Is this what Sister was doing when she took that bad turn?
Yes, and I was helping her, said Edna with a proud little smile.
You were helping her harvest opium, I said. I got up and stood with arms akimbo, thinking. If Sisters remedy was mostly opium, like Black Drop or Laudanum, I might have become a dope fiend. Hoarding the medicine for tonights baby was all that saved me. Now I had to weigh the danger of opium against the danger of pain. Most of all, I wanted this baby to be protected by the power of good. And I thought Sister Honoraria was a good woman, even if she was a bad nun. As I stood thinking, my waters broke.
I marched into the bedroom where Kitty was sleeping. See here, Clara Lazarus, I said. Its time to rise from the dead. I need streetcar courtesy. I have to push this baby out.
Oh, Mamie, I am a wretch. Forgive me, she said. I lay down in a sweat and would have taken Sisters medicine, opium or no, but I could not afford to be dopey until the doctor got here. It must have been near midnight. I sent Joe wireless messages in my mind: Come home, come home.
Charlotte brought me a saucer of dark fruit. What have we here? I gasped.
Kitty says they are little black-coated workers. She looked at me with her bashful, born-yesterday eyes. I set the prunes down carefully and told her to fetch the blessed candle from the parlor.
My mother, Peg Flynn, had unfastened every knot or button, door or stall, while I was having baby Dorothy. She supposed so much opening would help the infant enter the world. Thanks to her, baby Dorothy was welcomed into a household of men with their garments falling off and an old bossy in the kitchen. I wanted this child to be born newfangled and free of Irish hoodoo. But Id kept a copy of a prayer my mother had recited, and I asked Edna to fetch it from the dressers depths. It was written on vellum older than Plymouth Rock. I used the oil lamp to light the candle and read the words to myself: Anne bore Mary; Mary, Christ Our Savior; Elizabeth, John the Baptist. So may this woman, saved in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, bear the child in her womb, be it male or female. Come forth. Thats how it went. It ended with Latin words written so theyd read the same in any direction:
S A T O R
A R E P O
T E N E T
O P E R A
R O T A S
Though she was no scholar, my mother, Peg Flynn, said the Latin meant I creep toward the sower and holder of the workings and the wheels. I placed the paper on my big belly and asked Edna if she could see to read it. With a little prompting, she soon had it down pat. I told her I wanted her to recite the list of holy births in a saintly voice while Charlotte held the candle aloft. My lambs looked scared in the shaky light, but Edna set her balky tongue to the task. Anne bore Mary - she began.
She got no further because Charlotte yelled, Papas home! just then, and the spell was broken. A moment later, Joe was standing at the bedroom door. He had mea culpa written all over him, but I was happy to see him in good health. How are you, Mamie? he said, with hat in hand.
I am fully delighted, I replied. His face was barn-red, and he looked more at a loss for words than always. Where are the groceries, Joe? I asked.
I guess we lost track of time in the grill, and the team got tired of waiting for us.
He was standing like somebody rusted in place, and I told him hed better go after Doc Muswell. If hes out on a call, dont write childbirth on the slate or hell mosey along. Write fully delighted, I said. Joe repeated this. You heard, I said.
Reprinted from The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton. Copyright (c) 2008. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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