The evening traffic stalled. I touched-up my faded lipstick in the visor mirror to kill time and adjusted the heated leather seat. I wanted to reach my fiancé in Skokie before the Canadian front spun off Lake Michigan. The cell phone in my purse chirped; I rummaged beneath my handkerchief to answer.
"Maggs, don't hang up. Plea—please. I'm in trouble."
The voice left me cold. "I don't want anything to do with you, Dad."
"Wait. I—I have a baby."
"Meet me at Grant Park. I'll explain. Help me, Maggs." The phone clicked into dead air.
The shadow of a lonely girl at a frosted window darkened my mind. I couldn’t leave any child with that man. I pursed my lips and caught the 290 interchange heading east.
I found him on a bench, an oversized woolen coat draped about a frame wasted and thin. He faced away from the lake, the winds buffeting his back, causing him to recede into the folds of cloth. He sat alone.
I lifted my fur collar in a futile effort to shield myself from the frigid blast. "What's going on?" My breath froze in short bursts. "Is this some kind of morbid joke?" Homeless alcoholics don’t travel with babies.
His eyes glazed over, a sheen of water reflecting the arctic sunset. "Maggs, no. I'm trying to get sober."
My mouth shifted into a doubting smirk. "Sure. What do you want?" I raised gloved hands to show I hadn't brought my wallet.
"I don't want nothing from you." He looked toward the dirt, shame in his hollow cheeks, failure in his motion. "I need your help." He lifted the flap of his coat revealing a knot of tattered blankets nestled against his chest. The swaddle wrapped about a pink ski cap covering most of a sleeping face.
"Oh my God!" My voice caught, the breath ripped from me. "Is she yours?" I shuddered, my mind ground by the glacial memory of a seventh birthday party when my father never returned.
He shrugged. "She's more mine than not." He shook his head. "Her mama died a couple months back. I promised I'd look after her."
The ache of a motherless childhood shivered through me. "Wasn’t it enough that you screwed up my life?" My eyes flooded. "Fifteen years I waited for you. I won’t let you do that to her too. Give her to me!" I lunged forward and grabbed the girl, bundling her close.
He stood, his hands reached toward me as if he were fighting the urge to pull her back. "Me and her mama were like mar—married. We named her Sunny cause she made us feel warm."
He sounded sincere, but I doubted. "So you just took the baby? You should've told the police." A gust cut through me and I turned my back to the wind, stepping beside the man who'd abandoned me.
"What do you want from me, Maggs? I—I gotta try to do the right thing at least once, don't I?" He wiped his eyes. "I took Sunny as my own, just like they tell you in your church, right? Feed the orphans. That's what they say, isn't it? Well, I did that. For two months I gave all I had."
"A kid's more than a short term commitment. You seem to have trouble remembering that."
He nodded as the corners of his mouth sagged. "You think I don't know that? You think it don't k—kill me to admit I can't do it? Not for you and now not for her? I done my best but I’m bone dry. You‘re all I got left to give her."
Sunny kicked in my arms and cried.
He picked up a crumpled grocery bag. "Her bottle and the last diapers are in there." He pressed it into my hand. "And her stuffed rabbit. She likes rabbits. Just like you did." He placed a hand on her legs and smiled. "Don't cry, Funny-Sunny. It's gonna be ok now." He looked at me. "She's getting cold. You gotta go."
There was something wrong about leaving and I stood motionless among the swirling flurries and decaying leaves.
He took off his overcoat, wrapped it about his daughters, and turned, stepping into the thickening darkness. "It was good to see you again, Maggs."
Sunny snuggled into my arms and I labored to find a thought or action. "Dad!" He stopped in the distant shadows and faced me once again. "Dad. Call me?"
He nodded and disappeared.
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