I knew the firemen would be up. It’s the kind of frigid, unfriendly midnight when most people are under covers, conked out. Not at the firehouse though, where they’re always on duty, where they’ve been trained to be prepared for anything. Through the windows, I can see two of them in there, talking and laughing. Lugging us a little closer to get a better look, I’m careful to stay in a dark spot just across the street until I’m ready. I got to get myself ready.
It’s still snowing. My lashes are frozen. I can’t feel my toes in my sneakers. The old carrier I got from the Salvation Army yanks at my elbow and shoulder. I swear it’s going to stretch my arm so I’ll be able to touch my toes without bending over. Who’d guess that something so little could be so heavy? I peek at her under the blankets. She’s not squawking yet, but she’s starting to make her funny faces and stretches like she’ll wake up any minute.
The door to the firehouse swings open and the firemen burst out. They’re big guys, one with red hair in a crew cut, and the other one wearing a Yankees cap. Pushing on each other, they’re noisier than you’d think for just two people. On purpose, they skid on the icy station driveway flapping their arms like they could launch themselves high and free. I tuck behind the tree to watch. Each bends over and makes snowballs. Yankees Cap throws wild and fast. Crew Cut takes aim and is a good shot.
“Got you, you loser!”
“He drops back, he hesitates, he launches one. It’s a miss. Dammit!”
Their laughing and whooping echoes off the front of the firehouse, full and funny and light, and I know if I’d ever heard them on some other random day, way before this one, I’d smile just to hear it.
I shift her and the carrier to the other arm and shake out my hand that’s gone numb from the cold and the burden. The firemen blast each other with one last barrage of snowballs. There’s a white fury of flying powder until they’re both covered and one of them yells, “Uncle, Uncle!” They start to go in. At the door, Crew Cut uses his bare hands to brush the snow from Yankees Cap. He even shakes off the cap for him and squishes it back on his head with the visor backwards.
I step out of from behind the tree, off the curb, and cross the street. Crew Cut is closing the door when he sees me. He’s still smiling and brushing snow off his butt.
“Uh-oh,” he says, watching me, opening the door back up a little, his smile going south. “Uh-oh.”
Yankees Cap turns toward us, wiping his face with a sleeve. “Uh-oh what? What’s the matter?”
“Baby drop. Jesus. We’re going to have a baby drop.”
Crew Cut says it low out of the side of his mouth, but I’m near up to them already and I hear it. I blurt what I practiced.
“She’s nine days old. I tried. I wanted her. I named her Lisa but whoever gets her can think of something prettier. Tell them that. Please. I know you can take her, have to take her, and get her where she should go. There’s two bottles of formula, four diapers and 16 dollars in an envelope tucked in next to her. I tried — I did.”
The voice that comes out of my mouth doesn’t sound like me. It sounds of the power shutting off, of shivers and dry heaves, of begging and doors slamming and someone leaving. I use that voice, the voice that is not my own, the voice of somebody who could actually give her baby to strangers. I hold the carrier out toward Crew Cut. My arms tremble from the weight.
“Miss,” he says, “hold on.”
“Please,” I say, “Please.”
He takes the carrier from me and peels the blanket back. Lisa blinks herself awake and Crew Cut blinks back at her. He looks at her but talks to me. “You come in too. Get warm. We’ll call somebody, get you some help.” Yankees Cap leans in and tucks the loosened blanket around Lisa’s feet.
I walk away backwards. Crew Cut calls to me until I yell at him to take her inside. I keep walking that way, backing across the street so I can watch. Inside the firehouse, the two of them bend over to look my Lisa. I back into the curb, catch my heels, fall on my ass and get up, and run and run and run until I can almost feel my feet again.