The morning the baby arrived was warm and I had just pulled a frittata from the oven. I was thinking of the crossword I’d abandoned on the couch, and the ferns that needed watering, when the doorbell rang. Most times it rang once or twice before they left on the stoop what I’d ordered: yoga pants or lightbulbs or a one-pot cookbook. That kind of thing. But that morning the buzzer filled the living room and kitchen and the whole real estate of my body.
Coming! I yelled. When I answered the door a deliveryman was standing in a white shirt and khakis with the box beside his feet. It was square and made of cardboard and in it lay the baby beneath a blanket of moons and stars, wriggling and stretching pea-sized fingers toward the sky. I blinked.
“Hello. Your baby,” the man said, holding a tablet. His accent was thick, Slavic, and his blond hair covered his uniformed shoulders like a living god, so biblical I laughed. Nervously at first, but then loudly and with confidence the longer we stood, him unblinking, me with a face broken open and a plate of hot frittata in my hand.
A joke was my first thought. Or some fucked-up way to hit on women. Single women old enough to be his mother. I was no one’s mother. I was waiting on slippers and a Fodor’s Guide to Greece but there was nothing but the baby in his box and the deliveryman on the porch, squinting at me.
I said, You’re joking, is he yours? How adorable. How old? Things to right the situation and give us each an out.
But he was not there to give me an out, he was there to give me this baby, he insisted, This baby that has been ordered from you. Because this is 1820 Spring Drive, yes? And Amelia Grayson is you, yes? and It is yours, it says here, he said, stabbing the screen of the tablet with his divinely-shaped finger.
There has been a mistake, I said evenly. You’ve disrupted my whole morning with this business I thought to scold him, as if he’d knocked my plants from the sill, but then the look on his face gave me another thought. The thought of this moment as her, this Amelia Greyson with an e, receiving the baby she had ordered. The one tucked neatly below the night sky, day shining from his eyes on my stoop.
Maybe she was standing at her stove right now making scrambled eggs while she waited, her stomach fluttering. The goldenrod paint she picked had dried three days ago in the nursery. Above the crib she’d hung a Welcome Home sign. Maybe she even looked like me, grey streaks and thin lips that puckered at comments from her editor and crosswords. At empty spaces and clues that had frustrated her all morning and now seemed beside the point as she stood, waiting, for what was supposed to happen.
He is yours, the deliveryman said, snapping me from my musings. He held the tablet out.
I looked down. Next to my name and address appeared Mother.
Please, he said. I have other deliveries.
The baby whimpered. My head grew warmer.
This is wrong, I insisted, my voice cracking. Please take him back. Sweat trickled down my temples. I felt a lump within my throat and cleared it, once and then again.
No, he said. It says right here. Please, keep. He stepped off the porch.
Wait, I yelped. A piece of egg flew from my throat and then my mouth and landed on the step. This, this is all a mistake. There is no nursery here. I can show you. This isn’t where he belongs.
The baby began to wail. I set the plate on the railing and knelt down.
Shhh, I whispered.
When I looked up the deliveryman was pulling out of the driveway in a blue van. On its side the words Precious Cargo screamed at me in bold.
There has been a mistake. I am no one’s mother. There has been a mistake, I said. The baby ignored me as he wailed, his mouth an o nearly as wide as his face. I picked him up and held him to my chest, the way I’d learned with a niece years ago. Not for me, I had thought.
Now I whispered shhhh as the baby buried his cheek on my chest, slicing it with each cry, his head oily with sweat. I rubbed my hand gently across it as I scanned the sidewalk.
My stomach stirred. Where were they? Where was the person who would come to my porch and put their hand on my shoulder and tell me There had been a mix up. We’ll get it all sorted. Because clearly this was wrong, You’re the wrong Amelia.
Then they would tap an app and poof, the deliveryman would return. He’d mumble Sorry as his eyes burned into mine, as he wiped a sweaty hand on his khakis, before bundling the baby back into the box. Preparing to take him to the mother, the nursery, with its yellow walls and welcome sign, where he should have gone all along.
But no one came. There was just me and precious cargo and frittata kept warm by the sun.
I turned to go inside and get the baby out of the heat. By then he had stopped wailing.
Announcing the winners and shortlists for the Lucent Dreaming 2022 Prize. Congratulations all!