Where’s the baby?
Don’t tell anybody because it might damage my reputation as a boy genius, but I was born into a less happy world.  In those days you could go down to the South Carolina coast any night and look out to sea, where you would see one or more areas of orange glow.  They were burning tankers sunk by German U-boats.  American sailors were dying.  I doubt you ever hear about it on the history channel.  The government hushed it up.  They didn’t want a panic.  Of course that means that the government had panicked.

My mother took me north to visit relatives, and somewhere along the eastern seaboard found herself on a mostly empty railroad car with me in her arms late at night.  There were a number of unshaven and disheveled men in the car.  From the way they seemed to stagger – it used to happen to the most nimble of us on a moving train so it was a relative thing – she thought they were drunk.  Sadly for her peace of mind, they did not ignore us.  They came in knots of two or three to stare at me and smile with their gaunt and haggard faces.  At last one of them, just as disheveled but on his dignity, approached and kindly asked the others to let us be.  Then he explained to my mother.

They were merchant mariners running ships up and down the coast.  Crews were few, and they were traveling north to pick up another ship while their last unloaded.  He was the captain.  They had not had a good night’s sleep in two months.  And it had been longer since they had seen a baby.  Forgive them.  I sometimes wonder whether any of them lived another month.

I imagine that if you go into any group and ask sharply, “Where’s the baby?” you are going to become the center of attention at once.  Even if they had no suspicion that there could be a baby anywhere around, they are going to want to know.  And if a baby is suddenly unaccounted for, search will be made.  Damn the torpedoes. 

I am sure it would have been true of my weary sailor friends. 

The situation is not unique.  There is a story; I shall venture to begin it.  Battle.  Confederate sergeant trotting up street, last man in tactical retreat.  Perhaps delayed thinking that position not indefensible.  Federal cannon ball rolling down street past sergeant.  Ball hissing. smoking, about to explode.  Dog coming out of house chasing cannonball, barking.  Sergeant thinking there will not be much left of the puppy when the explosion comes.  Infant coming out of same door smiling, toddling after dog.  Sergeant sprinting up street dragging gun by muzzle with one hand, infant in other arm.

That’s it.  I can’t go on.  Find the story.  It’s out there.  You guess whether the rebels took care of the baby, how and whether they located the mother after the battle. 

Take care of the baby.  Damn the cannonballs.

I regard this as a healthy instinct.  But it takes one thing.  You have to see the baby.  If you don’t see it, nature permits you to be rational. 

I have been writing about missing babies.  All I can show you are graphs and numbers.  I can’t show you a picture of a baby that never happened.  That is a problem.

On the other hand, you don’t have to take your life in your hands to do something, to check out the sources, to talk about it, do you?

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