by Annie Dawid
At Burgerville, she ordered a coffee milkshake from the car. Hugely pregnant, sweating buckets, Liz decided this one time only to use the drive-through, though it violated all her environmental principles. In the passenger seat, Eileen, her chosen mother-figure, offered no objection.
“That comes with two shots of espresso,” recited the nasal voice through the loudspeaker.
For almost nine months, Liz had survived without caffeine. Determined to bring her baby into the world chemical-free, she’d eliminated the only unhealthy vice she still loved to entertain. She was 40, too old for illegal substances. Today, overwhelmed by the bright sunny world after weeks in the dark, avoiding human interaction, she made a decision.
“That’s fine. No whipped cream.”
An hour later, they arrived at BABIES R US, a store Liz had sworn to avoid.
“There are no bassinets anywhere,” Eileen said. “Get over yourself. Could be our means to an end.”
Eileen and her husband, Jack, had tended to Liz in the worst days of her pre-partum depression, when she admitted, after an unsuccessful attempt to hang herself with the dog leash, that she needed help. Nearly a month before the baby was due, Liz was planning to give it up for adoption, convinced she could not conquer her genetic legacy — generations of depressives — to be a “good enough” mother to Elijah/Shoshanna. She went back on meds.
Sipping the chocolate ice cream doused in icy dark coffee through a giant straw, Liz felt suddenly, unreasonably high.
“All right. But we won’t find anything I like. I’m sure they only have plastic.”
For her baby, she had refused the idea of a crib, which Liz equated with prison, complete with bars. She would breastfeed on demand, both of them sleeping on the mattress on the floor: no danger of him/her falling off. The baby’s father had slept with another woman early in the pregnancy, so Liz sent him away. He did not try to return.
The parking lot spread acres and acres to the sun-baked horizon. She felt the searing concrete through the thin bottoms of her flip-flops. Surely this was one version of hell, she said to Eileen, giggling as if she were a teenager, stoned for the first time.
“Hell sometimes disguises paradise.” Eileen, a grandmother, had been Liz’s boss before the breakdown required an emergency medical leave before the scheduled maternity time off.
Inside the cavernous store, air conditioning froze the sweat streaming from Liz’s pores, causing her to shake involuntarily, teeth chattering.
Directed to the rear of the big box, Liz spotted it right away. Wicker, not white but natural, on a sturdy wheeled cart. The bassinet was hooded so the baby’s face could be shielded from the sun. No plastic anywhere.
Inspired by caffeine, Liz couldn’t sleep that night. Literally. She tossed in her bed, hot and wide awake in the summertime humidity. In the morning, she went into labor, three weeks early. Ultimately, she kept the baby and the bassinet, in case she had another child.
Annie Dawid has published three books of fiction: And Darkness Was Under His Feet: Stories of a Family (Litchfield Review Press, winner of their Short Fiction Prize); Lily in the Desert (Carnegie Mellon University Press Series in Short Fiction); and York Ferry: A Novel (Cane Hill Press). Her long short story, Jonestown: Thirty Years On, was a finalist in the Eric Hofer Short Story Contest and published in Best New Writing 2015 (Hopewell 2014).
Most recently, she won the 2013 Northern Colorado Writers Award in the Personal Essay and the 2013 New Rocky Mountain Voices Award for her short play, Gunplay. In 2012, she won the Fall Flash Fiction Orlando Award from A Room of One’s Own Foundation and the Essay Prize from the Dana Awards. She has taught two workshops at the Taos Summer Writers Conference, University of New Mexico, and at the Castle Rock Writers Conference (Colorado). Currently, she teaches fiction writing at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado, after retiring as Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, 1990–2006.