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by Emily Harrison

She finds the baby on the side of the lane. Its small body is strapped into a pink plastic pram, limbs and torso dressed in a onesie — white with red polka dots. It reminds her of chicken pox. Or the apron her mum used to wear when she baked; sponge cake, banana loaf, honey flapjacks.

Like an owl, she swivels her head to see if there is anyone around who might be missing their baby. But the lane is empty. Unsurprising. It’s a lane of gaping potholes and cinereal terrace houses. A lane that can only be reached by crossing a train track. A lane that leads to nowhere.

Below her the baby has yet to make a sound. Maybe the batteries are dead. Or perhaps this version doesn’t have that function. The one she had as a child had a black switch that jutted out the back of its sewn-in bodysuit. On: cry and coo and babble. Off: peace and still and mute. The one she had as a teenager didn’t have a switch. Or batteries. That baby had a heartbeat and lungs. It. No. He. He had a tiny frame and a cry that would pierce straight through her.

The baby stares ahead; eyes perfectly round and framed with synthetic lashes. She crouches down and unbuckles the flimsy straps. It weighs little as she lifts it — hollow and vacant. He weighed more than the world itself — heavy with needs and wants and all the blood and organs that would and will sustain him.

She doesn’t know where he ended up after she realised he could only buckle her. She isn’t allowed to know. That’s how the process works.

With no one around to bear witness, she manoeuvres the baby until it’s cradled in her arms. Its lips pucker; half smile, half ready for the accessory of a toy bottle. Its moulded arms curve in sharp at the elbow — rigid hands balled into a semi-closed fist. Whoever left it must have cared for it, at one time or another. There’s not a blemish in sight.

In the quiet, she imagines what it would feel like to tend to the baby. How she might hold its head in her cupped palm and stroke its deliberately coloured cheeks. How she wouldn’t need to feed it. Or change it. The baby wouldn’t even grow. It couldn’t. Together they could just be.

He was only with her for three weeks. Barely time for a bruise to heal. Nearly nothing at all.

Behind her the lights of the level crossing begin to flash. She presses a light finger to the baby’s dainty nose. The sirens blare to life; work up to an incessant whir. She gazes into the baby’s unmoving, empty eyes. The barriers drop. The lights snap to red.

When she wanders the lane a day later, the baby is how she left it. Alone. Pink pram and polka dot onesie. Waiting for someone else to love it.

Emily Harrison uses writing as an escape from reality and doesn’t drink enough water. She has work published or upcoming with X-R-A-Y, Barren Magazine, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Storgy, The Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West and Riggwelter Press, to name a few. She can be found on Twitter at @emily__harrison and is currently studying for an MA in creative writing.