The baby appeared on the doorstep of 12.5 Pleasant Lane at 9:37 in the morning on Friday, while Kate was watching the local news and Andy was in the shower upstairs. There was a loud rap on the front door, and she thought briefly about her roommate Hannah’s excessive online shoe purchasing habit. Kate opened the door and was about to scream but the baby was asleep and she wanted to hear the news so she decided not to.
“Forecasts are looking steadily grim for Poughkeepsie this afternoon— the heat is proving itself relentless, and there have been reports of dogs melting in the streets. To prevent your dogs from melting we advise you to keep them inside. Should you happen to see a dog unattended be sure to remind it of the dangers of 116 degree weather, as they often do not watch the news.”
The baby was in a plastic bin without a lid, one of those Rubbermaid containers from Target with the foldable handles. It was laying on a purple fleece blanket that was folded hamburger-hotdog and was wearing a cop-themed jumpsuit. “My hero wears a badge!” was embroidered in swirly letters.
The baby was nearly bald, and from the jumpsuit emerged several pudgy rolls of white skin that connected its torso to its neck and arms and eventually feet. Kate stood there, staring at the baby, and then closed the door. She hadn’t taken her Lexapro in two days, so maybe hallucinations were to be an expected effect, or maybe her birth control was just acting up and maybe she’d accidentally gone outside too much in the past week and her brain was finally going haywire, like her mother had always warned her the heat would make it do. She sighed and opened the door again. The baby was still there so she picked up the container and brought it inside and put it on the counter, moving all of Hannah’s shoe catalogues out of the way.
Kate went upstairs and sat down on her bed and took her Lexapro. Andy had just gotten out of the shower, and was combing his hair in front of the mirror, her flowered towel draped around his waist.
“There is a baby,” said Kate.
Andy stared at her.
“I was watching the news and someone knocked on the door and there was a baby.”
“Anything good on the news?”
“Just same old heat wave. Dogs are melting.”
“They’ve had it coming. But what do you mean, there was a baby? Are you pregnant?”
“I don’t know. Probably not, but there is still a baby.”
“Well, what did you do with it?”
“It was sleeping so I put it downstairs on the counter.”
“Kate, what the fuck?”
Andy never swore in front of her, unless he was drunk and missed a shot at Flaningan’s Wednesday beer pong tournaments. He ran downstairs in the towel and Kate heard him swear a few more times.
She followed Andy, and the two of them stood at the counter, staring down at the baby in the container, which had woken up and revealed a pair of blue eyes and a couple of small teeth.
“It has teeth,” said Andy, “How old are babies when they sprout teeth?”
“I’ll Google it,” said Kate, “Or maybe I should just call my mom,”
“Don’t call your mom, she will freak out and tell you not to go outside. Besides, it doesn’t matter, we’re taking it to the police.”
The baby squirmed in the container and gave Kate a menacing look.
“I don’t think it likes that idea,” she said, “Babies can’t be comfortable at police stations. It’s dark and it’s mostly men, and they bring criminals in there.”
Kate reached into the container and gently poked the baby’s stomach. The baby made a gurgling sound and Kate picked it up, holding it against her chest. It smelled like waffles. She half expected the Maternal Instinct to kick in then and plummet Kate into a state of disarray and confusion and anxiety about its parents’ whereabouts but the baby was small and warm and breathing and she liked that feeling.
“We can’t keep it Kate,” said Andy, “I have to go to class.”
She knew Andy would say something like this. They’d had the baby talk before, if she accidentally got pregnant they would drive to Planned Parenthood and get rid of it immediately and then carry on with their college lives as if nothing had happened. Kate had a feeling Andy would likely have the same response if a pregnancy happened any time before they were thirty, but she brushed the thought aside and looked the baby in the eye.
“I think it wants to stay,” she said.
“It’s a baby. It doesn’t know what it wants, and you are taking it to the police where they will put it up for adoption.”
Andy walked out of the kitchen, sighing and shaking his head.
“I’m serious Kate,” he said as he walked toward the door, “We are not dealing with this.”
“Fine,” she said, “But you’re coming with me. I refuse to put it back into the container because that’s cruel and I can’t drive holding it or it’ll go flying out the window and then it will melt. Go get your keys, class can wait.”
Kate and Andy got into the car, Kate behind the wheel and Andy in passenger holding the baby.
“If this was our baby,”
Andy cut her off.
“It’s not our baby.”
“I know. Can’t we just pretend for a little? All I’m saying is if this was our baby-,”
“Which it isn’t.”
“It could be kind of fun. We could dress it up, take it to the brewery, give it its baby formula in a cute little beer snifter.”
“You’d lose it before we could do any of that stuff. Yesterday you lost your keys while you were trying to lock the door. And remember the time in Florida when we did that dog-for-the-day rental…”
“You know it wanted to swim! How was I supposed to keep it from sprinting into the ocean?”
“That’s my point. No. Baby.”
Kate rolled her eyes and turned up the air conditioning in the car so the cold air burned her forehead. The heat outside was brutal and was starting to seep through the windows, warming the side of Kate’s face and producing beads of salty sweat and even though the Arlington police station was only ten minutes from Vassar, Kate was starting to get used to the idea of a tiny smelly third party accompanying her and Andy on the drive.
They pulled up to the station, noticing the complete lack of squad cars in the parking lot. In fact, theirs was the only car there.
“Maybe they’ve fully transferred to bikes and the horse-cop system. Clean air and all, although it’s a little too late to fight global warming at this point,” said Andy.
“But how would they chase down criminals? Horses don’t go on highways.”
“Just like babies don’t arrive on porches in Tupperware boxes.”
The two sat in the cool car, hesitant to step outside into the 116 degree heat, even though the car was starting to smell increasingly like a loaded diaper.
“Might as well see if anyone’s inside,” Kate said.
At first glance the police station was completely empty. There was a huge padlock on the door, hanging just underneath a haphazardly written sign that said “OUT TO LUNCH”. Andy stood holding the baby and the Tupperware box, both of which oddly were much more tolerant of the heat than Andy himself, whose shirt was starting to resemble a used coffee filter.
Kate pushed on the door, which swung open.
The first thing Kate noticed were the office chairs. Or rather, the chair seats, which were scattered across the floor without any backs or legs or wheels. The desks didn’t have tops on them; mugs and papers and artisanal donuts just lay on the floor in the empty space between desk legs. Kate didn’t see any pens, just the little metal swirly parts that she knew were on their insides from all the times she’d taken a pen apart.
The baby suddenly started laughing and clapping its hands, and Andy put the Tupperware container down, taking the baby out of it for the first time and sitting it down on the floor.
“Okay creep,” Andy said to the baby.
“First of all, you smell. Second, what are you laughing about?”
The baby sneered at Andy, ignoring his rude interrogation, and started crawling towards the back end of the room, towards what Kate supposed used to be an office, judging by the metal corner-rods that were probably once used for holding up cubicle walls.
Kate and Andy looked at each other, Kate smiling up at her boyfriend and squeezing his hand.
“It’s so happy here! I’m sorry, I was wrong about it being dark and there being bald men here. You were right. We can just leave it now.”
Andy sighed and kissed Kate on the forehead.
“I feel bad leaving it unattended. What if it eats one of the artisanal donuts? Or even worse, melts? There’s no air conditioning here and it’s just about the same size as a dog. And besides, it’s seriously starting to smell. We should at least change it before we leave it here. And maybe get it a bottle of water with a sucky-thing so it doesn’t get dehydrated.”
Kate felt warm. And it definitely wasn’t because of the heat.
It was the first time Kate had stepped foot inside a Babies R Us. It reminded her mostly of a PetSmart, with all the toys and hanging outfits and aisles of strange food and diapers and bottles and beds. Andy had put the baby back in the Tupperware bin before they left the station, and Kate noticed his eyes darting as they walked through the store.
“What’s wrong? We really didn’t have to come here, you know.”
“No, no. It’s all the moms,” he whispered, “I don’t want them to think we’re bad parents.”
“But we’re not parents. We’re just getting it some baby supplies and dropping it back off at the police station, remember?”
“I know, but if we’re carrying it around, we might as well be doing it right. And I need to change it, this smell is starting to make my eyes water.”
Kate grabbed a package of diapers off the nearest shelf.
“$38.79, what the hell?” she hissed, “We can’t afford this.”
“Just take a couple out of it,”
Andy tore a small hole at the bottom of the diaper pack, pulled a few diapers out, and dropped them into the Tupperware container.
“I’ll go change it,” he said, “you look for a bottle with a sucky thing and some formula, and maybe one of those carrier things so that we don’t have to lug it around in this stupid plastic bin like heathens.”
Andy hightailed towards the changing room sign, leaving Kate with her mouth hanging open.
She slowly walked down the aisle, eyeing the price tags on the shelves.
Bottle with sucky thing, $11.89. Formula, $31.99. Baby carrier, $159.99.
There was no way. It was the end of the month and Kate was already dangerously close to maxing out her credit card. And there was a snowball’s chance in 116 degree weather she could ask her mom for money, primarily because the transactions made at Babies R Us paired with the heat would likely induce a heart attack.
Kate saw Andy’s grinning head pop out of the toy aisle.
“Look at all this stuff! There’s like, this blue bear that you can customize all the way down to its ears. It literally lets you record your voice into it so if the baby wakes up at night it’ll sense it and start singing to him in your voice! How sick is that! I love technology!”
“Andy, you need to calm down. We have no money. We can’t afford any of this. This isn’t our baby and-”
“Wait. Did you just say him?”
“I happened to see his wiener when I was changing him. Felt too politically correct to keep calling him ‘it’ after I’d seen his wiener. Like I was Lena Dunham or something. Also, I think it’s time we named him. We’ve been hanging out all day and he’s grinned at me like four times already.”
Kate kept staring at Andy, motionless.
“Listen. I was okay with keeping the baby until the end of the day, for fun, but I didn’t realize how expensive it would be. There’s all this stuff you need for it, and its parents are probably freaking out and-”
“His parents left it on our doorstep in a plastic Tupperware bin. Let’s keep it overnight and bring it to another police station tomorrow.”
“But what about all the baby stuff? We can’t buy any of this.”
“Easy,” Andy grinned. “We’re hosting a baby shower themed pregame when we get home. I already made a Facebook event.”
Hannah was running around the house, shoving all her shoes in every possible crevice she could find.
“Kate! Why didn’t you tell me you were going to host this earlier? Why didn’t you tell me you were having a baby-themed pregame? I could’ve bought so many more streamers!”
12.5 Pleasant Lane had undergone a complete transformation. Andy had crafted a banner made from individual letters he printed out on the printer at the library that spelled out “IT’S A BOY,” Kate had laid out platters of baby blue Jell-O shots, and Hannah had made three pitchers of blue vodka-spiked Kool-Aid.
The Facebook event Andy had made was extended to all their friends, but instead of alcohol, guests were encouraged to bring baby supplies. The guest with the most usable (or in Kate’s words, expensive) gift would get to name the baby.
Guests started piling in a little bit after 9, lining up their gifts on the kitchen counter. Hannah’s friends brought all kinds of baby clothing imaginable and a high-chair, per her request Kate’s book club all brought mini boxes of formula and diapers, and Andy’s fraternity pooled together their money and somehow thought to buy the voice-activated bear Andy had seen at the store. By ten, the pregame was in full swing, and the baby, which Andy’s fraternity had named Constantine, was sitting in the high chair, grinning proudly at the soiree he was solely responsible for.
Kate felt like a proud hen watching over Andy, who remained by Constantine’s side and refused to touch even a drop of liquor.
“This isn’t Flanigan’s,” he had said to her earlier, “No swearing in front of the baby.”
The sound of a sharp, quick rap on the door made its way through the blasting music. The drunk partygoers didn’t pay any attention, and Kate made her way over to the entrance to the kitchen alone.
In the doorway stood an old man in a police uniform. His curly gray hair, stuck to his forehead with sweat, stopped just above his eyebrows and revealed a pair of blue eyes.
“Hello,” said Kate, “I’m so sorry for the noise. You see, we just got a baby this morning, so we needed baby supplies, and the only way to entice college students to get you anything is by offering them alcohol, so here we are. I’m sorry. I can send everyone home now.”
The man blinked at Kate and cleared his throat.
“I’m actually here for the baby. Do you mind if I come in? I can’t bear being in this heat.”
Kate nodded slowly, her stomach churning as the man walked in, closing the door behind him. They walked through the kitchen, Kate motioning towards a set of bar stools by the counter.
“We took it to the police station earlier,” Kate said, “but it was closed and empty. All the chairs and cubicle walls were disassembled and all that was left of the pens were the swirly metal things that are on their insides when you take them apart.”
The man tsked and shook his head.
“I had a feeling that would happen. I really bit off more than I could chew with this one.”
“What do you mean?” asked Kate.
“I’m Joe Tupper, chief of the Poughkeepsie Police Department. Well, was chief for the past ten years. I became chief after I retired from being CEO of my brand.”
“Tupper as in-?”
“Yep,” Joe said, “Tupperware. The last remaining brand of my company. It was the only plastic that was able to survive this heat. See, when I became Poughkeepsie police chief after retiring, I couldn’t let the plastic go. My heart was in it. So I started redesigning it, making all these new kinds of plastic and selling them to the station. They were innovative, durable, my wife even called them revolutionary because of how impenetrable they were. And so I passed a work order that the police station would only use Tupper-brand material for its supplies. Pens, desks, chairs, you name it. Even bulletproof vests.”
Kate glanced over at Andy, who was so absorbed in recording his voice into the bear that he hadn’t noticed the man sitting in the kitchen.
“Well, our department hadn’t lost a single policeman in years, and about a year ago homeland security contracted me to redesign the ones for the army.”
“Wow,” Kate said, “That’s incredible. You must’ve turned quite a profit. No wonder there were so many artisanal donuts.”
The man nodded.
“Poughkeepsie perks,” he sighed, “and then the heat wave happened. I warned the head of homeland security to conduct melting tests— but he didn’t believe in global warming so he didn’t bother. And then last month they deployed a unit with the new armor into Syria, and the heat wave hit them way before it hit New York, and…”
“Every last one. 300 American soldiers, on the battlefield, unprotected. So now the government’s after me.”
“They’re blaming you? But it was the head of homeland security who didn’t test the heat resistance of the plastic!”
“His dog was one of the first ones to melt. People like him don’t like being proven wrong by the environment, or by anyone really. So he’s refusing to admit the plastic armor melted because of the heat, and of course the only other thing there is to blame is my design. So they threatened to go after my family if I didn’t shut down the police department and remove all evidence of the plastic. I just needed the day to make sure the baby couldn’t be found while I got my ducks in a row.”
Kate felt a hand on her shoulder. Andy stood behind her, holding the baby in one arm and the bear in the other.
“I’m Joe,” said Joe, looking up at Andy from the barstool. “The baby’s father.”
“I’m Andy,” said Andy, his voice gruff and his lips pressed together in a thin line, “That’s nice. Why did you leave him on Kate’s doorstep?”
“He just lost track of him,” Kate intervened, “just like you warned me I would. It’s totally understandable. The heat must have gotten to him.”
Andy didn’t take his eyes off Joe.
“You work for the police? Why didn’t you send a squad after him when you realized you’d lost him?”
“I gave them the day off to make sure they went home and got their dogs out of the heat.”
“And the station?”
“Temporary remodeling,” said Kate. “You were right about the horse cops.”
Andy took a deep breath, still not letting go of the baby, which was starting to squirm in his arm at the sight of the old policeman.
“Fine,” he said, “But I’ll have you know Kate and I didn’t lose him once.”