On the twelfth day of December

As planned, the doctor called at the cottage of the husband and wife at around midday. Passing on her way up the sheaf of wheat stalks tied to the wooden pole, she was touched by the simple beauty of it; that the husband and wife, for all their apprehension as to their little one's fate, had caringly assembled it.

The doctor was aware of the two little lives that the husband and wife had already lost. "I hope that today I can give them good news," she said to herself and the listening forest with entreaty.

Inside, having been offered coffee or mulled apple juice by the husband, accepting a rousing cup of the latter, she took to her perusal of the young wife's womb, listening and pressing with her fingers, as ten days ago. She sought with all her experience an indication that the little one had turned, or was turning; repeated her work, and repeated it again.

But there was no sign of it. The due date was twelve days away. "I am afraid there is now little prospect of the little one turning before then," she collected herself to tell the husband and wife.

"We cannot shy away from that the birth may prove dangerous both for you and the little one," she continued to the young wife. "But," she urged, looking now at both the husband and wife, "you must stay strong. Send word to me as soon as labour begins; all has gone well many times, and it will do so again in twelve days or so," she finished with a tender smile, to fortify them — though her own considerable unease did not ally with her words.

The husband and wife thanked the doctor courteously and promised to send word, seeing the doctor out past the sheaf and pole — but they were devastated. In their rural home, the chances of the little one's survival, they well knew, were not high; and the husband feared for his wife.

The husband and wife did not speak. The young wife sat down upon the step of the porch, with her head in her hands, staring out upon the sheaf of stalks and the dusk — a dusk in a soft palette, as though all the colours in it had been lightly touched with white. Upon nightfall it would give way to a red moon.

Her husband stayed beside her for a long, long time, alternately stroking her hair gently, then resting his hand upon her shoulder. But he understood too that the young wife needed to be alone a while, and returned finally inside, setting to — seeking solace in toil — sweeping out the ash from the stove.

The little girl who had made the clock-tenderer's acquaintance had today been playing in the forest quite far from home. Spotting now the sheaf of wheat stalks and the wooden pole from a distance, she, like the doctor, was struck by its rustic evocativeness, and sallied up to the cottage for a closer look. She saw then the young wife brooding sadly upon the porch, and with the same openness of heart with which she had sought alleviation of her mother's cares, went up to her with a tender touch of her small hand.

There was something in the little girl's wide-eyed expression that the young wife could not hold out against, and, in a language that the little girl could understand, she related all, placing her hand upon her stomach when speaking of the little one inside. The little girl nodded and nodded fervently, asking only the occasional earnest question in the way children do, with an empathy that almost brought tears to the eyes of the young wife.

With only the last of twilight left, the little girl ran off home; and as the young wife at last stepped back into the cottage, she felt, curiously, that her worries had been a little lightened, more so than the unburdening itself of herself to the little girl could explain.

This is the twelfth part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.

Last updated: 09:56 (GMT+1), 12th December 2022