I knew there had to be a reason why babies looked like old people. Baby Boy Doe told me that’s because they’ve been reincarnated. They’re not happy about it; that’s why they cry when they’re born. Take my word for it. It’s a disappointment, to scratch and claw your way through life, only to be thrown right back into it, to start over. He kept trying to kick off his blanket, and I kept covering him up. It isn’t fair, he said. I didn’t ask to be here.
But I did. I wanted to hold those babies, that’s why I volunteered in the hospital nursery. I never had a kid of my own. The hospital had an assortment, laid out in plastic bins like Goodwill shoes. I liked having my pick. Cranky ones, screamy ones--their cries going off like sirens. There are the lovely ones, the ones who sleep with a smile on their tiny lips, like they have a secret. They smell sweet, like cotton candy, purr and cuddle warm and soft against you when you pick them up. Baby Boy Doe wasn’t one of those.
His head seemed too big for his body, he knew so much. I rocked him and listened to his stories about his past lives. He claimed that he’d won the lottery then drowned in his swimming pool. Before that he worked as an executive for the railroad, shot to death by a disgruntled employee, and before that a wealthy landowner, who died of old age. Now here he was, born to a teen mother who couldn’t keep him. If she only knew what I could teach her, he said. If she only knew where I’ve been.
You can teach me, I said.
You remind me of my fourth wife. Adventurous. And that’s when he told me to get him out of there. It made sense, like when he explained that those times when I feel like somebody is watching me were because aliens were guarding us. Let’s take off together, he said. I could be yours. How could I refuse? Obviously that baby was special. I owed it to him.
I slipped him into my produce bag, and he stayed nice and quiet. I signed out, as usual, but instead of heading for the bus stop, I walked around the building to Emergency and spotted our ride. Big and shiny, and unlocked. I took Baby Boy out of the bag and set him on the floor in front. I boarded like I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know how to start it. I pressed a lot of buttons until finally the engine roared.
I couldn’t remember the last time I drove, on account of my medication. The steering wheel felt huge. This is going to be something, I told Baby. Really something. I pulled to the end of the driveway and stopped.
Where should we go?
Hell, he said. I’ve met five presidents, but I’ve never met Obama.
Fantastic idea. I turned awkwardly out of the driveway, like I was driving a house, worried that we might tip. But I got it on the highway, and we cruised east toward D.C. The excitement overtook me. I hadn’t met Obama either. I looked over at Baby, and he was sound asleep. When the radio came on, I almost jumped out of my seat.
“This is dispatch. Driver, please identify yourself.”
Baby screwed up his face, upset at being woken.
“This is emergency dispatch. Will the driver of Ambulance 34 please identify yourself?” I pressed more buttons before I found the one that turned the radio off. We didn’t need any more interruptions. Baby fell back to sleep. We clipped past the exits and I stuck to the speed limit, enjoying the miles in my bouncy captain’s seat. Baby woke up about 50 miles later. I tried the emergency lights, and then the siren, felt giddy as cars pulled over for us. Baby’s eyes grew almost as big as bus tokens, and then he started crying.
It’s OK, Baby, I told him. He wailed. Behind us, another siren went off. I checked the mirrors. A police car followed us. Crap.
Hold on, Baby, I said, and stepped hard on the gas pedal. I sideswiped two cars, weaved and tipped, barreled out of control. I missed a turn, slid sideways off the road, and bumped so hard on that trampoline of a seat that I couldn’t keep my foot on the brake. We landed in a ditch. I looked down at Baby. He had slid into the corner, but he looked all right. You’re a hell of a driver, he told me.
I thanked him, opened the door and got out. The policemen had their guns drawn, pointed at me. “Where’s the baby?” they yelled. “What did you do with the baby?”
“He’s fine,” I screamed back. “He wanted to come.”
“Get down,” they said. “Don’t move.”
I wanted Baby to be proud of me. I kept my hands at my sides and stepped toward them, dared them to fire.
“Stop!’’ they said. “Get down on the ground! Get down!”
Baby wailed. I turned and ran. I heard the shots, felt them, and wondered if I would be back. If my mother would love me. If I’d cry for having to start over.
Say, you remind me of a fella I used to know. So what do you say we get out of here, go someplace fun, live a little?
Jan Ramming’s stories have appeared in Bohemia Journal, Foliate Oak Literary, Gravel Magazine, and Pithead Chapel. Her story, “Dance Lessons”, won the 2015 Albert Camus Prize for Short Fiction from Red Savina Review. Jan is working on her first novel and looking for a publisher for her first short story collection, “Hearing Voices”.