2 March 2002 | Vol. 2, No. 1
The party ended when someone threw the baby in through the window. Drinks were spilled, and there was shouting. My wife let slip a tray of garlic mushroom caps that plopped wetly, like dark sponges, and got away across the dining room's hardwood floor. The voice of Nat King Cole was playing on the stereo. We were startled by the blunt clap of the impact and the tinkling rain of glass. Because the object was wrapped in a cocoon of blanket, we didn't know what it was. It had landed without a distinct sound of its own on the living-room carpet.
No one knew what to think. There was a silence as we stared at the bundle, as still as a pillow and surrounded by glinting shards. Someone had the presence of mind to make a familiar accusation, that neighborhood kids had simply played a holiday prank and that the oblong missile was a football or several stones or—someone then said—a bomb. Vicki Pisarek, our neighbor, shrieked at the suggestion and, by example, led other guests in a charge into the kitchen. Someone turned off the stereo. I set my wine on the upright piano. Grinding bits of glass into the carpet as we went, Carl McNitt, Guy Gladych, Stephen Iafano, and I walked over to it.
Carl suddenly dashed to the dining room, grabbed a serving tray off the buffet table, and tracked stepped-on mushrooms back into the living room.
Guy had gone to the broken window. It had been snowing lightly but wasn't any longer. Cold wind laced with car exhaust rushed in through the hole. It was an older house, and we'd never added screens. Our neighborhood in Hamtramck, Michigan, was tightly packed, surrounded by Detroit, modest, historic, wary of change because change had so often been a euphemism for the economic and social decline that urban immigrant neighborhoods tended to suffer. Only four or five families on our street had made the effort to string holiday lights on their trees and shrubs. "I don't see anyone," Guy said. "But it's dark. They're probably long gone."
Carl dropped the serving tray on the carpet, and I knelt on it and peeled away the layers of blue blanket. Some layers were pinned with safety pins, and I had to work at pressing and releasing the little jaws, which slipped under my fingers. I pricked myself, drawing blood, and I thought I heard the baby whimper.
"Goddamn it," said Stephen, gripping my shoulder and peering into the child's face. His breath smelled of white wine. "It's a baby. Shit."
"A baby?" Carl ran to the front door and, hesitating for only a moment, ran outside.
We waited. I checked the baby's face, the skull, but I wasn't a doctor, and I didn't want to risk unwrapping the baby completely. I kept looking toward the front door.
"Alive?" Stephen asked.
"Oh. Yeah," I said. "Well." I opened the vent of the blanket wider so Stephen could see for himself. "I guess. I mean, there's no blood. That's mine. The only blood is mine. But we should call a doctor. I don't want to move the baby too much. You never know."
"I'm going to check on Carl," Guy said. Guy let the storm door bang shut, its panes shaking in the aluminum frame.
"You'd have to throw a baby pretty hard to get it through a double-paned window," said Stephen.
"People leave babies on doorsteps," I said.
"Somebody had to get up close to the house," said Stephen. "Somebody had to wind up and fucking throw as hard as they-Christ. What the fuck is going on?"
"I don't want to move the baby too much."
"The world is insane."
While Stephen talked about deranged crack mothers and violent gang initiations that he'd seen on the news, I re-pinned the blankets. The baby wasn't whimpering. I put my hand to the chest, almost as tiny as a bird's, and I wanted to believe that I felt a rise and fall, the flutter of lungs, but I couldn't be sure. There were so many blankets. My palms were dusted with glass. "We should get to the hospital."
"Has someone called an ambulance?" Stephen shouted back to the kitchen.
My wife poked her head in the doorway. I saw her with my eyes, rather than my memory, as if the baby crashing through the window and into our living room had made everyone a possible stranger. My wife's brown hair seemed darker to me; her eyes, more blue. We were in our early fifties, and this was a second marriage for both of us. We had each raised our children until they moved out, divorced our spouses, remarried, bought a house together, and changed jobs. Rita worked in human resources for a local bank, and I managed a music store and studio. The people at the party were our coworkers and neighbors, mostly people we had come to know together, in our new lives. Tonight Rita was wearing a red hair ribbon and a red choker with a little reindeer bell at her throat. She was also wearing a white apron. She stepped into the warm yellow light of the doorway, and we could see that she was covering the receiver of the cordless phone. "They say they're on their way," she whispered.
"What the hell are they doing?" Stephen asked, meaning Carl and Guy. "What are they, following broken twigs and footprints?"
My wife's face had been pale, and she had been shaking. Before she had gone back to the phone, she had given me a sympathetic look, the kind of look I had probably given her, both of us assuring each other that this was outrageous and unthinkable, but it had happened, and now we had duties to fulfill, tasks we knew how to perform, she busy in her way, I busy in mine, and in this way, together, we would move along and get through the night and keep going until we had done all we could.
"I don't think we should wait," I said. "Riverview's five minutes away."
"I'll get a car." Stephen ran to the front door, looked out at our driveway and into the street, and then ran back to the kitchen, yelling, "Jesus, who's got the silver Corvette? Who's got the mid-life crisis? I betcha it's Carl, isn't it? Wendy? You got the keys or does Carl?"
"Don't take the damn Corvette," I said. "Rita! Rita!" I yelled for my wife. I didn't want to believe the baby was dead. Suddenly I needed my wife. "Rita! Get the keys for the Bonneville! Hurry!"
I slid my fingers under the baby. My fingertips met something hard, like wood. The baby had been wrapped on a board, or something that felt as hard as a board. "Hey," I called out. "Hey, look!" And then I stopped, ashamed of my eagerness to report my discovery, especially since I realized I didn't know what it meant. I thought of my own two sons, grown up and spending the holidays with their girlfriends' respective parents in Portland and Boston, and what they would think when I called and told them this story. I lifted the baby as quickly and carefully as I could. It was so light, as light as bread. I had prepared for something heavier, and I cursed myself for this ignorance, for failing to know exactly how much this baby weighed. I backed out against the storm door. "Rita!" I called.
From the porch, I saw that our narrow driveway was jammed with cars. Stephen was right to ask for the Corvette. It was the only car accessible. Why did I ask for the Bonneville? I was holding the dead, weightless baby in my arms and feeling the icy glass of the storm door against my back, and I wanted to call out, to call out as loud as I could into the house and into the night, "Rita! Rita!" But I couldn't. Outside was the same neighborhood Rita and I had lived in for seven years. What had happened in my living room hadn't changed anything out here. Another winter night had fallen on our street, chilling our movements, shrinking our houses and yards in darkness. I felt the dull weight of my small life, and it was crushing.
I let the storm door fall shut and sat down on the salted porch. I worked my arms around the blankets for my own warmth. I shivered. The moon was out, and I searched the visible darkness. Weak porch lights cast tree shadows on the snow. Down the street, standing by a minivan parked in a driveway, a young girl in a dark sweater was hugging herself and smoking. It was Sonia, the teenage daughter of John and Aida Samczyk. She must have escaped from her family's boring get-together to indulge in a display of reckless dissent. I knew I would just wait for the ambulance. It was cold, and I had stopped believing I could save the baby.
About the author:
David Barringer's latest fiction collection is The Human Case. He's written fiction for Epoch, Nerve, Wisconsin Review, In Posse Review, Xconnect, Taint Magazine, Tatlin's Tower, and others. He lives in Michigan. He can be reached online through email, , or at his website, davidbarringer.com.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by David Barringer at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 2, No. 1, where "The Party" ran on March 2, 2002. List other work with these same labels: fiction, short story, editors' select.