Barbara, first-time babysitter who just started putting up flyers for her services on her thirteenth birthday, sits rubbing her good-luck owl keychain in Interrogation Room B. Detective Hamish said they wouldn’t take it away, but he also said she go home after she told the truth and that was hours ago. And even more hours since they said they just needed to ask a few quick questions at the station on the way home. And many more hours since the last time she slept.
Hush little baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna buy you a don’t you cry
She couldn’t remember the next part, or even the last time she heard that song sang aloud. Barbara looks up at the foam drop-ceiling, looking for star constellations in the dots. Was it nighttime or morning yet?
Detective Hamish, an old guy like her dad but even more bald, jerks open the steel door and strides into the room.
“Can I go home soon? Just for a little?” Barbara asks, whinier than she meant for it to sound.
“In a little. We just need some more details about what happened, then you can go.” He says for the fourth time that night. Or morning? There wasn’t a clock in the room.
“Did my parents ask about me? Can I see them?” Barbara asks to Hamish’s turned back. He doesn’t respond. Had she actually said the question aloud, or just in her head? She rubs her owl keychain harder.
“What is that, an owl?” Hamish then asks.
“Yeah, it’s a regular barn owl. Owls are my favorite.” Barbara explains. Is that why she’s here? To talk about owls?
“Would you consider yourself a night owl?
“Not really? Um...am I in trouble?” Barbara then asks, shoving the keychain in her pocket.
“Barbara, you already asked that question. And I told you, you won’t get in trouble if you tell everything that happened. There’s a devastated mom and dad out there who think you aren’t telling everything that happened.” He says, looking down at file papers.
Barbara’s head bobs back against the white cement wall. The parents.
“Phone number is on the fridge, help yourself to any food or whatever. We just changed her diaper and put her down so she really should be easy for the night.” Mrs. Bootmaker says, shimming into her coat. Mr. Bootmaker is watching Barbara intently.
“You been sitting for awhile now?” He pipes up. Barbara’s cheeks burst into ruby red balls.
“Mhm!” She lies.
“How old are you again?” He asks, but Mrs. Bootmaker shushes him off.
“Tom!” She turns back to Barbara, “Just text us if you have any questions, ok? We’ll be back by ten.”
Mr. Bootmaker smiles briefly at Barbara, then follows his wife’s lead out the door. He slams it shut. Upstairs, the baby starts crying.
But the high pitch wailing of a child then drops into a deep baritone voice.
“Barbara.” Hamish bellows, and she snaps back into the interrogation room. “This is serious, adult stuff.” That is something she thought she wanted – serious, adult stuff—but maybe not anymore. She couldn’t do the job; she knows that now. She just wants to go to sleep in her own bed. It’s not that she doesn’t care about the situation, but maybe if she could sleep for a few hours she could better explain exactly what happened…
“I’m sorry, I need to get back. I’m supposed to be babysitting…” Barbara says. Hamish’s eyebrows furrow like she gave the wrong answer.
“That’s too late now, though. You realize there’s no more baby to sit, right? You understand that?” He says back. Barbara’s nodding back and forth. Right, right.
“You ever talk in your sleep, Barbara?” Hamish asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
“Maybe.” He parrots, “You ever sleepwalk?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you know what sleep walking is?”
“It’s where you move and do things in your sleep. Out of your control.” He says anyway. “Do you think that’s what you accidentally did? Fall asleep on the job and then sleepwalk upstairs? You must not even know you did it. That’s ok.”
“Come on, Barbara. You didn’t fall asleep at all? Even for a second? I’ll admit I’ve taken a little nap on the clock…all adults do…”
But Barbara can’t hear Hamish. She’s busy focusing on the game show host on T.V, pretending she can’t hear the baby crying and praying it will just go to sleep.
“D! O! A!” The cheery woman on T.V says. DING DING DING DING.
“Alright, you’ve got ten seconds on the clock. Good luck.” The man next to her says.
Under pressure the girl chants out, “Sudden Infant Death!” DINGDINGDINGDING.
“Holy Cow! She got it!” The man exclaims over the crying audience.
Paralyzed with juvenile distress, Barbara makes herself stare at the words on the screen. She can’t look away. Can’t handle a squalling baby. She can’t do it. Just a little extra cash…that’s all she wanted. A fun side hustle. A way to stay away from home.
Soon she realizes it’s not the baby that’s crying, she is.
The upstairs is silent.
Somewhere, an owl hoots.
Maybe the baby is sleeping.
Hush little baby don’t turn around
You’re still the sweetest little babe in town
Barbara’s head bobs like the drinking bird on her dad’s desk. Her head rises, dunks, rises, dunks, rises…then suddenly she drops her head down onto the interrogation desk, shuffling the papers set before her.
“Careful now.” Detective Hamish warns, “Make sure you sign on the dotted line only.”
There’s a pen in her right hand, but she’s lefthanded.
“Let’s get this over with so you can go home.” He says.
What’s “this”? Oh right, the baby…all this talk about the baby. She never even saw the baby, not once, and now she’s trapped in this room like a sitting duck, bobbing up and down. Hamish asks more questions; Barbara just bobs up and down.
The owl in her pocket begins to hoot.
The ballpoint tip scrapes against the paper as it cries out. Barbara then collapses under her chair and sleeps as soundly as a newborn.