Tim was on his way to work when he found the baby in the dumpster. He worked out of a strip mall because it had the cheapest rent and his budget was pretty slim. He was throwing all his capital into promotion and it still wouldn’t be enough. Tim was running as a candidate in the municipal election. No one else was brave enough to challenge the incumbent, who was a lying sack of steaming horseshit.
He heard the baby crying and that sound sent a needle of pure agony through his heart. Tim’s daughter had just lost a child to leukaemia. He had heard the sounds of a child in distress way too often. Laura was four and a half, though. Her crying, when she had cried, which truthfully hadn’t been very often—mostly when her mother had broken down—it hadn’t sounded like this baby.
Tim opened up the dumpster, pulled out some of the trash, and there it lay in a pink blanket just as small and perfect as you could want.
The feeling of anguish went sideways and became anger. It was the kind of boiling, churning anger that made him take out a second mortgage on his house so he could run as a candidate against the incumbent. It was the kind of anger he’d felt when the doctors admitted there wasn’t much more they could do for Laura.
He jiggled the baby softly in his arms and murmured to it. It stopped crying. Its eyes closed. Its face went still as a dolls. The anger inside him melted away. It had the smallest feet and hands, brown hair and eyes.
He took the baby along to the office, intending to call an ambulance and the police. But when he got to the office, it seemed too late. The baby had died.
The paramedic said, "Is this a joke?"
"How do you mean?"
The paramedic was a young man with a perfunctory attitude Tim didn’t like. "This isn’t a baby," he said.
"Of course it is,” Tim said.
"I think you’ve been the victim of a joke, sir. Here, take a look." The paramedic held the baby up in his thickly muscled arms. The baby’s arms and legs flopped. Its eyes stared, glazed. The paramedic squeezed its middle and Tim heard that cutting cry.
“She’s alive,” Tim said, relief surging through him. “Oh thank goodness.”
"It’s a doll," the paramedic said. "It’s just a doll, sir.” He squeezed it again and the baby cried louder.
“You’re hurting her,” Tim said. “Stop that.”
“She’s just a doll,” the paramedic repeated. He handed the baby to Tim then placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder, smiling. “Take it easy, sir. I have to get to my next call now. You take care.”
The paramedic got back into his ambulance and drove off. Tim hugged the baby against his chest and rocked her gently. "You’re all right," he said. "It’s all right now. Daddy’s got you."
The baby cooed at him. He wondered if she needed a bottle. He’d have to send Karren out for one when she came in.
When Karren did come in she wouldn’t go. She said, "Lord, what are you doing with a doll, Timothy?"
"She was abandoned," Tim said. "In a garbage dumpster. Can you believe people? I think she’s hungry. She needs formula."
"You need a shrink," Karren said.
He decided her name was Lucy. She had the softest cheeks, the smoothest skin. She liked to pull off his glasses with her little hands. She liked to suck on his tie. He needed to find someone to look after her. He had so much work to do. But he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her alone.
"I’m going home early," he told Karren.
"You need help," she said.
A week later, Tim could be seen canvasing the streets with Lucy in a carrier against his chest. He’d bought a car seat, formula, and a crib. He’d never been so invigorated.
Lucy cried only sometimes. She was beginning to make talking noises. He’d called his daughter to tell her the good news.
"You found a baby in the dumpster and she’s living with you?" Lillian sounded disbelieving on the other end of the phone.
"I did so. She’s as cute as a button. Her name is Lucy. When you have time, you should come round and meet her."
"You have to talk to social services. Have you gotten her into the hospital?"
"They don’t want to look at her," he said. “The nurses at the clinic…”
The nurses had tried to smother their laughs. One of them had touched his arm and asked gently if he would like to see Dr. Richards.
"Is he a pediatrician?"
"No, sir. He’s a GP. But he can give you a referral to see a specialist."
"A specialist? Do you think she needs one?"
"Sir, you should see doctor Richards."
At that point a little boy in the waiting room had asked his mother loudly why the old man had a doll. Tim couldn’t handle that. He saw what the nurse was driving at with her specialist. He got out of there.
He strapped Lucy into the car seat then sat for a few moments, his head resting on the steering wheel. Was he crazy? Was Lucy just a doll? Lucy giggled from her car seat. She was leaking spit like a hose all over her new jumper. He said, "They’re all idiots," And started the car.
Then came the intervention. Karren started it, but she was in cahoots with her daughter. Both of them showed up unannounced. "We want to see her," Karren said. Lillian just looked at him, her mouth sealed in a line that meant business.
He’d just laid Lucy down with a bottle, but this was an occasion so he went into his bedroom and gently lifted her out of her crib. She cooed softly, mind still fuzzy with sleep. He brought her out, feeling a burst of pride. This would show them. They would be delighted with her.
"Oh my God," Lillian said. "Oh my God." To Karren she said, "You were right. I have to make a phone call." She got out her cell and started punching buttons.
"Do…do you want to hold her?" Tim asked.
Karren smiled at him. "Yes. I would love to hold her, Tim."
He put Lucy into Karren’s arms and Karren smiled down. "Hello, Lucy," she said.
"Oh for Christ sake," Lillian said. "Don’t indulge him."
"Indulge me?" Tim asked.
Lillian ignored him. She said into her phone, "Yeah, David, it’s me.…Listen, it’s bad.…Yeah.…No he’s really serious. You have the number for the psych services?…Yeah. No I’m fine…Really, I’m okay. I’ll go with him.…Of course they’ll let me, I’m his daughter."
Tim stared at Karren who was bouncing Lucy gently. Lucy’s eyes stayed closed. She gurgled softly, half asleep. He wanted to grab Lucy away from Karren, to protect her, keep her safe.
Karren said, "We’ve gotten really far behind on the campaign, you know, Tim. They’ve been running some pictures of you with Lucy. I’m going to send a release."
"Something that says you’re pulling out for health reasons, okay?"
"I’m perfectly healthy."
"NO," Lillian said. "You’re not, Dad. You’re really not."
"Give me Lucy, please," he said to Karren. He held Lucy close to him, kissed her forehead. "I’m so happy I found you," he murmured in his best cutesy baby voice. "Yes I am."
Lillian began to cry. Karren reached out to her, but Lillian stepped back. "I’m going to slip to the washroom," Lillian said and went into the hall.
Tim looked at Karren. She was one of his closest friends. She had a doctorate in political science, taught at the local college, had agreed to help him on the campaign because she agreed with him about the incumbent. She said, "I’m really sorry, Tim."
Tim couldn’t understand why everyone was acting as if something terrible had happened. He felt as if the best part of his life had just started up again. He’d been so sad when Lillian had grown out of that age when she could be picked up and held, protected from all the ills this world had to offer. Then he’d been thrilled when Lillian and David had had Laura, and then devastated when Laura had died.
Tears began to fall down his cheeks onto Lucy’s face.
"In a minute," Karren said, "some people are going to come. Some people who want to help you. They’re going to figure out why you love Lucy so much."
"Are they going to take Lucy away?" Tim whispered.
"I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you."
"Are they going to take her away?"
"I don’t know," Karren said. But he saw in her eyes that she did know. He saw in her eyes that this was an end to his relationship with Lucy.
"I have to go," he said. "I’m meeting someone. About the campaign."
"No," said Karren. "You’re not going anywhere. The campaign is over."
"Don’t say that. I can go. This is my house. I can do what I want in my house." He was feeling his anger coming, boiling, churning.
"Shh," Karren said. "Don’t raise your voice, please."
"I can shout if I want to," Tim shouted. "This is my house. This is my baby. Lucy is mine."
Lucy woke up. She began to cry. Tim realized he’d been a fool to shout. His anger disappeared. He sat down in an easy chair. He tried to sooth Lucy.
"How do you want this to end?" Lillian had returned, her face puffy. Damn it, she was beautiful. She was his little girl too. His baby. She glared at him. She was angry. Why was she angry at him?
"Will you call them and tell them not to come?" Tim whispered. "Not to come take her away?"
"Dad, you’re sick and you need help."
"But all her things. They’ll have to take all her things. I need to pack them."
"Okay. Let me hold her," Lillian said. "Let me hold Lucy while you pack up her things."
So he surrendered Lucy, his little girl, to Lillian, his other little girl, and went into his bedroom. He bundled up the diapers, the formula, a sterilized bottle, some jumpers. Lucy’s favourite blanket. Her little stuffed owl. From the other room he heard Lucy start to cry.
He ran out of the bedroom. They weren’t in the living room.
Karren was yelling. Lucy was screaming, really mad. He followed the sounds into the kitchen.
Lucy was on the counter next to the coffeemaker. Lillian stood over her with a bread knife.
He shouted. Jumping forward he grabbed Lillian’s arms. He grabbed the knife and twisted it away from her. He threw it into the sink and let go. He lifted up Lucy who stopped crying.
"They should take you away," he said to Lillian, "not me."
"Maybe they should," Lillian said. She was crying, too. "But she isn’t real, Dad. She’s just a doll."
"She’s real to me," he said.
He pushed through the backdoor, out into the yard. He heard Lillian and Karren arguing. They didn’t follow.
In sock feet he walked out of the yard and along the sidewalk, cradling Lucy in his arms. She opened her mouth and laughed. She liked going for walks. "Dada," she said, and he smiled.