Jess snuggled closer to me and laid her head on my shoulder as we stared out into the blackness. For her, at least, I could be brave. Little Charlie lay asleep on a blanket next to me, his little chest rising and falling with his steady breathing. I didn’t see how he could sleep. Not at a time like this. Then again, he was only little; too young to tell how nervous Pa was. But I could tell. He was pacing the porch only a few feet away, his hands clasped behind his back and his jaw clenched in worry. Pa only paced when he was nervous.
It wasn’t the darkness I was afraid of. I was used to that. It wasn’t the dangers the darkness held either. Growing up on the colonial frontier I had learned to face danger. I wasn’t afraid for myself. It was Mama that I was worried about. She had been very weak for the past few weeks, and just this evening she had started having incredible pain. Pa had sent me posthaste on our horse to fetch Mrs. Constant, the midwife, who lived four miles away. When I handed her the note from Pa she had hurried back to our farm as fast as possible. She’d gone inside with Mama right away, while we all waited on the porch. That had been hours ago, and still she and Mama had not come out.
“What’s going to happen to Mama?” Jess asked in a whisper.
“I don’t know, Jess, but she’s gonna be alright,” I reassured her, but my own uncertainty pricked at my mind.
Then I heard it. From inside the cabin there came the sound of a baby crying. I sat up straight and looked at Pa. He had stopped pacing at the sound and was looking eagerly to the cabin door. A moment later Mrs. Constant poked her head out.
“Mr. Sanford, you need to come inside, please,” she said, then withdrew into the cabin again.
“Watch the children for me, Allen,” Pa said to me, then hurried inside.
With all my heart I wanted to follow, but I obeyed his orders. Hours seemed to pass as we waited, but I knew it was only a few minutes. The darkness appeared to be thicker than ever around me as I strained my ears to listen to the low voices inside the cabin. I could hear the worry in Mrs. Constant’s tone, and I didn’t like it.
We sat waiting in the dark for a long time. I wasn’t sure what to think, so I tried not to think at all. Little Charlie stirred and mumbled something, but quickly fell back to sleep.
Finally the door swung open again, throwing a beam of light far out into the darkness. Pa emerged from the cabin carrying a small bundle in his arms. He made his way to where we sat huddled together. The light from in the cabin fell on his face, and I thought I saw the glisten of a tear on his cheek. He leaned over Jess and I and placed the bundle in my arms.
“Allen, Jess, this is your new baby brother, Benjamin,” he said softly.
I held the bundle in my arms and looked down at the tiny face of the baby. He looked so small and fragile, I was almost afraid to breath for fear of breaking him. For a moment, and only a moment, I forgot my worry as I looked down on this new life.
“He’s beautiful,” Jess breathed next to me as she too gazed at the little face.
I looked up into Pa’s face. Something was wrong, and I could tell. All my worry rushed back on me.
“How’s Mama?” I asked with concern.
Pa bit his lip at my question, and he swallowed twice before answering, “God is taking care of Mama, Allen.”
“Can I see her?” I asked.
Pa shook his head sadly.
A sinking feeling filled my chest as I looked into his eyes. Suddenly I didn’t want to hold the baby anymore. I carefully handed him to Jess, then stood and walked to the edge of the porch. Pa stepped behind me and laid his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t move, just stood and stared out into the blackness of the night.
We buried Mama the next day. The funeral for her was on the top of the grassy hill just east of our cabin, facing the sunrise. A few of the neighbors came, The Williams, the Constants, and one or two others. They all brought flowers and said how sorry they were, and talked about Mama being with Jesus. I hardly heard them. All I knew was that I loved Mama with all my heart, and now Mama was gone. I stood next to Pa and watched as they lowered her into her grave. Jess cried into my sleeve, while Charlie turned and hugged Pa’s leg, sobbing. The parson said a prayer, and then they filled in the grave. I looked away, tears running down my cheeks. Pa planted a wooden cross he had made in the soft dirt, marked with Mama’s name.
As soon as I could, I broke away from the group and hurried off into the woods to my spot by the creek. Everything there always seemed so beautiful and peaceful, but today it held no comfort for me. I flung myself down on the leaves and moss by the bank of the stream and cried. I cried until I had no tears left. My world had fallen in on me in a single night. Never again would Mama sing to me, never hold me close and tell me stories. Never do anything with me, ever again. I was only eleven, and now I was motherless. I sobbed until my heart felt like it would break into splinters.
My tears finally dried and I lay there in silence. The shadows began to grow long and I slowly rose and retraced my steps towards home. When I opened the door I saw our neighbor Mrs. Williams sitting at the table, holding baby Benjamin. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the baby. It dawned on me that it had been his fault that Mama had died. She lost her life because she was giving birth to him. I didn’t think at the time that he was just as much a motherless child as I was. All I saw was my own loss. In an instant any love I had felt for him changed into hurt bitterness. I knew I could never love him.
I slipped past Mrs. Williams and scrambled up the ladder to the loft. Throwing myself down on the bed, I cried more tears I didn’t know I had left.