A short-short story – The Baby’s not Crying
In the cold damp room, soft moans came from the young woman lying on the bed; she was a live skeleton covered pale flesh; beneath her, a cornhusk mattress covered with a collection of old newspapers and worn out sheets made from bleached flour sacks waiting for the reality of the coming birth. Her strength gone, she looked out the window at the moon, it appeared to be hanging on an invisible thread in the darkness, she prayed to who she thought may be holding the moon in place; another invisible person…GOD. In the waning May moonlight, she did not hear the baby crying, tears fell from the corner of her eyes the pain unbearable, the birth was over; she looked at the motionless baby at the foot of the iron bed; maybe it would die soon. She heard no crying.
“Miss Sarah you have a baby girl,” Allimay Schumaker their neighbor and a mid-wife whispered softly as she tried to place the baby in her mother’s arms.
“Get it away from me”, the sound came between clenched teeth, like a caged angry wild animal but it was only a whisper.
Mrs. Schumaker tried again to place the baby in her mothers’ arms, “She so tiny Miss Sarah, I doubt she will live don’t you want to hold her”.
“I told you to get it away from me”.
After cleaning up the bed and throwing everything including the remains of the baby’s lifeline to its mother into a burning barrel, Allimay walked across the open breezeway of the two-pin split log house that separated the sleeping room from the cooking room, and at one time slave quarters. She paused for a moment pulling back the cover from the baby’s face, two dark blue eyes stared back at her; long dark hair curled around the baby’s shoulders. She gave a sigh and walked through the door.
Ray James sat on a homemade chair in front of their fieldstone fireplace in the cooking room. He worried about his wife, and his baby; his biggest fear, losing one or both of them. He had sat there for hours, he heard no moaning or cries of pain, the silence between the two rooms was still like a frozen fog. He did not hear anything; perhaps both his baby and his wife were dead. Quietly, Allimay came into the room, so softly that not one board creaked from the weight of her colossal body, she smiled, holding out the tiny bundle.
“Mr. Ray, you have a little Indian baby, black hair just like you” she gently laid the baby in his rough work worn hands. He laughed pulling back the covers from the tiny bundle so small it fit in his hand.
“Mr. Ray you need to get ready to lose this little one, she is so small, Miss Sarah doesn’t want her and she doesn’t have any milk”. She dabbed at her eyes.
“Well Mr. Ray she is all cleaned up and you need to call out Miss Sarah’s Uncle; that doctor from Hartselle. She repeated herself dabbing at her eyes; she shore don’t want this baby. I have to go now, if you need me ring the big bell on the porch somebody will hear it. I have to go take care of my own family now, but I will keep Miss Bobbie for a few days.”
Allimay Schumaker had nine children of her own, one more would not matter; she glanced in one more time on the lifeless woman, closed the door gently and walked slowly up the narrow rutted road.
“Thank you very much Missus Schumaker, I’ll be lying in a cord of wood for you helping Sarah”, he then sat for a moment staring at the tiny life he held in his hands no more than twelve inches long and maybe two pounds.
Ray shook his head bringing himself back to reality; Sarah had gotten rid of the baby bed years ago, announcing that she did not want any more children. He lay the baby down on the fireplace hearth, going into the other room to search for a box. He found a box, returning to the baby never looking at his wife. He knew that Sarah chose starvation trying to lose the baby. She knew that if she starved so would the baby. There was a possibility that her method would not work, he was not one to pray; but he did when he saw what she was doing. Now, he stood looking down at the result of her starvation.
Sarah lay still on the bed, pretending to be asleep so she would not have to look at Ray all the while wishing the crying that sounded more like a kitten mewing instead of a human baby coming from the other room would stop. She turned on her side watching the watery blue liquid dropping on the sheet from her breast; she knew that she had no milk.
Ray weighed the baby with a two-pound cotton pee and the baby could not pull it down to measure, it was less than two pounds. Cotton pees, a bell like object with a hook on it; was made of solid steel. A measuring bar would have a sack of cotton on one end and a pee of various weights put on the other to measure the cottons weight; this time the scale did not budge.
William Schumaker, Allimay owned his land, and they all tried to survive in the miserable days following the depression. Ray worked for Mr. Burleson, the wealthiest man in Morgan County; the land that the old log house stood on was Burleson land and at one time housed slaves that worked the land. They used the same well, the same chicken house and stanchion for the cow; the only difference in the house, floors had been laid in several years ago. He believed that Mr. Burleson respected him, he was a hard worker, and the land he worked yielded more than most who sharecropped. Time had not taken away the horror brought upon those long ago tenants; from the top to the lowest of people in the south continued to believe Indians and Negro’s were lower than the animals on the land.
Ray stoked at the fire his thoughts wandered toward the time when he first met Sarah. She was at a local Roadhouse in Flint, Alabama with her sister Mary Sue. She was out on the dance floor having a good time; Sarah sat at a table in the back of the room hoping no one would see her. She and Mary Sue had slipped out after their parents were asleep; Mary Sue had a boyfriend; they met them at the road below Burleson Mountain. If they were caught, it would be Sarah that got beat. She would be told that she should know better, not Mary Sue. She did not look like she wanted any company. Ray had known of the place for years, it was one of his stops when he was running whisky from South Alabama to Chicago, Illinois. No one could have told him then that he would have a wife and two daughters a few years later on that early May morning.
He had come to Morgan County because of Ma, his grandmother. His last run was a bad one, his car had been shot up by Tennessee law enforcement, and he had barely got away from them. He was known by the local law enforcement but the people who hired him to run whiskey, except them ole boys in Tennessee, paid them off, they did not take bribes! He drove from South Alabama to Chicago, through Tennessee; his speed would surpass the power of any car and put the needle on his dash out of sight. He would laugh every time he told that story. Ma was right he needed to lay low for a while; it had been his dream to return to Birmingham to play baseball for the Birmingham Black Bears, a minor team. No one knew that it was him driving the car no one knew his name. That was all gone, playing baseball lying dead in his past he had responsibilities now!
Bobbie, their first child, was the only child that Sarah wanted. She had nine brothers and sisters, she help deliver most of them and raised them until the day her daddy kicked her out. She lay crying thinking that maybe her strength would return so she could take care of herself and Bobbie, for days she still held onto the idea that this baby would die. Sarah had hope to stop at giving birth to one child, she was tired of being poor; she wanted to make a better life by going to work.
Sarah appeared disappointed that the baby had survived such a difficult birth. She was very ill herself, both physically and mentally; unhappy that she had another child, one she did not want. She rolled over falling into a fretful sleep; maybe when she woke she would have a funeral to attend.
Old Doc White, Sarah’s Uncle came after the baby was born; her mother’s brother lived and had his practice in Hartselle, Alabama, he said the baby was too small but seem healthy and Sarah was despondent as many mothers are after delivering a baby. He said only time could help his niece or the baby. He left saying he would register the baby’s birth when he returned to Hartselle.
Sarah chose not to have anything to do with the baby; she left it up to Ray to care for her. Their oldest daughter, Bobbie came back home and she did help all she could, but the ability to care for a sick baby and mother was not possible for the six-year-old. Ray could see that it was impossible to leave Sarah alone with Bobbie and a baby to work the fields. He walked a few days later to the Schumaker’ s and called his sister Bianna.
She came that night to stay with him for a few days. Bianna had given birth to a baby, girl born only weeks before and the baby was stillborn. She and her husband Jesse had two boys, Bart and James. She was in mourning, but she loved her brother and he needed help. Vina knew that Sarah did not care for her but she always tried to overlook her actions.
When she arrived, she found Ruth despondent and Roy worried, both were at odds with each other. Ruth had refused to try nursing or care for her baby. Now she was upset that Vina was there, within days, Roy agreed that the baby could return to Birmingham with Vina.
Vina, left with the baby in a shoebox stuffed with cotton from the nearby field and covered with flour sacks for a blanket. Before she left, her daddy named her Betsy. Therefore, Betsy was born on May 3, 1949, a beautiful month in Northern Alabama. The buttercups, lilac and forsythia bushes were blooming around the Two-Pen cabin Ray called home. Kudzu vines were covering a make shift chicken house and the “Outhouse”. Beyond, a small barn surrounded by razor sharp Johnson grass bordered acres of freshly plowed ground waiting to nurture the seeds of what the south called white gold … cotton.
Bianna raised the baby girl until she graduated from college; she gave her everything a child would need. Ray tried to get to Birmingham once a month to see his baby until she started school, then on holidays. Sarah always stayed behind with the only child she would ever want.
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