I walk across the parking lot weaving through cars with a peculiar sensation of nepenthean calm after a big haul at the case lot sale. We are all bees in a hive, buzzing through the store, getting the last case of beans and soup before winter. We store up our food as if we will run out, as if we don't live in a place with giant grocery stores and case lot sales.
I have a stymied moment of panic because suddenly I realize I don't know where the hell I parked my car. I turn quickly around and walk back to the grocery store entrance. If I start over, I reason, it will come back to me.
As I walk back, I notice something moving in a wagon three cars away from me. A car seat is in the back with the windows partly open. A child--maybe 8 months old or younger--cries and flails her arms about. She knocks her pink blanket to and fro as if she waves a pretty pink flag to signal her distress.
I veer to the right to stand outside of the door and I look about wildly.
Who would leave their child in the car in this heat?
I wonder if the parents ran into the store to return a video, but even that would be unconscionable. I take out my cell phone and wait as I pace by the car. All the while my heart palpitates and I sweat for the baby inside. I try the door and no alarm goes off; I take one more sweeping glance across the lot and then dial 911. The child sees me through her tears, and cries more desperately.
I wait, and as I wait I continually check the storefront for a parent. I impotently lift the door handles of the car and talk as soothingly as I can, cooing with rising emotion toward the crying child. I even try the trunk just to be sure. The search for my car has been eclipsed by the constriction I feel as I watch the baby struggle in her seat. I hope with unchecked anger that the parents come out so I can tell them what I think of them, and oh, by the way, the police are coming.
Angry and antsy, I try to find a solution--try to think of anything other than the flailing child who stares out of the window with her crumpled forehead and tear-streaked cheeks. The cries inside vibrate along me and I find myself urging back my own tears. I hold my hand up against the glass and will the sight of it to comfort her.
I hear the sirens and soon they become deafening. I stand up taller, on my tip toes, praying for them to see me. It's only 75 degrees outside, but inside the car with a blanket would be suffocating.
Two police cars and a paramedic fire engine pull into the lot. I wave my arms in the air in the hopes that they spot me faster. I want them to move more quickly, move five minutes ago. I can't breathe.
A younger officer, name tag glinting in the light, jogs over to me and looks in the window. He glances around as if I hadn't already been doing that for 15 minutes.
Didn't think to do that, Officer Dooley.
He pulls the radio attached to his shoulder close to his mouth and speaks into it.
"Okay, 10-23 Officer Dooley at the scene. We have an 810 in a red wagon, California plate number 7, Lima, Mary, Bravo, 3-7-9; paramedics standing by."
Officer Dooley motions me to stand back, as if I'm impeding the rescue.
"May I see your ID, ma'am?"
"Sure." I reach into my purse and produce my permanently unsnapped wallet. As I hand it to him I glance down at my driver's license and notice that my eyes are partially closed in the picture. I can't see myself in them.
He walks over to the other car where an older officer sits in the driver's seat and scans his computer. Officer Dooley hands him my license and I feel guilty; I'm certain I have no outstanding "anythings" for which he could arrest me. They both glance at me and I smile.
Trust me, I'm not a felon. I called you, remember?
I continue to smile but alarm glimmers through me as they both shoot unfriendly glances my way. They squint in the light and I swallow thickly.
This isn't about me. This is about the goddamned baby! What is wrong with these guys? Do I have a forgotten traffic ticket?
Dooley speaks into his radio and eyes me some more. Finally, he walks over to me, his stride and gait authoritative and angry.
"Ma'am, this vehicle is registered to you."
I blink at him for several moments. The impact of his words thrusts a giant fist into my gut.
I could have saved her a long time ago.
My mind races and my breath gasps out of me in bursts.
His eyes are softer, "Do you have your keys, ma'am?"
I reach into my purse and mutely hand them to him, confusion and frustration mounting. He points the remote to toward the car and it opens with a resounding "beep" and "click." He releases the baby's car seat from the back but keeps her in it. Paramedics approach with a small stretcher.
The baby begins to scream again as Officer Dooley shushes her and smiles; every so often, he glances up at me. I stand in the heat, my mind reaching for reasons, any reason, that someone would abandon a child like this.
Who would do this? My God.
I begin picturing scenarios: single, unwed mother desperate to be rid of her hungry child. Perhaps the child had been abducted and--
The other officer approaches and speaks low and rapidly to Officer Dooley, who walks toward me with uncertainty gracing his face.
"Ma'am, do you know that baby?"
"Of course not! Jesus Christ!"
"Stay calm, I just needed to ask." He turns away and I watch as the cart holding my cases of food wanders away from me, the cart's front wheel spinning out of control. I don't care where it goes; the food doesn't matter anymore.
The other officer says loudly, "I've called the husband and he's on his way."
Officer Dooley scowls. "You look confused, Ma'am. Are you feeling all right?"
Exasperation, as if no one hears me. My hands quake uncontrollably as I hold them up.
"I'm fine! What about the baby? How did she get in my car?"
I tremble visibly as if cold; teeth chattering and hands frosty white, clenched. He blinks rapidly and seems uncomfortable as he places his large hand on the back of his neck.
Everything turns sluggish, and I can't see his face because of the sun's glare on a car window. I hold up my hands to ward off the blows of the acerbic rays.
"Ma'am...the baby is your daughter."