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Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

"How I wonder what you are..."
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````````She carefully surveys the sleeping street from behind the wheel of her royal-blue Honda Civic. It’s the perfect hide, parked among the other late-model cars lining both sides of the road. The modest houses beyond lay dormant. No flicker of televisions from behind curtains hint that anyone is still awake. There’s no movement outside either, except for the dozen or so moths batting themselves against the street light up ahead.


Retrieving her iPad from the takeout wrappers littering the passenger seat, she flicks open the protective cover and taps it to life. The device’s pale blue glow illuminates her round face from beneath. She swipes two screens to the left and touches a pacifier icon halfway down a field of other non-descript apps. The hazy night-vision image of a sleeping baby fills the screen, the faint gurgling of running water from the white-noise machine audible in the background.


“Oh, Amelia,” she coos, caressing her fingers across the image of the baby’s cheek.


Her eyes glaze as she stares at the infant. Her lips pull back into a deranged grimace.


Blinking herself back into the moment, she focuses her attention on the sound, listening for any sign that Amelia’s parents might be awake. The clock on the dash announces that it’s nearly three o’clock in the morning and highly unlikely, but she must be sure. She can’t afford to get caught. Not again.


She listens: Nothing.


The dull shuffle of ice cubes in a paper cup breaks the relative silence inside the car as she takes a sip from her giant Coke. The refreshing sweetness chases away the sourness that grips her throat. Almost as quickly, however, the unpleasant taste returns. Frowning, she lowers it back into the center console.


Still nothing.


Her heart pounding, she searches the street for signs of life again. Finding no one, she dips her gaze back to the iPad in her lap and taps the green ‘Talk’ button in the bottom right of the screen.


“Hello there, Amelia darling,” she whispers, her breath shaking wildly. “It’s so lovely to see you again, my precious little angel.”


The infant doesn’t respond. She lies motionless on her back in her crib, clutching a teddy comforter in her tiny fist. Peacefully asleep, she wears her floral pink baby sleep bag like a pair of coveralls over her white onesie.


Trying again in a low voice, she sings, “Amelia? Ameeelia?”


The baby girl stirs. She wrinkles her nose and squirms. Sucking the comforter’s head into her mouth, she chews on the bear’s nose with her gums. The slurping sound smacks through the speaker as her wriggling increases.


She keeps calling the child’s name, peppering her effort with clicks of her tongue and saccharine baby talk. As she does, anticipation rises in her chest.


Amelia’s eyes snap open, glowing demonically in the display of the baby monitor’s low-light camera.


“Ooo,” she squeals, hugging the iPad to her cable-knit bosom. “Hello, little one.”


Amelia smiles at the unseen voice coming from her baby monitor. She sucks on her comforter’s nose and kicks her legs, the end of the pink sleep sack flapping like a flag in the wind. The infant hoots with delight in response to her admirer’s praise.


“You’re such a beautiful little girl, aren’t you?” she beams, losing herself in the joy of the young child. “Oh, look at the pretty pink flowers on your sleeping bag. Just gorgeous.”


She continues to coo at the baby through the monitor, eliciting soft chirps and giggles. Relishing every moment, her bloodshot eyes well. A glistening tear runs down her cheek, closely chased by another.


Without warning, Amelia’s happiness vanishes. The staccato rap of pre-cries bursts from the baby, “Huh - huh - huh - huh -“


Panicked, her eyes bulge in the muted blue glow inside her Honda. “No. No! Don’t cry, Amelia. Please don’t cry.”


It’s no use. The little girl begins to cry in earnest. The high-pitched wail rolls through the iPad’s speaker like an old-fashioned police siren.


She pleads with the crying baby, desperately trying to bargain with her. But it’s to no avail. She watches on helplessly as Amelia flails in her crib.


Her fear of being discovered seizes her in a cold sweat. She knows she should just tap the red ‘Mute’ button at the bottom of the screen and drive away, but she can’t leave the baby. She can’t abandon her.


Out of options, she sings Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to Amelia through the monitor. The first verse has no effect on the child. Instead, the woman becomes increasingly upset by each line of the lullaby.


With tears pouring down her cheeks, the curved lines of moisture sparkling in the glow of the screen, she shakily sobs the second verse:


“When the blazing sun is gone,

When he nothing shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.”


Agitated by the unstable energy of the song, the baby’s distress reaches a fever pitch. Beyond crying, the infant screams hysterically. The volume is so loud, the iPad’s speaker crackles with distortion.


Gulping a breath to continue with the third verse, she is stunned silent by the thump of the nursery door being thrown open. The shadow of a figure moving between the night light and the baby monitor causes her blood to run cold.


“What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you doing this to us!” a man’s voice snarls. It’s Amelia’s father.


She can’t breathe.


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