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Friday, October 11, 2013

I don't know how they did it...

I've been thinking lately of all the people I know who have lived and continue to live through impossibly hard things.  Cancer.  The loss of a child.  Dying marriages, families breaking apart, the death of a spouse, economic hardships.  Recently I wrote another short story prompted by my friend's wonderful blog, "Write Now Anyway," and again today I've decided to post this one.  The story of a neighbor's ancestor came to my mind when writing it.  That ancestor was part of the Mormon migration that headed west during the mid 1800's.  The woman, whose name I've forgotten, made the journey alone, as her husband was called away to serve as a missionary in Europe.  While traveling, this woman endured giving birth in a covered wagon.  As in my story, her child did no survive.  This woman, like countless others throughout history, had to bury her baby, then walk away. 

As I have thought so many times before in my life, I wondered:  "how?"  How do people deal with such horrendous things and then go on with their lives?  So, this story was my attempt to understand that.  All I could really come up with was that "moving on," to use a popular phrase, begins with a single step, and a lot of faith.  Faith that things will get better, that we can endure the hard things, because we have to.  And that life is still beautiful.

A happy note:  my neighbor's ancestor made it to her destination, the Salt Lake Valley.  When her husband finally arrived a couple of years later, having finished his missionary work, she met him at the train station driving her own buggy pulled by her own horses.  She drove her husband to the little house which she'd had built.  She'd earned the money that paid for it all by teaching piano lessons. I'd like to think that the Anna in my story had a future like that.   And that the midwife in my story was captured by centaurs and carried away in the Forbidden Forest.   :-)
A Single Step

Anna didn’t know how she would do it. 

She was still weak.  Weak from the long, weary walk from Illinois that stretched across the state of Iowa; from breathing in the dust of the journey as she stumbled along, growing heavier each day with the child who was to be born without a home.  And she was weak from the frightening, lonely hours filled with pain as her child had struggled to come into the world; while she longed for Ephram’s strong hands to hold hers and to hear his voice, telling her all would be well.  But her husband was gone; called to sail away on a ship to England so that he could preach his new faith to the people there.  He’d left before the frenzied mob had forced them all to abandon their beautiful city and begin their journey, as best they could, with hardly more than the clothing on their backs on a freezing February day.

Anna shivered and pulled her tattered shawl more closely about her.  The early April wind tore at her soul.  It was still so cold!  How could she leave him?  She barely registered the light touch of a hand on her shoulder.

“Sister, it’s time.  We must go,” a gentle voice murmured.  Anna heard the slight tremor in the voice of the woman who spoke.  It was soft-spoken, kind Sister Humphreys, who had run nearly five miles to the nearby town to fetch a doctor.  All she had been able to find was the sour, sullen woman with stone-grey hair and chips of ice in her eyes, who came resentfully to the Mormon encampment to assist with a difficult labor.

Blood.  Blood and terror and pain; and the hard countenance of the woman who helped birth her child were what Anna recalled most.  Last night was a timeless mixture of images and sensations.  There were hours of frightening pain, and the fruitless pushing, but finally, mercifully, a sudden tearing; excruciating but brief.  Then the tiny form was placed in her arms.  Gratefully, Anna had sunk down, cradling him close.  She recalled hearing a single whimper, the merest of sounds, then, nothing more from the child.

“How you gonna pay me?” the grey woman had muttered.  Anna had looked up in shock, still reeling with pain and fear, and the wonder of giving birth to her first child.

Sister Humphreys had pled, as she wrapped the quilt about Anna and her son, that they had no money, but would find something.  Somehow, they would repay her.  “Only let me go ask the others,” Sister Humphreys begged.

“I’ll take that quilt,” the woman retorted, whisking it away from Anna and her son even as she spoke the words. 

“No,” Anna had breathed. 

“It don’t matter, no how,” the woman had said as she’d climbed down from the bed of the wagon, clutching the quilt in her arms.  “You and that brat will both be dead by morning.”  And then, she was gone.

 Anna had wept.  The quilt, a red and white Bethlehem star, was her only link to her former life.  Her mother’s wedding gift.  At night, alone in the cold wagon, she ran her hands along the soft fabric and felt her mother’s love in every tiny stitch.  And now, it was gone. 

And, it was all she had to protect herself and her child from the cold.

Sister Humphreys had found something to cover her and wrap the baby in.  She worked to stop Anna’s bleeding.  She always found a way to help. 

But the cruel woman’s prediction came true; at least in part.  The baby didn’t survive the night.

“Anna?”  Sister Humphreys said once more.

Anna closed her eyes.  Sharp air, smelling of campfires and damp soil tore at her clothing.  She felt as if the wind echoed inside her hollow, empty body.  She was a shell, a dried husk.  Nothing was left.  Ephram was across the ocean.  Who knew when she would see him again?  Her home, her family, her only child…gone.  She felt as if a single step would cause her fragile body to crumble to dust. 

Have faith, Anna.  Our God will never abandon us, Ephram always said. 


Anna breathed in.  She spoke the word aloud.

“Faith.”  She believed in God.  She wouldn’t be here if she didn’t.  What’s more, she knew that God believed in her. 

One step, Anna told herself.  Begin with one step.  She trembled all over.  Grief, fatigue and the loss of blood took their toll.  But she would do it. 

“I’m ready,” Anna whispered.  Taking one more look at the tiny grave at her feet, she dropped the twig sprouting a few green leaves she had found.  A poor memorial for her son.

Until we meet again, she promised her child. 

Then, she turned her back.  And she walked away.