Chapter One: Morgan
CHAPTER ONE MORGAN
Monday, August 7
“Take my baby.”
I flinch at the brittle, scratchy voice. I’m standing on the subway platform as I do every day after work, waiting for the train to come. I used to try to smile at people, but I’m warier now. Ever since my husband, Ryan, died, no one knows how to act around me, and I don’t know how to act around them. I usually keep to myself, head down, which is why the voice surprises me.
I look up. I thought the woman was talking to a friend, but she’s not. She’s disheveled, wearing faded black yoga pants and a stained white T-shirt. She’s alone, and she’s talking to me.
She clutches a sleeping baby to her chest with one arm. She knows she has my attention now. She presses up against me, and my purse bangs into my side. Then she digs sharp nails into my bare wrist. “Please, take my baby.”
Icy fingers of fear run up my back despite the sweltering heat inside Grand/State station. The woman is on edge, and so am I—literally, at least. I always stand on the edge of the platform so I can be first on the train. One hard push is all it would take for me to fall onto the tracks. As bleak as the last eighteen months have been, no matter how ostracized I’ve become after Ryan’s suicide, I’ve made a new life for myself. I don’t want it to end here.
I gently extract my arm from her tight grip. “Sorry, could you …”
She steps even closer to me, so close that I’m on the blue strip. Her eyes are wild, lips so bloody and raw, like she’s been chewing on them. She clearly needs help. I pull my long black hair around my face, lower my gaze to the gray speckled tiles, and say, “We should step back a bit. Here.” I put a hand out to guide her away from the edge, but she won’t move.
She’s making me so nervous. As a social worker, I recognize the signs of distress, signs I should have noticed in Ryan. If I hadn’t been the loyal, obtuse, willfully blind wife I never thought I’d become, my husband might have turned himself in and gotten help before it was too late. He might have realized that even though he’d be found guilty of embezzlement, there were worse things to lose. Like life itself. If I’d noticed anything ahead of time, I might not be paying for the crimes I didn’t even know he’d committed until he was dead.
I might even be a mother myself now, like this woman in front of me.
She looks awful. Clumps of matted dark curls stick out haphazardly from her scalp as though her hair has been hacked with a chain saw. I look away quickly.
“I’ve been watching you,” she says to me in a strangled voice.
She squeezes the sleeping baby so tightly, too tightly, and I fear for the safety of the child. The woman’s eyes—ringed with such dark circles it’s like she’s been punched—flick back and forth.
“Are you looking for someone? Is someone supposed to meet you here?” Then I curse myself for getting involved when I should just give her my boss Kate’s number at Haven House, the women’s shelter I work for. I’m not the lead counselor and head advocate at the shelter anymore. I’ve been demoted to office manager. I wish I’d never met Ryan. I wish I’d never fallen for his crooked smile and self-deprecating humor. And I have no recourse. I still have a job. I did nothing wrong, yet I lost so much, including everyone’s faith in me. My faith in myself.
She is not my client to counsel. Who am I to counsel anyone?
Her haunted eyes land back on me, and on her gaunt face is a look of pure terror. “Keep her safe.”
The baby is fast asleep, her tiny nose and mouth pressed too closely to her mother’s chest. She’s unaware of her mother’s suffering. I feel myself unwittingly absorbing this woman’s pain, even though I have enough of my own to contend with. I’m about to give her the shelter phone number when she speaks again.
“I’ve been watching you for a long time. You seem like a nice woman. Kind. Smart. Please, Morgan.”
My head jolts back in shock. Did she just say my name? It’s impossible. I’ve never seen her before in my life.
The woman kisses her baby’s tufts of hair, then stares at me again with those piercing blue eyes. “I know what you want. Don’t let anyone hurt her. Love her for me, Morgan.”
I know what you want?
“How can you possibly know anything about me?” I say, but my voice is drowned out by an announcement to stay back from the platform’s edge. The woman’s cracked lips move again, but I can’t hear her over the wind roaring through the tunnel.
I’m truly panicked now. Something about all of this just isn’t right. I feel it in my gut. I need to get away from this woman.
People surround us, but they don’t seem to notice that something strange is going on here. They are commuters in their own world, as I was just a few minutes ago.
The woman’s eyes sweep the platform once again. Then her arms reach out. She launches her baby toward me; my hands catch the infant by instinct. I look down at the child in my arms, and I tear up. The yellow blanket she’s wrapped in is so soft against my skin, the baby’s face serene and content.
When I look back up at her mother a second later, the train is shrieking into the station.
And that’s when she jumps.