by Gary Fincke
The babysitter lived in a large house with a yard that bordered a creek that emptied into a river less than a mile away. That proximity worried the mother, but her son was the only child the babysitter, a woman recently separated from her husband, said that she watched for extra income. The house was large and clean, everything in its place in a way that suggested responsibility.
The arrangement worked well. For nearly two weeks, no matter the mother’s erratic work schedule, the babysitter was waiting with her smiling son in her living room when she arrived. Her son even seemed happy when she dropped him off, no longer crying like he had at the former babysitter’s apartment where he had been bitten twice by an older child. Or even earlier, the babysitter who watched four other toddlers in an apartment with a set of four unguarded stairs and a small jungle of sharp-cornered furniture.
Friday afternoon of the second week she parked, as always, where the driveway ended at a patch of worn grass near the back door. She knocked. Then she knocked again. While she waited, she noticed how full and deep the late-spring creek was running less than fifty feet from where she was standing. She watched a large tree limb slide past. Some indecipherable deflated red and yellow plastic was snagged upon one of the protruding branches.
At last, she turned the knob and the door, unlocked, swung open. Her son stood there smiling. She picked him up, hugged him, and called ‘Hello?’ twice before she began to search the house, finding the babysitter asleep in an upstairs bedroom, sprawled in a way that made her think she could have been drinking. ‘Hello,’ she said, and could not think of another word to add.
The babysitter gathered herself and mumbled, ‘I must have dozed off for a minute.’ She didn’t seem to recognize what the problem was. ‘He’s two years old,’ she said. ‘He can’t open the door.’
‘Nearly two and a half,’ the mother said, already walking toward the stairs. ‘He’s opened doors before.’
The babysitter followed her down to the kitchen where the mother put her son down at last. ‘Maybe at your house, but not here,’ the babysitter said. ‘He knows not to touch so there’s no problem.’ The mother started to list disasters encouraged by a sleeping babysitter, all of them preceded by opening a door—falling down the cellar stairs, pulling cleaning products from under the sink, and loudest, drowning in a rain-swollen creek.
‘That’s extreme,’ the babysitter said. ‘He would never go near that creek.’
While the mother counted out what she owed the babysitter, her son turned the knob and opened the door for them to leave. ‘Trust me, that’s new,’ the babysitter said.
Before the mother had finished explaining how she wasn’t bringing him back on Monday or any other day forever, he ran straight to the car. ‘See?’ the babysitter crowed, as if that proved something. ‘See that?’
Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His story “The Corridors of Longing” appears in Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the anthology series Best Microfiction.