Late this afternoon, as I was pulling out of my driveway to pick up a friend, I saw a toddler no more than 18 months old standing on the sidewalk crying. He seemed to be just coming from the driveway of the house he was standing in front of. I thought, Hmm, getting a little far away from the family (which I figured was in the back yard), then I thought maybe he was having a tantrum and the parents were letting him wander a bit to work it out. I pulled over to the curb and watched him and when another ten seconds had gone by, I thought, That baby is lost!
I turned off the car, got out, went over to the baby, and said, "Hi, baby! Are you lost?" At which point he immediately put up his arms for me to pick him up, so I did.
I headed toward the back of the house I thought he'd come from. No one was in sight. I knocked on the back door and a woman with two small children came to the door.
"Is this your baby?" I said. The woman looked really taken aback.
"No," she said, "but wait, I know him-- can't remember his name-- but he lives across the street three doors down-- the house on the corner."
"OK, thanks," I said, and headed toward the baby's house, huffing and puffing a bit by the time I got there-- out of practice with carrying as toddler around!
I went to the back of the house, the main door was open with a glass outer door closed. I knocked on the door. No answer. I opened the door and went into the kitchen, calling "Hello? Hello?"
I realized the kitchen was being done over; there were boards on the floor and a huge circular saw on the floor. I flashed on that scene in Twister, where our hero and heroine, trying to outrun a twister, take shelter in a barn and then realize that every cutting tool imaginable is hanging from the walls and rafters. "What kind of place is this?" our hero shouts, as they run out again.
A woman came out from the dining room. She looked completely bewildered.
"Is this your baby?" I asked. (But I knew he was, because he immediately put out his arms to her and she took him.)
"Yes," she said. "How did you get him?"
"He was across the street."
"What?" She just couldn't seem to grasp what I was telling her, so I repeated myself.
"I gotta tell you," I said, finally catching my breath, "this doesn't look like a very safe house for a baby." I surprised myself saying it.
She still looked blank.
"That saw," I said, pointing.
"Oh-- it's unplugged."
"Yeah, but he could get hurt just stumbling against it."
She didn't say anything, so I said, "OK, I'm going," and just left.
This whole thing got me thinking of a hot summer day in Maine thirty years ago so drenched in dread I started a poem about it which I will never finish, so here is the story:
My husband and I were picking blueberries for some money that summer, and we would hitchhike back and forth to the blueberry fields. (How we got rides, now that I think of it, i can't imagine-- the fields were at the end of a long dirt road 10 miles from the nearest town. But somehow it always worked out.) That morning before we left I''d shoved the morning mail into my backpack, and at lunch break, read the letter from my doctor that said my pap smear results were abnormal and I needed to make an appointment to see him. So of course it was on my mind all day.
Hitching home, we were picked up by a couple with a small child between them in the front seat. We chatted away with the couple for a while before I realized.that the child was holding a pair of scissors in her hands, blade up! This was way before people wore seat belts and babies were confined to car seats, and we were travelling down a rutted road at about 20 miles an hour, bouncing all over the place.
In spite of our dependence on this couple for a ride, I was about to say something when I glanced out the window.
This next part is all in slow motion.
I see an ancient farmhouse with a long green lawn and at one end of the lawn, a very old man is sitting in a lawn chair and a very old woman is just closing the kitchen screen door behind her as she heads toward the old man.
The man rises from his chair and takes two steps and then seems to sink into the ground as he tumbles forward.
The very old woman continues to move toward him at the same pace, calling, "Henry? Henry?"
"Stop the car!" I holler, snatching the scissors from the baby's hands. I jump out and approach the old woman as she continues to make her way toward Henry.
"Can I help?" I said to her. But I've become invisible! "Can I help?" I step in front of her but she keeps on moving, never looks in my direction. She doesn't see me or hear me. She just keeps walking. A third call. No response. "Henry? Henry?" she calls. Finally I turn away.
My husband is standing beside the car, watching me approach.
"Want to walk the rest of the way home?" I say, and he nods. We set off.
When I got home tonight I had a message on my machine.
"Hi, this is Kathy...the woman whose baby you found?....Anyway, I was just so shocked...I don't think I even said thank you...so thank you...so much....It was just that it shouldn't have even have happened,...and if...well, anyway, just thank you."