Friday, January 13, 2012

A Prayer by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s painting – Spring/Hope

Jasmine shifted her body, trying to find a comfortable position in the few moments she had before pain rolled through her again.  She felt the springs of the bed sag and heard their creak as her swollen belly rolled into a dip in the sagging mattress.  It was better on her side, she immediately felt the pressure on her hips relieved. She let her head fall back on the pillow and her eyes closed.

She felt a cool cloth move across her brow as a hand gently, lovingly, pushed the hair from her face.  Jasmine opened her eyes and looked directly into ones that were so like her own, she could have been looking in a mirror.

“Mama,” she whispered.  But the older woman shook her head and put her finger to her lips.  She stroked Jasmine’s hair and made quiet shushing noises until Jasmine relaxed and closed her eyes again.  She almost felt as though she could drift off to sleep.

Then she felt the gentle tightening in her belly and she knew it was coming.  She tried to focus on what was happening, to study it so that she wouldn’t become panicked and give in to fear of the pain.  She knew how it worked now.  The slight tightening just above her pubic bone, that would grow and spread – around her back, over her rib cage, back to the front and down across her protruding stomach.  Pulling and pushing at the same time, tighter, harder, and hot, like a spreading fire as it consumed not just her belly, but her whole body, until she could feel the contraction even in the top of her head, in the back of her neck, across her shoulders and out to the very tips of her fingers.  And then, like a wave, crashing upon the shore, it would recede, leaving her spent and sweating, and breathing hard.

She flopped back on the pillow, and felt the cool cloth on her brow again.  She opened her eyes and smiled up at her mother, who smiled at her, loving and caring, but there was worry in her eyes and sadness too.

“Mama, don’t worry.  It will be what it is.”

Jasmine watched her mother purse her lips, holding them tight as though they could hold back the tears that were welling up in her eyes.  Jasmine reached up, trying to touch her mother’s face, but her mother shook her head, brushed her hand away and ran from the room.

She knew where her mother was going.  She would sit in the other room for a while, praying to God and every saint she could think of, hoping that the baby would be a boy.  A boy, who would someday leave the life they were trapped in.  A boy to break the cycle of shuttered windows, dirty beds, smelly men, and birth.  A boy who would have no choice but to leave this world, this house, maybe even this land.

Jasmine understood her mother’s wishes, but she feared them as well.  A boy would leave her and maybe he would not find a better life.  Maybe he would be killed, or hurt.  Maybe his life would be worse than what they had here.  They had food, and shelter and a place to sleep – and sometimes the price of all that didn’t seem so much to pay.  At least they were mostly safe.  A boy would never know safety, would always have to fight.  A girl could just…be here.  Safe.  She didn’t know what was better – danger and hope, or safety and resignation.

Suddenly, there was no time to think.  Another wave took her body, and this one was followed closely by yet another and another.  She was so immersed in the waves, riding them, sliding under them, drowning and rising again, that she did not know when her mother came back. 

She only knew that when she made that final push and felt the relief of releasing her child into the world, that it was her mother’s hands she felt on her brow again.  It was her mother’s eyes she looked into when she opened her own.  Her mother’s face swam above her as she felt the baby at her breast, first nuzzling then suckling.  It was her mother’s tears that fell on her cheek as she drifted off to sleep.

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