“Really?” Harriet’s nose twitched. “Why on earth did you choose that?”
“My husband liked it. He said it’s a flower that everybody loves. Funny, I can’t understand why if you can call a kid Lily or Rose or Violet, it’s fine, but if it’s, like, Gerbera or Hellebore or Scabiosa, everybody goes bananas.”
“It is very original, indeed.” She bounced the baby gently. “So, tell me, ah, Gerbera, are you going to be another Georgia O’Keeffe when you grow up?”
The baby’s mother frowned. “Who’s she?”
“A magnificent artist.” Harriet decided not to give a lecture. No point in drawing out this conversation now that she’d made up her mind. “She painted flowers, in fact.”
“That’s so lame. You can get great pictures of flowers off the Internet. I want Gerbera to be a hair dresser.”
Harriet’s nose twitched again harder, but all she said was, “How nice.”
When the young woman went to take the baby back, Harriet pulled away a little. A question formed in the young woman’s big blue eyes. “I was just thinking,” Harriet said quickly, “how much I’d like to do a story on her, you know, a photo shoot and article on how you plan to raise her. I work for an online magazine for new moms. We just love to feature beautiful babies.”
“That would be awesome.” She let Harriet continue to hold the baby while she fumbled in her bag. “Here’s my card.”
Much to Harriet’s joy, the woman’s name, address, telephone number, and email address were all printed on the rose-pink card. “Oh, you host parties to sell negligees. What fun.”
The young woman, whose name was Megan Mossup, laughed and held out her arms for her baby girl. “I’d invite you to one, but usually ladies your age prefer flannel pajamas.”
Harriet’s heart gave a thud, sending red-hot blood up into her sallow cheeks. The nerve of her, implying that she was old. Why, she was the youngest witch in the coven by several hundred years. And not only that, but Harriet’s sisterhood preferred not just to sleep skyclad but also to hold their nocturnal festivities in the nude as well. Flannel, indeed.
But aloud she merely said, “Lovely meeting you. I’ll be in touch.” Reaching out a knobby finger, she stroked the baby’s cheek. “See you later, sweetheart.”
Once Harriet was back at home, a magnificently turreted castle located on an isolated mountain in the western part of the state, she began to plot out what she thought of as adoption proceedings. For the next three weeks, she drove by the Mossup house every four hours, sleeping in between only to dream of her precious pink princess.
Nobody noticed Harriet’s vigil because each time she transformed herself into a different person, sometimes male, sometimes female, but always young. Mrs. Mossup’s crack about her age hadn’t wounded her vanity as much as it had alerted her that she’d remember an elderly woman. Not only did she disguise herself, but each time she also magically converted a vegetable or fruit from her enormous garden into a suitable vehicle. So far, she’d cruised by in a tomato-red Prius, a carrot-colored Volkswagen, and, her particular favorite, a Mercedes with the color and shine of a ripe eggplant. Twice, she had actually gotten the broom out of her kitchen closet and sailed overhead at two in the morning. Nothing had moved but the sickle moon overhead and a particularly ambitious black feral cat below. The neighborhood in which the Mossups dwelt was extraordinarily peaceful.
Finally, she had the day of the week and the time of day pin-pointed. Because she had the hearing of a bat and the eyes of a hawk, she watched and listened from her green Kia, formerly a cucumber, as the little family got ready for another Monday. First, Mr. Mossup, a stout young bricklayer whose first name was Phil, left the house in his overalls and duckbill cap, climbing up into his nineteen-year-old van with the resigned weariness of a man three times his age. Then pretty little Mrs. Mossup, known as Meg to her friends, of whom she had many, took the freshly washed infant in her freshly washed diaper and little pink T-shirt and put her in her pink carrier, draping it with a web of mosquito netting.
Outside the kitchen screen door, there was an old wicker rocking chair, and into this Meg tenderly placed her baby. She was confident that if little Gerbera so much as peeped she’d hear her since everyone knew a mother’s heart was superior to any human ear. Harriet knew that once back inside, Meg would do the dishes, make the bed, and then sit down at the kitchen table with another cup of coffee and her cell phone so that she could text all her friends, an occupation that would take up the rest of her morning.
At promptly 10:03, Harriet cracked open the window to a hair’s breadth, shrank down behind the wheel, and crawled up the door to the tiny opening. Anyone watching on the sidewalk would only see a brown ant making its arduous way down the Kia’s shiny green surface. Once she was on the front walk, Harriet turned herself into a red squirrel and dashed around the corner of the house into the back yard. When she saw the little pink carrier in its regular place, her spirits soared. Up, up into the air Harriet went, spreading her eagle’s wings in elation, until she was directly above the carrier. Down, down, she swooped, ripping the netting away with her hooked yellow beak to grasp the sleeping infant’s tiny T-shirt with her talons. Then up, up, she went again, over the rooftop, high above the electrical wires, to land on the lawn in the blameless form of a robin with a pink worm in its beak.