Every now and again I put up one of my old bits of writing. Most of these were written for university for my creative writing classes.
For this one I remember seeing the Safe Haven placard on the wall of the fire station by my house in California. I was thinking about how terrible it must be to give up your child but feel you had no choice, so I wrote a little story about it. This was in 2009, a little bit before I graduated university.
by Laura Lam
“There, there,” the tired young woman crooned to her baby, St. Petersburg coloring her voice.
It was four thirty a.m. and the sky was just beginning to lighten into a blurred watercolor painting. The woman tucked the yellow blanket more firmly about the baby and adjusted the cap with the bear on it. She hugged the child to her, smelling milk, baby powder, and new skin. The baby gurgled and she smiled and touched the baby on the nose. The smile faded.
Glancing about nervously, she crossed the street and stood in front of the fire station of white, rose, and yellow stone. A bronze bell hung proudly on outside the main door, flanked by flags.
She wandered around the fire station. She had searched for it on the internet at the library, and this was supposed to be the place. The woman had started walking the wrong way—she circled almost the entire building before she saw the blue and white placard. Such an innocent looking sign, she thought in Russian. The baby gurgled again, and she looked down.
He was looking at her. The eyes were still impossibly blue, but they should darken soon and look like her father’s. So dark they were almost black. The baby felt so heavy in her arm, but her chest, sore with milk, was warmed by the tiny body. The woman pressed her lips together and stared at the placard, a blue house and a blue hand cradling a blue baby that kicked and waved its arms. The hand was not supporting the baby’s head.
She had to do it. Her American boyfriend had left when her stomach had begun to swell, leaving her visa to expire. No one had ever told her where babies came from; her mother had died when she was nine. Now she knew only too well. She wanted to go home, but she didn’t know where home was.
She had just turned sixteen. There was nothing she could give the baby in her arms that was as perfect as the smallest figure in a Matryroshka doll set. She shook her head. Someone would see her. The young woman set the baby down under the blue and white placard.
“Safe . . . haven,” she read slowly in English, carefully, rolling the sound around on her tongue. She closed her eyes and willed her eyes to stay dry. One hand rested on her stomach, still swollen and distended from the pregnancy. The little thing in the bundle had been inside of her not forty-eight hours before, wrapped up just as carefully in her womb.
If she looked at the bundle again, she’d lose her nerve. She gave one last look at the placard and turned, crossing her arms over her stomach and chest, trying to keep the lingering warmth.
When she was halfway across the street, the baby gave a cry. The sound was so pure and piercing it drove thought from her mind. She spun and looked back at the bundle. A tiny fist had worked its way from its swaddling and waved, just like the blue baby in the placard, either in anger, fear, or farewell. The woman let out a tiny cry of her own and stood frozen in the middle of the street, one foot slightly raised above the tarmac.
She took a step forward and froze again. The door by the placard opened and a fireman peeked out, a collection of a bald pate, hairy arms, black shirt, red suspenders, and yellow trousers. He crouched and picked up the child. He looked up and saw her. She couldn’t read his eyes from the distance.
She turned and fled.