‘Heidi?’ I said. She didn’t respond. I moved closer, squatting down beside her. When I reached out, touching her leg, she sobbed harder, tears dripping down onto my hand. I looked at Isby, who was awake and staring up at her. ‘Give me the baby.’
She shook her head. Still crying, her shoulders shaking.
‘Heidi. Please.’ No response. She was scaring me, so I reached out, taking Isby from her arms. As soon as I did, she curled into herself, pulling her knees to her chest, and turned her face away from me.
I looked at her, then at Isby. I had no idea what to do. And while I knew I should probably call my dad, or even my mom, I instead walked to the kitchen and dialed the one number I thought might put me in contact with someone who could help.
‘Gas/Gro, Wanda speaking.’
In my mind, I could see the cashier that was always there at this time of night, with her dangling earrings and blonde hair. I cleared my throat.
‘Hi, Wanda.’ I jiggled Isby, who was sputtering a bit. ‘I, um… this is Auden, I come in there a lot around this time of night for coffee? I’m trying to find Eli Stock? It’s kind of an emergency, I mean, not really, but he’s about twenty or so, dark hair, drives a black –’
At the sound of Eli’s voice, I felt some small part of me relax. ‘Hi. It’s me.’ I paused, then clarified, ‘Auden.’
‘I had a feeling,’ he replied. ‘I am not sure who else would actually call me at the Gas/Gro.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, glancing at Heidi, who was harder than ever to see now in the dark of the living room, curled into the couch. ‘Sorry about that. I just kind of have a situation here, and I’m not sure what to do.’
‘A situation,’ he repeated. ‘What’s going on?’
I stepped into the foyer, putting Isby over my shoulder, and told him. As I did, faintly, distantly, I could hear Heidi, still sobbing.
‘Sit tight,’ he said when I was done. ‘I know just what to do.’
Twenty minutes later, there was a knock at the door. When I walked over and opened it, there was Eli, carrying four cups of GroRoast and a pack of cupcakes. ‘Coffee?’ I said. ‘This is your solution?’
‘No,’ he replied. ‘This is.’
And he stepped aside, revealing a small, middle-aged woman with short dark hair. She had familiar olive skin and green eyes, and was wearing a sensible cardigan and slacks, a purse strapped across her, and spotless white tennis shoes.
‘Mom, this is Auden. Auden, my mom. Karen Stock.’
‘Hi,’ I said. ‘Thank you for coming. I just… I don’t know what to do.’
She smiled at me, then leaned closer, looking down at Isby, who was now starting to fuss. ‘How old’s the baby?’
‘And where’s Mom?’
‘In the living room,’ I said, stepping back from the door. ‘She’s just crying; she won’t even talk to me.’
Mrs. Stock came inside. Then she looked at Eli and said, ‘Take the baby upstairs and swaddle her. I’ll be up shortly.’
He nodded, and then looked at me.
‘Should I…’ I asked. ‘I mean –’
‘She’ll be just fine,’ she said. ‘Just trust me.’
And the weird thing was, I did. Even as I stood there, watching this stranger walk past me into the living room. She put her purse down on the kitchen table, then moved over to Heidi, sitting down beside her. When she began to speak, I couldn’t make out a word she was saying. But Heidi was listening. It was clear in the way that, after a moment, she let Mrs. Stock pull her into her arms, patting her on the back as she allowed herself to be the one soothed, finally.
By the time we got to the pink room, Isby was all-out fussing, working up to one of her fits. Eli stepped inside, flicking on the light, then said, ‘Got a blanket?’
‘A blanket?’ He nodded. ‘In the dresser. Third drawer, maybe?’
I watched, jiggling Isby a bit as he walked over, rummaging around for a minute before pulling out a pink one with brown dots. He glanced at it, then shut the drawer. ‘We need a bed,’ he said. ‘Something flat. Where’s your room?’
‘Next door,’ I said. ‘But I don’t –’
He was already walking next door, leaving me no choice but to follow. Once there, he spread the blanket out on the bed sideways, then folded down the top corner. ‘Okay,’ he said, holding out his hands. ‘Give her here.’
I shot him a doubtful look. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Didn’t you hear my mom?’ he asked. ‘You’re supposed to trust me.’
‘She said to trust her,’ I pointed out.
‘You don’t trust me?’
I looked at him, then at the blanket, then at Isby, who was all-out squawking, and had a flash of him leading me to the center of the floor at Tallyho, not even a full day ago. I handed her over.
Isby was wailing, her face getting redder and redder as he carefully laid her down, her head just on the edge of the folded blanket. Then, as she writhed around, he put her left arm to her side and pulled the bottom tip of the blanket up and across her, then tucked the bottom corner over her shoulder. With each step, Isby wailed louder.
‘Eli,’ I said, raising my voice to be heard. ‘You’re making it worse.’
He didn’t hear me, moving to the last corner, which he pulled tight across her waist and around her. Isby was allout screaming now.
‘Eli,’ I said again, practically yelling, as he pulled the last corner tight and started to tuck it into one of the other folds, ‘stop it. She’s not –’
And then, suddenly, it was silent. It happened so abruptly and completely that for a moment I was sure Isby had died. But when I looked at her, and she was just lying there, all wrapped up like a tiny burrito, blinking at us.
‘– crying,’ I finished. Eli reached down, picking her up, and handed her back to me. ‘How did you do that?’
‘It’s not me,’ he said as I eased myself carefully onto the bed. Isby opened her mouth, but only yawned, then settled against me. ‘It’s the swaddle. It’s like magic. My mom swears by it.’
‘It’s amazing,’ I said. ‘How does she know all this?’
‘She was a maternity ward nurse,’ he replied. ‘Just retired last year. Plus my brother and sister have four kids between them. Add in all of us, and she’s had a lot of practice.’