Because Kate knew she wouldn’t do it, she knew that Niva would. And Niva would continue to do this work for her, because she had no idea how much Ana was going to use her. At that moment, Kate disliked Ana enough to turn on her heel and walk into her room, shutting the door quietly.
Kate couldn’t control Ana, or Niva, but she could control her reactions to them. Right now, she was angry at Ana for trying to use her, and angry at Ana for using Niva. Maybe at some point she would sit down and talk to Niva about how Ana was going to abuse her, but for right now, she had to do some normal studying.
The vacuum sucked up the last bits of popcorn from the floor. The anger and hate that Kate had the night before had cooled into a pool of disgust.
It was raining today, a perfect day to crawl into bed with her books and a cup of tea. As it was, she was busy dusting and cleaning the two common rooms of the apartment. The kitchen was cleaned first, and it was spotless; now she was vacuuming the living room and would soon be finished with the dusting. She had found Ana’s books on the coffee table and piled them at the door to her room.
Lynn was lucky to have gotten three hours’ sleep before heading to the bus stop to catch the bus to campus; Niva had presented Ana with a perfectly typed paper that morning, adding to Kate’s irritation.
Kate looked at the clock after the vacuuming and decided she was going to take a quick walk to the convenience store across the street and pick up something special for lunch. She really wanted a tuna sandwich, but needed the key ingredient. She hoped that the store would have chunk white, but would be happy with the simple chunk light instead. She got her coat on and went down the three flights, pausing at the second floor to hear a baby cry.
She didn’t know that one of the girls on that floor had a baby, and she knew from the landlord that was a particular no-no, as this was for single college girls. If they had boys over, that was their prerogative, but no children were allowed. Maybe someone was babysitting.
The baby’s cries were stopped suddenly, though she heard nothing to make it stop. She shrugged and kept on going to the store.
The store was empty except for three older men who leered at her and then at the Kino screen, watching small bouncing balls hit numbers on a TV. She went up and down the aisles, searching for tuna. She finally found some, a pair of dusty cans, and plucked one from the shelf, checking the expiration date. There was one month left.
She shrugged, and brought it to the counter. After paying three dollars for it, she pocketed it without a bag and ran back to her house. As she approached the second floor, she heard the baby cry again. She hesitated at the door, not wanting to disturb anyone, yet, not wanting to get anyone in trouble, either.
Back at home, it would be perfectly all right to knock on someone’s door and ask if they needed any help or had a cup of sugar. But this was the big city, and people here were not as friendly or as forthcoming as they were from her hometown. She had her hand raised at the door, to knock, and thought long and hard. What would the girl say if she knocked on the door and said she heard a baby crying? “Yes, and I know it’s a bad thing but I have no where else to go”? “Yes, please don’t tell the landlord”? “Yes, I’m babysitting”?
The more she thought about it, the more she realized it was probably the last. It wasn’t her problem. She brought her hand down, and as she turned to go upstairs, the door opened and a harried girl stepped outside. The baby was still crying.
“Excuse me,” Kate said, and the girl stopped for a moment.
“Yeah?” she said, fumbling to lock the door.
“Do you hear that baby?”
“What baby?” she asked, and hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder.
“The baby crying?”
The girl gave her a look that Kate immediately read as, “You’re off your rocker,” while the girl said, “Yeah, right,” and went down the stairs. The baby stopped crying again.
Kate went back upstairs, and no longer heard the baby cry. When Lynn came crawling in around dinnertime, Kate saw from the look on Lynn’s face that she had an up close and personal date with her bed, and so she let her go. Niva came home next, followed by Ana at around nine, smelling of cigarettes and booze. The tromped into the apartment, and was obviously drunk.
It’s not my problem, thought Kate, shutting off her light.
The next morning, she had a ten o’clock class, so started to leave to go catch the eight o’clock bus. One of the girls from the first floor, a Vietnamese girl named Thanh fell into step with her. She was born in America, and her mother was dead. Her father was working three jobs to put his four children through college. Kate thought that was crazy. “He loves to work,” Thanh said as they sat on the bus. For once, she didn’t have her earbuds in.
“Did you hear the baby yesterday?” Kate finally asked.
“The baby crying, on the second floor.”
“No, we’re not allowed to have children in those apartments.”
“I know, but I could have sworn I heard a baby crying yesterday. This girl out and out lied to me when I asked.”
Thanh shook her head. “No, I’ve never heard any babies on that second floor. Creaking beds, maybe, but no babies.”
The two laughed over that, and Thanh promised to come upstairs sometime to visit, while Kate promised to do the same. Neither had the same classes, as Thanh was one year ahead, but Thanh said she’d be happy to have her along as a study buddy. Especially for her Western Civ class.
Kate went to her Algebra class and then was free until noon, when she worked at the computer lab for three hours before heading home on the three-thirty bus.
She got to the second floor and heard the crying again. Finally, she could take it no more and knocked on the door. An African-American woman opened the door. “Yes?”
“Hi, I’m from upstairs and…do you have any…sugar?”
The woman looked her over, and Kate knew that she didn’t look like she was baking, seeing as she had just come off the bus. “I think so, how much do you need? Come on in.”
“Thanks.” Kate stepped inside. She expected the crying to be louder in here, but it wasn’t. It was the same volume as it was out in the hall. Kate looked around the kitchen, furnished as it was like hers upstairs, with one kitchen and a large living room, and bedrooms off the kitchen and living room. In this set up, the TV was opposite the windows, and there was a doorway as opposed to an archway to the living room like her apartment was.
“How much do you need?”
“Much – Oh, only half a cup.” As soon as she spoke, the crying stopped. The woman took down a large tin from the cupboard and then took out a zipper plastic bag. She measured a half a cup with a measuring spoon. As soon as she poured the sugar into the plastic bag, the crying started again.
The woman gave her the plastic bag, and Kate murmured, “Thanks.” Then she asked, “How can you stand the crying?”
“You don’t hear that?”
“The baby – there, it just stopped.”
The woman smiled, “Honey, there’s no baby here.”
“I can hear it crying.”
“I swear, there’s no baby here.”
Kate frowned. “Okay, well, thanks for the sugar.”
“You’re welcome. Anytime you need anything, just come over.” The woman quietly shut the door behind her. Kate shook her head, thinking that the woman must think she’s crazy.
Kate heard the baby again and went up the stairs. As she did, she bumped into the landlady. “Hi, Mrs. Cohen?”
“Hello,” she said, her accent harsh. “I left a note upstairs. I got a complaint yesterday that one of you came in late singing up a storm.”
“I know who that was,” Kate said, her head down.
“You tell her I do not tolerate this here.” She started to walk back down the stairs.
Something occurred to Kate. “Mrs. Cohen?”
“Was there ever a baby here?”
Her face went cold for a minute. “Does someone have a baby?”
“No, but, and this is going to sound crazy, but I hear one. And I checked, but there isn’t a baby there.”
Cohen looked at the second floor door. “I won’t let babies here anymore. I did once, once. It was awful, awful.” Then Cohen knocked on the second floor door. The same woman as before unlocked the door. “I want to check your place,” she said. “I heard you have a baby.”
That was just what Kate did NOT want to happen, and the woman said, as she closed the door, “I told her that we don’t – “ and the door shut.
Kate went upstairs and immediately jumped onto her computer. She Dug her own address.
There it was, in black and white, a newspaper report from the ‘80’s. A baby was found in a closet, suffocated. The mother was an 18 year old college student who had suffocated her two month old baby because it wouldn’t stop crying.
Now it wouldn’t stop, and there was something in that apartment that was making it cry, making its soul stay behind.
She had to find Daniel, he could find the thing that was making its soul stay behind. But she had told Daniel to leave her alone. What an idiot she was. She turned right around and bumped again into Mrs. Cohen. Apologizing, she ran down the stairs and to the bus stop.
Kate sat in the middle of the bus, hoping he would be there, but he wasn’t. She said he lived in a castle in Longwood, so she got off the bus at the terminus and walked the four blocks to the beginning of Longwood Mall, a long expanse of trees and woodland where, according to him, the Summer Fairies were.
She walked along it, and it grew dark around seven; pretty soon she was stumbling around on the outskirts. Then she saw a house from a distance, a house bathed in light, with a fountain also bathed in light, facing the Longwood Mall. It looked to her like a castle on a hill, made of light.
She headed for it.