Bash let out a loud snore and rolled over, the whole bed groaning as if in protest. Mary looked at across at him fondly a tiny bit jealous at the ease with which he moved. "No matter," she whispered to her round belly. "Soon enough we'll be meeting you little one and mama will get her body back." She had loved this pregnancy, but there was no doubt she was looking forward to the end.
She reflected then as she often did in the wee sma's how different this pregnancy was to her last. Then it had been a mental challenge rather than a physical one. She had been scared, no doubt about it when Bash had bedded her on their wedding night. The last time had not been so sweet, so loving but rather an act of violence upon her young self.
The guilt she felt towards Elijah never left her and she prayed she could show this baby the love she never could endow upon him. Raising him had not been easy but somehow, she felt it was what she deserved. She had sinned and now she had to pay a sort of penance. Still the Bog had its advantages, and she was able to build up a community of like-minded folk who had drifted to its soggy shores. They had their own tales of woe and were not too judgemental to a young unwed mother.
The problem was she was unable to hide the truth from Elijah as he grew. His questions began when he started school. "Who is my Daddy, Mama?" he would ask. She only had shady memories of that large white man who assaulted her. Memories she preferred not to bring to the surface.
She'd been walking home from church one Sunday evening. Her room was not too far away, and she hoped she still had some of the Lord's protection upon her. The sermon had been enervating and she still felt stirred by the Reverend's words of benediction. "Be not afraid for the meek shall inherit the earth," he had said, and she felt as though he was talking to her alone. Suddenly a rough hand grabbed her and pulled her into a dark alleyway. The man was drunk but strong and she did not stand a chance. It took her a long while to forgive God for his trespasses towards her.
As her belly swelled, she found it more difficult to hide the evidence and one day her mistress came to her as she was hanging out the laundry. She was dismissed without a reference, considered a fallen woman now. Her mistress offered not a word of support and paid no back wages either. "I can't have your wicked influence near my children," she said. Hot were the tears that traced down Mary's face that morning and she stumbled away wondering what on earth she could do next.
The Reverend was the one man who did take pity on her. He never asked who had planted the seed in her belly but set her up in a small rooming house and kindly paid her rent and later for the midwife. That had been a hard labour, the more because this baby was unwanted. When it slithered out and the midwife declared she had a son, Mary could do no more than cover her eyes and weep. What was she going to do with a boy, she was barely more than a child herself? There was no help from her parents either, they had died of fever a few years earlier.
Strange the moments that determine your life. The day a bruised mud-spattered Bash fetched up in the laundry did not seem so significant at the time. She repelled his flirtations fearful of a close male association; men had never done her much good. Setting increasingly arduous tasks did not put Bash off however and soon she felt herself drawn to him. He was so good, so kind, so innocent. Yet she felt the old familiar fear, what would he say when he found out she was a mother? In deciding not to tell Bash she nearly lost him, something she still found hard to believe. Thankfully they had come to an understanding and when he realised later what must have happened to her, he reacted in a way she could barely have dreamed of. Rather than feeling sorry for her, he told her how much he admired her strength for not only surviving the experience, but for thriving despite it. Oh, she loved this man. The thought of spending the rest of her life with him, bringing up this baby together was almost enough to make her weep with joy.
Funny she thought as another pain bore down, how it was possible to forget the misery that was labour. Marilla was there with her, a steadying force. Despite her lack of personal experience, Mary was pleased to have her there. Marilla was the mother she had been missing all this time. That she was white meant nothing, both women were colour blind, seeing through that barrier to the woman behind. Anne may have had more experience birthing babies as she told Mary one afternoon, but she was too young, too hysterical.
Instead Marilla's gentle counsel was a calming influence, much needed during the long confinement. She murmured gentle words of encouragement which Mary just barely heard through the contractions. When she began pushing, the midwife asked Marilla to come to the business end and eventually she was the one to catch the baby and she showed it to Mary with such a warm smile. It felt right to Mary to have this lovely woman share this most special of moments. The baby cried out lustily and they all smiled recognising mother and baby were healthy. The midwife in particular seemed happy. Mary did not want to even consider it, but she supposed that was not always the case.
Later when Bash joined her, she proudly showed the baby to him and she saw a new side of him. Hearing him speak nonsensical baby talk to their daughter made her laugh so. Bash was a daddy now and he revelled in it. She lay back watching him cradle the baby in his arms wondering if she could ever top this feeling of utter happiness.
She lay in a dream world, people coming and going; a constant ache and a restless inability to find comfort. Marilla was there and Bash and Gilbert too. Sometimes her mother sat with her and she talked about her life since she had seen her last, railing against the woman who had deserted her. "Why did you forsake me Mama, I needed you," she cried while her mama merely shook her head sadly.
Cool cloths soothed her and at times a figure loomed by her side to offer water. The one person missing was the one she needed most, where was Delphine? She tried to tell them she needed her baby by her side, but frustratingly no one paid her any mind. Her arms were constantly reaching out searching.
The crisis came at night as it often does. She sensed people surrounding her all ineffectual and sad. At one moment she saw her body lying on the bed drenched in perspiration, her luxurious dark curls lank against the white pillow. That's me, she realised. I'm unwell. Am I going to die? Is that what this is? Am I dying?
No! she cried inwardly. I don't want to die. Don't take me Lord. I have so much here. I have Bash, I have Delphine. I finally found happiness; you can't make me leave them all yet. Delphine needs me, Bash needs me, and what's more, she realised with a gasp, I need them. Please Lord, please let me stay. It was tempting oh so tempting to give up. Her body was emaciated, it ached. Even up here she could feel the pain. It seemed so feeble a thing and beyond was all light and free. But her family tied her to the earth, to life. Even in her delirium she understood the sacrifices she had to make. She could leave that feeble body behind but with it her family or she could go into the light, not merely a lack of darkness but a freedom of being. At times in her hard life that would have been a much sought for blessing but no longer. Now Mary wished to stay on this earth in that inefficient body surrounded by people who loved her and who in turn she loved.
It was a choice and a hard one at that. To go back or to float away into eternal joy. In the end she chose life. Having fought so long for a family she could not bear to give them up just as she had found true happiness. With a gasp she returned and felt again the pain and frailty but also the love, the pure unadulterated love of the people who surrounded her. Slowly, somewhat blinded by the dim yellow candlelight she opened her eyes and gazed into the adoring eyes of her husband looking down at her tenderly. "Bash," it was barely more than an exhalation of breath, but he gathered her into his arms and hugged her gently.
Her recovery was slow and frustrating. Bash was with her every step of the way, bathing, feeding, nursing. If anything, it brought them closer together. When he slept as he had to, Gilbert, Anne or Marilla would take over. Keeping her company on those long days where she had barely enough energy to keep her eyes open.
Finally, the long-awaited day arrived. She had known that the Cuthberts had been keeping Delphine safe for her. It was a relief to know that they cared for her like one of their own. She imagined that hadn't always been easy, especially for Marilla. Avonlea townsfolk were small-minded at times, but Marilla never said a word.
"Coo." Mary looked up sharply. It was not the expected hour. Anne had excitedly told her they would deliver Delphine after lunch and it was still forenoon. Marilla stood silhouetted in the doorway, a familiar blanket in her arms. And within that blanket, Mary's heart leapt as Marilla strode closer and placed her beloved Delphine back in her arms.
Mary was at peace. If she ever thought over her long convalescence that she might have made the wrong decision, those thoughts were now rent asunder. Delphine too seemed comfortable in her mother's arms. She rooted around for the breast. "Do you have anything still?" Marilla asked. "I can make up a bottle if you need."
"I'll try," said Mary, hoping against hope that she did. The sound of the baby gently swallowing after pulling long and slow informed all present that it was fine. Mother and babe were together again and later after Marilla had departed, it was just the three of them again laying in their squeaky bed, a healthy young family again at last.