She could not have guessed
What is right
What is wrong
So she just muddled
She could not have guessed
What is right
What is wrong
So she just muddled
She never did like thready business.
Yet there she was, darning holes, patching elbows, sewing up dangling hems and chasing runs on stockings.
How did it ever come to that?
She squinted and held the needle to the light.
The story of her life, it was. That squeezing through the eye of the needle. Barely, barely making do. Struggling to fit another stitch before the end of her rope.
It was all wrong.
She tied the knot.
She tied another, hoping it would hold. Hoping that the hidden stitches she put in will keep things covered long enough to soothe the chill that ever lurked, awaiting exposed places.
Existing really should not be so threadbare.
The thin wrap of life, knit together moment by moment in complicated patterns of dropped stitches and messy mistakes.
Will it come together at the end?
She did not know, but she hoped.
He was born on a blustery night to a woman who huddled on the exposed slopes with naught but the protection of three wide backs to block the worst of the wind. The men crouched, arms linked and heads down, their eyes averted from what was taboo to watch, as they hummed the low sounds of incantations meant to shield the woman and babe from the demons and their own ears from the muffled cries.
There was no midwife.
The other woman had died not a full moon prior. It was a bad omen.
There was no spirit-guide. Their leader, too, had died.
Bad omens, all.
There was only the woman, panting desperately in the dark. And the three of them: One of whom in whose hearth she’d grown, one whose hearth she shared, one who’d preceded her in her mother’s womb. And a girl-child of barely eight winters. Pale and shivering and wide-eyed, she knelt before the woman, one hand on the swollen belly, another cradling the opening for the magic and terror that no man was allowed to look upon. But she would. She was too young. But there was no one else who could.
As the night stretched and the panting shortened, he was born.
By morning, they moved on.
A fresh mound under a rock marked the space where the smell of blood still lingered. The men had dug the hole, even though it was women’s work. A concession to their circumstance. They could not wait till the girl, or woman, gathered sufficient strength for the task. It was paramount that one put distance between oneself and the afterbirth, lest the demons seek to lug the babe back into the dark. The mother, too, sometimes.
They left all that behind.
He lived his first days in almost the same darkness he’d been made in. Cocooned inside his mother’s wraps, lips close enough to her breast to suckle, rocked by the same thunder and gurgle of her heartbeat and innards.
Sometimes, much later in years, he’d remember the indistinguishable. How inside and out did not differ by much other than air and hunger and the momentary cold that blanketed him when he was whipped out to be held above the ground to release his waste.
He might’ve stayed cocooned for longer had they not found the cave.
The old man saw it first. A black tooth in the mountain-side. Large enough to fit.
They waited two days to approach it. Demons have been known to skulk in the back of dark hollows, waiting to pounce. They were too few to risk it. Let alone with a helpless morsel who couldn’t even cling.
When nothing bigger than a ferret emerged from the entry, and when hares were spotted munching languidly nearby, they knew that whatever demons might have lived there once, had since long gone.
They brought an ember to the cave. And stones for a hearth. And moss and boughs for bedding.
The girl carried water from the spring. The woman made the tea and cooked the grain from her ceremonial parcel. They ate. They drank. They slept.
By morning the men came for the baby.
They held his naked, squalling form, indignant in the cold exposure, and passed him from man to man at the entry.
His life-force squealed vitality. His lungs breathed their collective previous misfortunes to the wind. His face, first reddened then purple with rage, summoned the sun to rise and fall. Someplace a wolf returned the howl.
It was a good omen.
They called him New Born. The reincarnation of Born, the spirit-guide they’d lost along with what safety they’d had where they came from. This New Born was a cameo. He was their future. Their hope in this new home.
One needed a long leash.
One needed to be kept on a short one.
Metaphor for her life, it was.
She adopted both as babies. Whelped at the same time by the same stray dog, they were, and yet they could not be more different. People did not believe her when she told them that the two were litter-mates. Had she not seen it with her own eyes she might’ve doubted, too. She wondered sometimes if it was possible that they were fathered by two different dogs altogether.
A little like her own sons. Who had.
Only that she had survived her children’s births. Unlike the dog, who didn’t.
It had been a cold spell then as well. The roads had become ice-sheets and her breath had hovered so close that it was as if the air itself did not want to leave the warmth of her body for the arctic chill. A storm had been forecast and she’d just returned from the store with extra essentials when she’d heard the whine of something small and vulnerable coming from the crawl space under the house.
The laboring dog did not resist when she’d reached for the writhing pup. Panting and with her head hanging low, she just rose heavily to her feet and followed the pup to the garage. She must have recognized help, or perhaps she was just beyond protesting.
Three pups were born. One large, two small, one of which did not survive. Neither did the birthing mother, who suckled the pups but was dead by morning. Perhaps she bled internally or was too weak or otherwise beyond recovery. With the storm in full force there was no way to call the vet. Or to bury anything. She dragged the mother and babe outside, where the cold would preserve them till she could find a way to properly farewell them. And she took the two mewling wrigglers in. Where they’d stayed. Milo and Martin.
After her uncles. One robust and placid. One short and wily.
She’d padded a box with an old blanket, kept it by her bed, and set a timer. She’d fed them with an eye dropper first, then a turkey baster with a piece of cloth tied on for suckling. It wasn’t till their eyes opened and they’d began exploring that she’d let herself realize that she’d be keeping them.
And that they will be keeping her.
From the plans she’d been making.
Her sons no longer needed their mother. But the puppies did.
So she stayed.
And three years later, they were all still there.
One with his long leash. One with the short. And her, in the middle. Held by both.
There was beauty in the shallows.
The mirror of the skies. The crystalline water in their unabashed reveal. The bottom — old and newer bits together — inviting her to step in and stir the quiet till it rises soft between her toes to momentarily obscure all things.
Opacity reassured her.
Like the enveloping from clouds when they leaned in close in misty acknowledgment, it held reminders:
That life was
That clarity was temporary, hard won, and easily disrupted.
That fog spread quickly and lifted slowly, leaving damp disorientation in its wake.
That even shallows could reflect upended bowls of heaven and earth.
As if it heard, the water summoned her and she stepped into the silt. Wavelets nipped at her ankles, snapping cold against her skin.
Her toes disappeared, and she thought how apt it was to have her foundation hidden underneath a swirl of settling.
She breathed and closed her eyes and stilled and became one with the water, one with the sediment of time and the detritus of being.
Slowly, both the lake and her mind cleared.
She heard her spirit whistle on the wind.
In twilight we live.
In twilight we love.
In edges of morning
What we hoped
We could master
As we have
Let the sun
Roll itself into
Rise the moon
To the dreams
We sleep of.
She stopped by to check on her elderly neighbor and saw a bulging bag on the curb. Odd. Trash-collection was two days away. Ethel could get ticketed.
She grabbed the bag. The thing was heavy! How did the ancient women lug this? She carried it up the path to the door.
“Ethel?” she knocked. “It’s Belinda.”
Silence. Was Ethel sleeping? Belinda knocked again. Waited. Rang the bell. Used her key.
There was no one home. All personal effects gone.
Heart pounding, Belinda rushed to untie the bag.
A mess of photos spilled out, scattering Ethel’s life to the ground.
In the middle of the desert
Where the dirt stretches far,
Hope ripples atop a small
That come night reflects
Heaven’s traveling star.
It had always been
In between the wish for more
And need for less
She paused to let the breeze pass
And transform her
From the rushing steps that never seem to
To the tranquility of what is
to be left
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