This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1160 words.
Ellie draped the shopping bags over the handles of the buggy, and struggled out of the shop doorway. Little Charlotte was crying again, it was all she ever seemed to do. The nurse had said it was wind, and had recommended breast feeding for the umpteenth time, but Ellie had just nodded, and used the bottle after the busybody had left. She started to wheel the buggy toward the car, pushing against the handles to balance the weight. Something was niggling at the back of her mind, and it suddenly lit up like a lamp in her head. She had forgotten Stu’s lottery ticket. It was a huge jackpot this week too. He would go mad if she came home without it.
Ellie turned around and went back to the shop. The lottery machine was close to the front, next to the checkout. She would just pop in quickly and get the ticket, still be able to see the buggy through the window. No need to struggle getting it in and out again. There was only a small queue at the till, it wouldn’t take long. She could see the baby, and hear her crying too.
“Lucky Dip for tonight please”, she asked the bored-looking spotty boy.
“£2 please”. His reply was flat, like the voice of a robot.
Ellie fumbled in her purse for the right change. No need to split a £10 note, she knew she had enough in coins. The boy handed over the ticket, and she zipped it into a side pocket, to keep it safe.
At least Charlotte had stopped crying.
It wasn’t cold that afternoon, but Pamela was wearing a long coat, with the fur-trimmed hood raised. Just a black anorak, nothing special. She had been wandering around the shops for a couple of hours now, and was getting weary. But you never know, so maybe stay just a bit longer, she told herself.
The crying attracted her attention, and she quickened her pace, pulling the hood tight against her head. The unattended buggy was plain to see outside the general store, and the poor baby was screaming its little heart out. Pamela stopped next to it, bending as if to adjust her shoe. It took just a second to scoop the baby from inside, and clutch it to her chest using only her left hand. The crying stopped immediately, the little tot must have been content to be picked up.
At first, Ellie thought that the buggy had tipped over, perhaps pulled over by the weight of the shopping bags. She ran out of the shop doorway, righting it by letting the bags fall to the ground. It was empty, Charlotte was gone. Her mind raced, and she did stupid things without thinking. She called her daughter’s name, as if the baby was capable of walking off to peruse the nearby shops. Then she began to run around in circles, head pounding, mouth dry, hoping to find that little Charlotte had rolled across the paved area, and would be discovered lying somewhere, unharmed. When there was no sign of her anywhere, Ellie started to scream.
By then, Pamela was already in her car. She hadn’t parked in the main car park of course, that would have CCTV covering it. But in the service road behind the delivery entrance parking was not only free, but unobserved. The little baby was in the child seat in the back, happily gurgling away. Already prepared, Pamela had stored nappies, spare clothes, and milk behind her driver’s seat, and filled the car with petrol. Only one mile to the motorway, then less than two hours to drive the ninety-six miles to her home.
Ellie was still rambling when the police arrived. The spotty boy had run from behind the counter, alerted by the terrible screams, but he had been unable to calm the hysterical woman, and all attempts to reassure her had been met with shouting and abuse. As the two policemen tried to make some sense out of what had happened, Pamela was already six miles north on the motorway, driving very carefully on the inside lane. More police arrived, and arranged blue and white tape around the shopping precinct. They called an ambulance to attend Ellie, who was now completely hysterical. All the local shops and car park security were having their CCTV footage examined, and the situation was declared a major incident, with senior officers summoned to initiate a widespread search. The press and local TV stations were informed, and a description of the baby and what she was wearing was circulated.
Pamela was at the far end of a car park on the motorway services as that was happening. She was changing the baby’s nappy in the car, using the opportunity to also change her clothes to the white ones she had stored behind her seat, and give her some milk from the bottle she had prepared. It was a little cold, but would do for now. Tucked back into the child seat, little Charlotte seemed happy enough, and smiled at the kindly lady who cared for her so attentively. “I’m going to call you Amanda, Mandy for short”. Pamela grinned at the baby as she said it.
Stu arrived at the hospital, red-faced and furious. He had been stopped twice in his car on the way, at police roadblocks looking for someone with a baby in the car. Ellie had been given something to calm her down, and extended a hand as she saw Stu arrive by her trolley in the emergency department. But he was in no mood to take it, and instead fired questions at her, getting more annoyed as she just shook her head in answer to each one, tears flowing down her face, dripping from her jaw onto the blanket. A policewoman next to the bed took Ellie’s hand instead, and asked Stu to calm down. “Please lower your voice, stop swearing, and think of the other patients”, she suggested firmly. One of the senior policemen appeared, and his female colleague looked up expectantly. He caught the glance and shook his head.
Pamela was home well before dark. She didn’t know anyone in this town, and the rented house she had taken six months earlier had a good degree of privacy. As she carried the baby from the car to the door, an elderly lady left the house next door, smiling at Pamela as she walked up the path. She must be a visitor, thought Pamela. The old man next door was a widower, and lived alone. Spotting the baby, the old lady approached. “Boy or girl?” she asked softly. Pamela beamed. “My little girl, Amanda, I call her Mandy for short. I’m going to love and cherish her, and never let her out of my sight.”
The old woman touched Charlotte’s chubby cheek. “Isn’t she lovely”, she said with a smile.