As she trudged down the alley, Vanessa glimpsed what looked like a small blanket. The night was dark, and no moon lit her way. She was tempted to walk past, but a whimpering from within the blanket stopped her.
She knelt, and bit by bit, she pulled back the cover to reveal first a head, then a torso, then arms and legs. The body was naked from head to toe. Exposed to the elements, the baby cried in earnest.
“Oh my God,” she said, re-wrapping, then scooping the infant into her arms. “Where’s your mommy? Who could have just dumped you out here like this?”
In the eerie silence, she wished now she hadn’t taken this shortcut home. She’d been in a hurry. Unable to afford a baby-sitter, she’d left her two children, ages eight and ten, home alone. She’d told them to do their homework, then go to bed at nine o’clock if she wasn’t back. She’d only planned to be gone until then, but now, it was nearly ten. Her writing group meeting had run later than usual.
Feeling a sense of impending doom, she decided to retrace her steps and take the long way home. Once in the safety of her apartment, she would call the police about the baby. She hoped someone from the department of family services could pick up the child right away. She couldn’t feed another hungry mouth.
The baby continued to wail. “Shhhh,” said Vanessa, as she turned in the direction from which she’d come. A dark figure appeared ahead of her. Vanessa froze. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right,” she said, more to calm herself than the baby.
A woman’s voice said, “Hey, bitch, what are you doing with my baby?”
Another figure appeared, and a second woman’s voice said, “Bobbi, this is the pick-up I told you about. They’re going to pay us a lot of money, and they’ll find her a good home, a better home than we can give her. Remember? The woman on the phone said to leave the baby in the alley behind the building, and she would pick her up. That’s her.”
“But that’s my baby. You can’t take her away. She’s my flesh and blood. Please…” She burst into tears.
Vanessa ran, leaving Bobbi to grieve and the other woman to comfort her. What sort of adoption agency required a person to abandon a baby in an alley, she wondered, as she reached the street. She remembered there was a police station on the next corner. She would leave the baby there, tell her story, and be done with it. As she ran toward the next intersection though, reassured by the distant whoosh of traffic, she heard running footsteps behind her.
The baby kept crying. As Vanessa ran, the darkened buildings and deserted street dissolved into the darkness of her squalid bedroom. The baby crying in the basinet next to the bed was her own. She reached for her daughter and held her close, wondering why she’d dreamed she had two children.
“Oh Danielle, it’s okay.” The crying ceased, as hungry lips found a full breast.
The next afternoon, as Vanessa was walking through the park with the baby in a cheap stroller she’d recently purchased at a thrift store, a woman approached her and said, “Oh, what a beautiful baby.”
Vanessa almost gasped. The voice was similar to that of the woman in her dream of the night before, the one who’d pleaded with her not to take her baby. It couldn’t be, she realized.
“I’m sorry,” the other woman said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that… Well… I gave a baby up for adoption several years ago, so whenever I see a baby, I always feel this twinge… I mean… You’re so lucky to have this baby.”
Vanesa smiled. Then after gazing into the woman’s face that registered only compassion, she found herself saying, “Yeah, I feel lucky, and I wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world, but it’s not easy. I’m trying to make it as a writer, and I’m learning the hard way that writing isn’t always that lucrative. I need a job, but in order for me to work, I need day care for my daughter, and I can’t afford that.”
The woman gave Vanesa a knowing smile. “I understand. My parents convinced me to give up my baby for those same reasons.”
Vanessa remembered the scene from her dream, Bobbi, begging her not to take her baby, and the other woman, maybe her mother or sister, reminding her about the promised cash they would receive in exchange for the baby. Surely this woman hadn’t been forced to give her baby up in this way.
As if reading her mind, the other woman said, “It was a private adoption. My parents arranged it. What about your folks?”
“Actually, mine have been supportive so far. They love having a granddaughter, even if she is out of wedlock. They send me an allowance every month, but I can’t depend on them forever. They think I should go back to school and major in journalism or something like that, but I don’t know.”
“What do you write?”
“Oh, a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Vanessa answered. “I’ve sent some poems and short stories to some journals, but I’ve only gotten rejections.”
“Well, I might be able to help, at least with the writing.”
She fished a card out of her purse and handed it to Vanessa, who stared in amazement at its bold black lettering. “Bobbi Douglas, Author.” As she scanned the contact information below the name, she realized the woman didn’t live too far from her run-down apartment building. She put the card in her pocket and asked, “What kind of books do you write?”
“I just self-published a fantasy novel called The Shadow of Darkness, and I’m working on another. I also do some writing for Medford Media.”
“Oh yeah, I like that rock station you guys own.”
“Well, I actually write human interest and history pieces for the talk station, AM 950.”
In the stroller, Danielle stirred and whimpered. Vanessa glanced at her daughter, then turned to Bobbi with an apologetic smile. “She doesn’t like to be still very long. She always wants to keep moving, so she can see how things change around her.”
Bobbi gave Vanessa a reassuring smile. “I understand.”
On impulse, Vanessa asked, “Would you like to hold her?”
Bobbi’s eyes lit up. “I’d like that.”
Vanessa bent, lifted the baby, and handed her to Bobbi. “I named her after Danielle Steel, one of my favorites.” Her face grew hot, as it occurred to her that Bobbi probably didn’t care for Danielle steel, an author who didn’t write fantasy novels.
The other woman surprised her by saying, “Oh, I like Daniele Steel. I often read her books for pleasure.”
Bobbi then smiled at the infant in her arms. “Oh, look at you. Aren’t you a pretty one? I’m so sorry I’ve kept your mommy talking so long. You’ll get going here in a minute, I promise.” Danielle cooed and smiled back.
“She likes you,” said Vanessa, as Bobbi placed the baby back in the stroller and turned to her.
Do you have any of your writing that you could show me?” Bobbi asked.
Flabbergasted, Vanessa said, “Um, not with me, but I could print something up at home and bring it to you. You don’t live too far away from me.”
“Actually, I was thinking I could meet you and Danielle tomorrow afternoon at Starbucks on Grant Avenue, and I could buy you a cup of coffee or something. Would four o’clock work for you?”
“Sure,” answered Vanessa. Self-conscious, she added, “I don’t really have anything that you’d call a fantasy novel, but I’ll check out your website tonight, and maybe I’ll get inspired.”
Bobbi laughed. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy or not. I just want to read something you’ve written. Then maybe I can give you some direction.”
“That would be great. Thanks so much. Will see you tomorrow.”
The next afternoon, as Vanessa pushed Danielle’s stroller through the coffee shop’s entrance, she felt a sense of hope. She found Bobbi in a corner booth. After parking the stroller next to the table, Vanessa sat down across from her new friend and said, “You know, I had the craziest dream about you the other night, and so I wrote this short story about it.”