; Mark assumed he was perfectly fertile. There were no physical problems for Jane, but the doctor noticed how tense she was and told her that was the probable cause of her not conceiving. Jane started going to yoga classes, but she was still married to Mark. Now, Jane was suddenly and overwhelmingly grateful that they had no children.

The next morning, she drove to the address on the Birth Certificate, finding the street easily enough, but the house number was an empty lot where an old house had been torn down many years ago. She began checking on the parents’ names listed: Mary Smith and John Smith, and found no possible matches. These parents, or probably just the mother, had deliberately separated themselves from their abandoned child, leaving no trace.

Jane, who was, as we know, eminently practical, knew just what to do. She would adopt baby Sam and work to provide her with a good life. A sense of strength and purpose flooded through Jane, feelings she hadn’t enjoyed for the last few years. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she knew she could do it. Jane looked into Sam’s eyes, and Sam looked into Jane’s and they each knew their destiny. They needed each other and fate or some power beyond both of them had conspired to bring them together to live a happy life.

July 27, 2020 20:47

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