Authors: Yona Zeldis McDonough
“What about you as a prospective foster parent? With the goal of adoption?”
“Me?” Miranda's hopes lifted briefly at the thought before they came plummeting down again. How could she even consider adopting a baby? She had no husband, no boyfriend even, and an already-demanding job that was about to become even more demanding.
“Yes, you,” Judge Waxman was saying. “I think you've
demonstrated a remarkable attachment to this infant already. How many times have you been to see me about her? And how many times have you been to see
“Well, she's such a darling little thing, and of course I was concerned about her, having found her and everythingâ” She was babbling, babbling like an incoherent fool. She took a deep, centering breath and began again. “Doesn't it all take time?” she said. “Aren't there
Again that shrewd, raking look from the judge. “Of course there are. But in cases of urgent need, and this certainly qualifies, I have ways ofÂ .Â .Â . expediting things when I need to. We could conduct a home visit, and if everything is found to be in order, we could place her with you and begin the adoption proceedings. It would take a few months, but in the meantime you'd be fostering her and getting to know her better.”
I already know her,
Miranda wanted to say. But that seemed, well, crazy. So she kept quiet.
“Why don't you sleep on it?” Judge Waxman asked. “Think it over. Talk to your family. Your friends. And give me your answer in the next few days.”
Miranda nodded and left. Isn't this what she'd been hoping for, wishing for, in some way
for since the first time she'd shown up in front of Judge Waxman? Now that the offer was actually on the table, though, she was petrified, and she walked out of the building bathed in a pure, icy panic. Rather than take the subway, she decided to walk for a while; she needed to clear her head.
The day was sunny and not too cold; there were lots of people on the pedestrian path of the Brooklyn Bridge. Miranda had to maneuver past power walkers, joggers, women with strollers, old couples with thick-soled shoes and Polar
fleece jackets, and an excited, noisy bunch of school kids, all wearing identical neon orange vests. Below, the water shifted and sparkled; a flight of birdsâshe had not a clue as to what they wereâsliced the sky above.
The new Web site about to launch at
meant that in addition to her current workload, Miranda would now be overseeing all the online food contentâmore recipes that needed testing, more features that needed assigning, more deadline-averse writers. It was a step-up in responsibility, prestige, and scope. It would also mean a lot more work, especially in the beginning. How would she manage all that, on her own, with a brand-new baby? And the baby looked to be black. Maybe she would be better off with a different sort of familyâa family with two parents, or a family in which at least one of them had skin her color.
Once across the bridge, Miranda walked west until she reached Greenwich Street and started heading uptown. Assuming she could clear the racial hurdleâJudge Waxman, after all, had not even raised the issueâcould she afford to hire a sitter? Or would she need to resort to daycare? What would her father say? Her landlady and her colleagues at work? Her friends? She had a hunch that Courtney was going to rain right down all over her parade. What was it with her lately anyway? Was it just the engagement, or was it something deeper, more systemic?
Her father. She realized she hadn't talked to him for more than a week. But given the fog of dementia that enveloped him, it didn't seem to matter how often they spoke because he was not there when they did. Still, she had to try, and she took her phone from her purse. His caretaker, Eunice, answered, and after giving Miranda a brief update, she handed over the
phone. “Nate, it's your daughter,” Eunice was saying in the background. “Your daughter, Mirandaâyou remember?”
“Miranda?” her father said uncertainly. “Do I know you?”
“Of course you know me, Dad.” She closed her eyes, just for a second, as if her sorrow were a visible thing she deliberately chose not to see. “I'm your daughter. Your girl.”
“There are no girls here. No girls.” His voice quavered. “I like girlsâlittle girls, big girls. Girls are very, very nice. I think I used to have a girl once. What happened to her?” Now he sounded ready to cry.
“Dad! You still do! I'm that girlâit's me, Miranda.”
“You're not a girl,” he chided. “No, no, no. And Mirandaâthat's not a girl's name. I would have called a girl Rosie or Posy. Maybe Polly. But never Miranda.”
There was a silence during which Miranda swiped at her tear-filled eyes. She had come to the mini-freeway that was Canal Street and did not answer until she'd crossed safely to the other side. But when she attempted to prod her father's ruined memory again, it was Eunice who replied. “He's having a bad day.”
“I can tell.”
“Some days he knows your name and everything. He remembers where you live and when you're coming to visit.”
“But not today.”
“Not today,” Eunice said. “Why don't you try again tomorrow?”
“I will.” She put the phone back in her purse and descended the stairs to the subway station. While on the train, Miranda took unsentimental stock of her life: eight years at a good job and a recent promotion, a nice apartment, money from both her salary and a small inheritance from her
grandmother, a father sinking deeper into the oblivion of his disease. Good friends, no boyfriend, and apart from a date with a man she'd never actually met, none on the horizon either.
She had not been thinking about having a child when she first happened on the abandoned baby on the platform. But once she'd seen her, held her, everything changed. The very act of finding her seemed significant, so by extension, all the events leading up to itâfalling asleep and missing her stop, waking up in
particular station, passing by
spot at exactly
momentâglowed with significance too. She'd found a baby. How not to believe that in some way that baby was meantâeven fatedâfor her?
But was she equal to the job? Growing up, Miranda had not been especially close to her own mother. Her strongest bond had been with her father. Then she'd gone through that typical rebellious phase in her teen years, and before she'd ever had a chance to circle back and know or understand her in any more adult way, her mother had gotten sick. And died. Yet these last few weeks had opened new possibilities, new horizons. Maybe she
have it in her to do it all differently, to form the kind of attachment that she had longed for in her own childhood. At the very least, she wanted to try.
Suddenly she felt energized and, when she reached the
office on West Fourteenth Street, Miranda bypassed the elevator and took the stairs to the fifth floor. She wasn't even winded when she arrived. No, she was pumped, primed, and ready for the biggest challenge she'd ever faced. She'd sleep on it, of course. And then if she felt like thisâso certain, so committed, so excitedâtomorrow, she would contact Judge Waxman to tell her the answer was
ea and Lauren showed up the following Sunday morning to help her prepare for the upcoming inspection from Child Welfare Services. Bea was organized and unsentimental, ruthlessly jettisoning yellowed plastic containers, wire hangers, and the broken sewing machine Miranda had lugged in from the street a decade ago and never had fixed. Lauren, by virtue of the fact that she had kids, could be counted on to spot hazards that posed a threat to child safety. Courtney was ring shopping with the insufferable Harris but said she would try to stop by later. As Miranda had intuited, she was the only one who seemed less than enthusiastic about the plan. Miranda brushed her concerns away; Bea and Lauren were right there with her.
By the end of the day, Miranda's sunny top-floor apartment was in peak condition. Unworn clothes were bagged and prepped for the Goodwill truck, and weeded-out books for
the library. Clutter and old papers had been tossed, filed, or recycled. And the place was squeaky clean, from top to bottom, inside and out. When Miranda had tried to shove some of her knitting supplies into a closetâeveryone at
, even Martin, had taken a knitting pledgeâBea had nixed the idea. “They're going to look in the closets,” she said. “And in the medicine chest, kitchen cabinetsâeverywhere.”
“Does that mean I have to give up knitting?” Miranda said. She had hardly gotten started.
“No. We just have to turn your stuff”âshe gestured to the skeins of yarnâ“into decor.” To that end, she repurposed a basket Miranda had been planning to dump and artfully arranged the yarn into a display of pleasing textures and colors. The needles she gave to Miranda. “High up for these. Top shelf.”
“But it makes more sense to keep them with the yarn.”
“Are you kidding?” Lauren said. “She's rightâknitting needles could be
weapons. Get them out of sight. Now.”
Miranda meekly complied. Then she ordered pizza and opened a bottle of wine while they waited for it to arrive. Glass in hand, she looked around at her reconfigured apartment. The desk had been moved into the living room; she'd been persuaded to part with a poorly made bookcase, as well as many of the books in it, to make more room. “But not these; these are special.” Miranda stood protectively in front of a pile she'd saved from the discards.
“They look like kids' books anyway,” said Lauren.
“They are.” Miranda picked up a copy of
The Poky Little Puppy
, which had been
published in 1942. “They're all old, though. Some were mine when I was little; my mother had saved them. After she died, I couldn't bring myself to get rid
of them. And when I'd see an old book I liked at a sale or a flea market, I'd buy it. I didn't really think of it as collecting until about five years in.”
Lauren knelt in front of the pile. “
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Velveteen Rabbit.
A Child's Book of Fairy Tales
âlook at these illustrations; they're wonderful.”
“Those are by Arthur Rackham. He's one of my favorites.”
“You'll have such fun reading these together.” Bea was looking at
; one of the central characters was a sheep named Patapon. “She'll have a ready-made library when she gets here.”
she gets here.” Miranda sneezed; some of those books hadn't been touched in a long while and were dusty. “It's not a sure thing yet.” She reached for a cloth and dusted off Joan Walsh Anglund's
A Child's Year
. This was one of the books she had owned and loved; her name, written in red crayon, was still on the inside cover. Maybe there would be another name added to this book one dayâthe name of the little girl she hoped would come to live with her.
Miranda began stacking the books in the closet. She could have used that bookcase she was about to jettison, but she needed the space for something even more essentialâthe crib that Lauren's babies had used, rescued from its basement limbo, reassembled, and wiped down thoroughly with nontoxic cleanser. “I'll give it back to you when she's through with it,” Miranda had said.
“Not necessary. The shop is closed; I'm done.” Lauren patted her midsection for emphasis.
Everything else in what had been the tiny study was left pretty much intact: the small armchair she had used for reading would be perfect for feeding the baby; the pine cupboard
that had contained recipes, clippings, and back issues of
had been emptied in preparation for the baby's clothes. The artwork on the wallsâa poster of a still life by Matisse, another of musicians by Picasso, an oddball painting of an owl picked up at a local stoop saleâall seemed perfectly appropriate for the baby's eyes.
The baby. My baby
. Every time she said or thought those words, they did not seem real. How would it feel to move from a single state to a coupled one? For even though people talked about single moms so casually now, as if it were simply another lifestyle choice in an array of many possible choices, how could a mother ever be considered single? Didn't having a child preclude all sense of singleness? Didn't being a mother make you part of an indissoluble binary unit?
Her own mother had seemed to chafe at that connection; she was always urging Miranda to
go and play.
Her best friend in those years, Nancy Pace, had a mother who flopped down on the floor and embarked on marathon games of Candy Land, Monopoly, and Parcheesi with her daughter and her friends; they baked together and Mrs. Pace had taught Nancy to sew on a Singer machine she set up on the kitchen table. Miranda had longed for that mother.
The downstairs bell buzzed. “Pizza,” said Miranda.
“Good,” said the ever-hungry Bea. “I'm famished.”
But it wasn't the delivery guy after all. It was Courtney, all artlessly-artfully tousled blond hair and chic black coat.
“Did you get the ring?” asked Lauren eagerly.
“I want to see it,” added Bea.
Courtney shook her head. “No. We didn't find it today. But look what we did find.” She twisted her hair into an impromptu ponytail so that the small, flower-shaped earringsâ
diamonds and rubies from the look of themâthat twinkled on her lobes were more visible.
“Nice!” said Bea.
“Are they real?” Lauren asked, getting closer.
Miranda stood back. She was ashamed of the small, hot rush of envy she suddenly felt. Courtney had been her roommate and best friend freshman year; Bea and Lauren joined them later. It was Courtney who had seen Miranda through numerous all-nighters, boyfriends, and breakups, dreary jobs, and her mother's hideous death from colon cancer. But things had changed somehow, and she now seemed to regard Miranda with an annoying mixture of pity and disdain. The engagement had only made it worse. You'd think no one in the history of the world had ever planned a wedding before.
When Lauren and Bea finally stopped cooing over the earrings, Courtney looked around the apartment. “It looks great in here,” she said approvingly. “I love what you've done.”
“Thanks,” Miranda said, relaxing a little. Maybe she was as guilty of overreacting to Courtney's comments as Courtney was guilty of obtuseness in making them. The two of them did go way back.
“You should bake something,” said Lauren, who had recently purchased an apartment and was the veteran of a dozen or more open houses. “Use apples and cinnamon. And don't forget to have fresh flowers on the table, even if they're only a six-dollar bunch of tulips from the corner store.”
“Are you staging Miranda's apartment?” Bea asked.
“Why not? It works with prospective buyers; I'll bet it will work with whoever they send tomorrow.”
“I don't think you have to worry so much,” said Courtney. She let her hair fall down again; the earrings disappeared. “It's
just for a foster care placement. They won't be scrutinizing you so carefully.”
There was an uncomfortable silence before Miranda spoke up. “Actually, that's not true. The foster care placement comes first, of course, but Judge Waxman considers it just a temporary stop on the road to adoption. And so do I.”
“Miranda,” said Courtney. “How do you think you're going to pull this off? I mean, your place is cute and all, but you can't seriously believe you can raise a child here.” The patronizing tone was back at full blast.
“People do it with a lot less,” said Bea.
“And Miranda could eventually move,” Lauren pointed out. “Rememberâpromotion? Raise?”
“That's another thing,” Courtney said. “How are you going to deal with all the pressure of a new job
a new baby? Even women who are married have trouble managingâ”
“Maybe women who are married aren't as motivated as I am. I'm thirty-five, and I just broke up with my boyfriend. This may be my last chance to have a baby.”
“Don't you think you're being a bit self-dramatizing? Irresponsible even?” Courtney pushed her hair back, and the earrings twinkled anew. “Maybe this is all a reaction to Luke and you need to slow down a little to think it over. Adopting a baby is a huge deal.” She turned to Lauren. “Back me up here, would you? I mean, didn't we just have this conversation last night? You agreed with me then.”
Miranda stared at Lauren, whose face had turned a damning shade of pink. So Courtney and Lauren had together decided that she was
“I'm sorry,” Lauren said. “I do think Courtney has a point, but I'm behind you one hundred percent. We all are.”
“Strange way to show it,” said Miranda. Before Lauren
could respond, the bell rang again. This time it was the pizza delivery, and Miranda spent several silent minutes putting the slices on plates and passing them around. They ate in awkward silence until Bea brought up some utterly lame-sounding new play she had seen. It was a transparent, if touching, diversionary ploy, but Miranda wanted Courtneyâand all of them reallyâout of there
Still, she managed to get through the next half hour, mechanically munching her pizza and even making comments about the play, which she had no intention of seeing. Finally, they all got up to leave. “Let us know how it goes,” Bea said.
“We should talk,” added Lauren, glancing at Courtney.
“Talk,” Miranda said, averting her gaze. “Right.”
The door closed behind them, and finally she was alone. She attacked the dirty plates and glasses and reduced the empty pizza box into a mangled but compact hunk of cardboard before depositing it in the trash. Only then did she permit herself to sink down into her sofa and succumb to the wretchedness she felt. She hadn't touched the edges of her own desperation about having a baby before; she hadn't let herself. But here it was; no escaping or looking away now. What she had said to Courtney was true: she might not get another chance.
Her phone sounded, and she reached for it; maybe Courtney or Lauren was calling to apologize; they certainly owed her an apology. But it was Evan Zuckerbrot, who had been more than understanding about the fact that she kept postponing their meeting.
“I'm so sorry I haven't gotten back to you,” she said.
“No worries,” he told her. “I wanted to wish you luck. Tomorrow's the day that your place is being inspected, right?”
“Right,” she said. How had he even remembered that?
“Are you nervous?”
“Very,” she admitted.
“I would be too. If I were in your shoes, that is.”
She was tempted to ask if he wanted kids, but since they hadn't even met yet, the question seemed presumptuous. “As soon as I get this over with, we'll make a date,” she said.
“I'm looking forward to that,” he said.
After they said good-bye, Miranda sat with the phone in hand. Luke had never been so up front or so openânot when they'd first met, not after they'd become lovers, not when they'd parted. She had liked that elusive quality of hisâat first, anyway. But maybe it would be nice to date someone who just put himself out there and didn't feel the need to hide.
The next morning, Miranda woke at six o'clock even though the inspection was not scheduled until nine. She had taken a personal day, though she had not told Sallie Scott, the editor of
, why. What if she was turned down? No point in bringing Sallie and possibly the rest of the staff in on her private lifeâat least not yet.
Miranda used the time to luxuriate in both her shower and her immaculate apartment. She knew that the brownstone itself would present well; her landlady, Mrs. Castiglione, spent an hour every morning polishing the banister and vacuuming and mopping the hallway and stairs. She even swept the stoop and the sidewalk out front; not a leaf or piece of trash escaped her vigilant broom.
Miranda changed three times before settling on something to wear. She wanted to seem grown-up but approachable, professional yet relaxed. Finally, she decided on black jeansâthey were new and were especially well fittingâand a soft black sweater. Around her neck she wore a necklace of
amber beads. She wanted something to liven up all that black, and she imagined the warm, golden color would be perceived as baby friendly.
Then she baked an apple cake from the
archives. It was a dense, moist cake with chunks of fruit and a glaze made from reduced apple cider. Carefully, she dripped the warm liquid over the cake until it pooled in perfect puddles around the perimeter, and then she wiped away the excess with a moistened paper towel. This cake was ready for its close-up; even Marvin, as picky as they came, would have approved.
She had just set the cake on the table, next to the vase of purple tulips, when the bell rang. Showtime: the inspector was here. Instead of just buzzing her in, Miranda went downstairs to usher her up; she saw Mrs. Castiglione's head retreat back behind the double doors to her parlor floor. The landlady was well aware of Miranda's schedule and probably thought it odd that she would be at home and having visitors on a Monday morning. If the inspection went well and the baby actually came to live here, she would tell Mrs. Castiglione everything.