#AtoZChallenge April 9, 2018. Hand Over the Baby
26 posts. 26 days. And 26 letters of the alphabet, one post beginning with each letter, in April.
Follow me as we visit the not-quite-normal retirement village of Twilight, Arizona, where reality clashes with the unexplained.
Hand Over The Baby
“Tell us the story, Nana.”
“Yeah, tell us about when the lady gave you a baby.”
Hazel Childress looked at the expectant faces of her three grandsons, Anderson, Asher, and Jaden, visiting for the day at her condo in Twilight, Arizona.
Exhausted after playing ball with them on the courtyard, she’d offered milk and cookies and herded everyone inside. Lined up on her sofa, the boys looked like perfect angels.
“What baby?” she asked, pretending innocence.
“The baby,” screamed Anderson, the oldest, falling back onto the pillows and rolling his eyes.
“The baby the lady gave you.” Asher pouted as if she’d hurt his feelings.
“Was she big like me?” asked Jaden, the youngest at five, jumping and upsetting his milk.
Thank God she had tile floors and paper towels. Hazel cleaned up the mess then sat back in a chair.
“It was a dark and stormy day,” she began, leaning forward. “In the middle of monsoon season. I’d gone to the mall to buy an umbrella.”
“I can’t believe you went out in the rain to buy an umbrella.” Asher crossed his arms over his thin chest.
“The wind blew my old one apart. So there I was, standing at the entrance, deciding whether to open my new umbrella and risk the wind turning it upside down—”
“When along came a lady,” Anderson said, who’d heard the story many times.
“Carrying a big bag full of family photos she’d picked up from the mall photographer, a diaper bag the size of a horse, an open umbrella, a stroller—”
“And a baby,” Anderson and Asher said in unison.
“A baby girl, nine months old, with a full head of curly red hair like her mama. The lady turned to me and said—”
“’Can you hold her?’” Anderson quoted.
“’I don’t want to get her wet.’” Asher said.
“Then she handed me the baby and took off, the photo bag, diaper bag, and stroller knocking against her hips and legs as she ran.”
“Why’d she give you the baby?” asked Jaden, who hadn’t learned to remember all the details.
“She didn’t want her to get wet, doofus,” Anderson reached over and punched his brother on the arm.
“Now, boys,” Hazel said in the grandmother voice she’d perfected in the last nine years. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“Yes!” they shouted, crawling over each other and presenting her with wide grins and expectant faces.
“I didn’t know what to think, a strange woman handing me her baby. Why did she trust me?”
“You looked like a grandma,” Anderson shouted, as if that qualification justified the stranger’s decision.
“Not then I didn’t,” she said, recalling the day thirty years earlier. “I looked like your mom—a nice lady out shopping.”
Jaden frowned at picturing a younger Nana.
Hazel took a deep breath as she recalled the next bit in the story. She worried it would upset the boys, but they’d heard it before. Besides, her daughter, Linda, was too protective.
“There was a terrible crash, and I jumped like someone spooked me. The baby started to cry, and I walked her up and down trying to shush her.” She stopped for dramatic effect, pleased she had their attention, even Anderson, edging toward the age when he’d consider anyone older to be embarrassing.
“A man rushed by, then another, and a woman shouted, ‘call 9-1-1′. I didn’t know what had happened.”
“Why didn’t they use their cell phones?” Asher asked, his eyes big.
“They didn’t have cell phones back then, did they, Nana?” Anderson asked.
He made her sound so old she wondered if the crinoline under her hoop skirt showed.
“No, they didn’t. I waited with a crying baby while the rain came down sideways, and the wind picked up bits and pieces and whirled them around. The woman didn’t come and didn’t come, and I wondered if she’d left me the baby forever.”
“But she didn’t, did she?” Anderson asked.
“No, it was much worse.” She swallowed. “In her hurry to get to her car, she ran in front of a truck.”
“And it killed her,” Asher said with a trifle too much glee.
“She died later at the hospital.” She’d been twenty-three, her life snuffed out too early.
“Her baby could have died.” Jaden’s bottom lip trembled.
Hazel crossed to the sofa and took him in her arms. “I was with the baby, so she was safe.”
“Then what happened, Nana?” Asher asked.
“Once I knew what had happened, I walked over to a policeman and told him the story. They called the right people, and they took the baby away.” She still recalled the emptiness in her heart, hearing the news and relinquishing the baby.
Asher jumped up and swung an imaginary sword. “They gave her to pirates, and she lived in a tower until the Dragon King found her and rescued her.”
Anderson jumped up and soon all three climbed on her sofa and became either pirates or dragon kings.
Hazel joined them, taking on the role of mother in the dragon’s parking lot, an old crone keeping the princess captive, or the princess herself. As the boys shrieked and she moaned, “save me, save me,” the back door opened. Her daughter, Linda, and her husband Jarrett walked in.
Linda shook her head. “Really, mother, you get them so worked up I have a hard time settling them down at night.”
Hazel stepped down from the imaginary tower on the kitchen table. “Children need to play. Life isn’t always lessons and play dates.”
“Nana told us about the baby.” Jared rammed into her leg and hugged her.
“Arcadia,” Hazel said. “I learned her name later.” The woman’s husband had sent her a card, the only time he’d contacted her, thanking her for watching his daughter, Arcadia.
“Mother.” Linda frowned in displeasure.
Hazel patted her cheek. “It was the strangest thing that ever happened to me. The boys loved the story.”
Jarrett gestured to his sons. “Nevertheless, it’s time to go. Boys, get your things and thank Nana for watching you.”
All too soon, they’d left. Hazel sat in a chair in front of her condo to catch her breath.
“Those boys sure are a handful,” her neighbor Janice said, unspooling her hose to water the flowers in the bed between their units.
Hazel nodded and rubbed her shoulder. “I love them to death, but they tire me out.”
Janice put down the hose and walked closer. “Are you all right? You look kind of white.”
Hazel waved her away. “We played princess and pirates. I must have overdone it.”
Janice felt her forehead. “You’re sweating and you keep rubbing your shoulder. Hazel, I think you’re having a heart attack.”
“Not possible,” she tried to say, but the words stuck.
“I’m calling 9-1-1.” Janice took her cell from her pocket.
Events blurred. She remembered the pain and the sun striking her, drilling a hole in the middle of her chest. Then a stranger spoke.
“Ma’am? Mrs. Childress? Can you tell me how you feel?”
“Call me Hazel.” She opened her eyes and smiled at the paramedic.
A young woman with green eyes and curly red hair stared at her. “Yes, ma’am. How did you know my name?”
“Your mother handed you into my care once and saved your life.”
Arcadia jolted then a slow smile spread. “I guess she knew what she was doing, because I’m going to save yours.”
Please feel free to share this story using the icons on the left sidebar.
If you’d like to automatically receive the Twilight stories in your email, subscribe to this blog using the box at the right.
If you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter where I share exclusive material, including not-yet-released excerpts, fill in the box below.
Thank you so much!
Tomorrow’s #AtoZChallenge, April 10, 2018. Impersonator
Sometimes the stage performance isn’t as interesting as what happens in the audience.
Until then, blessings,
p.s. Hazel makes a guest appearance in Snowbirds, on April 21, 2018
Twilight, Arizona now available on Amazon
Don’t want to wait until April 30th to read all twenty-six Twilight stories? For a limited time, they are available on Amazon for 99¢. From Arizona Heat to One-Zero-Zero, read and enjoy twenty-six stories set in the strange retirement community of Twilight, Arizona.
Purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CF7SN9M
Buy the paperback here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1980783837