In April, I hid hope in my bosom.
I worked open the bottom drawer of my oak dresser and pulled back the layers of tissue paper within. There lay waiting a bolt of white linen. I lifted its solemn weight in my arms, and unfolded it reverently. Its crisp smell lingered like a blessing. The billowing whiteness, as I shook out the folds, diffused the sunlight into soft pearlescence.
I heated the flat iron in the fire and pressed the damped fabric, its soft hiss accompanying my silent dreams.
I marked it with minute dabs of tailor’s chalk and pressed willing scissors to their task.
In May, I felt a stirring within.
I creased the fabric into parallel folds, the slub softly abrading my fingers. With my finest needle I made tracks of invisible stitches to secure the folds. In patient silence, my hopes grew with my work.
In June, expectation began to blossom.
I selected palest cream thread and embroidered over the smocking. Loops and whorls; flowers and zigzags. The rise and fall of my needle matched my quiet breathing. I knew that both within and without something wonderful was being crafted.
In July, my ambition broadened.
With panels and darts I completed the bodice. The flat, formless pieces rose and took shape. I set in the sleeves with tiny stitches. The skirt fell in soft folds from the waistband. I back-stitched and hemmed, neat lines of herring-bone covering the raw edges.
In August, I began to complete my masterpiece.
I embellished the hem and cuffs with subtle lace fashioned with the slenderest of threads. I took white silk buttons and ranked them in gentle salute down the centre seam. I threaded the neckline with satin ribbons.
In September it was time to rest.
I pressed the dress with exquisite care, each pleat crisp, each crease smooth. Then I hung the dress beside the crib. In silence, we waited.
In October, I held my first-born in my arms, and kissed his butter-soft forehead. I held him to my breast and traced his tiny nails with my fingertips. His eyelashes were long – so long. With feathering fingers I dressed him in his Christening dress and fastened the silk buttons behind him. I smoothed the folds over his tiny form and tied the ribbons in painstaking bows.
Then, baptising him in my tears, I laid him tenderly in the cold earth.
In 2007, infant mortality in much of the developed world is around 5 per 1000 live births. In parts of Africa, the figure is forty times as high.
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