Nestled in the Attic

Since their grown up marriage, Joy and Danny lived in an upstairs apartment in the home of a friend of Danny’s stepmother.  They had their own entrance, a small kitchen, bedroom and living room.  At first they had the living room set up like their parents’ homes, but when being grown up got boring, they began retrieving their special belongings stored in the attic.  Danny set up his train set, so that the engines curved around the sofa, past the TV and under Joy’s tea table.  Every day, Joy made tea and fresh cookies for her two dolls and Snookums the bunny and laughed uproariously when Danny’s trains tooted under the table.  Then he would laugh too, help her eat the cookies, and sooner or later they would tumble into bed for giggles.  Their parents had had them do something scary in the hospital before they were married, so that the giggles didn’t turn into babies.  Not having babies was one of the rules for being married and having their own apartment, and Joy and Danny had agreed.

But sometimes after they had worked at the sheltered workshop, and walked hand and hand to the pharmacy to buy chocolate bars, they would see other married people with babies, and Joy’s arms ached with wanting.

“I could be a good daddy,” Danny said as they watched a young couple laughing with a toddler and baby.  “I know how to change diapers and I would let the kids play with my trains.”

Joy squeezed his hand.  “You would be a great daddy,” she agreed.  “And I would be a good mommy.”

Danny hugged her and they went home without candy.

Two weeks later, they saw a baby strapped in her car seat, crying.  There was no mommy or daddy in the car with her.

The two froze.  “The baby is crying.”  Joy’s voice quivered.

“That’s not a good mommy and daddy.” Danny’s eyebrows scrunched together as he thought.  “We would be a better mommy and daddy,” he whispered.

Joy nodded.  They waited and the baby cried.  No one came.  

“That baby needs a good mommy and daddy,” Danny declared.  His chin jutted.

Holding hands tightly, they went up to the car.  Joy tried the door handle.  Unlocked.  Danny lifted the little girl into his arms and held her warmly against his chest. Quivering with hiccups, she relaxed against his shoulder.  Joy took the empty bottle and diaper bag and they walked home.

They made a nest of blankets for the little one in the middle of their bed.  Joy washed the bottle and filled it with warm milk, so that when the little girl opened her eyes, it was ready.  After the bottle, they took off her yucky diaper, laughing merrily at the big, stinky mess.  Danny tickled the baby gently.

Before one of their parents brought dinner, they laid the blanket-swathed baby in the attic with Snookums to keep her company.  She didn’t make a sound.

“So how are you two today?” Joy’s mom gave her a hug.

“I made cookies.” Joy said. 

“Very good.” Her mother wrinkled her nose.  “What’s that smell? Did one of you have an accident and not rinse the clothes?”

Joy and Danny looked at each other white-faced, but Joy’s mom turned to check the clothes hamper and didn’t notice.  “By the way, there was a baby kidnapped down by the pharmacy about the time you two go every day.  Did you see anything?  The mother ran in for a prescription and tripped – broke her ankle – and in the fuss the baby was left in the car.  Terrible thing.  The family is just sick.  The police are hunting everywhere.”

“But the mommy shouldn’t have left the baby.” Joy’s s eyes teared up.  “She was a bad mommy.”

Her mom looked at her with concern.  “No sweetheart.  She was a mommy who made a mistake.  And now bad people stole her baby.”  She smoothed Joy’s hair.  “No one should ever lose their baby.”

She left then.  In the attic, the baby started to whimper so Danny brought her down.  They gave her a bottle and took turns rocking her.

“We aren’t bad people,” Joy said.

“We’re a good mommy and daddy.” Danny began to cry.

The next morning, instead of going to work, Joy and Danny bathed the baby, dressed her in clean clothes and had a tea party with fresh baked cookies.  Then Danny held her and whispered “Choo Choo” while the train went around the room.  They all laughed.

When the laughing was done, they made sure the baby’s diaper was clean and her tummy full, and they walked back to the pharmacy with the baby sleeping warm against Danny’s shoulder.  They waited until the clerk was busy at the back, then put the snoozing infant in a basket on the counter and pretended to buy candy.

They slipped out away amid all the crying and shrieking when the baby was scooped up.

At home, Joy arranged the tea table and Danny switched on the trains, but they didn’t laugh.  Instead, they sat on the sofa, shoulders touching, and cried for the emptiness in their arms.