“Come, Little Baby” by Lori A. Claxton
“The baby is dead inside me.” The client taps her unlit cigarette against the pack, and a constellation of diamonds dances on her knuckles. “That’s what the doctors say. No heartbeat.” She takes the cigarette between her lips, lights it, inhales.
She tells me this is her third pregnancy. This time, a male child. They were so excited. She tells me how important it is for her husband to have a son. She tells me an old story. A story that is weary of being told.
I tell her my terms. What I will do, and for what. It is a lot of money, perhaps, but not for one such as she.
“Did you bring what I asked?”
She produces a wadded scarf from her handbag and pushes it across my kitchen table with unconcealed disgust. I unwrap it to find a dead house sparrow. The bird’s head rolls to one side as the scarf falls away. Its breast is torn open. A brown cord of intestine trails from its empty chest cavity.
I brush the scarred stump of my finger across one limp wing. I see, without my eyes, the bird’s last moments. A cat, half-starved, which ate of the bird until footfalls on flagstones scared it off.
“The gardener found it this morning. Will it do?”
“Yes.” It will do nicely.
“You can really do it? Make my baby live again?”
“If you try to scam me—” She stops, draws on her cigarette, exhales smoke at me. “My husband is a very powerful man.”
As if I do not know this already, have not seen him on television, do not recognize her face and name.
“Your baby will live.”
“It had better.”
“You will see.” I pick up the lifeless bird. “I will show you.” Carefully, I press the entrails back inside the tiny body cavity. This isn’t strictly necessary, just respectful. One should always be respectful.
I rise. “Wait here.” I go to the pantry, take down from the shelf my mortar, pestle, herbs, blood. The honeycomb in its Mason jar prison. A can of peach stones, apple pips, assorted seeds. I measure my ingredients into the mortar, grind them into a paste with the stone pestle. I hear the client sigh heavily in the kitchen. She is impatient but desperate. She will wait.
The mixture is sticky, viscous. I scoop it from the mortar with curled fingertips. I select a seed from the jar, fold it into the paste with my fingers. I fill the empty bird with this wet cocoon. I pluck three long hairs from my head and twist them together. Thread them through the eye of my finger-bone needle. Sew the bird’s body closed.
It is still lifeless, still limp, still a mockery of what it was. But it is also what it needs to be. Vessel. Chrysalis. A soul seed in a feathered husk.
I bring it back to the table, swaddle it in the rumpled scarf, set it before the client. “Bury the bird in fertile soil, not too deep. Wait.”
“One sun, one rain.”
“This will make my baby live?”
“No. This will make the bird live. Prove to you I can do it. You must deliver the baby, keep the body. Then you will come back to me with money, and the baby, and no threats. Then I will make your baby live.”
When she leaves I follow, without my body, to watch her, without my eyes.
She buries the bird in a bed of narcissi.
It is cloudy for two days. She visits the spot once, prods the ground with the tip of one shoe, walks away.
The next day is sun.
The next day is rain.
One sun, one rain. With the next day’s dawning, a tiny green shoot emerges from the earth, shy but eager to be born. It feels the sidelong morning sun and is encouraged, grows faster. Without my eyes, I watch it grow. Sturdy stalk, heavy ovate bud opening like an eye to see the sun. The client comes as its tight satiny petals unfurl. On a disk as broad as a sunflower’s lies a fully fledged sparrow, nestled down in its own feathers. It fixes her briefly with one black eye, which flashes deep green and iridescent in the sunlight. It flaps, takes wing, and in a moment is gone.
It is done, and I can rest. I sleep for hours.
The afternoon brings a chirruping at my open window. I look, with my eyes, at the house sparrow, hopping along the sill. It cocks its gray-capped head at me.
“Come, little baby.”
It flits to my shoulder, settles. I coo little comforts as it nests in my hair.
My babies, they always come back to me.
Come, little baby. You are mine, you are mine.
|Lori A. Claxton lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband George. She feels equally at home in forests and books and has been known to get lost in both. Lori draws inspiration from folklore, fairy tales, and the natural world. Her poetry has appeared in Mirror Dance and may also be found at medium.com/@loriclaxton .|