I caught a falling baby once. He hadn’t fallen out of a high-rise apartment window or anything fancy like that. It happened at a birthday party where some people knew me from the horse track and some people knew me from selling them horse drugs. There was a trampoline. Someone set a baby down on the trampoline. Soon the baby flew through the air.
I caught the baby like a football before he landed on a concrete patio. No one gasped and only one person clapped. This was the 1990s and sometimes babies flew off trampolines and sometimes their parents took horse drugs that made them want to dig hundreds of holes in their yard or not move from their couch for a week.
The baby had dark hair and brown eyes. He wore a onesie with a green turtle on it. He was not crying, but he was certainly breathing heavily. Hey little one, I said, cradling him in my arms, maybe this will only be a tiny blip in an otherwise unscarred life? Hey little buddy, I said, maybe this will only make you terrified of trampolines and not scared of the entire goddamn world?
I walked around the party, asked everyone if this was their baby. Fifteen minutes went by and no one said he’s mine. Fifteen minutes went by and I couldn’t help but imagine a future where the two of us moved into a house near a river with a backyard that would occasionally flood, a place where I would not sell horse drugs or regular drugs or at least would only sell them to supplement his college fund.
“Why is my drug dealer holding my baby?” a woman yelled out.
This woman had feathered blonde hair and light blue eyes. I did not remember selling her drugs because I sold a lot of people drugs and usually tried to not to look anyone in the eye unless they made me.
“How do I know he’s yours?” I asked.
“How do you know he’s not?” she said.
I turned the baby toward the mother. I wanted to see if there was any sort of joy or connection between the two of them when they looked at each other. Instead of recognition or happiness, the baby yawned.
“I saved his life,” I said.
“I gave him life,” she told me.
She held her arms out and stepped toward me. Instead of handing the baby to her, I tucked him under my arm and sprinted toward my car.
I did not get far. Two men tackled me and the mother pulled the baby from my arms. Some people at the party wanted to call the cops, but most of the people there did not want to lose their connection for their horse drugs. In the end, I was kicked in the ribs a couple of times and told to leave.
I sat inside my idling car as the party went on. The mother was holding the baby now, watchful, bouncing him up and down on her knee. He seemed fine? Soon the two of them went inside and I watched people jump up and down on the trampoline for a couple of minutes and then I drove back to my apartment that was not by the river and would never flood.
John Jodzio’s work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney’s, and One Story. He’s the author of the short story collections, Knockout, Get In If You Want To Live, and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. He lives in Minneapolis.