Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Baby Blue

Sometimes it's just so fucking hot in the city you don't know what to do. So we cruise the afternoon's sizzling streets behind sealed windows, air conditioning, and deep mirror sunglasses. And for reasons unknown the world is cooperating. No call in the past hour has required us to step out into the 96 degrees and 98 percent humidity. Then we see him. Kind of like a tiny mirage at first in the heat waves that rise from the sidewalk on 233rd Street just east of White Plains Road. He's probably just under three feet tall. Really thin. Completely naked. And he's running down the street in the direction gravity makes easiest.

At home Carolyn is pregnant. In the seventh month. We're going to birth classes. We're seeing midwives. In a tiny room by the kitchen I'm re-painting garage sale furniture purchases in bright white and primary colors.

We get out of the car into the blast furnace heat. Beneath the bullet proof vests the sweat immediately starts running down our chests. The boy is skittish and starts backing away but we close in slowly and carefully, talking softly. A crowd is starting to gather. When I finally scoop him into my arms there's a short cheer. Colin grabs a blanket from the trunk while I look at those around me. "Anyone know where he belongs?" There's no answer. "Anyone?" The only answer comes from a ten year old who appears to be lugging a quart of Miller in a paper bag, hopefully, I guess, back to mom or dad. "I never seen him before."

There's been one lost baby before this for us. But as these months have gone by the nerves have calmed and confidence has appeared. In the last week we've even started playing with names.

I wrap up this mystery child and tell Colin to drive. Colin's single. Cruises the most interesting Manhattan clubs on off duty nights. Forgets his handcuffs when he comes back to work. I'm not knocking it, of course. Probably I'm a little jealous. But now, the kid is mine to take care of. He circles the block. We look for frantic moms. We open the windows to the summer and ask endless questions. Then we circle two blocks, then four, then eight. We ask on the radio. He looks ok, except for no clothes. Doesn't look sick or abused. Then I look at him again. Guess his age, and realize he hasn't said a thing.

I guess I want lots of kids. That's always been this idea. I imagine, in completely unrealistic form, some big farmhouse with a huge porch and five or six children running around. This fantasy is not shared by Carolyn, who seemed almost reluctantly pregnant this time around, though she's warming up to it.

Back at the Station House I fight off attempts by female cops to take over. Sending them out instead for diapers and clothes and food. He and I play on the floor of the squad room, using the patrol guide books as blocks. The bosses keep coming in and asking what we're doing. "Waiting for mom to call," I say. Our shift ends and turns into overtime. There is no call. We send other cops out for dinner. After four hours I've gotten him to imitate the car noises I make while pretending our portable radios are cars rolling past our notebook structures.

Carolyn wanted to have the baby at home. I've refused. I put up a brave and insensitive front, saying, "Who's gonna change the sheets?" But honestly I'm too scared for that. Not that I haven't delivered babies. I have. But as a cop what you mostly see is what goes wrong. I've seen too much go wrong.

Five hours into overtime the lieutenant tells us we've got to find a place for the kid. "The mother's not calling," he says bluntly. It's almost eight hours. No missing kids call. Nothing. Colin points to me and says, "He'll take him home." The lieutenant says, "No. He won't," and leaves. Colin starts to make phone calls. He's on the phone for three hours. In a city the size of New York you'd think there'd be space for one not quite three foot tall boy.

She says Emma if it's a girl. It would be the name of her great-great-grandmother, still alive out in the midwest. Dozens of names flow through my head as possibilities for a boy. Ethnic, literary, friends, relatives. What does a name add to a child? How does it direct their life?

Finally, close to midnight, the boy with no name has fallen asleep in my lap and Colin has found the one available shelter. It is in Coney Island, almost as far away as is possible within New York City. OK, I guess we could be heading to the far end of Staten Island, but otherwise... Colin drives. I hold the kid. He is fascinated by the brightly lit red button. So I let him push it. The siren yelps. He laughs. The laugh amazes me. He keeps pushing the button. I keep switching the siren: "Classic American," I say. "Martian." "Nazi." Am I the first adult to share language with him? Across the Whitestone Bridge, around Queens, over the Kosciousko Bridge into Brooklyn, we roll under all those East River bridges sparkling in the night. It is dramatic enough that he stops playing with the siren and coos in delight. Past the Verrazano, along the ocean shore, then down along Surf Avenue past a still humming Cyclone and Astroland and Nathan's Famous.

At home we have conceived of everything. The colors. The shapes. The mirrors. The way one can see the window from the crib. The aquarium that will be night light and humidifier. A carpet assembled of remnant patterns for extra interest in eventual crawling. The books that are already waiting. The music our child will hear from birth.

The shelter is really just a big apartment. There are at least twenty cribs, plus other beds. It might not be describable as filthy, but it sure isn't clean. It is way too hot. The kid holds onto my neck. I hold on to him. I'm not sure whose grip is tighter. "You have to let him go," Colin whispers to me. But it takes a long time before I can. I glare at the person I hand him to. I am about to say something. To warn them. To swear vengeance if anything goes wrong. But my partner pulls me out the door.

"I need to drive back," I say. "We probably need beers." "You need to go home," Colin tells me, "you need to think about your own kid." I drive to the nearest bodega, grab a six, and slam the first one. I drive back the long route to The Bronx, trying to decide why I am not crying.

© 2004 by Ira Socol____________________________________________


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