I hate my job.
I know why I’m here; I know why it has to be done. But it doesn’t make it any easier. The funny thing is that I’m just the messenger. No postal worker cries this much when they deliver a letter.
That’s really not funny at all; I don’t know why I said that.
I hate my job.
With a reluctant sigh, I trudge down the familiar staircase. Counting the steps helps keep my mind off my task, but eventually I lose myself and a new count begins, this one counting back through time to each job I’ve done. I remember every single one in haunting detail.
Thankfully, I reach the bottom of the staircase before I can start counting my tears as well. My emotions get tucked away into their dark corner where I reprimand them and tell them to stay; stay put! Stay, or else I’ll…I’ll…
It’s an empty threat. My shoulders slump and I shake my head. Stay or I’ll break, I tell them. Please, just stay. Let me get through one more job.
Before me stands a doorway. It holds a simple door, made of cheap processed wood with a fresh layer of pink paint. Though I’ve never been through this door before, it resembles so many others whose thresholds I’ve crossed. I take a deep breath and straighten my spine, lengthening my torso and lifting my chin. It is time.
I slip inside, gently closing the door behind me. The carpet mutes my footfalls but the subflooring creaks softly with each step. A small lamp sits on a dresser by the far wall, giving off just enough light for me to see where I’m going. I don’t need the light, though—I can hear the faint beat of an infant’s heart echoing in my head, guiding me.
A wooden crib lines the wall to my left, and my legs grow weak at the sight of it.
Let me get through one more job.
When I step up to the railing, I close my eyes. The fading heartbeat tells me what I’ll see when I look down.
It’s just another delivery. I can do this. I’ve done this millions of times; what’s one more? It’s not like this is the end or anything. Just the quickest route to the next beginning.
I open my eyes to see the most beautiful infant in the world lying there on her side. I think I say that about every one of them. Each child is so beautiful, so precious. Her skin looks as soft as the clouds and her tiny fingers are so small, I can’t help but place my pinky in her hand. Even with the state she’s in, she curls her little fingers around mine.
Her heart beats faster now, working so hard to pump oxygen throughout her fragile body. Sadly, a decorative pillow covers her teeny nose and mouth, and she can’t fill her lungs with fresh air. I want so badly to move her, to help her, to save her in this life. But, that’s not my job.
I hate my job.
I let out a whimper as hot tears stream down my cheeks. My breath catches in my throat, and I look at a baby monitor sitting on a nearby shelf. My gaze drifts to the door, and I hold my breath as I pray the parents heard me. Pray they woke and wondered if they had truly heard anything at all. Pray they decide to check on their newborn baby girl just for a second, just to be sure.
My tears never stop. I blink until I can at least see my surroundings, then I return my attention to the sleeping child. It is time.
As quietly as possible, I slip my hands beneath her and wait, focusing on the warmth of her skin and the puttering of her failing heart. Like a song coming to a close, the beat fades into nothingness and the heat of her life begins cooling almost instantly.
I lift the infant to my chest and wrap my arms around her. She looks so peaceful. I suppose she is, now. Smoothing back the soft wisps of blonde hair on her head, I turn and carry her back to the door.
I pause at the base of the staircase and glance back down the hall. They’ll never understand. They’ll never forgive themselves. I wish I could console them when they find out. Tell them it wasn’t their fault. Tell them she’ll be okay.
But, that’s not my job.
The least I can do is give them one last night of peaceful sleep, as I know they won’t rest well again for a long time. And so, as quietly as I can manage, I creep up the long staircase with the baby against my chest. I whisper soothing words and hum age-old melodies.
I never count the steps on the way back up.
I know why I’m here; I know why it has to be done. I glance over my shoulder at how far we’ve come, knowing there is no going back. Not for her, anyway. I’ll have to go back for the next job.
I may just be a messenger, but this feels too personal and it doesn’t seem fair. Why can’t I deliver happy news or long-lost greetings? Why not Christmas cards or get-well wishes?
Why must I always deliver death?
I hate my job.
This short story was inspired by a writing prompt. The prompt was:
As quietly as possible, she lifted the sleeping infant from the crib and crept up the staircase.
If this story or prompt inspired you, let me know in the comments!