This is the second in my newly-returned Short Story Friday series. I’m working on stories about growing up in Southwest Virginia. In full disclosure, if my cousins read this they’ll say “that’s not what happened.” I look forward to their book.
The February wind howls around the small frame house. A fire burns in the cookstove.
The kitchen is warm, but Martha feels the chill in her body. She huddles near the stove under a quilt hand sewn by her mother.
Arthur encourages her to drink some of the broth he has warmed. She tries but the searing pain in her throat does not want the liquid to go down.
Martha weeps. But she does not weep for herself.
Arthur holds her. He fears that she will begin coughing again. He feels her body shaking.
Martha has the flu. She is nine months pregnant.
It is 1920. It is Saturday.
Just hours ago, Martha held the lifeless body of her youngest son. Only two years old he had fallen victim to the influenza epidemic that had ravished the world since the time of his birth.
Martha knows that her tears cannot last long. She is needed to care for her other young son, also
She is needed to care for the young daughters who, so far, have not been sick.
She worries not only for her son and herself, but for the unborn child who will arrive any day. Her breathing is difficult. She knows that she may not survive the labor and delivery.
The oldest daughter, just turned nine, is now taking care of the cooking and what cleaning she can. Martha’s mother helps when able.
While he is still well himself, Arthur walks the two miles to work every day even in the coldest of weather.
It is Wednesday.
Martha feels the beginnings of the labor pains. She prays that her newborn child will survive. She prays that she will survive to care for him.
Martha’s mother places a cooling cloth on her forehead. The doctor will arrive soon.
A neighbor has gone to tell Arthur that it is time. The child will arrive before Arthur gets home.
A boy. He is healthy. They name him James.
Martha is too weak to care for the child. She is not too weak to worry.
It is Saturday.
Martha wakes to hear quiet voices.
The baby, she asks.
Still strong and healthy.
She does not ask again. She knows. Her four-year-old son is gone.
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Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.