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General

Get out of Florida, they said. You have to worry about hurricanes, the heat and it’s only a matter of time before the rising tides send it back to the sea from whence it came, they said. Besides, why would you want to stay in Port Saint Lucie, Florida? Too many old people here. Right. At least old people don’t leave babies in stores.

 I should tell this story properly. But stories were my mother’s forte, not mine. I’m a statistician. I do the math that, I’m told, makes most people shudder and run away. And that’s fine with me. The money is good, the work comes easy, and I can live comfortably even in upstate New York. I’m also dating someone, although we’re arguing. He wants us to move in together. He keeps saying I’m pushing him away, not letting him get close to me.

"I don’t see what the rush is, that’s all," I told Tom. Along with, "I might go back to Florida."

It made everything worse when he offered to go with me. Also, going home would mean admitting to my father he was right.

“Look, James,” Dad said, “You’ve never even seen snow. And the people are different up there. I know you like the cold, but I’m not sure you know what you’re getting yourself into here.”

I argued, saying his advice was terrible as usual. I guess he feels someone has to knock sense into me and my brother. I personally believe I have more common sense than him and said so. He sighed and shrugged as if to say Well. We’ll see how this goes.

“Okay, when you come back home I’ll let you in. I won't even say I told you so.”

Honestly, I’m still here because to go home would be to admit defeat. I’d sooner jump into the Hudson River in January than do that. So here I am trying to buy some frozen pizzas before I freeze myself. Fortunately, I didn’t have to drive. This grocery store wasn’t far from my apartment. It’s a new kind, one that is fully automated. You go in, pick out what you want and pay at the self-check-out. One would imagine it’s easy to steal from there. It would be except you have to swipe your driver’s license to unlock the doors. Presumably, you steal, and they’ll find you. I wasn’t planning to risk it. All I wanted was something to eat and a soda. And dog food for Oliver.

I wish I had brought Oliver with me except he’d gone outside earlier. Now he slept on my bed, and I didn’t have the heart to disturb him. But this place was too quiet. The lights flickered as if someone hadn’t changed the bulbs since Edison invented them. Or Tesla, whoever it was. My mother always said dogs could sense spirits. I could imagine Oliver whining at the door, refusing to go inside.

Great, I thought, Mom’s rubbing off on me.

I looked inside, started to turn towards the door, and then I heard the wind howling. I ran inside the building. The owner definitely was trying to lower his carbon footprint. Still, it was warmer than outside. I grabbed two pizzas under my arm, a bag of dog food, and headed for the counters. All the time, I could hear the wind cry. It reminded me of a lost child, maybe Little Red Riding Hood or Greta, realizing how alone she and her brother were, in a house of candy that was rotten to the core.

Jesus, James, get a grip. What is wrong with-

“That sounded like it came from inside the store,” I mumbled to myself.

Yeah, sure, said that voice inside of me. You’ve lost it. Probably a crack in a window or something. This place looks like no one’s maintained anything since the dawn of civilization.

I looked around. If it was the wind, it was weak, pathetic, hopeless that anyone would come. The wind outside wasn’t feeble and desperate. It was intense, powerful, full of joy for the cold and snow.

“I-Is someone here?” I whispered.

Idiot.

I shook my head at myself. All the same, I held the heavy dog food as if to use it as a shield. “Hello!”

A cry came back as if whatever it was had just enough will for one final scream. I turned towards it. It seemed to come from the vegetable aisle. I put down my items and pulled out my Swiss army knife. As if that would help, but why not? I turned down the aisle to see the last thing I’d expected. A bundle lay on the floor of the store. It seemed nothing more than if someone had tossed a pillow off the shelf except this was blue. And it moved, cried again although now barely heard.

What the hell?

I unwrapped it. It was a baby, wrapped in a dirty blue blanket too thin for the weather. It didn’t seem newborn, but what did I know? It had black curly hair, black eyes, tiny hands balled into fists as if to fight the cold and Death himself. I did what any reasonable person would do in this situation. I tried to dial 911.

Great. No signal.

I tried what any Gen Z person would do. Internet and social media. No go.

“Well, Thanks, Zmobile,” I yelled at the phone. “Weren't you going to put up more towers? You merged with every other phone company and their mother, but your coverage still sucks.”

 The number of bars didn’t change. Meanwhile, the baby, presumably a boy by the blue blanket, was still weakly crying, a high pitched whine, little face scrunched up as if in pain.

“Be quiet! And let me think for God’s sake!”

Yeah, I know how it sounds. In my defense, I was tired, cold, and hangry. And I never wanted kids. They're loud and don't shut up. Mom liked to point out I once was a little kid. And how she tolerated me, I don't know.

He didn’t stop crying, of course. And no parent type person was heading my way.

“Maybe I can get to a police station. The baby can stay here where he’s safe and-”

Are you insane? Said that voice in me.

“Why? The police station isn’t far from here. And someone else more mom-like than me might-“

Right. You’ll be lucky you don’t freeze to death out there. Look.

I walked out the door. The wind and snow felt like needles in my face, so I ducked back inside. “Okay I can barely see across the street but-“

 You’ll get lost before you go a block. And if you leave him here, he might not make it. He’s weak and starving. You’re it. Besides, how hard can this be?

“Fine,” I told that voice. “But I don’t have to like it.”

First of all, to figure out how to even hold a baby. I picked him up under the arms. I cradled him like my brother used to do with our cat. On his back, eyes on mine. He turned his head, trying to suck on my shirt, searching. Definitely hungry. I eventually found the baby formula, water, and bottles. I laid Blue on my coat. He started crying again.

“Oh, shush! I’m doing the best I can! I only have two hands, you know.” I managed to fill a baby bottle. “No microwave. Hope you don’t mind lukewarm.” 

I don’t know how babies drink formula. The smell is awful, like powdered milk mixed with yeast. He didn’t care, or he was starving by the way he drank the bottle. I didn’t know if he could have baby food, so I gave him another bottle. After that, he seemed calm. I found some diapers and, after a bit of fumbling around, managed to at least cover his lower half without getting peed on. Although he tried. Fortunately, I have good reflexes and jumped away.

“Goddammit, there had better be a good reward for this,” I said to Blue. “Bad enough there’s a booger in my nose, and I can’t breathe.” I found some tissues. “And for God’s sake, please don’t poop. Please, at least do that for me. No spitting up either. In return, I’ll feed you until I can get you to the police station. Deal?”

No response except for some gurgles I took as Blue agreeing.

“Good. We have an understanding.”

I thought about my options. No phone. The blizzard was getting worse. I decided Blue and I should wait it out. I ate some canned soup while Blue lay there watching me, sounding like a little bird. Coo, coo. I was just finishing when the power went out.

“Shit. What the hell did I do to deserve this?”

That voice spoke up again. Well, you took survival training in scouts, you moron. So, survive. It’s going to get very cold. Blue’s already shivering. Maybe there’s blankets here or something.

I pulled out my phone and used the flashlight on it to search the store. Plastic tablecloths. Better than nothing. I opened several packages and laid two on the floor. I put a roll of paper towels under my neck and I laid Blue on my chest to keep him warm. More tablecloths and my jacket over us.

“I just wanted a pizza for dinner,” I told Blue. “What’s your story? Did you cry too much? My mother said I cried so much she nearly threw me out a window. Said she would’ve except my dad rocked me at night. Kinda harsh, right? Not like babies know anything."

He gurgled.

“A man of few words. I can respect that.”

 I hoped the insulation in this store was good. I hadn't expected to get caught in a blizzard. To be fair, I should've. Didn’t the Socrates weather app warn me? I just thought I had time.

“Don’t trust that weather app anyway,” I told Blue. “Hey, are you going to sleep on me? You’d better not. If I have to be up, you do too.”

I could feel his breaths like the softest of fingers against my neck. They were little cotton puffs of air.

“I hope this weather lets up soon. Oliver will wonder where I am.” Blue’s head moved against my shoulder. “He’s some sort of small poodle mix. Real smart but couldn’t kill a burglar if he tried.”

Blue whimpered and cried softly. Babies like lullabies, I thought. I found Twenty-One Pilots on my phone’s music list and picked Blasphemy, played softly. After that, Queen sang Bohemian Rhapsody. It seemed to calm Blue down. Well, at least he had good taste in music.

By this time, it was pitch black in the store, and the wind howled outside. I was pretty sure there were cracks in the window’s insulation. The wind slid its cold fingers through them, touched everything. Here we were in a candy house, or at least it had candy, but we might as well be a hundred miles away. I wondered if Greta had been cold, in that house, watching her brother eat when she couldn't. But she was free, and he was caged.

Avicii and Imagine Dragons played Heart Upon my Sleeve.

“Maybe this was meant to happen,” I said to Blue. “It seems we’re both lost.”

He moved his head against me again.

“Great. Here I am talking to a baby. How did it come to this?” I shifted him to my other arm. “I hate kids, you know. Don’t get used to this.”

He grunted as if to say; I didn’t ask to be here either, friend.

“No, you didn’t, but people suck, Blue. They leave you, just when you need them most. It’s a crappy lesson for you to learn so young, kiddo. At least when my mom-left, I was old enough to fend for myself.”

The silence was falling as softly as the thermostat did in this store. I thought about a fire. But I would have to break a window for ventilation, letting the wind inside. It might make things worse.

“I can’t blame my mom, can I? It wasn’t her fault.”

 I started to doze off, imagined that someone was gently throwing cotton balls at my neck. But I woke up again, shivering, the coat off of us. I pulled it and the plastic tablecloths around us as best I could.

Say awake. Need to fight off hypothermia, I told myself. But my eyes were heavy, the snow from outside drifting in my mind. So, I started talking again. Why not? It wasn't like he would understand anyway. And I had kept this inside far too long.

“Alex and I were fighting that night, Blue. And then she got into the middle of it. So, I shouted, told her to mind her own business, that I didn’t want to hear it. She walked out, and we waited for a long time. And then we went to bed. We didn’t call the police. We found out that morning when her sister came and said she had collapsed at the park. Then Dad came. No, he wasn't there, they're divorced. So we thought she was coming back, Blue. But she never did. And," I wiped my eyes. "I-just went to bed."

Oh, hell, just admit it. You didn't want to see. So, you went to sleep and hoped Mom would be home when you woke up.

I blew my nose. “Would it have mattered?”

In the darkness, a soft sigh.

“Yeah, it happened a long time ago. Ten years ago, now. Still. People leave you. And I left her, in a sense. Maybe you should learn that now.”

Then I heard my mother saying as if she was right in the store. “James, I don’t blame you for any of this. I had blocked arteries in my heart that I didn’t know about, or I wouldn’t have left. Even if you had called 911, there was nothing that anyone could’ve done.”

“Dad said that,” I told her as Mom stood in front of me. She was wearing her red nightshirt and blue sweatpants she always relaxed in.

“I’m waiting for you to realize it’s true,” she said. “That there’s no sense in blaming yourself. It only hurts you.”

“How do I know I could’ve done nothing?” I sat up, startling Blue, who whimpered. I clutched at him. “You could be lying to make me feel better!”

“I’m not. Read the coroner’s report. I don’t blame you. You were afraid. I only blame myself and my stupid doctor for not finding this out sooner. Yes, that night, I was angry, hurt, and it was why I left the house. I didn’t want to shout back at you.”

“But if I hadn’t upset you-“

“This heart attack would’ve happened sooner or later, anyway. I love you. Now,” she smiled. “See to the little one.”

I woke up to Blue crying. I didn’t think he was hungry, just freezing, but I wasn’t sure. I managed to get the bottle somehow. I was shivering so badly I could barely dump the formula in it. I gave the bottle to him with shaking hands. He drank but then pushed it away.

“I know, I-I know. It’s very c-cold.”

I put my jacket on, wrapped it around Blue, and zipped him up in it. Then I wrapped all the tablecloths around us.

“I-I won’t l-leave as long as you don’t.”

Putting on the coat helped. Blue was lying on my chest, and the heat was back on. We were warm and toasty now. Then I heard knocking on the door, but it was far, far away, and I was too warm, too comfortable to get up to answer. I was in my apartment but someone was inside. Sleepily I wondered why Oliver wasn’t barking. Then voices, far away. Some bright light. Isn’t that what you see when you’re dying? The tunnel of light? And then Jesus comes to welcome you into His arms.

Dios mio, un hombre!” Then more Spanish.

Jesus is Hispanic?

“Good God, they’re half frozen,” said a woman’s voice.

Someone lifted Blue away. I reached out to pull him back. “Don’t take him! Jesus, don’t!”

“It’s okay, Dad, it’s okay,” said the woman. “We just need to check him out.”

“N-Not D-Dad. James,” I said, or I think I said. I don’t know. I was being moved, and I didn’t know why. Someone poked my arm, talking about an IV. It’s all very foggy, but eventually, I woke up in a hospital ER with a doctor or nurse type standing near me. I wasn’t sure which. It was a man with brown hair and wrinkled scrubs. “Good, you’re awake,” he said. “How do you feel?”

“Blue?” I asked. When he looked at me, eyebrows raised, I explained I meant the baby.

“He’s fine, Dad. You both just had hypothermia, that’s all. You should be able to go home tomorrow. We need his date of birth and medical history, though.”

“I don’t know any of that.” At that, his eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline. I told him the story. Then came the police, who seemed to distrust me. Finally, exasperated, I offered to take a DNA test, which satisfied them. Then they sent the social worker. After I told her everything, I knew she promised to try to find his relatives.

“Well, if you don’t, let me know. That is if you’ll have a gay, single guy with a disobedient, spoiled dog as a parent. Foster or otherwise.”

“Why?” She stared as if to see how serious I was.

 “Well, people always leave, one way or another. But that should be way in his future. Like, thirty years later or something. Someone should be the exception.” I laughed. Tom wasn't going to believe this one.




August 01, 2020 03:52

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12 comments

Evan Rocker
21:31 Sep 02, 2020

I liked your story. My favorite line was..."Are you insane? Said that voice in me." Look forward to reading more!

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Michele Duess
22:01 Sep 02, 2020

Thank you. I've said that to myself more times than I can count.

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Roshna Rusiniya
05:00 Aug 09, 2020

Wonderful story! Loved the subtle humor in it.

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Michele Duess
11:51 Aug 09, 2020

Thank you!

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Deborah Angevin
23:44 Aug 06, 2020

Hi Paula, a wonderfully written story, fitting for the prompt! Loved it! Would you mind reading my recent story out, "(Pink)y Promise"? Thank you :D

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Michele Duess
03:03 Aug 07, 2020

Sure! And thank you for reading mine.

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01:49 Aug 06, 2020

I love your use of a first person perspective! I also liked the way you developed the relationship between the baby and your protagonist.

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Michele Duess
16:26 Aug 06, 2020

Thank you for reading!

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Jonathan Blaauw
16:03 Aug 05, 2020

Very cool story! You use the first person so well here, and the humour sprinkled in here and there is brilliant. I love it when writers can pull off a one sided conversation, and you do that really well. And, underlying the lighthearted tone is quite a sad reflection of loss and abandonment. Really well done.

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Michele Duess
18:09 Aug 05, 2020

Thank you. I pulled the humor from my teenagers. When I was writing the story my oldest literally said to his brother, "I have a booger in my nose and can't breathe." I laughed and thought that comment belonged. And my youngest always complains little kids are too noisy. It's always good to look around and see what in your life can inspire. Appreciate you reading.

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Mustang Patty
09:30 Aug 05, 2020

Hi there, This was a wonderful story for the prompt. Good luck to you - KEEP WRITING, ~MP~

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Michele Duess
13:36 Aug 05, 2020

Thank you and same to you. Keep writing. Paula

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