The breeze shifted slightly, drawing lose curls across sun-washed skin. Lina shook the strands away, peering beneath her hand into the thrush. Nell was nowhere to be seen.
Overhead the full moon glowed a faint white against the pale evening sky, speaking of things to come.
“Nell!” A sharp whistle revealed irritation.
Another breeze rolled through, cooling the air around her.
This was the first time she’d lived this day, but something in the breeze made her question that fact. She knew this wind. Like the voice of an old friend she hadn’t seen since childhood, it called to her, beckoning her to remember.
If she closed her eyes, she could see herself there, in the tangle of the willowacks, even feel the scratchiness of grass between her toes.
There in the cooling of the day, that’s where Lina learned the meaning of love.
She resisted this painful moment that often tried to sneak out of from under the life she had tried to smother it with at times like these. It had been so long ago.
A rustle drew her attention. The quick snapping of branches, echoed the sound Mama had made stumbling through the brush, looking for a soft place burrow. She found the sunken spot beneath the sadden branches of a willow tree, their weak limbs blowing in the evening wind.
With quick motions she threw aside her clothes. Lina turned to peer out at something in the distance, wanting to provide some privacy, but it wasn’t to be.
“I need you hold this sheet and be ready to catch,” Mama had ground out the words between hefty breaths.
Lina’s eyes must’ve been bigger than the shock she felt, because Mama chortled something between a laugh and a cry.
“Just do as I tell you.”
Despite Mama’s expert directions, Lina was of no use. In the end, Mama did most of the work, bringing the small bloody body from her own round heaving one with a satisfied exhale.
Lina had often waited outside in moments like these when Mama would attend to the young mothers, making sure everything was right. Usually there was more commotion. In the silence of the moment Lina gathered something was wrong. Mama’s breaths seemed to come impossibly faster as she worked her strong hands over chest, back, and limbs.
But try as she might, Mama couldn’t conjure life into the tiny body in her arms.
Silence succumbed to Mama’s screams. She sounded like Mr. Waller’s hound or a distraught child, only sadder, more heavy. It would be years before Lina would ever hear anything like that again–the sound of a mourning mother’s cry for the life of a child. It undid her, gutting her afresh every time.
The moon was bright and full before Mama ever stopped wailing. Only the sound of halted breaths covered the chirping of merry crickets.
Lina suspected the tears were still there in the darkness, but thankfully she couldn’t see them and was too scared to ask.
After some time Mama slowly drew herself to her knees to dig in the deep earth with bloodied hands. She buried everything there beneath that willow tree–the little one, the dreams she had for him, and the hope for a reversal in outcomes.
Not knowing what to say, Lina had looked on, ashamed of her helplessness.
Mama had smiled slightly, melancholy stealing her joy.
“You keep living when you have something to live for,”Mama had said, opening her arms to welcome Lina, who had wrapped herself over Mama’s tummy and the blood of the sibling she would never play with.
Lina wanted to absorb the sadness and replace it with love. But it wasn’t to be.
In the first rays of the creeping dawn, she awoke to the fading moon and Mama’s strong body, hardened beneath her by death. And then she wailed, differently, but just as ferociously, hating the small life that had taken Mama and Mama for choosing to be with that child instead of her.
Lina had followed Mama’s example, digging in the dirt with her small hands, making a space around the the baby. She had watered the soil with her tiny tears, resisting the urge to crawl into the hole she had made for Mama.
The two mounds of dirt were strange to see, their proximity and vast difference in size made death feel impartial and greedy. Confusion blew around and within her as she headed to look for a stream, ready to wash away dirt, blood, and angry regret.
She walked away, leaving it all behind, until the wind came around at times like these to remind her, stirring up the past like autumn leaves.
Lina grabbed her shotgun and headed out to find Nell, ignoring the wind’s attempt to stir up trouble on summer days of full moons and melancholy temperatures.
She had a dog to find and, judging by the moon’s fullness, a set of twins to deliver within the next day or so.