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When Rita Monroe pulls into the Target parking lot—blacktop so hot you can see the haze—she picks a space as far away as possible from the sea of vehicles. Always has, and always will. She steps out of her car and gets blasted by an infernal wave of heat.
She notices a small gathering of people surrounding a red Dodge Caravan.
“What the hell,” Rita murmurs, eyebrow raised, as she plods toward the group in her flip-flops.
Two women are crying. A third holds a phone to her ear, speaking frantically, while she peeks in through the rear window. And a skinny, shirtless, man—torso covered in tattoos his friends must have practiced on—swings a Fruit of the Loom-wrapped fist into the driver’s side window.
After successive failed attempts, he shakes his hand in pain and howls, “Goddammit.” At that moment, he turns and makes eye contact with Rita. “Hey! There’s a kid in there. Can you find a rock or brick or somethin’?”
Rita’s mouth drops open before she nods. The man continues attacking the window, this time with his elbow. Heart in throat, Rita scans the lot, sprinting between cars.
“Hey!” the taller crying woman yells to a long-haired Target employee. He’s one of the cart guys. “There’s a baby locked in this van! Go get something heavy!” His eyes widen in understanding before he dashes toward the store and disappears from view behind the automatic doors.
Rita’s having a hell of a time finding anything usable. There’s plenty of trash littering the lot, sure, but empty Diet Coke cans and broken bits of glass won’t be enough to smash through the window.
Thankfully, the Target employee rushes back toward them, a dumbbell in hand. “Nearest thing I could find,” he says, breathing heavily. A few of the man’s red-shirted coworkers emerge from the store. Rita rejoins the group, chest heaving. They all steer clear as the man with the weight—a thirty-pounder, to be exact—approaches the driver-side window.
He swings the dumbbell back as far as his arm will extend, then thrusts it forward violently like a battering ram. The window explodes on impact, and the alarm blares madly, splitting through all within earshot.
He’s quick to unlock the vehicle, and the lady who had called 911 is even quicker to get the baby girl out. She’s purple.
Rita runs her hands through her hair and rests them on top of her head, turning away. “What the fuck,” she whispers as tears well up in her eyes.
There’s another siren in the distance. Two. A cop pulls into the lot first, followed by an ambulance. Other shoppers begin to walk by. Linger.
“She’s breathing,” the woman says soon after. The baby begins to wail hysterically. Rita lets out a deep breath and finds herself crying, too.
“Dude.” The shirtless man gives the Target employee his white tee. “You’re bleeding everywhere. Must’ve sliced your hand.”
“Oh, shit.” He wraps his hand in the shirt. “Thanks.” The white cloth quickly turns red, but the man barely notices.
The police officer walks to the gathered crowd to take his reports. At some point, Rita speaks with him and gives her side of the story. More cops show up to nab the parent who’s still presumably inside strolling up and down the aisles.
In a daze, Rita walks back to her car as the ambulance pulls away. A local news van swings into the lot, taking its place. The baby will be okay, the cops reassure the crowd.
But Rita’s not okay. She can’t even remember what she came here for in the first place.
She puts her key in the ignition, blasts the AC, and pulls away.
As she turns out onto the highway, it hits her: laundry detergent.
Should’ve just stayed home…should’ve ordered it on Amazon.
She can’t help but see the purple child everywhere she looks. Even when she closes her eyes at the red light, the girl’s there.
On the ride home, Rita calls her friend, Sarah. “Hey, I know it’s early, but do you wanna come over and have a drink? Oh, and weird question…would you mind bringing your laundry detergent?”
The High Noons and lengthy discussion with Sarah both help, but perhaps not as much as Rita thought they would. It isn’t until the evening news report that she feels better. The anchor recaps the story in front of Target and concludes by stating the baby is reported to be in stable condition at the local hospital.
Rita finally takes a deep breath. She curls up on the couch and hears the soft tumbling of the dryer. The ceiling fan rotates as it has for days, worn from the summer heat.
Thanks so much for reading “Forgotten” today. I really appreciate you being here at Along the Hudson.
When posting last Monday, I made a scheduling mistake regarding Fifties by the Fire. I’ll be away this coming weekend (heading to Vermont, woo!), so the next Fifties prompt/preview will be sent out a week from today, and the “fire” will be on Friday, August 11.
Thanks for understanding, and I hope you all have a wonderful week!
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