It’s night. They’re in a chapel that isn’t a chapel. It’s just like the dream she’s been dreaming for a long time now. But this isn’t a dream. It’s as real as their kissing a moment ago, the two of them — she in her lavender hair up against the wall in the alley behind the club her boyfriend’s brother manages, her boyfriend in his new bomber jacket up against her and both of them laughing. Santi bit her lip just a little. She can still taste the blood, but it’s nothing. It made them laugh. You have two drinks and that’s what happens. You laugh.
When they heard the baby crying, they stopped, looked up and down the alley and couldn’t figure it out. No apartments, just an alley in the Warehouse District where the clubs are. She took Santi’s hand, the way she would at a scary movie, and they walked down the alley away from the club’s back door, slowly, quietly and listening. The baby kept crying. When they reached the building where the sound was coming from, they stopped.
It was just another warehouse, but the lock had been cut with bolt cutters, and it was — they were sure of it — a baby crying. Were its parents hiding in the building, here without documents, and they couldn’t stop its crying? It didn’t sound like that. It sounded like someone had left the baby alone. How she knew this, Lily wasn’t sure — maybe her nieces when they were babies — but her boyfriend had to be thinking the same because, instead of saying, “None of our business, Lily,” he slid the big door open. For a moment, the crying stopped. Then it began again, and they walked carefully into the darkness until their eyes adjusted and they saw what shouldn’t have been there.
It’s like a little church, but not a church. There aren’t any stained-glass windows, but in the light of dozens of candles — ones that have been burning a long time, some just melty puddles of wax — you can see an altar, just like a little chapel’s, an old metal cross on a stand, little glass cups full of something like wine, a flat piece of cold stone, and on it, without a blanket, a baby twisting and crying.
It’s hard to see in the candle light, but the baby looks big to Lily — not newborn, a year at least — but that doesn’t matter. It’s on its back, naked, arms and legs turning in the dim light, and it’s crying the way all babies do.
She doesn’t want to step closer, or does she? Santi takes a step himself, so she does too, and, with her hand in his again, they walk toward it. In the flickering candle light, they’ll be able to see the baby, the altar, better, and they do — and it’s terrible.
The baby is bleeding from its mouth, from the palms of its hands, and from the top of its naked feet. It’s like a weird painting, Lily thinks, but it’s moving. It’s not a painting, and you can smell the blood— — that smell you don’t forget even when the blood is just your own.
At first you think it’s drool or spit-up. Babies do that, but there’s so much, and, if you look closely, you know it’s blood. It isn’t black like paint. It isn’t clear like water. Even in the yellow candlelight you can tell it’s blood.
The baby’s hands, making the funny arm movements babies make, have smeared the blood all over its little chest.
She looks at her boyfriend and he looks back. What’s Santi thinking? Is he thinking the same thing she’s thinking? Is he thinking:
The baby is bleeding. It’s not going to stop. It’s been bleeding a long long time, and it never dies. It always has enough blood. It’s bleeding forever, and it’s bleeding not because someone cut it, but because it was born this way, to bleed and not stop, world without end…..
She can tell by his eyes, which are staring at her as if he’s listening, as if he’s hearing what she’s thinking, too:
When was he born?
A thousand years ago, Lily. Can’t you feel it?
He’s a mistake, isn’t he. He shouldn’t have been born at all….
But he’s here, Lily. He’s in this warehouse. Why?
I don’t know. We’ll never know, Santi. Maybe this is a dream. Maybe in this dream we put him here and we forgot we did?
You don’t really think that.
No, I don’t…. But he doesn’t have anyone except us now. We found him, so he has us, right?
At that moment, the universe lurching like thunder, Lily remembers the baby — the one whose body she never saw, the one that bleeds forever in her dreams, that came out of her body and wasn’t Santi’s. Before Santi. The father, no older than her, denying it. But it was hers, her baby, so she can’t forget it.
But that baby was different. It was born dead.
“I remember a baby like this,” she announces, and the words — spoken now out loud, and loudly, over the baby’s crying — make them both jump, hurt her throat, make Santi blink as if stinging his eyes. “I know you don’t want to hear this, Santi, but before us…. “
When she finishes, he doesn’t run, he doesn’t take a step back, doesn’t hate her. None of the things she was afraid of. He stands there touching her arm gently as she stops talking, and together they listen to the baby crying in the candle-lit corner of the big, dark warehouse.
When she steps toward the baby, to pick it up, he doesn’t stop her. But when the baby screams even louder in her arms, as if she’s hurting it, as if it it doesn’t want to be touched by anyone, he makes her put it back down on the stone and takes her hand. In an eerie voice — as if he understands something that she doesn’t quite yet — he says, “He isn’t ours to take. We’ve got to leave him here.” Then he leads her back to the club where no one can see the blood on her in the dim lighting, and where, if he guards the bathroom door, she can clean the blood from her face where she kissed the baby, not wanting to let it go.
Years later, she will remember that this night — this night and what she told Santi in that warehouse — was their beginning, hers and Santi’s, all these years together, three children now, even if later that night, when they went back, they couldn’t find the big door with the cut lock, couldn’t hear the baby’s crying even though they returned every night for a week to the alley, couldn’t find out why there had been those little cups by the altar full of something that also glistened red in the candlelight, something that might help you live forever.
Where’s the baby now? she will wonder. Where’s my baby now?
Bruce McAllister is an award-winning West-Coast-based writing coach, writer in a wide range of genres, consultant in the fields of publishing and Hollywood, workshop leader and an “agent finder” for both new and established writers. As a writing coach, he specializes in all kinds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays.