Maynardsville awoke to a crop of babies on their lawns last Wednesday.
The first to notice was Mr. Eugene Tomlinson. He was up earlier than usual because of his lumbago. The familiar dull ache had kept him tossing half of the night, so when he heard the first sounds of the birds that morning, he decided to get up rather than fight through that racket as well. Eugene opened his front door to see if the newspaper was there yet and found a baby instead.
It was sitting in a chair, pretty as you please, smiling at him. He noticed it was wearing a bonnet and a dress so he guessed it was a girl, but you never can tell with babies. Just like with the very old, the very young are all genderless, with the only clues being the accessories.
“Well, Eugene, what do we do now?” he said to himself. He’d been in the habit of talking to himself in the first person plural since his wife died three years ago after the flood. He felt less lonely this way and often got the right answer too. It was as if she was still with him, still advising him. He imagined he could still hear her voice. Perhaps this was a side effect of being married for over 30 years. Well over half his life it was.
Right now she was saying “Well, pick her up and take her inside. You don’t want her to catch cold.”
“But Emma, I don’t have any food for her. What’ll I feed her?”
“Don’t you worry about that. We aren’t planning on keeping her. She isn’t a stray kitten. Call the police. Surely somebody’s missing a baby.”
Always reasonable, his Emma. These days he only really missed her around supper time. Frozen dinners were a far cry from her scratch-made meals. They fed the body, but not the soul.
Now, how to pick this thing up? It’d been a long time since he’d had to handle a baby, and there’d been no grandchildren to practice on. Eugene wasn’t sure whether to approach it like a landmine or a piece of Wedgewood. Will it blow up? Will it break? Thankfully the baby didn’t struggle much, even put its arms up to be held. Eugene noticed she smelled good. This is a bonus with babies. Makes it easier to be with in an enclosed space like the efficiency apartment he had. The whole block was full of them, and they were full of old people. This couldn’t be a neighbor’s child. Maybe a grandchild? Maybe a foster? Even though he’d lived here two years he still didn’t know his neighbors well enough to know details like this. Heck, who was he kidding? He didn’t even know their names, and the strangers putting things into their cars might as well be thieves.
Eugene put the baby on the rug in the living room. She didn’t look capable of staying in one place on the couch. He couldn’t remember how old babies were before they stopped falling out of bed. Couches were worse – much narrower. Better not take any chances.
After getting this mystery child settled, he reached for the phone near the television and called the police. He was on hold for quite a while, long enough to start humming along to the hold music. When he was finally connected and explained his predicament he was told that three other found babies had been discovered and reported in the meantime. Only problem was that nobody had reported any of them lost.
Over the course of the day, more and more babies appeared on the lawns all over the city. It wasn’t that they materialized. They didn’t fade in, like Kirk and Dr. McCoy beaming down to a planet. They were just there, sitting on the lawn. It happened all that day too. Plenty of people walked out first thing to go to work, or walk the dog, or buy a breakfast sandwich at the corner shop and there wouldn’t be a baby. But when they returned, one would be there.
Not everybody was visited by these tiny guests. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to who got one and who didn’t. There did seem to be a few things that were common among them, though. They were all white, and they were all smiling. All were too young to explain where they came from and who their parents were. But all of them were unflappable. It was eerie how calm and contented these babies were. It made a difficult situation a little more tolerable.
Some appeared along with chairs. Most had clothes. Some didn’t. Fortunately those appeared in the afternoon after the morning chill had burned off.
All told, 387 babies showed up that Wednesday. Some went to foster homes. Some went to the hospital. One enterprising person set up a nanny service in the disused hotel at the eastern edge of town.
Some childless couples felt these babies were answers to their prayers. Others remembered why they never had children in the first place. Plenty of well-meaning folks had told them they’d change their minds when they had one, but it wasn’t true. Even though these babies were cheery, they were still babies, which meant they needed constant attention. Even going to the bathroom had to be done quickly or else something got destroyed – either through breakage or bodily fluids. In this they were a lot like puppies, but unlike puppies they couldn’t be left alone at home when it was time to go to work. There are laws about that.
A lot of people had to stay home that Thursday because of that. Those were the ones who weren’t lucky enough to have been in the first wave of babies sprouting up on the lawn, like mushrooms overnight. Weren’t lucky enough to have handed them off to the authorities – any authority – anybody who would take them off their hands. Some older folks tried to contact the orphanage, forgetting that there wasn’t one, hadn’t been one for many a year. Spare children – those without parents who were living, or those with parents who weren’t capable of being a parent (due to disease or disinclination) were shuttled off to the foster care system instead of the orphanage these days. The result was that they were just as lost and broken as if they’d been institutionalized, but it took longer to notice since they weren’t housed under the same roof.
A town meeting was called for that Friday afternoon, and everybody came, babies in tow. There weren’t enough babysitters to go around. “Somebody has to do something!” Myra Tuttle exclaimed, baby on hip. “It’s the Russians! They’ve done this to us!” yelled Bob Flanders, a child crawling in and out between his feet as he sat.
The mayor agreed something had to be done and tried to squash the idea of a conspiracy from the Russians, or aliens, as Thomas Wilson had suggested. She said it didn’t matter who or why but that, and that was where they were. The hotel on the east end was the best option for emergency use as the enterprising nanny had proven, so the city summarily took it over without paying for it, said something about “eminent domain” and pressed all city employees who could be spared into service as full-time babysitters.
After a week, a total of 2,347 babies had appeared. Then it stopped, just as suddenly as it started, and the town breathed a collective sigh of relief. Now they knew what their new normal was. They could make a plan. They waited a month to be sure. You can handle anything unusual as long as it stays the same.