BABY ON BOARD by Natalie Warther

BABY ON BOARD by Natalie Warther

It’s not a lie. It’s just a sticker. A sticker that says there’s a baby on board, when technically there is not. Can you blame me? You’ve seen how careful people are around a new mother. Otherwise, they are reckless. Besides, people lie about much worse. And there is no sticker that says “Be careful, please, I have a lot of student debt.”

Plus, it’s not like there aren’t important things in my backseat. The screenplay I’m writing about a boy who wants to play major league baseball, for example, and a pile of towels from my mother’s garage.

Why should I want a baby anyway? My sister and her husband had a baby. They sent me a picture in the mail. Everyone looked scared.

Last week there was a whole list of specials at Vons because the 4th of July was coming and people needed beef and various dips. I grabbed my coupons and my grocery bags. On the 1, an SUV to my left matched my speed. We traveled together for too many seconds. I accelerated, but so did the SUV. The driver was looking at me, I could feel it, he was burning holes into my profile. I wanted to tell him to keep his eyes on the road, but our windows were up, and I was trying to keep my eyes on the road.

I sneaked a glance. It was a woman. She was motioning at me to roll down my window, so I did. What else can one do? The freeway blew into our cars. She was shouting at me, we were both pushing 80, she was shouting, “WHERE’S YOUR CAR SEAT?” I got a better look at her. 40s. Three kids in the back. “YOU NEED A CARSEAT FOR YOUR BABY!” The kids were staring at me: their first criminal. This woman is crazy, I thought, and then I remembered the sticker.

“I DON’T HAVE A BABY!” I yelled, but she didn’t hear me over the traffic.

“I’VE GOT YOUR PLATES. I’M CALLING 911.” She passed her purse back to one of the children to get her phone. All of them looked in horror at the pile of towels in the back.

I panicked and shouted louder, “THERE’S NO BABY ON BOARD! I DON’T HAVE A BABY! I DON’T HAVE ANYONE!” She heard me this time.

The SUV accelerated and I switched lanes, tetrising myself deeper into the system of cars who handled me with care. I am a fake mother, and a bad writer, and a common liar, and maybe a fraud, but the freeway forgave me. They made room for me. They indicated before turning and allowed me to merge. The Volvos, the Mazdas, they flanked me, escorting me, and before I knew it, I was where I needed to be, parked in a good spot right by the doors.

Natalie Warther Natalie is a senior writer at 72andSunny and a prose reader for GASHER Journal. Her most recent fiction has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, HAD, and Maudlin House. Natalie lives in Los Angeles. Twitter: @warther_natalie

Art by Eli Sahm.