by: Elise Covino
“Perhaps he is at ease because he senses that he is finally where he belongs.” A short story that exemplifies the lengths a mother will go to be with her child…
Our baby is in his room now. In her home, not mine.
She calls him Alex, but from the moment I knew he was inside me, I thought of him as Matthew.
I sit in a chair near the open, street-facing window of my darkened bedroom and watch as the woman carefully places him in his crib, then tucks a blanket around him. Through the balmy evening air, from her apartment across narrow Blanchard Avenue, I hear her cooing to him.
A fat tear rolls down my cheek and plops onto my lap, but I barely notice because I am thinking about how foolish I was to let my baby go. I think about holding Matthew in the hospital before they took him away, about gazing at his precious, scrunched up face. I think about missing a lifetime of firsts. His first birthday, his first trip to the zoo, his first girlfriend.
My bedroom door clicks open, and light spills in.
“Shelby, I’m home,” Jon says.
I turn and say, “Hi. There’s mac and cheese with hot dogs in the fridge.”
He flips the switch for the bedside lamp and comes toward me and softly says, “What’s wrong, Shel?”
I realize that my cheeks are wet and I dab them with my sleeve. “He’s in the lit room on the third floor.” I point to the Crown View Apartments on the other side of Blanchard.
“Who is?” Jon squints through the window. “I only see a woman leaning over a crib.”
“It’s Matthew. He’s in that crib.”
We watch as the woman smiles and spins the solar-system mobile that hangs over Matthew’s crib. Her actions remind me that I will never amuse my baby in such a way, and my melancholy deepens. When she begins to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” I feel an aching emptiness that is almost too much to bear.
Jon turns from the window and says, “Shel, I know you’re having trouble adjusting to our decision, but it isn’t healthy to think that every baby you see is ours.”
“But it really is him. I found out today. See, I needed bread, and since the unpacking has kept me too busy to make any new friends, I decided to go to Stark’s, that little grocery store on the corner. I thought I might meet a neighbor or two there.”
“And did you?”
“I saw that woman.” I flick my head toward the window. “In the store with a baby. But I didn’t introduce myself because I figured that having a friend with a boy the same age as mine was the last thing I needed right now. Besides, she was busy showing three children from the neighborhood how to hold the baby.”
“I’m still not sure why you think the baby is Matthew.”
“Because, when a boy named Trevor was taking his turn, I noticed it, a small, dark, star-shaped birthmark behind the baby’s right ear. It’s identical to the one I saw on Matthew at the hospital. It’s him.”
“How can you be so certain? You held him for only a few minutes and you saw this little boy for even less. Lots of children have birthmarks.”
I shake my head. “Jon, a mother knows her own baby when she sees him.”
“I know you’re feeling a bit down these days, but—”
An anger that’s simmering inside me for months boils over. “How do you expect me to feel after I let you convince me to put our son up for adoption?” I stand and shut the window with a bang. “Your arguments in favor of it were piss poor, Jon. I never should have fallen for them.”
“I still think we made the right decision. At eighteen, we’re barely adults ourselves. We’re not ready for a baby.”
“We would’ve managed somehow. Plus, losing our freedom? That’s a price worth paying for the most amazing, rewarding experience in life.”
“And maybe someday, when we’re more mature, we’ll have it.” Jon gently touches my shoulder. “You’re hurting now, Shelby, but in time you’ll see that I was right.”
I pull away and face the window. “I can’t stand to look at you right now.” I send him to the kitchen to eat his mac and cheese, then reopen the window and sit in the dark, trying to decide whether it would be best to watch Matthew grow from afar or get close to him by befriending the woman who thinks she is his mother.
By the time the light goes out in the baby’s room, I know that neither will do. I must get Matthew back.
The next afternoon I call the agency that handled the adoption and speak with a social worker named Janis Goronski. I tell her I want to withdraw my consent to the adoption and have my baby returned to me. Although I am fairly certain this will not work, I feel that I should at least try this route before resorting to something more extreme.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “but the time to change your mind about consenting ran out months ago. And…let me be sure I have the date right. Hmmm…yes, the adoption was finalized last Tuesday. So it is too late.”
“Please, Ms. Goronski, I have to get him back. Isn’t there a technicality of some sort I could use?”
I hear her sigh in a way that tells me she thinks I’m dimwitted and unreasonable. But I don’t care. “Please, couldn’t you just look into it?” I ask.
She sighs again. “I can check and get back to you if I find anything, but I’m afraid that’s highly unlikely. In my twenty-one years here, I’ve never seen an adoption reversed after finalization.”
I thank her and hang up, sure that I will never hear from her. Tears sting my eyes, even though I expected this result. I blink them back and resolve to find another way to bring Matthew home.
We need milk, so I ride the elevator down and cross Blanchard to Stark’s. I am entering the store when I see Trevor, who is about thirteen, slip a package of condoms into his waistband. He pulls his shirt down over the slim, rectangular box and bolts from the store.
A short time later I’m in the apartment sitting at the open bedroom window when I observe Trevor in the alley that runs between Stark’s and the Crown View Apartments. He is with Emma, who I believe is his younger sister. Emma’s back is against the store’s brick wall and she is whining as Trevor presses himself against her. Both are fully clothed, but Trevor is fumbling with his zipper.
“Hey, Trevor,” I shout.
He quits his groping and scans Blanchard, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound.
“Cut that out right now!” I yell, sticking my head out the window. “Leave her alone.”
Trevor narrows his search to my apartment building and scowls when he zeros in on the evil eye I’m giving him from the third floor. Emma lets out a squeal and squirms away from him, then runs out of the alley and up Blanchard toward Crawford Avenue.
Trevor shakes his head, not in shame but in apparent annoyance that I’ve put a crimp in his plans, and runs down Blanchard toward Smith Street. As he approaches the intersection, the 15B bus stops there, and I see Jon get off the bus.
I hear Jon enter the apartment. I hurry to the entryway to greet him and announce, “We’re going to get Matthew back.”
His pale gray eyes are weary when he looks up from untying his shoes. “We’ve been over this. It’s too late to change our minds.”
“I talked to a social worker at the agency today. She’s going to help us find a way.”
“Shel, even if we could…I don’t think I want to.”
I try to suppress the burning rage I feel within my throat and though I ball my fists, there’s no stopping the screech that escapes from it. “That’s been it from the start, hasn’t it? You don’t want children at all!”
He shrugs. “It’s just not what I picture for us. I want to travel and enjoy life. I don’t want to be burdened by kids.”
“You should’ve told me that before we got married.”
“I didn’t think much about it until you got pregnant.”
I shake my head in disgust. “Well, that’s a fine time for it.” I sit on the couch arm and take a deep breath. “Jon, we’re his parents. Matthew should be with us.”
Jon’s gray eyes grow darker. “With you, maybe, but not me.” His voice, deeper than usual, is shaky, barely under control. “I swear, if you do get him back, I won’t be here playing the part of daddy.” He jams his feet back into his shoes and, without tying the laces, stomps out of the apartment.
Stunned that Jon expects me to choose between him and Matthew, I pace the kitchen floor. Possible ways out of this dilemma churn in my mind. Not one allows me to have both my son and my husband. I am heating canned chicken soup for supper when I realize that no matter what I do, now that Jon’s feelings are in the open, our marriage cannot survive.
I am in bed at eleven that night when his key turns in the lock. I hear him rummaging around in the linen closet, then the television goes on in the living room. When I wake early the next morning, prepared to talk, he has already left.
Once again, I am drawn to the bedroom window and eat my cereal in the chair parked in front of it. I watch as the woman transfers the contents of Matthew’s dresser into a cardboard box. When the box is full, she writes on it with a marker and puts it beside several others stacked near the door. I am horrified. She is getting ready to take my baby away.
I gnaw at my bottom lip, trying to assemble a plan, but a powerful wave of anxiety has frozen my brain. I sit on the bed, eyes closed, and count backward from one thousand. My heartbeat slows, and it occurs to me that there is a solution that just might work.
I grab my purse and head for the bank, where I turn the whole of our meager savings account into cash. Part of it I use to purchase diapers and onesies and disposable bottles, which I then hide in my bedroom closet. I go looking for Trevor and find him riding his bike on Crawford Avenue, weaving in front of a car that is trying to pass him. He glares at me when I come around the corner.
I call him over and say, “I saw what you did to Emma. And how you stole those condoms.”
He says, “So?” He looks worried.
“So, those are serious crimes. You’ll be in big trouble if I call the cops.”
His knuckles pale as his grip tightens on the bike’s handlebars. “Lady, please. My ma’ll kill me.” The acrid smell of his fear fouls the air.
“Maybe that won’t be necessary if we can make…a certain arrangement.”
He eyes me warily. “What do you want?”
I explain the job, and after he nods, I push two hundred dollars into his palm.
The next morning I awake to the rumbling sounds of a moving company tractor-trailer that stops in front of the Crown View Apartments. Two guys in overalls jump down from the cab. The woman who thinks she is Matthew’s mother exits the building, pushing his stroller. Panic overwhelms me as she parks my son on the sidewalk. My time is running out.
She stands near the truck, directing the movers’ placement of boxes and furniture. Matthew is quiet and appears to be sleeping. The loading goes smoothly until one of the movers bangs an ornate, full-length mirror against the apartment building’s door frame. The woman follows as he carries the mirror the rest of the way into the truck.
Trevor emerges from the alley near Stark’s and glances around. The woman is still inside the truck as he casually approaches the stroller, pushes it along the sidewalk to the front of the cab, and crosses Blanchard. Soon after, I hear a knock on my door.
I open the door, I am overjoyed as I lift my sleepy baby from his stroller. I kiss Matthew’s forehead and am intoxicated by his powdery vanilla scent. It is so delightful to have him in my arms that I almost forget that my plan requires immediate action. I shove another two hundred dollars into Trevor’s outstretched hand and tell him to get lost.
Matthew and I leave the building through the back entrance and board a bus on Loftus Street that takes us to a stop near a cheap hotel I selected for our first night. The room is shabby, but I don’t mind. The important thing is that my baby and I are together.
I am eager to perform all the routine motherly tasks that I missed in the last few months. I feed Matthew, enjoying the eye contact we share as he sucks down his entire bottle. I dress him in one of the onesies I bought, then decide that I should have bathed him first. I take off the onesie, fill the large bathroom sink with warm water, and gently lower him into it. He cries over none of this. Perhaps he is at ease because he senses that he is finally where he belongs.
With bar soap, I wash his hair, noting that it is getting long. I realize he will soon need his first haircut and am elated. This is one first I will not miss.
I reach for a washcloth and carefully clean his ears, inside and out. He fusses a bit, and I can’t blame him. As I am about to rinse the white cloth, I notice a brown spot on it that looks like a scab. Has my baby been injured? I inspect his ears inside and they look perfectly pink and healthy. Then I look behind his right ear and see a reddened area the same size as the scab.
Exactly where the birthmark was.