Mind the Babies

by Suzanne C. Martinez

The lump shimmering in the parking lot caught Tammy’s eye as she drove down Arthur Kill Road on her way to Safeway to pick up a chicken. The bulge was too big for a dog, except those huge Arctic ones with the black fur—Newfoundlands, she recalled. But this was Staten Island or Status Island like Ed said when he was being funny, which he generally was not. 

She pulled into the strip mall lot with a Dollar Tree, a Chinese takeout, and a wig joint, all closed. Tammy turned off the engine and opened her window to get a better look. She sniffed the air. Nothing smelled great on the Island. Just about any breeze from the west carried a whiff of the Fresh Kills Landfill. Tammy took a few tentative steps and stopped, like she was playing Simon Says. There was a non-doggy smell about it. They had a rescue pup Ed found a couple of winters ago. Tammy knew what dog smelled like. This was wilder, more musky, metallic. 

That’s when she spotted the shiny black snout. Under it were long, sharp teeth. “Grandma, what big teeth you have,” popped into Tammy’s brain. She realized right then it was a bear cub. Gummy pools of deep red blood were congealed on the tarmac. Tears welled in her eyes. Tammy had a soft spot for babies. 

She and Ed were childless. Mike, Ed’s son from his first marriage, lived with them for a while before taking off, heading south. They hadn’t heard from him in years. Tammy went overboard on birthday gifts for their nieces and nephews.

Tammy peeked behind the building. Bear cubs don’t run away from home. Maybe the mother was hurt or killed somewhere close by. She vaguely remembered Ed telling her there weren’t any bears on Staten Island. He was always spouting facts no one cared about. Wouldn’t he be surprised! 

So how could a cub get to the parking lot at Dollar Tree, unless he took the Goethals Bridge? Maybe, he hitchhiked. Or maybe a son out hunting with his father in North Jersey accidently shot it. The father said, “You screwed up. Deal with the cub.” The kid hadn’t wanted to go hunting anyway and couldn’t be bothered to bury the poor baby bear. He just drove off with the corpse in his trunk, dumped the body, and took off to meet his friends at a bar on Hylan Blvd.

Tammy called 311. She felt strongly she should stay with it until someone came. The chicken at Safeway wasn’t going anywhere. She got a tea from the Chinese place when it opened, and she sat in her car close by so the cub wouldn’t be alone.

When she got to the store, she bought a whole chicken and the cookies Ed liked. She spotted a bin of colorful play balls near the checkout. Tammy rolled one into her cart. She wondered if she might be a step-grandma and not even know it.

Suzanne C. Martinez’s work has appeared in The Hong Kong ReviewThe Citron ReviewFlash Fiction MagazineThe Broadkill Review, and other magazines. The Broadkill Review nominated her for a 2019 Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net in 2020. Flash Fiction Magazine has nominated her for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Brooklyn. www.scmwrites.com