The Foster Parents…a short story

Kevin and I hated having to give up Elijah. He was our third foster child, and we wished he would be our last. But we knew it was temporary when our caseworker contacted us to tell us that Elijah’s mother wanted him back. I know we should consider it a blessing when a mother cleans up her act and regains custody of her own child. But it felt as if we were losing our own flesh and blood. We never expected her to complete the program, but somehow, she’d managed, and Elijah went back home to his birth mother. We prayed she would stay clean.

When the agency called us in the middle of the night with an emergency situation, we were reluctant to take the plunge yet again. But a baby needed us, so we acted on it.

The tiny baby was wrapped in a pink blanket when I took her into my arms. Her big black eyes seemed to stare right through me. She was beautiful, with a full head of black hair at three months old, and rosy cheeks. Kevin filled out the paperwork as I nuzzled her close. All we were told was that she was dropped off in haste by her mother who seemed desperate. The woman had left the baby on the doorstep of the agency and knocked loudly on the door. She’d run off before anyone could talk to her. The baby was accompanied by a paper sack with the name “Alicia” written on it, and filled with clothes, nice clothes, that I would never have the money to buy. But no story to accompany her. She needed some place to go while the authorities tried to find her parents.

I slept on the floor next to the crib the first night we had Alicia so she wouldn’t feel alone. We called her Alicia since that was the name on the paper sack. She slept most of the way through the night, and woke around 4:30am hungry. I picked her up and she nuzzled into my shoulder. She took to the bottle just fine, so it was possible she wasn’t nursed.

In the morning, Kevin opened the front door to leave for work and on our front porch was a paper sack with “Alicia” written on it, just like the one that came with her.

Kevin picked it up and looked around the neighborhood for a sign of how it got there. Mrs. Shafer was just coming out to get the morning paper.

“Morning, Kevin,” she said and nodded his way.

“Morning. Did you happen to see anyone at our front door this morning?” he asked her.

“No. Why?”

“No reason,” he said. “I thought I heard a knock, that’s all.” No sense bringing her into his business.

He carefully opened the bag, assuming there’d be more clothes, but he jumped when he saw what was inside. He quickly brought the bag in to the kitchen where I was feeding Alicia.

Without a word, he held up a wad of cash in his hand.

“Where did THAT come from?!” I asked.

He set the bag on the table.

“It was on the front porch. In here,” he said, baffled.

“How did it get there?”

“I don’t know. Should we call the agency?” he asked.

The thought suddenly occurred to me that Alicia’s mother must know where we lived. A chill went through me.

“Yes. I think we should call them right now!” I told him.

“You don’t think that the mother…” Kevin said, catching up to my fear.

“That’s exactly what I think!”

“But how?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders, feeling a little violated.

“Did she follow us?” he asked.

“Oh, God! I hope not! That’s so creepy! How much is in there?”

He dumped it out on the table and counted it.

“There’s got to be over $5000.00 in here!” he said.

“Call the agency! Right now!” I said.

He called and talked to the receptionist, but our case worker wasn’t in the office yet. He left a message for her to call us back as soon as possible.

I went to the front window and peeked through the still-closed curtains. I looked up and down the street and saw no one.

Alicia began to cry and I took her into the nursery to change her diaper.

“Where did you come from, little one?” I asked her as she gurgled and smiled.

Kevin came into the room behind me.

“Look, I need to get to work. Can you handle this?” he asked.

I was still a little unsettled, but I lied and told him that we’d be fine. He kissed me on the cheek and I listened as he locked the front door behind him.

“We’ll be just fine, won’t we,” I said to Alicia and she smiled at me again.

I watched the news while I waited for our case worker to call me back. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I was hoping I’d see some clue on the news about where this baby had come from. Of course, there was nothing. I wanted to call my best friend, Shana, but I was a little worried about getting anyone else involved. I wasn’t sure what we were dealing with, and I couldn’t risk it. What if this was some gangster’s baby, or a criminal’s child who was on the run?

The phone rang and I jumped.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Anna?”

It was our caseworker, Jennifer.

“Yes, it is.”

“Hi, it’s Jennifer. My assistant said your husband called. Is everything okay with the baby?” she asked.

“Yes, yes…the baby’s fine,” I said, stalling.

“Oh, good. I thought something was wrong. Is she eating and sleeping okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then what can I help you with?”

“Well…did you find out anything about the mother yet?” I asked.

“No, but you’ll be the first to know. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I think she might know where we live,” I said. That same chill ran through me as I said it.

“What?! That’s impossible! Why do you think that?”

“Well, Kevin found a bag on the porch this morning with Alicia’s name on it.”

“That’s odd. Maybe it was from one of your friends as a welcome present,” she said.

“I don’t think so. We haven’t told anyone yet. And it was full of money…lots of it.”

“Money? What do you mean, money? How much?” she asked.

“Kevin counted about $5000.00.”

I heard her gasp on the other end of the line.

“That’s crazy! Are you sure it’s real?” she asked.

“I’m pretty sure. But besides the money, we’re very concerned that the mother knows where we live. What if she’s dangerous?”

There was a long pause. I knew that Jennifer was grasping the possibilities too.

“Well, we don’t know if it is in fact from the mother. And she probably isn’t dangerous since she left the money anonymously. But this is definitely a new one. Let me talk to my colleagues and see what they suggest. Is Kevin home today?” she asked.

“No, he had to work.”

“Do you feel comfortable being at home? I mean, I’m sure everything will be fine,” she tried to assure me.

“What should I do with the money?” I asked.

“Just hold onto it for now, okay? Don’t go on any shopping sprees,” she said, trying to lighten the mood.

“I won’t,” I said. I didn’t appreciate the levity.

“I’ll call you back as soon as I can, okay?” she said.

“Thanks. I’d appreciate it.”

I had hoped that talking to her would make me feel better, but it didn’t. She clearly had not dealt with a situation like this before, and I doubted that any of her colleagues had either.

After I put Alicia down for a nap, I turned the TV back on. I flipped around the talk shows, and the news shows, still hoping to find some clue as to who Alicia belonged to.

It was several hours before Jennifer called back, and I picked up the phone on the first ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi Anna.”

“What did you find out?” I realized I probably sounded more concerned than the last time we talked.

“Well, not much. It seems that we’ve never had a situation like this. Especially where the money is concerned,” she said.

“The money is the least of my worries. Do we know if she’s dangerous?” I asked.

“No, we don’t know anything about her still. But as I said before, I think we would have known by now if she was dangerous, especially since it appears that she knows where you live.”

Her words still didn’t assure me.

“If you’d like, we can place Alicia with someone else,” she suggested.

“I’ve already thought about that, and I don’t want to do that. It isn’t her fault. If anything, it’s your fault…the agency’s fault.”

There was silence on the other end. Jennifer knew I was right.

“Look, that’s all I can offer you right now. I wish we could do more, but I just…uh…” she stammered.

“I know, I know. Kevin should be getting home any minute. Let me talk to him and I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” I said.

“Okay. Don’t hesitate to call the police if anything seems out of the ordinary,” she said.

“Thanks. I’ll do that,” I said, disgusted.

Kevin was a late. I was feeding Alicia her evening bottle when he came home.

“Is that you?” I called from the kitchen.

“Yes!” He called back.

He came into the kitchen and had in his hand another paper bag just like the last one. He set it on the table.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I said.

He opened it up and spread the money on the table. Another $5000.00.

“Maybe we should call the police,” I suggested.

“Why? She hasn’t done anything wrong. What can they do?” he said.

“Maybe they can fingerprint the money or something?” I offered.

“Oh, I think they’d just laugh at us. No crime has been committed.”

“But what if it’s stolen? They could at least figure that out,” I said.

He thought for a moment.

“Maybe you’re right. Okay, I’ll call, just to be sure.”

When the police arrived, we explained the situation and handed over the bags of money. They assured us that this didn’t seem like a person that was unhinged, but rather someone that had their child’s best interest at heart. I wished I could believe them.

That night, as I lay on the floor in Alicia’s room, I heard every creak and moan in the house. I looked out the window several times hoping that Alicia’s mother, or whoever it was, would make another appearance. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I saw her, but I just wanted to see who it was.

I barely slept more than an hour that night. Kevin let me sleep in and checked on us in the morning before he left for work. Alicia had slept clear until 7am.

“Will you be okay?” he whispered.

I nodded.

“Call me if you hear anything,” he said.

“Do you think there’s another bag on the porch?” I asked.

“Maybe.”

I listened as he opened the front door, then he came back in with another bag. He smiled.

“Leave it on the kitchen table. I’ll deal with it later,” I said, exhausted from this strange situation.

Jennifer called later to check in with me and I explained that we gave the money to the police. She thought that was probably a good idea. I also told her there was another bag that morning.

The phone rang around 10:15am. It was my friend, Shana.

“Oh, my Gosh! Did you see the news?” she said, sounding like a gossipy teenager.

“Not yet. Why?”

“You know that teen actress, Clara Barton? The one that’s been missing for like almost a year?”

“I guess,” I didn’t recognize the name right away. “Why?”

“You know the one. She’s the daughter of Mimi Sheldon and Harry Barton…the actors. My gosh, it’s like you live under a rock!”

“Very funny. What about her?” I asked.

“She’s being accused of leaving her baby on her friend’s porch! She just abandoned it! Gave birth and walked away! What kind of a dirt bag does that?! I mean she probably has servants and everything? Why would she abandon a baby?! It has to be drugs!”

“You don’t know that,” I tried to defend the poor girl.

“What else could it be? Said she named the baby and everything and then just bailed!”

My head started to spin. “What did she name it?”

“What?! I don’t know. Something like Felicia or something like that.”

“Alicia?” I asked, slowly.

“Maybe. Wait…hold on…they’re talking about it on TMZ…Yeah…they said Alicia. How did you know?”

I was feeling nauseas. “I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later,” I said and quickly hung up before even saying goodbye.

I called Kevin and then called Jennifer at the agency. She said she’d check into it, but that it sounded like a long shot to her. I picked up Alicia and looked in her eyes. Something inside me told me this was that young actress’ child. I had to get Alicia back to her mother. She deserved a second chance at motherhood. She was just a scared and mixed up kid. Maybe with the right support, she could give Alicia a good life. Still, she did abandon her. It was entirely up to the agency what would happen.

 

Six months later, Kevin and I watched Clara Barton on the morning talk show. We listened as Clara talked about her upcoming movie and confirmed her engagement to a famous baseball player. The host joked about the rumors of Clara having a child. Clara laughed and posed majestically, “Does this body look like I’ve had a child? Please!” She laughed wildly with the host.

I looked at Kevin and sighed. “That’s pathetic.”

Kevin agreed and picked Alicia up as she toddled over to the couch where we were sitting.

“That mean old actress doesn’t deserve you anyways,” Kevin said to Alicia, and nuzzled her as she giggled.

 

The End

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Entering a Local Short Story Contest

 

Every year, our local library holds a Short Story Contest. I’ve entered for the last three years, and have yet to place.

I’m considering entering again this year, just for the practice.

But I don’t write short stories. I never have.

I write novels, so writing a short story, for me, is a bit of a challenge. I’m also a “panster” which makes it even more challenging. Without an “outline,” it makes it much harder to wrap up a story in 2500 words or less.

I write women’s fiction, and women’s fiction differs from most other genres. Without completely sounding like I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ll try to explain what I mean: women’s fiction isn’t necessarily trying to “solve a problem,” as in conquering the neighboring tribe, or saving the planet from the comet headed straight for it. Women’s fiction tends to be about “relationships.” It isn’t as cut and dry as some other genres, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that at all. I just don’t can’t write those other genres without sounding like a 4th grader wrote it (no offense to the 4th graders out there).

Women’s fiction is different in that it’s character-driven. There’s still a problem to solve, sometimes many, but it’s painted with a much broader brush, at least the way I write. My characters are flawed and their flaws are what drive the plot.

So, back to the short story.

First, condensing a story to 2500 words is daunting for me. That means that I need to come up with a premise that can basically be solved in one and a half chapters! What?! That’s when things usually just get going in a women’s fiction novel, not resolved!

Thinking of something that fits into that box is really, really hard for me.

I’ve tried using writing prompts, but have yet to find one that inspires me. I’ve tried different genres, but I really can’t write fantasy or SciFi…I just can’t.

But, like most writers, I like to bang my head against the wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be a writer. (Writers will understand that). I’ll keep trying. I’ve started 3 short stories so far that have fallen flat. I still have until July 31st to submit my entry. It isn’t impossible, just improbable, and I can work with those odds.

What about you? Have you ever tried to write something different than you’re used to? What got you over the hump?

Jane & Maria – 2nd Installment of the Coffee Shop Vignettes

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Maria wrapped her hands around her coffee cup to warm them.

“So, tell me…how did it go?” Jane asked Maria, as she handed her son a coloring book and some crayons, and moved her coffee out of his reach.

“I’m not sure,” Maria said.

“Well, was it a good interview? Do you think you gave the answers they wanted?”

“I’m not sure,” Maria said and slumped back in her chair.

“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad,” Jane tried to be encouraging. She turned to her son, “No, no…only in the book…not on the table.”

Maria smiled.

“It’s just that it’s been so long since I’ve been out of the workforce, you know?” Maria said.

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t matter that much. You have the experience they’re looking for.”

“Yeah, but from 200 years ago!” Maria said and laughed.

Jane laughed at Maria’s exaggeration.

Maria sighed. “I don’t know. Part of me is excited to go back to work now that the kids are in school full time, but the other part of me wants to be home for them. I hate the idea of sending them to daycare. I should be helping them with their homework, not some stranger.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of homework for you to help with. Besides, don’t a lot of their friends go to the same afterschool care?” Jane asked.

Maria nodded.

“What about the job? You’re scared, aren’t you,” Jane said.

“I hate to admit it, but yes, I am. I haven’t had to work for anyone in a long time. I’ve been the one telling people, well, little people that is, what to do for the past ten years. I don’t even know if I remember how to take orders from someone else,” Maria said.

“Sure you do. I’ve seen you take orders from Sarah all the time!” Jane teased.

“Oh, please! I don’t take orders from my 14 year old.”

Jane raised her eyebrow.

“Okay, okay, maybe sometimes I do. But don’t you dare tell her that!” Maria admitted.

“Mama…other book, other book,” Jane’s son insisted.

“I see you have your own dictator,” Maria teased.

Jane frowned at her as she got out another coloring book for her son.

Maria’s phone rang, and she looked at the number. She put her finger to her lips, and Jane told her son to be quiet.

“This is Maria,” she answered, and listened.

Jane kept her son occupied and watched Maria’s face for any indication.

“Yes, I’d be happy to. Okay. Okay. Thank you. I’ll talk to you then. Bye,” Maria said.

“Well?” Jane asked.

“I got a second interview!” Maria exclaimed.

“I knew you could! See, I told you! When do they want to see you again?” Jane asked.

“Tomorrow morning,” Maria said. She let it sink in.

“How does going back to work sound now?” Jane asked.

“It sounds pretty good, actually. Look, I better go. I have to find something different to wear tomorrow. I haven’t had to wear a skirt for two days in a row in a long time! I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” Maria said as she got up. She waved to Jane’s son on her way out.

“Bye!” Jane called after her, but she was already out the door.

“Bye bye,” Jane’s son imitated.

Jane smiled at her son, grateful that she had a few more years before she’d have to go back to work, but excited for her friend. She picked up a crayon and helped her son color his picture.