The electric chime of the doorbell echoed through the featureless gypsum walls of Squirrel’s studio apartment.
“Chick chuck chicka chuck?” Squirrel pondered as she looked down from her water-stained copy of the times. She scurried toward the front door and opened it, gripping the knob with both paws. Atop her welcome mat sat a damp, cooing pile of cloth.
“Chicka chuck?” She nudged away a fold of the blanket. The perfectly round head of a human baby peered at her with deep brown eyes. She stuck her head out into the rain, looking around for a hooded figure or a car speeding away. The street was silent. The only thins that moved were the raindrops through the pale orange streetlight. Gently, she snatched the bundle between her teeth and closed the door.
* * *
“Chicka chick chuck chick chick chuck,” Squirrel attempted to sing, “Chicka chick chuck chick chuuuuuuuck.”
Baby sat in front of his birthday cake, his deep brown eyes twinkling in the solitary candlelight. He blew out the candle and reached in for a handful of cake, but Squirrel gave him a firm slap on the wrist.
“Chuck chicka chuck!” She scolded him, wagging a finger in his face. He looked at her unflinchingly.
“Chicka… chicka chick chuck.” Squirrel nuzzled the boy’s forehead and cut him off a corner piece.
* * *
“Chicka chuck!” Squirrel cried out from the drivers seat of her Grand Caravan.
“I know, mom! Geez!” Baby walked away from her and toward the glass doors of his new kindergarten.
“Chick… achick chuck…” She said, just quiet enough that the other kids couldn’t hear. The last thing she wanted was to embarrass him.
Baby turned to face Squirrel. “I love you too, alright? I’ll see you later.”
* * *
“I fucking hate you!” Baby shouted, turning away from Squirrel. “I hope I never see you again!”
“Of course I fucking mean it! You ruined my life!”
Squirrel sat with her hand in her paws, waiting for the apology. It never came.
“If you loved me you would let me do whatever I want!” Baby grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. “I don’t care what you say, I’m gonna go hang out with my friends. See you whenever I guess.” Baby slammed the door behind him.
* * *
Squirrel stared at the landline like she has done for the past two hours. Muted re-runs of some failed Fox sitcom cast strobes of dull blue light across the featureless gypsum walls.
A knock. Squirrel’s ears pricked up before she realized the source of the noise. She walked toward the front door and spied through the peephole. A tall man in a uniform stood on the porch, the breast of his jacket emblazoned with the name “Officer Wilson.”
“LAPD. Please open the door, ma’am.”
Squirrel opened the door a crack and peered out.
“Chicka chucka chuck?”
“Ma’am, I need to ask you a couple of questions.”
“Chuck… chick chuck chuck chuck?”
“Yes, it’s about your son. I’ll need you to come with me”
Squirrel closed the door and grabbed her coat.
* * *
“Chick… chick chuck chuck…” Squirrel sat on the stiff hotel furniture that abutted the hospital bed.
“Yes, ma’am. We found your son unconscious on the sidewalk outside of the ER at about 11:20,” the doctor said, thumbing through one of his charts. “My guess is that he was dropped off here by his friends after he took too much of something he shouldn’t have taken. He sure as hell couldn’t have walked here-”
Squirrel grabbed a handful of tissues from the table and dabbed the corner of her eyes.
“Sorry. We’ll monitor his condition for the next 12 to 18 hours in case he makes some sort of turnaround, but frankly… well, I suggest that you stay the night with him while you still can.”
* * *
Baby sat poised on Squirrel’s knee on a plain reclining chair by the fireside. They wore matching sweaters and manufactured smiles. In that single, solitary moment, they were happy, or at least sure as hell looked it.
Squirrel put down the picture frame and traded it for the bottle of cheap vodka on her bedside table. She shook the bottle, but there was barely an ounce left, so she tossed it to the floor. Squirrel closed her eyes and dropped her head to the pillow. A line of sun peeked through a gap in the blinds, but she didn’t bother fixing it, she just turned away. She thought she heard the doorbell ring, but couldn’t be bothered to check.