A little girl plays in a park by herself. Lesley rolls her six month old daughter into the park in a small stroller. She leads her five-year-old son by the hand. Her son knows the little girl from preschool. He tells his mother the little girl’s name is Sara.
“Sara, where is your mommy?” Lesley asks the little girl.
Sara doesn’t answer, just points to the house next to the park. Lesley looks up to see a flash of a curtain moving in a first floor window.
The house is separated from the park by a chain-link fence. Lesley can see into the backyard. The grass is overgrown and full of weeds. Uncollected newspapers litter the front stoop. She glances back at Sara and notices the food-crusted cheeks and filthy clothing.
Lesley’s son runs over to the jungle gym and Sara follows him. The baby wakes. Lesley feeds her. The baby sleeps again. Lesley pulls out a book. Above her head, the sun appears and disappears behind drifting clouds. Inside the book, a lover confronts a jealous rival.
Lesley hears a cry and a thud. She looks up from her book but can’t see her son. She calls his name. Silence. The book falls from her hands as she runs to the other side of the jungle gym. Her son is sitting on the ground holding his knee and recovers his breath to let out a piercing wail. The volume of the sound proves his health, but she stays there, crouched by his side for a minute, maybe two, calming him, soothing him.
She leads him by the hand back to the bench, intent on wipes and a band-aid. But something is wrong. On the ground near the bench, there is her purse and there is her book but where is…
This time the piercing wail comes from her own lungs. The baby… the… baby the baby…. the. She spins in a circle, everything is a blur. But she sees, there, the little girl, Sara, pushing the stroller through the front door of her house.
“Sara! Stop!” She cries around the hysterical laughter that bubbles from her lips.
“Mommy what’s funny?” her son asks. She grabs the book and the purse and her son’s hand and walks as fast as the five-year-old legs allow to the front door of Sara’s house.
She does not knock, but she calls out a ‘hello’ warning as she enters. The smell slams into her. Her eyes water.
“Yuck, mommy, what is it?” her son asks.
In the living room Lesley grabs hold of the stroller where her baby lies, awake and gurgling contentedly. By the dim light of the TV, she can see the source of the smell in the mounds of pizza boxes and Chinese food containers and soda bottles overflowing the coffee table, and in piles on the floor. A figure huddles under a blanket in the corner of the couch, near the window, eyes wide in the gloom.
Sara is on the couch pulling on a sleeve, “Mommy, look, I found the baby, mommy, look.”
In a flash Lesley remembers. Sara, Sara Shue, her mother Rebecca Shue, lost her infant daughter and her husband in a car accident three or four months ago. She remembers signing a card and donating money, cash only please, to help the family through this difficult time. She remembers putting a hundred dollars in an envelope and giving it to Emma, class mother.
Lesley takes her children outside into the fresh air and pulls out her cell phone. She stares at it blankly for a moment. Her first instinct is to call 911. Sara follows them out of the house and looks up at Lesley.
Lesley dials a different number. “Hi Emma, this is Lesley. I’m over at Rebecca Shue’s house. No, me either. Look, can you call everyone – the way we do for a snow day? We need everyone to come here… I mean right now… I know, I’m busy too… Yes, this is an emergency.
Illustration by: Delilah Buckle