by Robert Kaye
Daisy fell out the window of our third floor apartment when she was eleven months old. I was on the couch staring at the bank statement, a line of overdraft charges advancing relentlessly, each bounce worth eighteen unaffordable dollars.
I love Daisy as much as anyone could love a child. But I was an idiot.
A moment prior, Daisy stood on the dining room table, hands pressed against the fixed pane of glass in wobbly-kneed imitation of walking. Going nowhere. Or so I thought. The table was jammed against the wall, just barely off the discolored linoleum that demarcated the kitchen; pushed up against the window because that was the only place it fit. While I stared at the bank statement, Daisy must have skootched over against the open part of the window. The corroded screen ripped with the sound of a razor knife slicing burlap.
Daisy had pointed to the table as if it were the promised land. I put her there after having argued all night with Annabel, her mother. Annabel was in the shower and Daisy's smile of delight was just what I needed, like dinner out when you can least afford it. I only meant to leave her there for a moment, meant to have her down before Annabel ever knew. Instead, I got suckered back to the bank statement.
Through sleep-stupid eyes I looked up in time to see Daisy sag forward, head crowning through torn screen, shoulders folding inward, a flash of white plastic diaper as she was birthed into the cool morning air. The noise of Annabel's shower, just twenty feet away, stifled Daisy's sharp little cry.
In the post-exit instant, I heard our resident murder of crows caw within the nearby tree, like men in a bar, too preoccupied to startle at a baby dropping from the sky.
In less than a sledgehammer heartbeat I reached our apartment door and ripped it full open, handle crunching wallboard on the backswing. Sprinting for the stairs, taking three at a time, squibs of pain exploded in my shins as feet slapped concrete. I pushed away the thought of Daisy's bones breaking like cheese against the sidewalk with anything I could. I pictured Annabel coming out of the bathroom, steam leaking towards the ceiling, the scent of her conditioner bleeding from damp hair into her flannel bathrobe, expecting to make things up in the clean light of a new day. She would see the sunshine through the open door, not yet realize that nothing could ever be made up aga in.
It was not the first time Annabel and I had been up all night disputing our lives together: my bad warehouse job, her lack of any job at all. Her unused education in Sociology and my incomplete one in everything else. Credit card maxed by frivolities like groceries and baby clothes, and our inability to save a dime toward an improvement on this jail cell-sized hole. Well you're the one who had to buy that damned guitar, which you never play anyway. She was right, which just made it worse.
Annabel was the checkbook I could not reconcile, our lives together caught in an avalanche of overdrafts, yelling until the downstairs neighbor banged on the ceiling. We hissed at each other while Daisy slept, oblivious to the war going on around her. We came close to making up one or two times, snatching back the bone of argument at the sign of weakness.
Daisy awoke at her usual five-thirty, smiling, wispy-haired and inexplicably delighted to see us. Annabel and I busied ourselves with oatmeal and apple juice. "I'm going for a shower," Annabel announced. Unilateral, the same as she decided she could not bear to go back to work after having Daisy.
After breakfast, Daisy wanted to get up on the table, to stand against the glass with arms braced, watching the world awaken on the street outside. Unable to add two plus two, I opened the other side of the window, the fresh morning air diluting the metallic odor of argument and diaper pail. I had to look at the bank statement one more time, examine the sequence of expenditures that brought the card house down, as if I could somehow reverse gravity with stubborn frustration.
After a purgatory of stairs, I passed the mailboxes and burst through the glass doors onto the walkway.
Inconceivably, Daisy was not on the sidewalk. I thought she had disappeared, Peter Panned to a place where parents don't argue. It took an endless moment to realize that the sidewalk did not travel directly under the window. Maybe I finally heard Daisy's operatic wail as she lay on her back on the narrow strip of grass beyond the weedy shrubs. Grass I used to think was coarse and ugly as beach wrack.
At some point, crouching over Daisy, not sure whether to move her, I became aware that there was someone behind me. He must have stopped when he saw a baby on the grass, decided to investigate rather than drive on and get to work on time. He wore a uniform shirt, with a red and white logo over his heart.
"Hey. You shouldn't be leaving a baby alone like that."
Maybe before this I would have told him to fuck off, that it was none of his business. I picked up Daisy, sure she was unhurt, holding her like life itself. Somehow, a deposit had been made early, a random error born from an otherwise perfectly merciless computer. A lucky bounce when least deserved put us ahead, and, for once, I was not going to upset the balance.
"You know," I said, "you're right."
About the author:
Robert Kaye dwells in Seattle, where he does not allow babies to fall out of windows, but commits plenty of other horrendous mistakes. He is a happy man, and therefore quite boring; possessed of an antique degree in English from the University of Washington and in full agreement with his lovely wife on the proper way to fold socks. His fiction has previously appeared in Carve, Kimera and Artisan magazines and has a story forthcoming in both Snake Nation Review and Cicada.