I don’t know how we get to the hospital, but my biceps tear when they force my elbows straight and take Hannah away. There’s nothing anyone can do. A believer might pray; I collapse like a marionette, the bereaved jetsam that scums every hospital hallway.
Gurneys shoot by. Someone in a lab coat gives me something in a paper cup. I don’t know what Jason is doing. He’s somewhere else. I’m alone in some kind of exam room. I vomit and wash my mouth in the sink, then stiff-walk down the hall until I hit the glare of Sixth Avenue.
The pavement jars my knees as if I’m on stilts. People are out with their dogs, scrambling for the PATH, or racing to drop their babies with the nanny. That was never me. After dry-cleaning and child care I wouldn’t break even going back to work. Why slave so a stranger can treat Hannah like a job?
I have to move fast or fall over. I want to go back and rescue Hannah, carry her dead in my arms, but I know they’ll never let me so I keep going until the escalator in Barnes and Noble carries me to the second floor.
My feet walk to the kids’ section. Nannies line the perimeter of Junie B. and picture books. Too heavy a turnout for a clear day. When I was a nanny, I only came here when it rained. I was here once with Hannah to pick out another child’s birthday present. It must have been last week, she was already in the blue sling. We sat down to nurse and a Nanny asked, “Where’s Sylvie?”
Heads swiveled, but no one rose. I stood. “How old is she?” I asked. Maybe Sylvie always wandered and it was nothing to them. I don’t know. These were bookstore nannies, not park nannies like I was. I stalked the aisles with Hannah biting my nipple as she still nursed. “Sylvie?” I called. Should I scream? This is New York City, plus there’s an escalator to fall down, toilets to drown in, spit out Zwieback to eat off dirty carpet.
Sylvie toddled out from behind a shelf with no fanfare. What should I do? Tell the police? Follow her home and warn the mother? I thought about it all day.
Now I look at all the nannies to see if Sylvie’s is there.
And then I know; I want it to happen again. Like when I saw a rabbit nibbling tulips on seventh street. I looked for it ever after. But that only happens once. I‘d seen my one rabbit, lost it, and I’ll never be ok. I don’t have Hannah. I go into the bathroom. My breasts are leaking. My eyes too. There’s no paper towel, only blowers. I don’t have my purse or diaper bag. I wet the sleeve of my sweat shirt and dab at the mess on my chest.
A nanny pushes in with an oversized stroller. I step back to make room and ask her for a wipe. She frowns. She seems older than me, but maybe not; my path to nannying was paved with fuck-ups; hers looks harder. “Please?” I’m begging.
She softens and hands me a moist towelette. Her hand is soft. I want to hold it, but I’m polite and careful. I only touch the towel. It’s the same brand Hannah and I used and its scent spills my tears. The nanny has the grace to turn away.
She wedges the stroller into the pocket behind the wheelchair stall, facing you into the wall with nothing to look at. She enters her stall and closes the door.
What’s to stop someone from just—
I lift you out.
You’re so light and compact.
I inhale you.
Do you know what you are like?
A warm milky graham cracker. You have a strong neck and little blue eyes that pop open without crying. You are a total knockout. I wrap my sweatshirt around you. We go down the escalator. You gurgle and I coo “now-now-now.”
Now you are in my arms.
Now we are on the side walk.
Now the sky is blue construction paper.
The police will come, but not now.
Now horns blare.
Now I cup your ears and stroke the dent in your sweaty head.
Now we step over the puddle. Now I take you to the place I used to go. You’re not old enough for it yet, but we can’t wait. Like Buddha, we live in the now.
See that arch? That’s steel. Cars drive on it. Men made it from an idea and now it us gives shade.
Now you bang your head on my chest. You’re rooting. You smell my milk but you can’t you find it. Have you never nursed? Are you a formula baby? That’s awful. We’ll fix that. The world may judge us; the world wants nannies and formula. We want sky and now. Why didn’t the hospital take my milk for the NICU? I have natural antibodies that could help the children who haven’t died–
I come back to now.
Now gives us the world.
Now you must be three months old? You see shapes and bright colors. You like being out of the bookstore. You can’t see it but feel that wind? That’s buffeting from a spinning blade that lifts up-up-up. It’s a helicopter. This bench is dirty, but my lap is clean and I’ve got you. You nurse like a champ, a natural. My milk lets down: a searing line from my breast to your stomach that connects us to every mammal in history. Your arm flails. You catch my finger and make a fist around it. That’s a good grip.
OK let’s burp! That’s good.
Look! There it goes! Wave bye-bye. Bye-bye Helicopter.
Notes from Guest Reader Anne Rasmussen
‘Helicopter Parent’ pulled me completely into this narrator’s world even (and especially) as she veers out of bounds, and the sensory details of that hyper-real yet surreal way we experience the world in the midst of shock felt very well-chosen. As a reader I felt almost complicit in the narrator’s sudden transgression, and the intimacy of the final scene made me want to both watch and look away.