Here’s a woman in her thirties. She is intelligent, attractive, has a great career. She has also just had her first baby. It’s a cute little thing. This woman, who is now a mother and has a name, doesn’t know yet whether her child is male, female, or unisex. She didn’t want to know before the birth, and she doesn’t care now. Of course that might have to change, with diapers and all that, right?
The woman is shocked to see this tiny being next to her, curled up in the crook of her left arm like a little kitten. Maybe it is a kitten? It’s certainly not doing anything human like talking, but then it isn’t purring either. We haven’t mentioned yet, but the woman’s name is Celestia. It’s a pretty old-fashioned name, but it doesn’t mean she’s got her head in the clouds. She thinks it comes from her great grandmother. Her name, that is.
Celestia has never been the stay-at-home type, so after it is born, on its very first day of life, she takes it out. She knows enough to bundle it up and to use a car seat. Everybody knows those things, after all. Beyond that, she doesn’t know much at all. They never gave her the manual, or rather, the url to the manual, so she could find the information she needed.
The grocery store is the first place Celestia takes it. Transporting it from the car seat to the sore cart with the special baby seat is a challenge, but she manages. She has to get food, even if it does consume anything like fish or meat yet not even fruits or vegetables. It only drinks milk, apparently, and not the type in the coolers. Celestia does want fruits and vegetables, so she spends time in the produce section. It doesn’t notice, but its bald head indicates that it’s probably asleep.
The head looks like a cantaloupe, which is probably why Celestia tries to place it (head and body) back in the watermelon bin where she remembers picking it up. It perches nicely and silently atop the other green bowling balls, and the woman moves off toward the deli counter. She is now finished in that section and on her way to the seafood area, because she wants to make tuna steaks for supper, when another customer comes running up and asks if she’s lost her baby. Celestia shakes her head no.
At that very moment a store employee rushes up, very agitated. He has brought it to her as fast as possible. Such a sweet fellow. Celestia takes it in her arms again, not offering an explanation as to why or how it had ended up with the watermelons. The employee is so relieved to have found the baby’s mother that he doesn’t ask for any details. He simply scurries back to his job out back, bringing in the produce. He hopes not to find any more lost babies in the root vegetables.
After finishing her food purchase, Celestia remembers that she needs to drop off some donations at the used bookstore in town. All the profits from sales go to the town library. It’s a great arrangement. Anyway, she drops off the books she’s gathered to donate, but as often happens, people who donate books just do that so they have room for new ones. She feels she should check out the other books that have been donated by people exactly like her.
After looking at a number of books, Celestia does end up buying one. Before she checks out at the front desk, however, she makes sure she has returned the items she was perusing to the shelves. One of the items is the baby. She starts to put it back on the shelf, but realizes she doesn’t know what category it belongs to. Maine fiction? World History? Arts and Crafts? Gardening? She’s not a librarian, so she hasn’t a clue. She ultimately discovers a good-sized space in the section for children’s literature, on a shelf right at eye level, and pops it right in there. Perfect! Off to pay for the book she has selected.
Just as Celestia is heading to the door, book in hand, one of the volunteers who staff the used book store comes running up. He’s an older gentleman, long retired, shaggy white hair and big plain shirt like the ones they like in Maine.
“Ma’am, you’ve forgotten something!”
Celestia turns around, puzzled. She had only selected one book to purchase.
“What is it?”
“It’s your baby boy… or girl…”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Thank you so much!” Celestia knows immediately that she has gushed a little too much, because she doesn’t want anybody to get the idea that she had been trying to abandon it. That wasn’t true at all. Anyway, it was still sleeping, and that was a good thing. None of the volunteers notices, but she slinks through the door and walks to her car. Her next stop is the art store.
The local art store is small but has a lot of things artists need. The owner is excellent at catering to a range of ages and media. Celestia is looking for shizen or a similar type of handmade paper for a weaving piece she wants to do. The baby still doesn’t seem able to perceive anything going on around it and is sleeping soundly. The woman, his mother, is grateful for this. She easily locates some paper of the right colors and fiber type - in case she also decides to make momigami (kneaded paper) - and remembers to put the baby back in its place next to the large containers of gesso on the shelf closest to the floor. She’s glad she is sticking to her to-do list.
The owner tells her about a new type of paint she’s getting in the day after tomorrow and Celestia says she will definitely come by again next week. She simply can’t resist colors, she tells the owner, and they both laugh. Celestia pays with her ATM, puts it in the back pocket of her jeans, and heads toward the door. Before she gets there, Donovan, the owner’s beloved black pooch, sidles up with a bundle hanging from his teeth.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaims Celestia. “I totally forgot it!”
The other people in the small store all hear her perfectly. When they discover the forgotten thing was a new-born, their faces almost explode. Nobody would forget something like that, right? Except Celestia just did. Shameful. She slinks, yet again.
It’s only a few yards’ walk to the bank where Celestia has to deposit a check she received because she sold some items in a gallery up the coast, in Boothbay. It was a very nice surprise to sell some things. Artists never really know what their income is from one day to the next. Once she is at the front of the line and staring at the teller, Celestia explains she has an account in another credit union but wants to deposit it in the branch where she is now. Shared banking is really convenient, she thinks, as she provides ID and account number of her home bank.
The last thing the woman (now a mother, as noted) has to do to complete the transaction is to sign the check for her artwork. The check is then returned to the teller. Celestia makes a move to place the signed check on the counter, but as she does so she tries to deposit the baby as well. The teller automatically thinks it’s a joke and asks which account it is going into, checking or savings? She laughs. The woman is confused. She just wants to deposit a check and a baby, that’s all. She does go ahead and indicate that the deposit should be to checking.
This time there is no leaving it behind, because the baby is kind of right in her face on the counter, but even so it was a close call. Celestia was turning her shoulders and caught it out of the corner of her eye. She obviously couldn’t leave it there, in other people’s way. How would they be able to do their banking?
The last stop of the day is the big antique store. Often people go shopping there, convinced they’ll find it in the antiques market, then walk away empty-handed. Just as often people go to browse, then end up getting something exquisite. In this town, a lot of people like antiques. Celestia likes to browse, because sometimes there are neat things that seem to jump out at her. You never know what’ll turn up when you’re looking at antiques.
Naturally (?) , Celestia thinks the baby can be left in an old cradle with rockers that people used to move them with their feet and lull babies to sleep. Probably nobody uses them now except as decoration. Well, maybe cat lovers have one as a kitty bed. The fifth time is the charm, apparently, because it, the baby, is still sleeping and seems to like the old oiled wood smell, the gentle back and forth of the curved pieces on the bottom of the box.
A very old set of vintage linens catches Celestia’s eye. She likes to print on the old linen fabric with its coarse texture, skilled embroidery, and odd, ornate seaming. Today she is lucky, because the napkins, most likely pre-1950, are perfect for an art project she’s been planning for moths. It’s a sort of monoprint quilt. She’s looking forward to getting started. She hurries to the register with the fantastic find, because the antiques market is just about to close.
Payment is literally in progress when a maintenance person for the showroom who is sweepin the floor before closing comes up and taps Celestia on the shoulder. She whirls around, but already knows this is a face-palm moment. She has gotten distracted by the need to pay before they turn out the lights and shove her through the door.
The maintenance person holds out the now-familiar bundle to Celestia, who is by now the only shopper left.
“Oh, is this mine?”
She tries to look surprised, without overdoing it.
“Who else’s would it be, ma’am? You are the only person still in the market.” The tone is gruff, as it should be. The expression is harder to determine.
“I have no idea how that happened. Silly me.” Celestia tries to look dumb, and more or less succeeds. Not that looking dumb will make things any better.
At this point it is clear that the best thing for her to do is to go home, rest, maybe take a nap. Something should be done to get a handle on her forgetfulness. She must be tired. That’s it, she’s simply overworked. A hot tea and a nap under her favorite comforter sound really nice about now.
The woman, now the mother, Celestia turns the car into the driveway of her house. This time she doesn’t forget anything. She grabs two small bags from her car - the groceries and the art supplies - as well as the baby carrier that was properly strapped into the back seat. She juggles them carefully and manages to deposit all three of them on the dining room table without a hitch. It would have made a big mess if she’d dropped any of them, that’s for sure.
After everything is put away, and it doesn’t take long, the couch becomes the weary woman’s destination. She grips the lap quilt that graces the back of the couch, but since it is a good size, it pretty much covers her from shoulders to feet.
Celestia pulls the little being that has been with her all day, behaving perfectly, up beside her heart. She encircles it with her arm as if to protect it from the world, and wearily drifts off to sleep.
The nap is long, and much-needed. Celestia awakes nearly two hours later, and peers down at the little face she has been sheltering with all her might even though she was fast asleep, unconscious. A tear, caused by the best emotion a human being can experience, trickles down each cheek. She doesn’t quite understand why she’s crying, but senses it’s all right, maybe even natural.
A few minutes later, the instinct to rock, as if to continue on the outside what was the world of the unborn for nine months, takes hold of Celestia. She can’t take her eyes off the tiny face, which oddly enough is something like a big potato, but much more attractive. She crooks her index finger into the tiny ones of the baby, and the tiny fingers respond by curling around the larger one.
Slowly, just as the woman who is the mother becomes more and more awake, her thoughts too awaken. Nobody needs to describe what Celestia feels. All parents know what it is, or should. She is no different. Just in case, though, she decides she needs to call her mother, who should be home from work. (Her mother will never retire, probably.)
“Mom, how are you?”
“I’m fine. How’s little Nela?”
“She’s perfect, Mom, absolutely perfect. The best thing I’ve ever done.”
“I know exactly how you feel, Celestia. That’s what I said about you and that’s why I chose the name you have. You seemed to have been sent by… “
Celestia wasn’t big on religious concepts, so she quickly changed the subject, trying not to be too obvious about it. Religion was always a tricky subject for the two of them.
“Mom, you probably will get a laugh out of the dream I had just now while I was taking a nap on the couch with Nela.”
“Tell me. It must have been funny if you call me to tell me about it.”
“That’s not why I called. You know that. I wanted to see how you are and tell you about Nela, since you haven’t seen her yet.”
“All right, dream first, then we can talk about the baby. She’s my first grandchild and I want to hear everything.”
“So… in my dream I was running errands all over town… “
“What? You really need to rest. You can get run-down and it’s impossible to get enough sleep with a new baby.”
“Nela’s not like that, at least so far. But what I was going to tell you is that I had her out with me while I was running errands. The problem was, everywhere I went I kept leaving her in different places - like with the watermelons, can you believe it? - and trying to walk out without her!”
“You’re not the first new mother who suddenly wishes she could stash her baby somewhere safe while she read the instructions on how to take care of a newborn. We wait forever for them to be born, then we find ourselves holding a mystery.”
“Mom, did that happen when you had me?”
“What do you think?”