Well, the baby started coming on a Thursday morningand it turned out to be the longest labor in the history of Salty Creek. By Friday night, everybody in town could hear the screaming, and around noon on Saturday, she was shrieking, "Shoot me! For God's sake, somebody shoot me!"
I was hardly more than a child myself. Only twelve or thirteen, and my mama made me stay in the back part of our house so I wouldn't hear any more than she could help. Wouldn't even let me sit out on the porch.
The doctor came and went at their house until Saturday afternoon, and after that, he never left until the baby finally arrived, around church-time on Sunday. Folks said that when he came out about an hour later, he looked like he'd been run over by a train, he did. Went straight home, his wife said, drank a fifth of bourbon, and slept for two whole days. Later, he told her he'd never seen anything like it. Just flat out a little baby that didn't want to be born. "I had to drag it out!" he said. "And God only knows what-all it was hanging on to!"
Sophie's mama always said the birth ruined her health. And I guess all the hand-wringing and the hollering and the running into each other the elder sisters did must have taken a toll, too. Because they said the birth ruined their health as well. So that as soon as Sophie could toddle around and understand when they told her to go get their crocheting for them or another pillow to rest their feet on, or a clean hanky, they had her doing everything for them. All the time. Just like she owed them something.
It must have been hard for Sophie, waiting on them hand and foot from the time she was just a little thing. And growing up under the black little bird-eyes of those women. And none of them young. In a house full of medicine bottles and hand-kerchiefs and smelling salts. And boredom.
That's why I say that if there was ever a beau for Sophie, they would have nipped that right in the bud. Because they weren't about to give up the one who ran around and waited on them. Besides, Sophie would have told me if there had been someone. I'm sure of it.
So she never did marry. Just took care of those old ladies and grew older and more faded---looking herself, every single year, what with them getting so elderly and so much more demanding and living for such a long time. And Sophie's mama, especially, was always hard to get along with. When she got older, she took to doing some strange things, like collecting dead birds she'd find out in the yard from time to time. Take them right inside the house and lay them out on a shelf in the pantry. Such as that.
She was the first one to pass on, Sophie's mama was, and I always thought somebody ought to have put her on a shelf in the pantry, toolet her see how she liked having that done to her. But of course, they didn't. Then a few years later, Sophie's Aunt Elsa passed on. Her Aunt Minnie was the only one left after that, and she was just as senile as a coot for a long time before she finally passed away. Used to sneak out of the house almost every night and wander around in the front yard in her nightgown, calling and calling for her mama. Can you imagine? Sophie never had a whole night's sleep for all the years that went on, but she didn't complain about it. Not even to me.
Afterward, when they were all gone at lasther Aunt Minnie passing on only a few months after Mr. Oto came to stay in my gardener's cottagefolks thought then maybe Sophie would do a little traveling or something like that. But she didn't. Just went about doing what she'd always donetaking care of the house and tending to her crab traps and painting some pictures down by the river. I guess by then it was too late for much of anything else.
But I'll say this about Sophie: She was a real lady. One of the few left in this whole town, someone who was raised rightwhatever other faults her mama and the aunts may have had. So Sophie always came calling on meand she was the only one who still kept up that fine old tradition.
Reprinted from Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Augusta Trobaugh. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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