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A Crying Baby

by Ron Van Sweringen

Margaret White shivered in the bitter wind and pulled her worn coat tighter about her small body. She had taken a shortcut through one of the narrow alleys that led to Rosemont Street and the Sacred Heart Homeless Shelter, where she often spent the night.

She stopped suddenly, hearing the cry of a baby. It was nearby and sent a chill through her. She realized, when she heard a second cry, that it was coming from a dumpster less than ten feet away. Oh God! she thought, there’s a baby in there!

The ice-covered metal dumpster stung her hands when she touched it, but she tried to pull herself up and peer over the edge. She was not tall enough, at five feet, or strong enough, at 50 years old, to accomplish the feat. “Oh Lord!” she gasped, as if someone were there to hear her, “Help me!”

“Help you what?” came a reply in a deep voice.

Margaret spun around, shocked at the response, thinking she was alone. A tall man in a dirty overcoat stood staring at her. He wore a red wool scarf wrapped around his neck and a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He was unshaven and he kept clasping his hands together uncontrollably. Margaret had passed him on the streets before but, as was her custom, never spoke to him.

“There’s a baby in there,” she blurted out. “It will die if we don’t get it out.”

“So what?” was his quick reply. “I’m gonna die too. We’re all gonna die.”

Margaret was stunned at his response. “Are you crazy?” she shouted, balling up her fists in anger. Then the thought occurred to her with a feeling of panic, maybe he was crazy. She might be screaming at someone who could easily kill her in this deserted place.

“Please!” she begged, desperation in her voice. “Please help me save the baby.”

“What’s in it for me?” he replied, hocking and spitting at her feet. The oyster-sized yellow mass on the snow caused Margaret’s stomach to roll. It was all she could do to keep from getting sick.

“I’ll give you two dollars,” she said. “It’s all I have. And an apple,” she added, pulling the piece of fruit out of her torn coat pocket.

“How about a pack of cigarettes?” He grimaced, looking at the apple.

“I don’t have any cigarettes!” Margaret screamed. “A baby is freezing in there, don’t you understand?!” The question hung in the air waiting for an answer, but there was none. After staring at her for a moment, the stranger turned and shuffled away in the snow.

“I hate you!” Margaret screamed, feeling hot tears burn down her cheeks. Then she heard the baby cry again, only this time it sounded weaker. Her heart pounded with a feeling of helplessness, and she wanted to scream.

She ran from the alley. Margaret found herself on Montrose Street. There were cars and busses in front of her, and she waved her arms violently trying to get attention.

A blue and white police cruiser pulled up to the curb almost instantly. Margaret trembled when the door of the automobile flew open and a police office appeared.

“Please help me!” she begged. “There’s a baby crying in the dumpster in the alley.”

“It’s almost dark,” the officer said. “Come along with me, I’ll take you to the shelter before all the beds are gone for the night.”

“But you don’t understand,” she sobbed on the verge of hysteria. “I heard a baby crying!”

“I know,” the officer replied, gently putting his hand on her shoulder. “I give you my word: we’ll keep looking for your baby until we find it, Margaret.”

Copyright © 2014 by Ron Van Sweringen

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