Bottles and Coos

People huddled in the darkened store in small groups. The murmuring of hushed voices bounced around the building, words of different languages swirled about with no discernible rhythm.

Outside was filled with darkness and no one dared go out. The reason was not clear, but something was truly amiss. I stood alone to the side, observing the controlled chaos fear had brought down on us all.

Slowly, an older woman separated from a group of people. They all wore dusty and ragged clothes. As she approached, I noticed she had a small bundle in her arms.

“You….take,” the woman handed me the bundle.

As I looked down, I realized it was a small baby girl. Her dark hair framed her tender face. She stirred slightly, snuggling more into her swaddling.

“Mother, now,” the woman looked at me. A tear fell from her eye as she turned and shuffled away.

“Wait,” I called after her, “Where is her mother?”

She kept walking away, back to her group.

I neared the group. A man looked up, greyed with age. He simply replied, “Gone.” His ashen look betrayed what I feared. Her mother was a victim lost to the darkness.

“I can’t,” I pleaded as I tried to return the child. “I can’t take her.” Tears poured forth from my eyes, revealing my own shortcoming. “I am not worthy.”

The child began to coo in my arms and stir as she woke. Her warmth filled my heart with feelings I never had experienced before. But I trembled. This wasn’t right; I was no mother.

“She should be with family. Please.”

The aged woman looked at me, “You are family. We go now.”

With that, the woman and the rest of the group shuffled away in a strange walk. They left the store into the darkness.

I looked around and found a law man standing near by. I showed him the child. “What should I do?” I asked confusedly.

He drew in a breath and looked around. Then his dark eyes connected with mine, freezing me in my spot.

“There is no law. Raise her.” His eyes glanced at the darkness, then he slowly walked away from me. He circled the store, passing by me and bringing something each time.

First, a basket with formula and cloth diapers and diaper pins.

Onesies and a blanket. Then bibs.

A car seat. Bottles.

More with each loop.

Finally, he walked back to me. “This will get you started. Do you have a car?”

I looked hesitantly at the door, then back at the child. “The darkness…”

He looked me over. “She needs to eat. Let’s pay and take care of that.”

I stepped up to the register and the lady waved me off. “No sales. The darkness. Take what you need and do not worry,” she laid her hand on her heart. “Care for her; she is special.”

I shook my head agreeing while still in shock. Why am I being entrusted to raise this child? I am not worthy.

I laid the girl into the baby seat and prepared a bottle. She greedily took it as if she had not eaten in a while. I found a nearby bench near the door and took a seat with her.

Instinctively, I picked her up and lightly patted her back until she burped, then wiped her little mouth. Then I rocked her to sleep in my arms as time passed. Slowly I drifted off to sleep holding her tight.

The light pierced through the door, waking me from the darkness. I looked down at the comforter bunched up in my arms. Alas, she was just a dream, another reminder of a life not meant for me.

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