“Guys, come on. We’re late, we’re late!”
I attempt to tie two shoes at once, the clock ticking, my children doing everything in their power to make us late for our train.
“Mommy, where going?” asks my toddler, and I again reflect on the impossibility of getting two children out the door, dressed and fed and free from compound fractures despite their apparent determination to injure themselves along every step of the way.
“We’re going to Oma’s in Delaware,” I say patiently for the tenth time, checking my phone to see the lateness of the hour, doing the backwards mental arithmetic at which mothers are so adept to see if we might possibly still catch our Acela.
Finally, finally, we are in an Uber, en route to 30th Street Station as the rain plummets down, while I curse the Center City traffic and wish my husband was not away on business and dread this visit to my Mother-in-Law.
“You know what, we’ll just get out here,” I say twenty minutes later, recognizing we can walk the remaining two blocks exponentially faster than this traffic jam will allow. I usher us all out of the car, clutching the suitcases under my arms and clinging to my children with either hand.
I guide them towards the light, my daughter resisting at every turn, until I finally lose my temper and raise my voice.
“Lovey, what is the problem?” I demand, pushing wet hair out of my face, gauging how much further it is to the shelter of the train station.
“Baby,” she remarks.
“What?” I ask, frustrated.
“Want to see the baby.”
Stress simmering in my cerebrum, I am about to just schlep her bodily across the intersection when I stop.
I suddenly hear a baby, too.
What I hear is bawling, the undeniable mew of a newborn; what I hear is the universal sound of an infant in distress.
We are essentially alone on the bridge between JFK and Market Street; there exists no baby in our proximity to justify the sound of the wailing, which is audible even over the pounding of the Schuylkill.
“What…?” I say aloud, my maternal instinct immediately kicking in, Darwin’s theories made incarnate.
I look around, narrowing down the direction from which the sound is coming. I finally spot a brown blanket on the other side of the street, camouflaged against the wet asphalt.
It is imperceptibly writhing.
“Oh, shit,” I say vehemently.
I abandon the suitcases without a second thought, scooping up one child under each arm, barely pausing at the curb to look for oncoming traffic, sprinting across the bridge to the squirming blanket on the ground.
Finally, finally, I reach the other side, my arms aching with the weight of my offspring, my heart stuttering over the fate of this infant and the destiny of us all.
“Stay there,” I bark to my children as I set them on the sidewalk and dash to the rumpled bundle, prepared to snatch the infant from the clutches of the weather and clutch it under my shirt to my breast.
The wailing ceases abruptly the moment I throw aside the blanket to reveal…nothing at all.
“What…?” I repeat again, with complete bewildered.
I glance back at my children, whom I expect to be en route to my side, my omnipresent Velcro additions as is per usual. Instead, they are both staring directly at the Schuylkill through the gaps in the bridge, mouths agape.
“What?” I say for the third or fourth time, fully convinced I must be in a state of psychosis, already running through a contingency plan to explain all this to my mother-in-law.
“The baby,” says my son unhelpfully, pointing vaguely, and I whirl around as I feel a hand on my arm.
“It’s ok, Ma’am,” says the police officer who has come up behind me. “I just wanted to see if you needed help.”
“Yes, Sir…I’m sorry…I thought there was…but there wasn’t,” I say, somewhat incoherently, as he leads me along the sidewalk.
“Let’s get these kids off the bridge,” says the officer. “Safety first, especially after last week.”
“Last week?” I say with confusion.
“Baby fell in the water,” he said shortly. “Terrible thing.”
I stop in my tracks, maternal instinct birthing my next question.“Was he…ok?”
Thunder rolls as I read the answer on his face, as the blanket on the ground grows sodden and the Schuylkill swells over its banks and, somewhere, a mother mourns.
We do not make the train.
Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) resides in Philadelphia with her children, soulmate, and persnickety cats. She is the author of “These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things” (Poetry, Really Serious Literature, 2022), “Correspondence to Nowhere” (Nonfiction, Bone & Ink Press, 2022), and “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana” (Fiction, Sledgehammer Lit, 2022). Shannon is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy and a multi-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Follow her at shannonfrostgreenstein.com or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre.