Lightening forks down from the indigo sky while thunder roars loud enough to shake the stones beneath our feet. We tremble, falling deeper into the mountain fortress and praying to the gods for mercy.
The gods do not listen.
Instead, the clouds open, and rain pours in a torrent so thick that life beyond these caves becomes a memory. The wind shrieks with glee. Pieces of rock break and smash into the raging ocean below.
The priests cower with the rest of us until the child rises and walks to the edge of the cliff. She is no one. But she raises her arms to the sky and cries, “I am ready.”
For a moment the wind lifts her and folds her in its embrace before setting her down. Then the clouds begin to roll back, and the rain slows. A ray of sun slips through the darkness, and she catches the light in her hands.
When summer comes, I help my family by picking berries. It’s outside work, so I make a game of it. I scramble through the rows of ripe strawberries and pluck the fat red fruit quick as I can. I don’t mind picking, though my arms get sore after a few hours, and I wish I had shoes. But at least I have decent clothes and a hat.
Mr. Bigalowe says I’m the fastest worker he’s got. Sometimes Mrs. Bigalowe watches from the porch. She always smiles at me and asks how I’m doing, and I say, “Quite well, thank you, Ma’am,” just like Mama taught me. She offers me lemonade, and it’s cool and tart and sweet all at the same time. I don’t gulp it though. I always thank her. She smiles, and says we’re friends. Though if we were real friends, I guess she’d let me come inside instead of standing on the porch.
On the last day of berry season, Mrs. Bigalowe calls me over. She says she hopes I’ll come visit and gives me a heart-shaped strawberry tart with a golden crust. It looks like something from a storybook.
“Don’t forget to visit,” she says.
I nod and thank her. On the way home I sell the tart for five whole cents.
It’s very quiet on the maternity ward tonight. It’s as if the little ones and their mothers know to be quiet and still. I walk down the hall and listen to the tap of my shoes against the linoleum floor. I love evenings like this. They’re so rare. Usually the some little lamb is crying, or one of the nurses is traveling to help one of the new mothers.
I open the door to the nursery and wave to the nurse on duty. As usual, we’ve placed the largest and smallest babies in front. I breathe in the smell of my children and take a mental picture of their small round faces. The largest is a nine and one-half pound, blue-eyed boy with beautiful long lashes and blond hair, the smallest a chocolate drop of a girl with liquid brown eyes and fuzzy black curls who weighs in at almost four pounds.
They are a study in contrasts wrapped in their blue and pink blankets, tiny pink, white and blue striped hats perched on their heads.
On impulse I snap a picture on my phone.
I want to place them in the bassinet together and ask the boy to look out for her, this precious child, born to a mother who’s barely more than a child herself. I want someone to look at this little bundle and realize what a wonderful gift she is before I send her back to a home where her mama has to struggle to put food on the table or maybe struggle with her own demons. I want her to go to a nice happy home like this sweet little blond cherub where he’ll be welcomed and loved, and he won’t live with the fear of going to bed hungry at night.
I’ll fail. The people from Social Services have already been in to talk to her mama. I’ve talked to her mama. She lies in her bed, sullen and unresponsive, except to mutter, “He just walked out on me. How I supposed to work with a baby? What I gonna do now?”
Tomorrow I’ll send two children home, just like I have for the past thirty years. I’ll smile at the parents and wish them and their children well. I’ll wish for miracles. Just like always.