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When I Found You
Catherine Ryan Hyde

Part One

Nathan McCann

2 October 1960

The Day He Found You in the Woods

Nathan McCann stood in his dark kitchen, a good two hours before dawn. He flipped on the overhead light, halfway hoping to see the coffeemaker all set up with water and grounds and waiting to be plugged in and set to percolating. Instead he saw the filter basket lying empty in the dish drain, looking abandoned and bare.

Why he always expected otherwise, he wasn’t sure. It had been years since Flora set up coffee for him on these early mornings. Decades since she rose early with him to serve fried eggs and orange juice and toast.

Quietly, so as not to wake her, he took a box of oat flake cereal down from the cupboard, then stood in the cold rush of air from the icebox and poured skim milk into a yellow plastic bowl.

You don’t have to be so quiet, he thought to himself. Flora was in her bedroom at the far end of the hall with the door closed. But he was quiet, always had been in such situations, and felt unlikely to change his pattern now.

As he sat down at the cool Formica table to eat his cereal, he heard Sadie, his curly-coated retriever, awake and ready to go, excited by the prospect of a light on in the house before sunrise. He sat listening to the periodic ringing of the chain-link of her kennel run as she jumped up and hit it with her front paws. Born and bred for just such a morning as this, Sadie recognized a good duck-hunt at its first visible or audible indication.

He often wished he could bring her into the house with him, Sadie who gave so readily of her time and attention. But Flora would have none of it.

Nathan stood in the cool autumn dark, a moment before sunrise, his shotgun angled up across his shoulder.

He insisted that Sadie obey him.

He called her name again, cross with her for forcing him to break the morning stillness, the very reason he had come. In the six years he’d owned the dog, she had never before refused to come when he called.

Remembering this, he shined his big lantern flashlight on her. In the brief instant before she squinted her eyes and turned her face from the light, he saw something, some look that would do for an explanation. In that instinctive way a man knows his dog and a dog knows her man, she had been able to say something to him. She was not defying his judgment, but asking him to consider, for a moment, her own.

‘You must come,’ she said by way of her expression. ‘You must.’

For the first time in the six years he’d owned her, Nathan obeyed his dog. He came when she called him.

She stood under a tree, digging. But she was not digging in that frantic way dogs do, both front feet flying in rhythm. Instead she gently pushed leaves aside with her muzzle, and occasionally with one front paw.

He couldn’t see around her, so he pulled her off by the collar.

‘OK, girl. I’m here now. Let me see what you’ve got.’

He shined the light on the mound of fallen leaves. Jutting out from the pile was an unfathomably small – yet unmistakably human – foot.

‘Dear God,’ Nathan said, and set the flashlight down.

He scooped underneath the lump with both gloved hands at once, lifted the child up to him, blew leaves off its face. It was wrapped in a sweater – a regular adult-sized sweater – and wore a tiny, well-fitted, multicolored knit cap. It could not have been more than a day or two old.

He felt he would know more if he could hold the flashlight and the child at the same time.

He pulled off one glove with his teeth and touched the skin of its face. It felt cool against the backs of his fingers.

‘What kind of person would do such a thing?’ he said quietly. He looked up to the sky as if God were immediately available to answer that question.

The sky had gone light now, but just a trace. Dawn had not crested the hill but lay beyond the horizon somewhere, informally stating that it planned to come to stay.

He set the child gently on the bed of leaves and looked more closely with the flashlight. The child moved its lips and jaw sluggishly, a dry-mouthed gesture, as if mashing something against its palate, or, in any case, wishing it could.

‘Dear God,’ Nathan said again.

He had not until that moment considered the possibility that the child might be alive.

He left his shotgun in the nest of leaves, because he needed both hands to steady the child’s body against his, hold the head firmly to his chest. He and his dog sprinted for the station wagon.

Behind them, dawn broke across the lake. Ducks flew unmolested. Forgotten.

At the hospital, two emergency-room workers sprang into rapid, jerky motion when they saw what Nathan held. They set the infant on a cart, a speck in the middle of an ocean, and unwrapped the sweater. A boy, Nathan saw. A boy still wearing his umbilical cord, a badge of innocence.

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