by Jessica Anya Blau
Elena and Harris put the baby in an open suitcase on the floor in the back of the guest room closet. Harris had put a pillow in the suitcase as a mattress and covered it with a towel in case the baby went to the bathroom. Elena covered her with a pink cashmere sweater that Harris had given her for Valentines Day the year before.
When Harris pulled the closet door shut, they both sighed and shook their heads. Then Elena changed her shirt, went into the bathroom and put on make-up lipstick, eyeliner and mascara. Afterwards she went downstairs and sat beside Harris on the sofa while they waited for the police. Harris looked at his watch impatiently. He wanted to read the Sunday paper. He wanted tea and milk. He didnt want the baby. After twenty minutes, when the police had still not arrived, Harris went into the kitchen and retrieved the paper. Then he sat in the red velvet wing chair that faced the front door and read the sports section. He shifted several times in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs, tugging at the crotch of his slacks each time another police car or TV news van drove up the street.
Elena sat peacefully on the couch. She lay her head against the arm rest and tucked her feet beneath her.
"Do you like the name Rose?" she asked, as Harris turned a page.
"The baby already has a name," Harris said.
"Yes, but that was the name her birth-parents gave her. We need to give her our own name."
"Elena," Harris said, and set the paper on his lap. "As soon as this circus-full of police clears out and everything calms down, were going to put that baby back in the snow where you found her."
"Thats what you think," Elena said, slyly.
"Thats what I know," Harris said. "You can get pregnant if you want. We can adopt. We can take in foster kids. Anything you want. Any baby you want. Just not that one. Not the neighbors."
"I dont want a different baby," Elena said. "I want that one. Thats the one I found."
"People dont find babies, they make them, for Godsakes."
"Finders keepers losers weepers," Elena said.
"Harris sighed and picked up the Parade magazine, flipping to his favorite section, the questions about celebrities.
An unmarked car pulled up moments later. Harris was relieved to see that it was the detective in the trench coat, and not the tall, black officer. Elena offered coffee, which he decline, and Harris brought out a plate of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookies that he placed on the glass coffee table in front of the couch. Elena picked up a cookie, bit off half, theen replaced the cookie on the plate. Harris picked up her half-eaten cookie, and another whole cookie and popped them consecutively into his mouth while holding his left hand under his chin to catch any crumbs. The detective never sat down, and so Harris stood too, pointing at the spot where he said he had been sitting on the couch, and then pointing out the window to the street where he said he saw the black man in the red pickup truck. Elena remained curled up in the corner of the couch.
"Now youre sure it was a black man?" the detective asked.
"Positive," Harris said. "Im just not so sure about the Raiders jacket."
"And you are sure the truck was red."
"Yes. But Im not sure of the make. I dont know too much about trucks. Drive an Acura myself."
"Good cars, Ive heard."
"Yeah, smooth on the highway. And stops on a dime."
"My cousin has one," the detective said, and looked up from his pad, "he says hed never buy anything else."
"Im with him," Harris nodded.
"Yeah, and the guy can afford whatever he wants. Hes the president of Knight-Watson Accounting."
"Hes got good taste in cars," Harris said, laughing lightly.
"But bad taste in women," the detective said. "Last wife took him to the cleaners."
"Well if he spent as much time shopping for a wife as he did when he was shopping for a car, he wouldnt have had such a problem!" Both men laughed. Elena hadnt been following the conversation. She was drifting through names in her head, trying to remember the names of all her classmates since kindergarten, and then reducing each name into all its possible nicknames and taunts.
When Harris closed the door behind the detective, Elena stood up and said, " How about Willomena?"
"Save it for your own baby," Harris said, and he scurried upstairs to check on the baby.
"Dont wake her," Elena said, and she followed him up the steps.
Harris flung open the closet door, then leaned down and put his hand against the babys neck. She was cool and there was no pulse.
Elena leaned past Harris, cooing and making kissing sounds. Harris shrugged his shoulder to get her back.
"I may have given him a little too much," he said.
"Her," Elena hissed, "its a girl!"
Harris picked up the baby from the suitcase, letting the sweater drop to the floor, and lay her on the bed. Elena followed behind him.
"So when will she wake up?"
"Never," Harris said, solemnly. "Shes dead."
"What do you mean shes dead?" Elena didnt believe it.
"I overdosed her. Never happened before to me at least, but I was in a rush, you were rushing me. I must have guessed the weight wrong."
Elena pushed Harris aside and leaned her face over the babys.
"Cant you do CPR?"
"I dont remember how to do it on a baby," he said, and he said on the bed and put his face in his hands. Sirens were whining out on the street, howling like a pack of wolves. Harris shivered.
"Youre a doctor! Do something! Do CPR!" Elena stood up straight, her head began to shake as if she was straining to pop it off her neck.
"It wont work. Shes dead. I probably killed her right away. Feel her." Harris dropped a hand on the babys bloated belly and nudged her. "Shes already growing stiff. She probably died minutes after I dosed her."
"Haa-ris!" Elena screamed. "Youre an anesthesiologist. You knock people out every day!"
"Yup," Harris groaned, his eyes half open as if her were willing himself not to expire.
"And youve never killed anyone before? Youve never had to revive someone you killed?"
"No!" He looked up. "You know that. You know that Ive never killed anyone."
"So here it is," Elena was sobbing, "heres your first big mistake, and you made it on my baby!"
"Jesus Christ Elena, could you cut me some slack?" Harris stood, suddenly energized. He picked up the baby; her back remained straight, as if she were strapped to a board. "First of all, it isnt your baby. If it was, youd be a bit more hysterical than this."
"It is my baby," Elena stomped her foot like a child.
"Its a baby you knew for about an hour. NOT YOUR BABY. Secondly, you were freaking out and I rushed," Harris walked into the bathroom with the baby, "I rushed when I couldnt afford to rush, and heres what happened." He raised the baby in the air, as if he were making a toast.
Harris stepped onto the scale holding the baby. Then he stepped off and handed the baby to Elena, who held her out as if death were contagious. Black mascara tears were forming lines down Elenas cheeks, her nose was red and shiny and she appeared to be drooling as she sobbed. Harris wondered if hed every recover from the sight of her, wet and disheveled, holding a dead baby. "Lingerie," he said to himself, imagining Elena in a red lace number he gave her on their honeymoon, then he stepped back on the scale.
"There you have it," he said, without looking at Elena. "I guessed his weight wrong."
"I thought she weighed about twenty to twenty-two pounds. And she only weights fifteen pounds. Thats over a thirty percent increase. A thirty percent mistake."
"Doesnt seem like so much," Elena choked between words. She held the baby out to Harris, a black tear dropped from her chin to the babys forehead leaving a tiny splatter mark.
"Are you sure you cant do CPR?" She stuttered.
"Positive," Harris said, taking the baby and looking away. He lifted the baby then rotated her, examining her from all angles. "She must be about four or five months old."
"God Harris, youre so dumb!" Ellen shrieked, "Sometimes you are so dumb!"
"Elena," he snapped, "I said I was sorry."
"Shes not four or five months old, shes oldershe sits up by herself and has teeth!"
"Well, I guess shes just small. Thats what killed her. If she had been a bigger baby she wouldnt be in the state shes in now."
Elena rushed out of the bathroom, wailing like a whinnying horse. She went into the bedroom where she changed into a thick, flannel nightgown. Harris followed her, continually flashing pictures of lingerie-clad Elena in his head. It disturbed him to see his wife like this, crying, ugly, looking at him with disgust. And he couldnt stand to look at the dead baby in his arms, to look at his first deadly blunder.
"To tell you the truth," Harris said, trying to calm Elena by remaining composed, "this is a lot easier to deal with now that shes dead. If she were alive there would be the issues of food, diapers, hiding her and all that. Now we just take her back where you found her and get on with our lives."
"Get on with our lives? Get on with our lives? I just found a perfect little baby in the snow. A perfect baby! No pregnancy, no bloated breasts, no gaping vaginal canalnothing!" Elena pointed to her body parts as she mentioned them, then directed a shaking finger towards Harris and yelled, "A perfect baby without all the work, and YOU had to kill it!"
"I told you it was an accident," Harris said, frustrated. He lay the baby on the hand-made Persian rug in front of the dresser. "Thank God," Harris muttered, as he took relief in the fact that he hadnt killed the baby at work where he would be humiliated in front of his colleagues.
"An accident for godsakes!" he said to Elena.
"Well next time you decide to have an accident do it on someone who doesnt matter to me!"
Harris walked to the bed where Elena had buried herself under the covers. He pulled the patchwork comforter down to Elenas waist and picked up her hand.
"Elena, Im sorry. I told you, if you want a baby, well get you pregnant."
"Dont you understand!" Elena sat up, her voice was deep and strained, the voice of nightmares and fear. "I dont want a baby. I wanted that baby. That baby. That was my baby. I found her. She was mine!" Elena threw her head into her hands. Her back quivered. Harris reached up and placed his palm on her shoulder. She shrugged him away, moaning and bobbing up and down, as if she were dovening.
"Well, maybe youll find another one some day," Harris offered.
Elena raised her wet, blotchy face for an instant and glared at Harris.
Harris hissed long and slow, like a valve being opened. Then he stood and undressed for bed. Elena rolled to her side and pulled the covers up high against her neck.
"Dont worry about the baby," Harris said, climbing into bed, "Ill take her back."
Elena didnt respond.
"You know they wont stop looking until they have a body. And we want them to stop looking so that theyll get on with their other work. Catching crooks and all that."
Elenas back raised and lowered again. Harris pulled the crotch of his pajamas and rolled over.
"Goodnight," he whispered, pushing his rump back so it touched hers. Elena scooted away.
Around four in the morning, Harris woke up, put on surgical gloves, took the baby into the bathroom and scrubbed her body, sanding it down like a block of wood. Then he stuck the baby in a trash bag, and lay the bag on the floor while he dressed in a black cotton sweatsuit and tennis shoes.
Harris slipped out of the house into the cold with the bag flung over his shoulder like Santa Claus. He ran down the slippery sidewalk, made narrower by the encroaching snow. As he turned down the street where the baby was found, he saw several police cars parked out front. Harris turned and ran back toward his own house. He couldnt bring the baby into the house again; he wanted the dead-baby-fiasco to be over and done with. As he passed a neighbors house, Harris tipped the plastic bag and dumped the stiff baby into a bank of smooth, moundy snow. The baby bounced on her head, making a dull knock, like wood against wood, then landed face up as she was found. Harris sprinted all the way home, being sure to stay on the sidewalk as not to leave any footprints.
"Babys gone," Harris said, when Elena walked into the kitchen the next morning. He was having breakfast, a toaster-waffle and orange juice instead of tea, as there was still no milk.
Elena sighed and sat at the table across from him. She had washed her face, it was clear and shiny, blank like a turned-off television.
"We really need milk," Harris said, "Can't have my tea without milk."
Elena wiped a tear and then her nose with the same finger.
"Why dont you go out and buy yourself something special today," Harris reached his hand under the kitchen table and pinched her knee. "Something lacy, new underwear or something."
Elena looked up and nodded her head. She was wearing Harris bathrobe, it looked like a giant yellowed beach towel. Harris imagined himself yanking it away, pulling it open like drapes in a dark room torn from a gleaming window. Underneath hed find a shiny new Elena wearing white lace underwear; sharp, red fingernails on the tips of her hands that had never touched a dead baby.
"It was a mistake!" Harris suddenly said.
Elena swiped the top of her index finger against her nose and sniffed.
When Harris walked into the hospital that morning, he felt the power of reinvention. "Just look in my chart," he though, "never had an overdose. Not one." With each epidural, with each dose of morphine, with every vein tapped, Harris felt a rush of growing confidence. He stirred up that confidence during his drive home that night, cutting off slower and older cars, speeding through yellow lights, and passing a Porsche in the left lane. When he turned onto Cedar Road, using his flat right palm to rotate the wheel, Harris stomach dropped. He shifted in his seat, pulling at the crotch of his pants. It had been snowing all day. Elena was out front shoveling snow from the walkway into the garden. She was wearing her black wool coat and a blue longshoremans cap that someone had left at their house a couple of weeks back.
"Lingerie," Harris said, his voice sounding shallow in the sealed car, with the heater hissing fiery air onto his shoes.
Harris slowed the car as he approached the house. Elena had her back to him, she looked crooked and broken as she hunched over the shovel. Harris pressed his hot foot against the gas pedal and zoomed down the street.