Mark dragged his dustpan behind him as he walked down the dimly-lit hallway of the movie theater. He kept his stride slow and lazy, despite his long legs, and idly swung his broom inches above the carpet like a pendulum. He ignored the trail of pop-corn to his right, unfolding his schedule just enough to see which auditorium would need cleaning next. Number fifteen—perfect. He was nearly there. As if waiting for him to arrive, people started filing out of the two heavy doors. Mark propped the doors open and stood to the side. He politely wished the leaving crowd a good evening because that was what the managers insisted he do. He looked them in the eyes, not actually seeing their faces. They were the same, after all, seeing only his uniform and accepting his farewell greeting as nothing more than an expected element of service.
"This was a busy one." Mark glanced over at the approach of his co-worker, Tim.
"Yeah," he replied, peering into the darkness inside of the auditorium door to gage how many people were still on their way out.
"But it was mostly old people, so it shouldn't be too bad."
Tim nodded, calling a "Have a good evening!" to the next group of people exiting. "You coming to the party tonight?"
"Good. You didn't seem so sure before."
"Whatever. Like I care what my parents say. It's not their business anyway."
"What'll they do?" Tim flicked his long bangs out of his face and leaned against the wall.
"Nothing, really. A talk about responsibility and curfew and the importance of sleep . . . you know how it goes."
"Sleep is for the weak."
Mark laughed, picked up his broom, and dragged his dustpan behind him into the auditorium.
"That's everyone," he called behind him after glancing around the empty seats.
The two boys started in on the first two rows, picking up garbage and pushing popcorn around with their brooms. They were shortly joined by Julie, another teenage employee, and they chatted about their favorite music, what movies they wanted to see, what new rumors were circling about their friends at work or school, and so on.
"I'm going to the party," Mark was saying, "Mid-terms aren't such a big deal-" his voice tapered off into a surprised silence.
"Hey guys," he said after a pause. "Come over here, someone left their baby!" He bent down to examine the bundle wrapped up inside of a plastic infant's carrier.
"Seems okay," he answered the flurry of questions being shot at him, as the rest of the employees crowded around to stare in amazement.
"What should we do with it?" Tim asked in a tight voice, just as the baby woke up and started to bawl.
"How should I know?" Mark grimaced and covered his ears.
"We need to tell the managers," said Julie, the most level-headed of them at the moment. Tim unhooked his two-way from his back-pocket, and asked the managers to switch to the private channel they reserved for communicating about delicate matters they didn't want broad-casted across the building.
"What's going on, Tim?" Paul, the assistant manager on duty for the night, asked, his voice crackly over the walkie-talkie.
"We, uh, we found a baby," Tim struggled with voicing such an absurd message, "in theater fifteen, and we were wondering—what should we do with it?"
"It's a she, she's wearing pink," Julie said softly, crouching down by the baby and smiling. Seeing the smile, the baby stopped crying, and began staring at her with wide eyes.
"You found a what?" Paul's voice was incredulous.
"Tell him I'll meet him at the office," Julie sighed, and jogged down the stairs toward the exit of the auditorium. "Stay with her. Maybe her mom went to the bathroom or something and will be back."
With Julie gone, the baby started to scream again.
"I'll go help explain things to Paul," Tim said quickly, and disappeared after Julie.
Great. Mark thought. Leave me with it. He stared at the screaming child and sighed. Julie should have been the one to stay, she could have used her maternal instincts, or whatever. He crouched down in front of the baby and tried to smile. Her crying slowed a bit.
"Hey there," he said, using the high, silly voice people always use with babies and small children, and was amazed when the baby stopped crying altogether. "Guess you just wanted someone to pay attention to you, huh? I'm glad you're not crying 'cause you're hungry or wet or something. I wouldn't be able to help you there." He sunk down to sit completely on the floor, ignoring the stickiness. At his silence, the baby started to whimper again.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm still here," he said, his voice losing the high-pitched quality now. "Wonder where your mom is, though."
He thought back to the crowd of people that had exited the auditorium earlier, trying to remember if there was anyone that was likely to be the baby's parents.
"Were you here with your grandparents?" he asked out loud, looking into the baby's large dark eyes. "Most of the people seeing this movie were old, you know. Maybe your grandma or grandpa brought you, and are so senile, they forgot about you sitting on the floor there. That wouldn't be too bad. They'd remember later, and come get you." He sighed and shifted positions. "It's not too comfortable sitting on the floor like this. I wonder what's taking the others so long." He paused again. "Alright, we're moving out into the hallway." He stood up and stretched, and carefully lifted the baby's carrier, not sure if he should be surprised by how heavy it was.
"It would be kind of awkward for the next bunch of people to come in for the movie and see us sitting on the floor like that. Plus the hallway has more light—I'm sick of sitting in the dark," he chatted as he walked, wondering if talking to a baby was as bad as talking to yourself. He decided it didn't matter, he talked to himself on a regular basis anyway. If it was a question of sanity, his was probably already long-gone.
The hallway was empty—it was a Sunday night after all, not many people came to see movies after the sevens. He sat on the cushioned bench next to the auditorium doors and set the baby's carrier next to him.
"Hey, you're saving me from doing work, anyway," he grinned at the baby, who still just looked at him with curious eyes. "I'm not supposed to sit down on the job—but I guess it's okay now, since I'm supposed to be watching you and all. And we should stay here in case someone comes back looking for you. But if your mom or dad just went to the bathroom, you'd think they'd be back by now." He drifted off into silence again, but the baby didn't seem to mind this time. Absently, he adjusted the blankets around her, letting her wrap her tiny hand around his finger. She was pretty cute, he had to admit. She had clear, olive-toned skin, and a tuft of shiny black hair that matched her dark, dark eyes. Who could have possibly left something so precious behind in a movie theater? It wasn't like she was an old ratty jacket or scarf that would just sit around in the lost-and-found for a few months before finally being thrown away. You don't just forget about your baby.
This sort of thing wasn't entirely unheard of, of course. He'd heard all kinds of stories—at school, in the news, from gossiping neighbors. Maybe the baby's mom was just a kid herself, unmarried, still in school. Maybe she had made a mistake, done something she regretted, and the baby was now the one to face the consequences. She probably didn't have money, and her parents, upper middle class if she was from this area, refused to support her. What could she do? Probably too scared, or too tender-hearted to get an abortion. Maybe it went against her morals, whatever morals she might have had. He scowled, he hadn't remembered seeing any young teenage girls carting a baby around the theater lobby. It was a small theater—he probably would have noticed. Or would he?
"Well, its better than being left in the garbage," he murmured out loud to the baby. "It's warm in here, anyway, and doesn't smell that bad. And there's people like me to find you. But I really hope someone comes looking for you. Maybe you were kidnapped, and your mom and dad are really worried. And the kidnapper decided to hide in the movie theater, but was so moved by the touching story that he left you behind so we could make sure you got home," he laughed. As if. It was more likely the baby's mom was a drug-addict and would rather spend her money on her next fix than take care of the baby. Or maybe not. She wouldn't have bothered with such an expensive car-seat carrier thing then, let alone pay nine dollars to see some sappy old-people movie.
"How's this:" he said, his finger still securely trapped in the baby's fist. "Your parents were real nice, upstanding people, but they died in some tragic accident, leaving you with your grandparents. But your grandparents are real old and sick, and they think they'll be dying soon too. No way they can take care of you. They don't have any more family to pass you off to, and they don't take you to any sort of service because they're too proud. Plus you probably remind them of their dead daughter, which makes them real sad every day, because she had this big falling out with them when she got married. Your grandparents didn't like your dad, see, but your mom was madly in love with him, so they got married anyway. So your mom's parents never spoke to her again, never even visited, not even after you were born. But when she and your dad died in that accident, they felt real guilty and took you in. Your dad must not have any family, or maybe they're all in jail. Yeah, that's why your grandparents didn't approve. They should have thought more about their kid's happiness, 'cause you never know when something like that's gonna happen. Deep down, they blame themselves for your mom's death, too. They couldn't have done anything to prevent it, but they still feel guilty, and now they feel terrible because they left you here. They're hoping that you find a better life with better parents, 'cause they don't feel like they're fit to raise another daughter. They won't be able to live with something like that, and so they go home and park the car in the garage, but leave it running and just sit there, waiting for . . ." he was cut off by Tim talking over the two-way.
"Is it still there?"
"Yes, it's still here." He didn't know why he felt so mad that Tim had called the baby an 'it,' since he had used the same terminology not long before. He groaned. What were they doing? Of course the baby was still here.
"They're still hoping someone's going to come look for you," he told the baby. "Guess I've already given up. It probably was some poor teenage kid that got knocked up and didn't know what to do with you." He laughed then. He shouldn't be talking about things like suicide and getting 'knocked up' to a baby. But then again, it wasn't like she understood anything yet.
He looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps. It was Julie. "Aw, aren't you sweet, sitting there with her?" Mark made a face, but didn't move to take away his captive finger.
"So what's the plan?" he asked.
"Paul called the police and child services. Someone's coming to get her. They'll try to find her parents, I guess. Maybe put her up for adoption or find a foster home or something. I'm not really sure."
Mark nodded. "It's a bit heavy," he said, as Julie reached out to take the handle to the carrier. "I'll carry her." Julie smiled, but didn't say anything. They walked to the office together, and Mark volunteered to stay with the baby until the authorities arrived.
Driving home that night, he continued to wonder about the whole situation, about that mysterious pink bundle. Who were her real parents, and what was her story? What would happen to her now? He would never know, but he felt somehow intimately connected to the situation. He wished he could do more for her, but he was just a stupid high-school kid. Yet, he felt a little older as he headed home to study for his midterms.