Noah’s cries cut into my chest. My eyes well up, and my throat thickens. I run a hand along the back of my six-day-old baby’s silky, perfectly shaped head, fighting back a rush of sadness. His cries turn to whimpers and then silence.
I jolt awake.
My body breaks out in a cold sweat before I can identify the source of my unease. The first thing that reaches me is the sharp stench of fresh paint, as I struggle through a haze of consciousness, and with it, the feeling that something’s off. I strain my ears in the stillness that smothers the house. No cries from Noah are echoing down the hallway, no aroma of French roast brewing, and none of the usual noises from the kitchen.
The weak Berkshires sun filters through the sheer curtains, and the nightstand clock displays 1:00 p.m. in neon green.
What the hell?
Since giving birth, I’m in the habit of waking up at 6:00 a.m. to feed Noah. Why have I overslept?
I bolt up and recoil from the flare of pain in my head.
“Todd?” I call out—my voice quivers.
My pulse races. My mouth is dry. I raise my head again. Dizziness and nausea hit me. I collapse back on the pillow and wait for the roiling in my stomach to subside.
My mind is working overtime. Why did Todd and Connie let me oversleep, knowing how anxious I am about Noah? Since yesterday, he’s had a rash and a high fever. I researched his symptoms online. While rashes don’t indicate a dangerous condition, high temperatures are a cause to see a doctor. I’d wanted to rush him to the hospital last night. What happened?
I try again. “Todd! Connie?”
From the open window comes the chirp of birds.
I make another effort to get out from under the blanket, but my head spins, and the floor ripples beneath me. I lose my footing, landing with a bang on my knees. The pain is instant. The floor is cold as I crawl to the bathroom, my scalp damp from the effort. Please, please don’t let me throw up before I get there.
I inhale deeply. What the hell is wrong with me?
I struggle to remember last night. Todd and I ate dinner in front of the fireplace. He made a salad and broiled chicken. That’s all I recall; the rest buried in my groggy head. But now, inching forward on my knees, all I want is to get to my baby right away.
Where is Connie? In the kitchen preparing Noah’s formula?
At last, I manage to make my way to the bathroom before vomiting. Then, still, on all fours, I struggle back to get my robe at the foot of the bed. Holding fast to the edge of the mattress, I steady myself, then stumbling to the door, I jerk it open and barge into the hallway, ignoring nausea and fatigue. Odors of paint and bleach get stronger. Alarm works its way into my bloodstream.
“Todd!” I scream into the empty hall. “Connie!” My voice echoes lifelessly off the walls. Maybe this is just a nightmare?
With shaky legs, I slog down the hall, one foot in front of the other.
I shove open the door to Noah’s room. A gust of wind blows in through the open window overlooking the backyard.
Stunned, I try to make sense of the scene in front of me. I shut my eyes tight, draw a calming breath, and then open them again.
A full-blown panic forms in my throat, exploding in a scream.
Noah’s crib and dresser are gone. No trace of his little clothes—the closet is open and empty. His room is bare, except for a rocking chair. Even the color of the walls has changed, from blue to white. Despite the newly painted room, the bleach, and the missing furniture, Noah’s scent still lingers in the air. A small part of my mind tells me I can’t smell my baby with the bleach and fresh paint, but I do.
Where Noah’s brown crib stood, the musical carousel revolving, its happy, colorful faces smiling at my little boy, there is now only a blank wall. My gaze moves to the corner of the room where the wooden rocking chair still stands. I can almost feel my baby in my arms as I rock him to sleep. But he is not here.
I was bedridden most of my pregnancy, so Todd picked out all Noah’s baby things. A comforter adorned with a woodland scene, the stuffed blue bunny with its soft ears, and the teddy bears' diaper bag. Now they’re all gone. And so is Noah.
I move my hand to my abdomen and then to my engorged, leaking breasts. Where are you, my little man?
Stumbling out of the empty nursery, I force my legs from room to room, each step heavier than the last, each door representing a new hope.
I push open Connie’s door, which gives a squeak. The room is spotless, the bed made, complete with tight hospital corners. But her belongings are gone—the room stripped. Even her bathroom is spotless. But her scent lingers, lavender and something sweet, like bubblegum.
My heart tightens. I’m accustomed to Todd disappearing for a day or two without explanation, but where’s Connie? She’s always here. She delivered Noah. Then she stayed on. Uncommunicative and hovering, Connie is efficient but not comforting. But now her absence unsettles me.
As if in a dream, I descend the stairs on rubbery legs. The kitchen and living room appear undisturbed. The heavy silence weighs me down. I pinch myself, needing to wake up from this nightmare. I’m not dreaming.
Hyperventilating now, I make my way to the garage. My candy red ’65 Mustang, complete with silver rally stripes, still sits there, but Todd’s Toyota is gone. And in the middle of the driveway, the only thing left from Connie’s rusted Jeep is an oil stain.
I try to convince myself that she must have gone out with Noah and will return soon and that Todd has gone to work. But I know it’s wishful thinking. They’ve never left me alone. Something is wrong. One of them has always been close by, at times, making me feel resentful.
Two days earlier, over dinner, I said something to Todd that I’d been repeating since Noah was born. “Still, I don’t feel comfortable having Connie live with us.”
“Just a few more days. You can use the help.”
“I can easily manage taking care of my baby.” I tried to keep the sharpness from my voice.
He remained quiet, eyes glued to his grilled salmon. We spent the rest of the meal without another word.
Now, the late November wind bites into my skin. “Todd.”
I wait for a moment.
“Connie.” My throat burns.
Thunder rumbles as I make my way along the side of the house to the backyard. My breathing is ragged. I hardly have enough oxygen to call Todd’s name again.
Pushing the pain in my lower belly out of my mind, I make my way back to the front of the house, where I stand in the middle of the driveway and slowly make a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn. And then again. And then again. Emptiness is all around—just the rasp of my breathing and the trees swaying in the wind.
For a moment, I think I hear Noah crying in the distance. An unmistakable sound. A noise encoded in a mother to hear through walls—or through miles of wooded terrain. My breasts leak in response. Ignoring my aching body, I dash into the woods toward what I’m certain is the sound of my baby crying. I’m coming, Noah. I’m coming.
A happier picture buds in my imagination. Connie has taken Noah for a walk. I gain strength from it.
The cry sounds again. Panting and clawing my way through thick bushes, thorns snagging my robe, I head deeper into the woods, hopping over tree roots and rocks and splashing through patches of mud. Connie and my baby are out here. I trip and fall, scraping my palms and already throbbing knees. Unable to rise, I claw wildly at a vine.
Wheezing, I manage to get to my feet, each gasp of air burning my throat.
Just then, the baby’s cries stop.
A twig snaps. Is someone behind me? A sharp tingle of fear crawls up my neck. I whirl. Nothing but the soggy crush of leaves under my feet—nothing but the distant crack of thunder.
The first buds of hope die. No Noah. No Todd. No Connie. Just a chorus of trees rustling in the wind that, to my ears, sounds more like hissing.
Against the wind, I make my way back toward the house. Maybe Todd left a note on the fridge door. A little spark of hope ignites in my heart. As I approach the front door, I see something small and white on the ground.
Amidst the wet leaves, there is one of Noah’s white socks. I grab the tiny, soiled sock and hold it to my nose, inhaling my child’s sweet scent—a vivid image of Noah lying in his crib flashes before my eyes.
Collapsing, I fold myself into a tight ball and let out an animal howl, thinking how cold my sweet little boy will be without his sock.
Eventually, the shudders that rack my body subside, and, with Noah’s sock still clutched in my fist, I limp through the front door to the kitchen.
There is no note.
Again, the world is spinning around me, and I take the stairs up to our bedroom on all fours. Bracing myself against the wall, I rise and make my way to Todd’s closet, which only yesterday was filled with neatly hung clothes and his shoes precisely lined up on the floor. Now, it is empty. With jerky motions, I yank out bureau drawers, confirming what I already know.
I’m running different scenarios through my head. Nothing makes sense. Back downstairs in the laundry room, I dig through a pile of dirty clothes. There is no trace of anyone’s clothes but mine.
I fumble my phone from my purse, which hangs in the kitchen by the back door and punch in Todd’s cell. Pacing five steps to the sink, four to the table, then back to the sink, I listen to a voice message. The number you have dialed is no longer in service.
Next, I try Todd’s real-estate office in Albany, but I get the same message. And to top it all off, I can’t reach Connie. Her cell is disconnected, too.
Where are they? Noah needs to see a doctor. What if his condition has worsened? I can’t bear the thought. Then I realize something: stripped of Todd’s and Connie’s and Noah’s things, the house looks as if no one else lives here but me. And it finally dawns on me that Todd is not going to call, explaining he took Noah for a ride and that he’s sorry he caused me grief.
And with that understanding, I dial the Becket Police Department.
“My baby has disappeared.” I fight to keep my voice calm. Tears burn. The words rush from my mouth as I tell the officer what happened.
“Can you repeat that? I’m having a difficult time understanding you.” The police officer sounds bored, as if disappearing babies are a daily occurrence.
Between sobs, I do my best to explain. I give him my name and Todd’s name.
“An officer will be there shortly,” he says.
“How fast? This is an emergency.”
“About twenty minutes.”
My shoulders sag with the tiniest bit of relief. Help is coming.
I begin counting the minutes.