Canon tells us Esme's story in remarkably few words. We know what happened, but do we really know what happened?
From the moment I read the very brief account of her human life, I've wanted to know more about Esme and her final choices.
I hope you agree that the story of this tragic daughter, wife and mother warrants a storytelling.
Thank you to LightStarDust and ms-ambrosia for their Beta services on this story- amazing people, both of them.
Thank you to the judges, readers, voters and authors who participated in the Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest.
This entry was voted as 2nd place Judges Choice winner - thank you, wonderful Judges! My prize: the wonderful banner by Raggdoll of Twilight, linked on my profile.
Warnings and Disclaimer: Warning as per Rule 7 set out in contest guidelines, including emotional trauma, suicide and character death. Twilight is not mine.
On an evening as clear as this, one can see the Raspberry Island Lighthouse, its bright and steady beacon revolving to throw a glow over Lake Superior.
An embrace made of light.
It is late, almost midnight in this candle-lit attic room, made into a tiny dwelling with whitewashed walls and an old rug on the floor by the bed to make it homey. The small window looks out over the outskirts of Ashland: fields and church spire and the twinkling lights of the city in the distance.
Sounds of the port carry here, close as it is to the industrial shoreline and ore dock built in recent years. The clanging and screeching of metal were disconcerting at first, but now they're familiar, soaking in through the slightly ajar window.
They come in with the night, as softly as ink dispersing in water, carried on a cool breeze.
It is a welcome draft even in this cold season, dispersing the heavy scent of labor, sweat, and echoes of heart-rending screams sent to expire in the stuffing of pillows. The freshness of the late fall air is like a reminder that life continues on out there, unaffected by the drama within, even if it is life-changing and profound.
Esme watches the revolving light in a stupor, attempting to grasp the enormity of what has just happened.
Old Mrs. Jones fusses around her, trying to make her comfortable before she goes home, brown arms busily fluffing, tucking and smoothing.
In Esme's mind, a serene blue haze drapes over everything in a drowsy shroud- the aftermath of her life's greatest work, completed.
The blood-soaked linen has already been stripped from Esme's simple bed, and she moves gingerly, so as not to disturb the wadding wedged under her buttocks, the discomfort but a weak echo of her ordeal.
Beside her, in a tiny, old, timber cradle sleeps the smallest person Esme has ever seen and she marvels at him, wondering how it is possible.
How he is possible.
He sure didn't feel small when she was nearly dead from the pain of birthing him barely hours ago, but he is absolutely tiny. His head is smaller than her hand, and she is not a big woman.
It belies the vein-popping agony which accompanied his birth, that he sleeps so calm, innocently unaware of having slipped out into the world amidst blood, sweat and so many tears.
Mrs. Jones is convinced that he is born before his time, and that this is the reason for his tiny size. Counting back, Esme thinks she might be right, and the onset of labor almost a month earlier than expected was an awful jolt.
Still in shock from the grisly realities of giving birth, Esme watches the old midwife tidy up the modest room she has called home for the last two months. She was lucky to find it, and even luckier to be allowed to lease it, as most would think her a fallen woman rather than the widowed young school teacher she purports to be.
Originally, she hadn't had to lie about her situation; a distant cousin in Milwaukee had been very sympathetic, giving her sanctuary in her own home.
It wasn't long though before Esme's parents had somehow gotten wind of her whereabouts. From there, she could almost hear Charles Evenson breathing down her neck like a hound after a fox, his big paws beating down on her trail, teeth bared at her nape, ready to snap.
In desperation, she had concocted a plan of escape that meant killing him off, if only in her head.
I shall be a war widow, she thought, and so she became one.
Even now, months after her flight from home, she's far more afraid of him than anything else.
She'd rather be thought pitiful Anne Platt, the grieving war widow, than willful, disobedient Esme Evenson, the runaway wife. Runaway wives can be brought home by the long arm of the law, and she won't allow this to happen, knowing it's a death sentence. She feels it in her bones as sure as the coming winter, famously bitter in Ashland.
If she is ever found and brought home to the house of her husband, she might as well be walled up in the cellar, because she'd rot in that house.
He would make sure of it.
Surely, Charles would murder her for the indignity and embarrassment she has caused him by running away. Indeed, he had come close to it for much smaller misdemeanors. There were days she could hardly walk for the way he'd painted her black and blue from collar to hem, all neatly camouflaged by her modest dresses.
Skilled, he was, at administering pain.
Absently, she passes her hand over an old scar on her torso, thankful that she no longer has to fake clumsiness as the source of a broken finger or bruised rib.
With bone-deep weariness seeping through her every pore, Esme's eyes begin to drift closed. The effort of the past two days has caught up with her, and she's barely awake, trying to cling to the sound of Mrs. Jones' happy prattling, so as not to seem ungrateful. The drowsy blue shroud feels heavier, like it's soaking up the inky black water from the lake and dragging her down with its weight.
"What do I do when he wakes?" she asks in a croaky voice, hoarse from screaming the pain of new mothers since before time was measured.
"Why, you feed him, you do! Put him to the teat and he'll be off. He's worn out from all that work, too, y'know! Needs sleep, he does. I've pushed out seven of my own and helped many others come into the world, and I can tell you that they's all the same when it comes to feeding, they can't get enough after they've had a little kip!"
Esme nods, too tired now, even to speak. A painful throb has begun to spread from her loins, and she can feel the wadding, a big lump against the most painful part of her. Grimacing, she shimmies down slightly, trying to get more comfortable, to feel less of this awful, pervasive pain that comes and goes in knife-sharp prods to her still-distended abdomen.
"Now don't you move too much, young Anne, y'need some rest yourself now, so's you can be up and about to care for your little one. I'll be back to check on you, but in the meantime, there's Mary two floors below who knows about babies if you need anything, alright?"
Esme winces as a fresh wave of hurt takes her by surprise. "I feel... pain, should there be all this pain?"
Mrs. Jones chuckles humorlessly. "Oh my dear, that's our lot now, ain't it? It should be better soon, I won't be surprised if you're out of bed tomorrow and walking around, like I had to when I had mine. You're young and strong and you managed to get him this far, ain't you? You did that all by yourself, just think on that, my girl!"
Esme can't imagine 'walking around' right now. She can imagine sleeping, though, quite well.
And yes, there is definitely a sense of pride at her achievement, Esme thinks, staring at the candle's burning wick making a glowing dent in the night. Immediately following her little son's arrival into the midwife's gnarled brown hands, Esme had thought, Dear God, I've done it!
Truly, she was amazed, thinking that she would die right there with her huge swollen stomach and pain, oh God, the pain! This pain like no other would surely split her in two, killing her right here in a pool of her own blood and mess.
It was worse than anything she'd experienced at her husband's hands, though the longed-for end result made this endurable.
Each time she crested the height of it thinking it was done, a fresh apex of agony would render her voiceless, shocking in its intensity, gagging her with its abrupt stabbing. With every vein in her head threatening to burst, she had cried for her mother, but the pleas were stamped with the shape of her teeth into a wooden bit rather than leave her mouth.
And yet somehow, she had survived.
"And the... the bleeding?"
"That's likely to go on for a few weeks yet, as is normal and natural. Just change your cloths like you do for your monthlies, make sure they's clean ones, wash'em real good," she explains, patting a bundle of fabric cut into strips and placed neatly next to the wash basin. "It'll slow down soon enough when your womb's all healed up."
Esme sighs, sinking gratefully into the blankets. Mrs. Jones approaches her quietly and in a very motherly gesture, sweeps the still-sweaty hair from her brow. The tenderness of it makes Esme want to cry, and she misses her own mother with a horrible, crushing loss, knowing she's not likely to see her again in this life.
The longing transcends even the profound sense of betrayal she felt when the person who should have always protected her, abandoned Esme to Charles' rough mercy.
She grieves for her mother's love, knowing that those ties were severed when she left the home of her husband, turning her back on him and her own family.
"Rest now, my dear, you've done a great thing tonight! Your poor, dead husband would be proud of you, so he would. He's got a little boy, he has! And you've got him to look after now, ain't you? He's your reason for living now."
The midwife nods sagely and pats Esme's hand. "There now. You'll feel better soon, and when he wakes, you put him to the teat. You'll see how he thrives."
As the old lady prepares to leave, Esme looks upon her baby, alone in that little, worn-down cradle, ignoring mentions of her 'poor, dead husband' as much as possible.
The distance between the baby and her own tired, aching body suddenly feels much, much too great.
She can't bear for him to lie alone across the chasm of arm's reach that exists between them.
She needs to feel his weight settling in her arms.
"Mrs. Jones, might I have him?"
In the deepest night, a mother and her infant lie on a narrow bed, bathed in the flickers of a dying, golden candle.
Sounds of the port carry in on the chilled air like horns on the fog, creeping and moaning in the dark.
Inside, wonderful, all-encompassing warmth radiates from Esme's body as she cradles her tiny son in her arms. They are aglow, both of them, and Esme knows deep in her soul that this is love, this is real love, not the travesty she had been forced to submit to with Charles.
She will never need another form of love as long as she has this blissful, heart-expanding joy in her arms.
She would die for her son, laying down in the dust without question, baring her throat to the blade, exposing her breast to the dagger.
She would kill for him with her own hands.
He is as perfect as a clear summer's day captured in freshly laundered sheets. He holds more promise than the most perfect blossom, unfurling its virgin petals to the dawn.
Esme eagerly traces the creases at his wrist and watches in delight as his fists clench tighter in response to her touch. His fingers are minuscule, white marble carved with a divine hand. She gently unwinds his swaddling cloths and a big smile creeps over her face as she studies the wrinkly, purple soles of his feet, toes all curled in, and the way his knees won't unbend, no matter how she caresses and tickles them.
Everything is tucked in; he's like a tiny human ball. He huddles, and Esme brings him closer into her embrace so she can study the littlest details of his perfection.
Fragile and completely vulnerable, he is nevertheless the strongest force Esme has ever felt.
She is as bound to him as if they were two halves of a whole. He is the earth and she, the revolving moon.
She has seen babies before, but never one as new as this, and a sudden understanding dawns on her- this is her baby son. Her very own flesh and blood has been made corporeal and perfect beyond her understanding, to lie warm and snug in her arms.
She lowers her face and tenderly caresses him with the tip of her nose, breathing in his scent. He's warmth and sweetness, and she has never smelled anything like it. She could survive on air alone if it was his essence, this pure, sublime perfection. Her dark honey hair slips from her loose braid to shield them both with its curtain, and she brushes it behind her ear so she can see more of her baby in the dying candle's flickering yellow embrace.
An unexpected pang of pity worms its way inside her as she realizes that Charles will never know his own son, or even that he has one. She wishes that he was the kind of man who would value this, value love, above petty torments and physical dominance.
This thought is like a hard lump in her throat, but she swallows it down with her grief though it hurts all the way down.
Sliding dark thoughts aside, she concentrates instead on her baby's almost non-existent eyebrows, and on his tiny mouth, the bottom lip of which flutters sweetly as though suckling a phantom breast.
"Hello, baby," she coos, fanning warm breath across his face, ruffling the soft, light down that covers his head.
With a grin, she realizes that his little ears are hairy- little tufts of blond fur stirring with the air's movement, right at their tips.
"What shall be your name?" she whispers, glassy-eyed and stupefied with joy, gently kissing his furrowed brow.
"What are you dreaming about to have you looking so serious?"
She smiles until her cheeks hurt when his little face stretches in a huge yawn. When his lusty, loud cry permeates the attic room, she gingerly sits up a little against the pillows, and begins to undo the ties of her nightgown, bringing him close to her soft, white breast.
Her thick braid snakes over her shoulder, and she's a picture: the Madonna of Ashland. The candle and the strip cloths and the inky night attend the Adoration, symbols of the light, the dark and the pain in between.
The baby tries to latch on, nuzzling and rooting for the nipple. Sitting up a little more to make herself comfortable, Esme suddenly becomes very dizzy. Even this small effort seems to make her want to retch, sweat immediately beading on her brow. She puts her own fatigue aside, holding on to Mrs. Jones' words that this is all natural and normal. God knows, the woman has done so much for her that Esme clings to her words in trust.
When the baby makes strange, grunting, coughing sounds, she massages his back and coos at him like a mother hen, not realizing that they herald something altogether sinister, taking root deep down in his unfurling lungs.
This little moment, this sliver of perfection is all they have, and they don't even know it.
Because even God can be this cruel, to give a glimpse of profound meaning and joy, only to snatch it from you, blowing whole worlds away like stray spiderlings on a breeze.
Black, slimy tentacles wind around her and squeeze and throttle, bleeding every bubble of air from her lungs.
Thick, rancid air drips into her starved throat like filthy oil, turning her black from the inside out.
She's screaming into the viscous, disgusting soup but nothing comes out- nothing can come past that bubbling, black smog as it boils over and fills her mouth.
She tries to shut it out, to push it out with her will alone, but nothing can stop it from filling her up with its foulness.
Clawing at herself, she tries to open up her chest and expose her ribs for it to seep through in between, out into the void.
Trying to break through her own skin and bones, to pierce her body and relieve the pressure, she claws away at nothingness.
It's all in vain, and she realizes there are no hands, no ribs to break through with them, no cage to open, there is nothing, she is nothing but the pain and suffocation.
"No, Charles!" she screams, but the words are throttled back into her, crammed like rags into her mouth, and then she's heavy, so heavy, and the baby is under here somewhere but Charles won't move, he won't get off, he's crushing her to the bed and his hands are on her mouth while his bulky body entraps her and the baby, the baby, THE BABY!
Esme wakes with a wailing scream, searching, clawing at the blankets beside and beneath her, throwing up her pillow, searching for her baby son who's trapped under there somewhere and maybe dying, crushed. Then, she hears him and he sounds so close and where, where, OH GOD, WHERE IS-
She looks up, dazed from her nightmare, only to see the baby in his little cradle, face contorted in a raspy, heart-rending cry, but safe... safe.
He's fine, and not buried in the bed with her. She doesn't remember putting him back in his cradle, but maybe that's because these last hours are a blur.
Beside her, his tiny, precious hands ball up into ever-clenched little fists, like he's holding on for dear life.
She carefully climbs out of bed, wincing at the stabbing pain in her abdomen, which seems worse because she hasn't moved in a while. She had hoped to be stronger by now, but the blood loss has made her weak and frail, barely able to fend for herself, let alone her newborn son.
Even now, just moving about her tiny dwelling, sweat rises on her forehead in sickly beads, glistening on her pale skin like it's made of diamonds.
She picks up the crying baby and brings him back to bed with her, hunching over him because it hurts too much to stand straight. By the time she tucks them both into the blankets, the baby is asleep once more, and she herself is not far behind.
It's evening, and once more, the lighthouse beacon can be seen outside, revolving steadily and just marching on, like time itself.
Hovering on the edge of consciousness, Esme rubs her face tiredly, pulling lank hair away from her temples. Gingerly, she moves her legs to the edge of her cot and winces at the sharp pain in her abdomen that now accompanies her every movement regardless of how careful she is.
She has pulled the little cradle as near to the bed as she can so that she doesn't need to get out to reach the baby, but it still hurts to twist and lift him, like her insides are being skewered by little sharp sticks with every breath.
She thought she heard knocking earlier, and beyond the door a tray probably awaits but she has no appetite for food or anything else. All she cares about is that tiny boy, who seems to be sleeping too much, and whose breathing sounds increasingly labored. He rasps and gurgles, his little chest heaving with the effort.
Esme has asked for a doctor.
Despite her best and frequent efforts, the baby isn't feeding well. He cries and cries for hours on end, it seems, and the sound of it is driving her slowly but steadily insane.
She concentrates on his little hand, splayed on her pink breast like a white sea star, wanting to burn this memory of perfection, of her purpose, into her feverish brain.
She tries, again and again, to give him the breast, but more often than not, he coughs and splutters until he can barely breathe, and she listens, panicking, to his delicate chest wheeze until he can pull in some air. She kisses and massages every precious part of him that she can reach, praying for miracles, because surely God will take pity on such a helpless angel.
She has endured more of those horrible nightmares, suffocation and drowning and being held under, but it's not she who suffers, it's the baby. It's his chest that constricts, his lungs that fill and slowly suffocate him. In her dream, she can hear the death rattle begin in his chest and he'll be fine if she can just get to him and cuddle him up, take him into the safe harbor of her arms, and put him back in her warm womb.
She runs through treacle, listening to that hideous gurgling sound and she's calling out his name even though he hasn't one except for Sweetheart and Darling and Poppet, and in the stark reality of the little attic room, she thrashes on the bed and moans in her sleep like a ghost rattling her chains.
They're so vivid, these lucid, horrible dreams.
Each one leaves her trembling like a leaf, exhausted and scared.
Are they premonitions? Will Charles find her, even here? Will he barge into the room when she is at her weakest and demand she accompany him back to the prison he calls home?
Oh God, what if he does? What if... what if he sees the child and doesn't believe it's his own son? Or worse, what if he claims him for his own and takes him away, leaving Esme herself bereft so he can torment the boy like he once did to her? He would do this, to spite her. He would do everything to break her, even condemn his own child to misery. Esme's eyes sting and she sinks her teeth into her lip to stop them spilling out her misery.
She swallows hot tears as she pinches and pulls on her chafed nipples in an effort to extract some precious fluid to feed him from a spoon but they're so painful and sensitive from her son's suckling that the reddened skin screams every time she attempts it.
She burns, too, her body hotter than it should be; a sick, feverish sheen settles over her skin like a shiny shroud. The fever makes her float and flounder, she can't seem to concentrate and she drifts in and out of fitful sleep, even while her son is in her arms, fodder to the nightmares that plague her.
They're no longer confined to once a night but whenever they can reach out and find her napping, eyes barely closed in exhausted fatigue.
In panicked desperation now, she keeps trying to feed her baby, even as her face distorts in silent agony when he attempts to suckle. Hot, wet rags ease the pain somewhat, but they don't draw out the milk, and she's starting to think there isn't any. She suffers, while her sick child refuses to feed and sleeps too much beside her, sucking his chest in with every jackrabbit breath.
Sometimes, when she looks at him in despair, she could swear that his perfect lips are blue at the edges, an unnatural pallor for such a tiny, beautiful creature.
He looks too frail to exist.
He is but two days old, and they are both going under, falling into despair.
He seemed to rally some hours ago, and Esme found herself smiling for the first time in days as the baby opened his blue-grey eyes and looked at her as seriously as a wizened old man. She smiled at him, but he only looked into her eyes a moment before drifting into a twitchy doze, his little mouth open, breath labored and harsh in her ears. It had taken every effort, each ounce of composure, not to scream at the heavens and curse this world and hate herself for her profound failure at the only thing that ever really mattered to her.
It isn't at all how she imagined this bliss called motherhood.
And earlier today, the worst news.
The doctor, having been called away from a nice roast dinner to Esme's bedside and taken her money for the privilege, has pronounced her baby as suffering from lung fever.
All they can do is pray, he says.
She doesn't hear his concerns for her own health, doesn't care for his requests to examine her. He's not like that sympathetic, lovely man who once set her leg, speaking to her with kind words and soothing her brow with a cooling touch. No, he's old and crotchety, displeased at being called away to see her, and when he readies to leave, she feels only relief.
Esme's tears blind her to everything but her baby's raspy, failing breaths, and she gathers him up in her arms, lying unresponsive in her bed until they all leave, taking their shaking heads and murmuring predictions of tragedy and such a shame and she can have more with them.
She ignores them as they promise to check on her in the morning, lying listless on the bed, unmoving.
The closing door sounds like a tomb sealing.
Sensing wetness and cold, Esme awakens and looks down. Her simple cotton nightgown appears to be wet at her breasts, and she lifts the fabric away, peering under it.
Stunned, she looks at her leaking nipples, confused about what's happening.
Just a few hours ago, she struggled to bring forth a few drops while her baby screamed, but now her milk appears to be flowing freely, from much fuller breasts than is normal for her.
She would laugh at the absurdity her life has become, if she could muster the energy. Outside the rain falls, lulling her into a stupor of grief and pain, the white hot ball of agony in her abdomen taking away her reason.
She cuddles her son's tiny, wriggling body to her own, bringing him to the nipple where her milk already beads, suddenly abundant.
Maybe this is the miracle they both need right now.
But he doesn't drink, just cries and cries, rasping and hacking like he's an old man, not a newborn baby.
She brings her hands to her face to shut out the world, and bawls, sobbing a river of tears for the injustice of it all, and the pain, while the baby cries.
She cuddles her tiny infant to herself, kissing his face gently with salty lips, baptizing him with her grief.
The light of the beacon comforts her with its welcome predictability, and she sleeps with her son in her arms, innocents both of them, so cruelly used.
She carries her baby outside into the fresh air, and sits in the sun, the two of them squinting their eyes at the everlasting brightness.
Under the tree, it's shady and safe and they're in the presence of something greater than themselves. Her arms feel so full, and the love is all around her, inside and out, welcoming and glowing.
This is the motherhood she envisaged, come to her, finally, in her feverish mind.
She smooths the baby's wispy hair, her hand as gentle as breath over his head, and looks into his sad, blue-grey eyes, the shape so much like her own.
They're like her grandfather's, too, and others before him, in the line of family that reaches this far, but no further.
Those eyes are telling her stories, telling her that something, no, someone awaits her at the end of The Flight, and she nods sagely as though she knows what that means, willing to trust.
Peering into those eyes is like seeing the mysteries of the universe unveiled and Esme can't stop looking, wants to know it all, even if it isn't for the likes of her to comprehend.
She watches her baby grow, watches his features define and sharpen with age, as though he were only a faint drawing until now, a promise, nothing more.
When a little boy rises from her arms and walks, naked and perfect, away from her, she raises her arms and cries, 'Come back to me!'
But he doesn't come back, he walks straight ahead into the light, brilliant like spun gold and glinting in the sun like the most precious jewel.
"Mother, come!" he calls in a voice as clear as the little brook behind her childhood home, no trace now of the gurgling struggle to breathe, but Esme is comfortable and warm under the suddenly-familiar tree, more so than she has been in months.
She watches her boy as any proud mother would, as he grows and becomes more before her very eyes, becomes the glittering light until he radiates brilliance from inside.
Beside her, the breeze stirs the creaky rope and slat swing, the one her father hung for her forever ago, and the scent of her mother's cooking stirs her nose in just the right way, making everything perfect, complete and right.
Esme didn't realize she was so homesick! Suddenly, her grief and sadness over the past months come down to this pinprick of realization- she wants to go home.
But she cannot.
Suddenly, her son seems too far away, outside of the boundary of perfect, complete and right, and Esme clenches her fists until they hurt, because her arms shouldn't be this empty.
She rises to go after him, but his legs are longer than hers now, and his stride so much bigger.
She calls, 'Come back to me, I want to see you," and though he doesn't so much as turn around, his voice whispers directly into her ear, breaking over her like waves. "I'm here, I'm everywhere."
Esme tries to accept it, but this isn't enough and she starts to walk, then run after him, shouting and crying, desperate to protect him, to keep him safe.
Instead, no matter how she runs, the distance between them seems to grow until she can't see him anymore.
When she stops and looks around, she is still at the tree, still seeing the empty swing go back and forth beside her but the sun has gone.
Instead of its yellow heat, grey fog surrounds her, dropping over her like thick, heavy curtains.
There is silence all around, and she knows, she knows, and her eyes open to the dirty grey room and the empty cradle beside her, knowing in her broken heart what she will find.
Slowly, she tightens her arms and gives in to her despair.
Within her embrace, a stillness and a silence resides.
Tortured no more, her baby's face is peaceful.
His tiny, perfect lips are as grey as the skies at twilight, and colder still.
Rain beads against the window pane, dripping intermittently to the sill below. The open slit allows a light, cool breeze into the stale room.
Esme's unseeing eyes drip, too, sending tears to soak into the seam where her pallid cheek rests over her dead baby's tiny head.
He has left her behind, ascending through that little opened window like a breath of warm air.
She weeps for them both, lost as they are.
Esme wakes into a darkened room, midnight already upon the silent port town. The unlatched window lets in the night chill, which settles into her bones as if she were already in the ground.
Remains of the rain hang in perfect iridescent droplets from the window frame, the cord swaying gently with the breeze.
She has slept, lifeless, like a stone sinking to the bottom of Lake Superior's still waters.
There is no sudden remembering, no shock to jolt her into awareness. Her body and her heart already know she is bereft and wake reluctant and sluggish into a pit of bleak despair.
In the cradle of her womb, a burning arrowhead demands her attention, but Esme is so weakened by loss that she ignores it, the poison in her blood already coursing freely, making her lethargic and dizzy.
Now, her breasts are so full of milk that it feels like hard lumps have mushroomed inside her; they ache and throb with a vengeful, febrile heat. They have turned into hot, hard stones on her chest, full of milk that will waste away, just like her.
Against the heat of her fever-ridden body, a cold little parcel feels like the sum of her life and its end, too.
It's so unfair that she has taught many children to read, but she will never teach him.
There will never be first teeth or first shoes or first anything.
There will never be Mother or Mommy or Mom.
He doesn't even have a name, but that feels redundant now.
He's beyond those things that anchor people to the world.
The midwife's words echo in her head, "And you've got him to look after now, ain't you? He's your reason for living now."
Drawing a shaky breath, Esme finds herself standing in the dark room, her little cold baby swaddled and wrapped in her arms. So still he lies, so silent, that she can't bear it.
When they return and find him lifeless, they will take him away from her, even if they have to wrest his tiny body from her clutching arms, she knows it.
She can't let them have him.
They won't take him.
She can't part with him; not now, not in the morning, not ever.
Standing by the narrow cot clad only in her nightgown, she suddenly sees her path as though lit either side by burning torches. Only half lucid, she shrugs on her woolen coat and pads silently from the room on bare feet, like a lost soul abandoned to grief.
Serene in her stupor, Esme carries her tiny burden out through the moonlit streets, mostly deserted at this time of night. She passes like a ghost, and the few that still mill around this late choose not to see the lonely woman, under-dressed for the season, slowly making her way to the shores of the lake, a wraith dispersing like ink into the night.
She is already the ghost in their midst.
The hot knives that stab at her insides slow her down, and by the time she comes to the south shore of the lake an hour later, she's limping and freezing cold, holding on to her tiny, still bundle like it's the only thing that has ever mattered.
Esme drops to her knees in the dirt, relieved at making it here to this stark, desolate place.
Somewhere below, the twinkling lights of the Wisconsin Central Railway's massive ore dock reflect in her glassy eyes like lightning on the lake.
The wind is stiff here; it tears at her hair and clothes, trying to send it flapping from the cliff like so much debris.
In her arms, her little boy lies unmoved by the frigid wind, save for the fluttering of fine, blond fluff on his head. Shuffling forward on her knees, she comes closer to the edge so as to see the movement and lights below, hoping to be hypnotized right out of her life.
Esme slumps, and sits cross-legged at the cliff's jutting edge, dirty feet too frozen to hurt though blood rises and spills through the tears in her soles. She has always thought the red clay cliffs of Lake Superior's south shores to be so picturesque, but they're as bleak as her heart, as empty as her soul tonight.
She looks down at the bundle in her arms, and hunches over him, protecting him from the winds that would tear him from her grasp.
"I can't, without you," she murmurs with her lips quivering against his temple, and suddenly there are tears again, even though she thought herself as dry as the Sahara, and as barren of emotion.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Esme realizes, as her heart clambers around in her chest, wanting to smash itself to pieces on the rocky shore below in its hurry to follow her boy into that golden radiance of her dream.
Gentle fingers trace his brows and nose, follow the cherubic set of his mouth and caress the curve of his tiny sea star hand, tucked under the wrapping, and she gives herself away, gives it all away, except him.
Standing on shaky legs, she shuffles to the very edge of the precipice, finding it with her dirty, curling toes, but it doesn't feel right.
She doesn't want to fall to the industrial shoreline like a discarded burden.
She wants to fly.
So she turns around, facing the land instead, a smile creeping over her face at the small apple tree she'd missed earlier as she shuffled into the darkness. It grows wild, untamed, here in this windy, lonely place, reminding her of the orchard at home.
She considers digging in the dirt around its roots with her frozen fingers to make a cradle for her son, but even now she cannot bear to let him go.
Clutching him tighter to her chest, Esme looks up to the firmament, the familiar sprinkle of stars over her head guiding her home.
She blinks once, twice, and then allows herself to tip backward with her arms full of her lost love and her eyes waiting for the golden light.
The grit beneath her tired feet is swept away into the void.
A/N: Thank you for reading.