By Amanda A. Gibson
Marvin Drummond walked head down, feet stabbing the sidewalk. His morning had gotten off to a bad start. This time his wife had complained about the soapy puddles around the sink. Last night at dinner, she’d nagged him to sit up straight (“You know slouching is bad for digestion! No wonder you’re always eating Tums like candy!”) and before bed, she’d groused about the socks in the hamper (“Marvin, how many times do I have to remind you? Undo your socks when you take them off!”). His stomach was often awash in the acid that required he ingest the pastel tablets.
A bicyclist whizzed by so close his tie lifted and sailed in the breeze. Turning, he saw the retreating figure of the small, dark-haired boy with the blue backpack. Why couldn’t he ride on the street where he belonged? Marvin shook his head.
He wished that this morning, of all mornings, Trudy had been scheduled to visit her in-home patients. Those mornings Marvin dressed and ate breakfast in beautiful quiet. Even when Trudy was in a good mood, she banged the dishes and played the radio at top volume. After Mrs. Winthrop in 7E complained to him about the noise, he realized all the neighbors heard him being accosted regularly by his wife.
A pigeon swooped low. Marvin ducked, cursing under his breath. They always cooed serenely from lamp posts or park benches until he approached, then launched into his path as if he were a predator. It was a miracle in all these years one hadn’t shit on him. That would be the last thing he’d need today—a stain on his charcoal gray suit. He smoothed his tie, one he’d spent too much money on because it matched perfectly the pale blue pinstripes in his suit.
He crossed with the light at Belmont. Today he was meeting with his boss about a promotion to Chief Actuary, replacing Bob Shay who’d gone to their competitor. He lifted his gaze. The early sunshine burnished the tops of the buildings. Think positive, Marvin. You’re going to get this job. He’d taken an online course last month to learn to re-train his brain in the power of positive thinking.
He’d reached his favorite part of his commute—the canopy of crabapple and dogwood lining the sidewalk. In spring he moved beneath their pink plumes, now their gold and red leaves sailed to the ground in twos and threes. A tall woman wearing knee-high boots and a short beige leather jacket approached. Marvin nodded in greeting; the woman, inscrutable behind her enormous sunglasses, passed without response. Her floral perfume overlaid the sweet decay of fall. Marvin wished he’d married a glamorous woman. Trudy’s idea of style was to button a colored cardigan over her nurse’s uniform. But who was he kidding? A woman like that was out of his league. A squirrel carrying a crabapple darted across his path.
When had things with Trudy soured? They’d been so carefree in their love. He remembered their “picnics” on the living room rug, afterwards pushing the dishes aside to make love. He could still see Trudy’s auburn hair pooling on the braided rug, her eyes afire. Over the years, as Trudy grew anxious about money and resentful about still living on a fifth-floor walk-up, Marvin retreated. He felt guilty for not advancing in his career, for not making more money. He hardly knew the man in the mirror; it seemed with each day his jowls sank and his hairline rose.
Marvin stepped off the curb at Murphy and almost got clocked by a cab. The driver honked; Marvin lifted his hand in apology. He and Trudy needed to bring spontaneity back into their relationship. He wanted Trudy to see him as the fun-loving and capable man she married. After he got the promotion, he’d suggest they celebrate in a sun-soaked paradise like Cancun or the Bahamas.
Two blocks and then left on Greenbriar. Sunlight filtered between the tall apartment buildings, etching the sidewalk. As he stepped into the light, envisioning making his case to his boss, a scream pierced the air. It was a primal sound, a woman, as if she was being murdered. He looked up, toward the sound.
Falling toward him was a bundle of white cloth, angled edges flaring out like wings. But these wings fluttered non-buoyant, offering no navigation. He stopped, his brain puzzling through what the thing could be. Time stretched and elongated as he studied the package. Then, about two-thirds of the way up the building, his gaze snagged on a woman’s head and shoulders emerging from a window. “My baby!” she wailed, the words ricocheting against the bricks, piercing the sun beams, bouncing on the sidewalk.
Marvin dropped his briefcase and raced forward. The bundle hit his arms, the impact sending him down. He clutched the weighted cloth to his body as his shoulder slammed into the walk. Pain radiated down his body, but Marvin managed to prevent his head from meeting the concrete. He rolled, the bundle curled tight. He came to a sitting position, legs askew. Lowering his arms, the cloth fell open to reveal the baby, naked but for a diaper. The infant howled, face pinched in anguish, fists clenched. The baby was small, a few months old. Marvin, bruised and aching, laughed. He’d saved a baby! His heart swelled with the first blush of valor. In his mind, he was already at the press conference, shaking hands with the mayor while the cameras chattered, the grateful mother by his side, Trudy looking on, beaming. Marvin wrapped the cloth around the infant and cradled it against his chest. People arrived, encircling he and the baby, their exclamations weaving with the baby’s cry.