The thin woman was back the next day. She pushed her stroller along with all the other moms, but none of them said hi to her. Amelia-Anne wondered why that was. When they were at the playground, the other moms laughed and talked and loaded their babies into swings and bounced them and showed them off to each other.
The thin woman sat by herself, hugging her baby and singing to it softly.
Amelia-Anne had to go to a birthday party the next day. She didn't really want to, and her mom didn't want to take her. In fact, her parents had an argument about it, but Amelia-Anne was getting dressed so she didn't hear much of it. Her mom drove her to the party. There were presents and balloons and cupcakes with pink and blue frosting. Ally was turning nine and she wanted to be cool, so she had invited a bunch of fifth-graders. Amelia-Anne thought that was dumb.
After the party, Amelia-Anne was going to walk home, but her mom insisted on coming in the car again to pick her up. All the other moms picked up their kids, too. Amelia-Anne thought that was nice, because it was getting cold.
She went to the park the next day and sat on her bench and started to draw with a red crayon on a big piece of paper. There weren't as many mothers in the park today, but the thin woman was there. She was by herself. She looked around, clutching her baby. She saw Amelia-Anne. She came over and sat next to Amelia-Anne.
“Hi,” said Amelia-Anne, swinging her legs. Then she went back to drawing.
“Hello,” said the thin woman. “Did you see my baby? Isn't my baby beautiful?”
Amelia-Anne looked at the baby. It looked like all babies, she thought. She went back to drawing.
“Isn't my baby fabulous?” the thin woman asked. She hugged the baby.
Amelia-Anne thought he was a bit drooly and a bit chubby, and she didn't want to be rude, so she didn't say anything. She continued coloring, making a big red circle and drawing a red flower inside it.
The thin woman didn't seem to mind. “My baby's the most wonderful baby in the whole world,” she said, and stroked her baby's head with her long fingers.
Amelia-Anne put a rake inside the red circle, too.
After a while the playground emptied. The sky turned gray and the leaves started to whirl. The other mothers went home. Amelia-Anne headed home, too, but when she left, the thin woman was still on the bench, holding her baby and talking to it.
The next day, at the park, the sky was sunny and the birds were out, and so were the mothers, their toddlers stuffed into colorful jumpers and put into strollers or onto leashes so that they could crawl around. The thin woman was there. She was letting her baby crawl without a leash, but she was following it. Amelia-Anne watched them. The baby took about five crawl-shuffles for every one of the thin woman's long, long steps.
The baby went right up to one of the other mothers and looked up at her. The other mother saw and swooped up the baby, laughing. “Who's a little deary!” she said. “Whoooo's a little deary-schnookums?”
The thin woman screamed. She screamed so loud that Amelia-Anne broke her crayon. Everyone on the playground froze.
“Don't touch my baby!” the thin woman shrieked, and snatched the baby away from the other woman, who stood shocked and mortified.
The other mothers frowned and put their heads together. The mother who had picked up the thin woman's baby went away.
After a few minutes the playground calmed down again. Most of the mothers left. The thin woman let her baby stay on the ground, crawling as it pleased, and she followed it. Amelia-Anne went home.
The next day was dark and rainy, but Amelia-Anne went to the park anyway. Her mother had said, “Amelia-Anne, I don't want you going out by yourself,” but Amelia-Anne had forgotten and had done it anyway. She went up the gravel lane to the playground and sat down on the bench. The wind gusted around her. She swung her legs. After a while the thin woman came, pushing her stroller. She saw Amelia-Anne and smiled and waved. Her hair was a bit mousy, Amelia-Anne thought. She needed extra-pomegranate conditioner. Amelia-Anne had seen extra-pomegranate conditioner on TV, and she was sure everyone with mousy hair needed it.
“Hello!” said the thin woman, and sat down next to her. She lifted the baby out of the stroller and set it on her knee.
“Hi,” said Amelia-Anne. She didn't have her crayons with her today. She wished she did.
The wind blew around them.
“Isn't my baby the most wonderful baby in the whole world?” the thin woman asked.
Amelia-Anne sighed. She swung her legs. “What's your baby's name?” she asked. That was good. That was polite.
“I called him Max,” the thin woman said.
“How old is he?”
“A few months.” The thin woman bounced the baby gently. “Isn't he fabulous?”
“Don't you know exactly how old he is?” asked Amelia-Anne.
The thin woman looked at Amelia-Anne, smiling. “Isn't he fabulous?”she asked again, and then the baby gurgled a big bubble of spit right out of his mouth, so Amelia-Ann said yes.
“I just love babies,” the thin woman said, and Amelia-Anne couldn't be certain, but she thought the thin woman's eyes looked very dark right then. Very, very dark.
Amelia-Anne went home.
Amelia-Anne's mom wouldn't let her go to the playground the next day, or the day after, or the day after that. Finally, Amelia-Anne's mom said they could go, but only if Amelia-Anne's mom went along. So Amelia-Anne's mom did.
They sat on the bench. There were a few other mothers at the playground. The thin woman wasn't there. Amelia-Anne searched and searched for the brown coat and the long, long legs in their cartoon jeans, but she couldn't see them. Amelia-Anne's mom talked with some of the other moms. They kept looking over at their toddlers, and at Amelia-Anne, too, as if they wanted to make sure Amelia-Anne didn't hear. Amelia-Anne didn't really care what they were talking about and she wished they would stop looking at her.
The next day, the thin woman wasn't at the park either. But that was the day that Amelia-Anne overheard her parents talking about the baby that had been stolen two weeks ago while sitting in its mom's grocery cart, and how no one knew where it was, and no one knew who had kidnapped it, and how there hadn't been a ransom note or anything. Police had been out looking for a crazy woman who might have done it, but they couldn't find her. They had been asking for clues. Amelia-Anne thought of the thin woman, clutching her baby, smiling. “I just love babies,” she had said, so Amelia-Anne knew it couldn't have been her.