“Look at me, Harriet. Do you understand what the doctor said?”
Harriet’s eyes search her mother’s while a whisper of a grin steals across her face. Her calico cat, Cally, waltzes gracefully across her lap; its wandering tail affectionately strokes Harriet's fragile facial features until her delicate fingers brush it aside.
“We’re talking about a child, Harriet. A person. A real live person.”
Tight curls fall across Harriet’s face as she bends to shoo Cally across the dirt floor and then stares at her feet. Should she feel shame? Surely not.
“That young man – the one that works at the mill – I suppose it’s his.”
“Isn’t it? Harriet? HARRIET?”
Squirming, Harriet rises awkwardly from her chair, blinks sorrowful eyes shocked by the stress of the moment, and scuffs one foot like an impatient young filly. “He just said … well, he says he loves me, Mama. No man ever told me that before.”
“Love – I’d like to teach him a thing or two about love.”
If she could, she’d teach him how love wears thin when two children die as infants because of deformities, and the third survives to wear a label: retarded. She’d teach him how her love would bear the responsibility for his selfishness.
In reality, she hopes to never speak to him again. A shuddering sigh escapes her mouth as if to seal her intent.
“Well, don’t you think love’s important, Mama?”
How can she explain? Harriet is old enough to be married – but has a mind of a little child. No man will want her for a wife. No man will truly love her.
“Oh honey, sit down. Sit down.” Sadness coats her words.
But Harriet doesn’t sit. “Well, I’ll tell you what, Mama. I already know what I’ll name the baby if it’s a girl. Her name will be … Marjorie.”
At that her mother winces. Harriet’s older sister – whom she’s never known – was named Marjorie.
“Yes Mama, Marjorie Sue.”
Harriet stands by the open door where the sun frames her delicate body in golden light. With her head held high, this gingham-dressed child-with-child seems energized.
“I’m naming the baby after my sister, Marjorie, who lives in heaven. I love her, Mama. And she has friends who are angels.” She tosses her hands in the air as if to identify her sister’s lofty location. “And Sue because …” Harriet titters as her hands flop to her side. “Because, Mama, that’s what he calls me.”
“He calls you Sue? Why in the world … why does he do that?”
“Says I remind him of someone else. Someone special.”
“And so you want to name your baby after his – his other girlfriend?”
Harriet’s face darkens. “Who says she’s his girlfriend, Mama? Why’d you say that anyway? I’m his girlfriend. And I’m naming the baby Margie Sue. That’s all.”
With that, Harriet hurries from the room into the noonday sunshine to invade a group of clucking hens, her skirts swishing as she walks. “It’s my baby, Mama.”
Harriet’s mother sighs. Her daughter can’t comprehend the implications of what is happening – not really. She can’t grasp how her father’s anger will explode; how they barely have enough money without one more mouth to feed; how Harriet will be even more shunned than before.
Somehow in another dimension, one high above and yet also infusing this place, the angels rejoice – for Margie Sue will be born a normal, healthy baby. They perceive that Harriet and her mother will shower Margie with the desperate love known to mothers who need to love in order to survive the perils of life. They celebrate the fact that Margie will love Harriet and her mother with the freshness unique to a bouncy little girl with golden curls and clear blue eyes who understands nothing but love.
The angels also know when Margie is about five years old, sacrificial love will give her up to relatives in some town far, far away. These relatives will better care for her needs - afford to even give her piano lessons - and raise her to become a lady. She will emerge from her loving foundation to blossom within a broader spectrum of love. Someday she will fall in love and raise a family of her own.
The angels rejoice, too, because they know years later someone will tell this story, someone who happens to be Harriet’s great-great-granddaughter. Someone with a special family name … someone named Margie Sue.
That someone would be me.
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