At the end of this story, I will lose a son. I will do it, initially, by dropping him into a dumpster behind a fast-food franchise on a busy street. I will do it at four in the morning, when the city is asleep. I will do it with Javier waiting in the car, lights off. I will wrap the baby in newspaper and plastic, place him in the cradle of a trash bag, the softest I can find. I will place him as best I can so that he'll be found, while still following Javier's directions to smother him in a bag among other bags—in case he checks my work. He won't be able to blame me for incompetence, I kid myself. At that point, the baby will be five hours old.
"What took you so long?" Javier will ask, when I get back in the car.
"I did it," I will say. "Isn't that enough?"
"Here," Javier will say, handing me a box of baby wipes to wash my hands. "I told you," he will say. "Didn't I tell you?" He'll put the car in drive.
"Yes," I'll say. "Yes, you told me." I'll wipe my hands, my arms, but I'll still smell like trash.
"So what are you angry about?" he'll ask.
I'll shake my head, won't answer. By then, I'll know it's pointless.
We'll drive back to the freeway, pick up speed the further east we get, the lighted signs still coming toward us, so much wasted energy. McDonald's, Donnelly Paints, Howard Johnson's, Coco's—no one to see them but us and a string of early-morning truckers too rushed to stop for anything but diesel. Burger Shacks will pop up every ten minutes or so, and each time I'll think for a moment that we're going back, that Javier has changed his mind.
But Javier will not change his mind. He lives off the map, can't afford complications. It's him or the baby, and I'll have chosen him. Such is the cost of living with a wanted man. Such is what he told me from the beginning.
You can't plan who you're going to love.
We'll return to the house he keeps for us in the desert amid the tentacled streets of ever-reproducing subdivisions. We'll return to the room in which I've spent the last two months. When I first moved here a year ago, he told his neighbors I was his daughter. When I started showing, he told them I'd gone back to my mother. And now Javier will be going away too, saying goodbye to all those new homeowners he's duped. This is what he'll have told me, that as soon as he finishes this last sale, we're on our way. We're going to live on the cheap in Mexico. And then maybe, maybe, we can have a child—where there won't be so many other things to worry about.
I'll strip and get into bed. Javier will lay down beside me, rub a hand along my waist and hip because I will not turn to face him. "Sorry," he'll say, kissing my neck. I'll push myself deeper under the covers, but it won't do any good. He'll continue to touch me.
"What did you do?" Javier will ask the next day, around three in the afternoon. He'll be standing in the doorway, his eyes steel.
I'll be in the bed still, pencil and word search book in hand, a pastime I'll long ago have wished to abandon. But what is one to do for two months hiding in a single room? "What?" I'll ask.
"It's all over the news," Javier will say. "Didn't you stick it under like I told you?"
"Yes," I'll say. "Yes, I did everything like you told me."
"Obviously, you didn't," Javier will say, "because they already found it." Javier will curse, continue. "I should have killed it myself." And then he'll stomp out.
I'll want to know how they found my son, of course, but I won't dare turn on the television while Javier is there. I'll listen to him in the other room, moving stuff around, a door opening and closing. When all is quiet, when I think I've heard the car pulling away, I'll peak out of the bedroom, sneak my way to the living room, and turn on the television. I could watch it in the bedroom, of course, but then I'd not know when Javier returns.
It will be four by then, and the media will be furious. "How did you know it was a baby?" Kim Baldonado will ask a woman in a Burger Shack uniform—a news clip that will be repeated three times within the next hour. She'll have found him just as I left him, and in a way I'll be relieved.
I'll wait that night for Javier and most of the next day. And the news channels—I won't be able to turn them off—will tell the story again and again, will repeat Baldonado's question. I'll think of that baby, my baby, as I left him that morning, swaddled in newspaper, resting in the bed of a trash bag. I'll think of the things people are saying about me, people who don't even know me, people who don't know the levels to which love can spur a person, and I'll decide then to turn myself in, to show them otherwise, to show them a mother who loves her son enough to put him where others will find him, who loves her son enough to give up the greatest love she's ever had.
But it won't turn out that way, of course. I'll walk to the police station there in town, step to the front counter, and announce myself as the mother.
"I'm sorry?" the receptionist will ask.
"The baby on television," I'll repeat. "I'm the mother."
"The one on television?" she'll ask. "You mean—" She won't believe me. She'll call a police officer over to help. He won't believe me either. I'll be taken to a back office, asked how I dropped the baby off, where I had it, how I got there. I'll keep Javier out of it, which will complicate the story. I will claim to have walked, and then I'll claim to have hitchhiked, and finally I'll claim to have taken a taxi. Detectives will come and go, and each time they'll get a different story.
"Annie," one will tell me late that night, "that baby's mother turned herself in a couple of hours before you arrived."
"I'm sorry?" I will ask.
"This isn't something you want to be messed up in," the officer will say, "not a pleasant way to become known. You'd go to prison for years."
I'll be turned over to the custody of my worried mother. Later, I will call Javier to let him know where I am. I will wait weeks and hear nothing. And I will watch the television for news of the woman who supposedly abandoned her baby. There won't be much. She'll be some overweight forty-year-old who kept an alleged pregnancy hidden from her husband. And mystery solved, a less-than-glamorous personality at the center revealed, the media will lose interest.
But I won't. I'll go on looking for my baby, saddened that Javier's directives worked as well as I would ever have dreamed possible. My baby will be in the hands of some adopted family I'll have never known, and each child I see, I'll think mine, but I won't be able to claim him. I'll think of my mother searching for me for an entire year, of how many people she hired to help her, how she felt her life at an end. I will think that if I could hire someone to help me search for my son, I would, but whom would I have them look for? How do you find someone you've erased from existence?
These are things I will ask myself every day.
But that night, the night this story starts, I don't care about any of those things. I have just turned sixteen, and I am in the back-seat of a car in the darkened corner of a parking lot, after a party where I just met the most beautiful man I have ever seen, and our lips are joined and our bodies entwined, and it is four in the morning, and I am in love, and nothing else matters.
Title graphic: "Parked" Copyright © The Summerset Review, Inc. 2009.