Chapter One Hundred: Fluids

IMG_2141And so I went back.

I climbed each of those steps again, more slowly this time, filled with dread of a much different sort.

He was still lying in the floor, and had urinated on himself, but was coherent enough that he could assist me in getting him to bed. I helped him stand, leaving the bottle of spilled liquor in the floor.

Halfway across the room he began vomiting. 

Oh, God.

I stopped and waited for it to pass, the vomit splattering to the floor. Bits of it splashed up onto my skirt. I fought back my own urge to retch.

When the contents of his stomach had been completely evacuated, we resumed our halting progress.

His eyes held no recognition. I did not know if that was because of the alcohol, the head trauma, or something else. He groped my breast as he stumbled with me into the bedroom. I brushed his hand firmly away. 


He didn’t fight me.

His eyes closed as he fell onto the bed, dust rising up from the mattress. He appeared to be unconscious, though his brow remained furrowed. 

I undressed him anyway.

His abdomen was swollen, full of fluid that shifted with every breath, every touch. His legs were doughy, my fingers left a deep imprint that lingered wherever they touched up to his thighs. I could see that he had scratched his jaundiced skin bloody in several places with long fingernails, leaving deep excoriations. The dried blood was still visible under those nails. 

His personal hygiene had been neglected for some time.

It is difficult to watch someone you love, someone you have been so intimate with, so changed. I wrestled with revulsion as I bathed his body with the water I found in the pitcher on the worn dresser. How long had it been there? At least it was cleaner than him.

I realized, as I scooped the vomit into an old dirty towel, that I still cared for him, otherwise cleaning this vomit from the floor would not have been possible.

I walked back to the bedroom and lay down on the mattress next to him and wept. All of his secrets, his pain, his mortality were all on display here in this dimly lit room. We had both suffered. My heart ached.

Chapter Ninety-Two: Brewing

The warm bitterness of the coffee matched my mood. I took it black now. Black like the darkness looming outside, ominous and harsh. I had missed it terribly. Tea had always seemed weak and patronizing, even more so now that the world had shifted.

I sat down the cup on the small lace covered table beside me. My hands shook a fair bit and there was a slight rattle as the cup came to rest again on the saucer.

A letter lay on my lap. It had arrived the day before, forwarded to the boarding house that was my home for the time being.

I smoothed out the paper again and stared at the flowering script, letting the effect of the coffee and the words wash over me.

The instructions were detailed. I was to meet Mrs. Brierly at the New Calton burial ground in Edinburgh in a fortnight exactly at sunrise. There was an arched gravestone in the far northeast corner where she would be waiting. Bring no one. Tell no one. Wear black, full mourning, complete with veil.

My mind raced.

I would have to wait to purchase the clothing as I got closer to Edinburgh. There was no way to do that here without arousing suspicion. I was too well known. The train tickets to Scotland. Should I purchase early to guarantee passage? Or wait until the last minute to minimize the risk of being found out?

And Anne. 

There was the matter of Anne that must be addressed.

Timing was key. I would not be able to take her with me, at least not yet, but I also could not leave her here in that awful place with the Greers.

I had gone there, begging to see my daughter. The farmhouse was in frightening condition. The red faced woman, rotund woman who answered the door looked puzzled until it dawned on her who I was. I caught a glimpse of Anne being dragged to a back room before the door was slammed shut. There was recognition in her sad eyes. I could hear her screams for me from the other side of the warped wood. Shouting. A slap. Silence.

How could one feel this much hate and not be consumed by it?

No. She would not stay there much longer. I would see just how much love was willing to compromise and sacrifice for the sake of love.

Chapter Seventy-Five: Red 


“That will be two pounds, six pence.” The shopkeeper glared at me as she stood expectantly, arms folded across her chest. Her index finger tapped out a message of annoyance on her forearm.

Counting out money one handed with a child on your hip was an arduous task and it seemed to take forever. Rather than assisting me, the woman continued to stare, boring holes of hate into my forehead. She sighed loudly, clearly wanting to communicate her displeasure further. 

My fingers fumbled self-consciously. 

At last I handed her the required change and she set about wrapping the purchases. She was deliberate, taking her time as Ann squirmed impatiently in my arms, reaching for the canisters of bright candies that lined the far side of the counter.

“How do you even know what those are, baby girl?” I whispered into her ear. “Maybe they are poison. You never know about pretty things…”

Eventually the woman was done and she unceremoniously shoved the parcels across the wooden countertop. She turned her back to me, pretending to rearrange the bars of soap that already rested in orderly and pristine rows on the shelves behind us. 

I gathered the brown paper wrapped bundles and placed them into a large brown fabric sack I had brought from home. The cook had sewed it some months ago and had used it for this purpose. Thankfully, she had left it behind…

Anne sneezed as she always did from the bright sunlight as we stepped out of the dim shop and into the street. We started the journey back home.

After several blocks I caught a glimpse of the back of a deep scarlet dress as the wearer rounded a corner. I picked up my pace. I had recognized it.

The beautiful woman in red.


My dreams. 

What were dreams anyway? Ephemeral taunts from on high; gauzy, misty things impossible to grasp.

But I had just seen her. 


Back home in New England dreaming of a beautiful woman dressed in red meant a move. But here now, across the world, was the meaning the same?

I knew that I needed to speak to her. Somehow I knew the key to my happiness lay with her.

The corner loomed just ahead. I picked up my pace, the bag slapping hard against the crinoline with each step. I quickly dodged around a man in a grey waistcoat to make the turn, breathless. Anne laughed with the sudden evasive movement. She enjoyed this game of pursuit.

There she was.

Her back was to me. She was across the street, listening intently to the Reverend Drummond. Curls of dark hair peeked from beneath a matching bonnet decorated with velvet and wine colored roses.

He looked up at the sound of Anne’s happy gurgling. 

My heart stopped beating.

The man paused in mid sentence as our eyes locked across the cobblestones for a split second.

A choice.

I could turn and walk obviously away sending a message of disdain or keep going forward as if none of this chance meeting mattered to me at all.

Forward. Always keep going forward…

A carriage rattled by. I shifted Anne to the other hip and kept walking, one foot in front of the other. I wanted to turn and look over my shoulder, to catch a glimpse of the woman’s face, but that would be too obvious. I resisted.

I made a long loop around the neighborhood, moving deliberately as if I knew exactly where I was going and why. My arms felt like rubber from Anne’s weight as what had started out as a quick trip to the grocers had turned into quite the journey. Eventually I ended up back in my own neighborhood. As I closed the gate and walked through the small garden to the house with the bag of goods on my arm, I found myself stopping short again.

She was sitting there on the steps at the front door, clearly waiting for me.

She stood, smoothing the red silk of her dress absently.

I was haunted in so many ways. Every smile from Anne’s face was his. I had wrongly believed that it would only be a joy having some small piece of him here with me. A miscalculation to be sure. I loved her dearly but I was tortured by her at the same time. Guilt. Shame. I carried all of these with me every day.

The woman on the porch smiled at me. 

It was Anne’s smile. 

His smile. 

“Who are you?” I asked.

Chapter Seventy-Three: Afterlife

Instead, I took her home.

If given the choice of living as a young woman without an arm, I would choose dying.

What would my daughter wish? Would she choose life at all costs if she could speak?

I had the dubious benefit of knowledge of the world as it was. She would long to be loved but it would always remain unrequited. She would be unable to work or to support herself and how long would my fortune last? There were no relatives upon whom she could rely if something were to happen to me.

To amputate her arm would mean consigning her to utter, lifelong isolation. I could not do that.

Yet, I was not willing to give her up. If she died, I died.

We would fight, she and I.

I needed to gather the coneflowers I had seen growing in Mrs. Fenuiel’s garden. I was surprised when I recognized them, tall and pink, as I thought they only grew in America.

“Oh, those?” She shrugged when I asked about them. “The seed was a gift, sent from an old American friend years ago. I keep meaning to rip them out.” She shook her wrinkled, old head. “I hate that woman now.”

Get all of them!” I ordered, calling after the young maid as she left out the door. Mrs. Fenuiel would not mind, I was certain.

They did not grow as tall as those back home had, the more rainy climate likely did not agree with them. Still, they would serve their purpose I hoped. The pale pink flowers, stems, and roots were for an antiseptic paste I had seen used by the midwives back home as a child. Typically it was made from dried plants but we did not have that kind of time.

I set about readying what I would need.

A knife from the kitchen.

Linen torn into strips for bandages.

Hot water.

I laid Anne on blankets on the kitchen work table, exposing her red and bloated little arm. The older housekeeper held it still in case she moved. Quickly, I cut into the flesh over the site of the inoculation.


I wanted to finish this before the young girl returned with the flowers. She had a gentle spirit and was not cut out for such things. The housekeeper herself was looking pale.

I cut deeper, my hands shaking. Anne stirred slightly as a cloud of foul smelling purulence mixed with blood poured forth. Thankfully she did not scream.

I could not bear it if she had screamed.

I expressed as much of the pus as I could out of the small incision using my fingertips, then rinsed the area with warm water.

Once the maid returned with a large basket of the coneflowers, I rinsed several of them and ground them into a runny paste with the mortar and pestle. Scooping several spoonfuls out, I wrapped it into a wide strip of linen and laid it across her arm, binding it firmly into place, careful to not cut off the circulation.

Warm compresses were laid over that and changed out every 30 minutes as I held Anne in the rocking chair in the drawing room.

Fight like with like… heat for heat.

Every six hours I would change out the coneflower paste. Why six hours? I did not know. It felt right somehow.

In the heat of the moment I had not thought ahead. “Just pull them all!” I had said. Now as I sat waiting, hoping for my miracle, I considered how to store the flowers between paste preparations. Put them in water? Hang them from the kitchen rafters to dry? Leave them to wilt on the counter?

Hang them. Hang them all.

Even though she was not interested, I expressed milk from my aching, engorged breasts a few drops at a time into her mouth.

Two days of this.

Finally the maid could take no more and sent again for the Reverend Drummond, intending that he should give comfort in my daughter’s passing. He had been here once before two days ago, shortly after I cut open the abscess in her arm.

He had not offered peace.

He now entered the room and passed his hat and coat to the weary looking housekeeper, his boots clumping on the wooden floor loudly enough that I woke from a fitful dozing slumber.

Anne also stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at me as if she knew that I was her mother.

Ignoring the fact that a man of God was also in the room, I bared a breast and smiled as she latched on.

My heart sang.

I looked up at the Reverend, full of joy.

He was scowling down at me, hate in his eyes.

“I.. I am sorry for exposing myself.” I stammered. But I did not mean it. My daughter came first. She needed fluids and sustenance.

“Either you brought the favor of the Lord down upon her and saved her life through a miracle or you called upon power from another, more sinister being.” The Reverend’s eyes narrowed. “I doubt your faith is such that it brought about a divine miracle.”

Truth be told, if the devil had shown up on my doorstep and asked for my soul in return for her life I would have given it for her gladly.

But he had not.

Nor had God.

I had saved her.

“Get out of my house,” I said.

Chapter Sixty-Two: Stealing Away

The train lurched to a stop at the Bristol station, the brakes giving their customary screech in protest. It woke me up from the semi-trancelike state that I had been in for the past half hour. I looked out the window at the pillars that held up the roof of the station overhead, my face close enough to the glass that it quickly fogged up, obscuring my view.

“…and so I told him to just leave it to me…” Her lips did not stop moving, even for a breath it seemed.

The middle aged woman sitting before me had not stopped talking since we had left Paddington station. Her hands had remained folded in the lap of deep burgundy traveling dress. This had been disconcerting. Someone who talked that much and with that degree of animation, typically used their hands. I had stared at her, trying not to seem rude, but I had been irritated that I could not think my own thoughts. Fortunately she had not required much beyond the occasional nod or gasp to feel I was engaged.

Excusing myself, I stood to stretch my legs, stepping onto the platform to walk a bit before continuing the journey to Cardiff, in Wales. I could still hear the woman talking to herself behind me on the train car.

I glanced around quickly, looking for recognition on any nearby faces. Fear gripped me, momentarily as I surveyed the crowd.

I was aware of the life growing inside of me, the fullness there. My precious gift. Only I knew the secret that I carried with me.

At any moment, it could be gone, this second chance. Miscarriage. Malformation. Still birth.

My sweet baby Levi.

This could be the same. Please do not let this one be the same. I remembered Levi’s cleft lips searching for something to eat, his intestines peristalsing in my hands outside of his little body. He had wanted to live but he had not been given a chance. All I could do was helplessly love him.

I wanted to pray, to beg, but I was not sure I had the right to make such requests of God at this point… even if I wanted to so desperately. Would God hear me? Would God care? Did he understand my loneliness and my sadness?

Only time would tell.

I wore the brooch with Nathaniel’s hair and words every day. It was almost a superstition now, a belief that this, and somehow he, would somehow protect me and protect the baby I carried. The piece had turned out beautifully. The jeweler had produced quality work, true to his word.

A stranger, a man, nodded at me as I passed. No one else minded me as I walked up and down the covered platform. I recognized no one and so relaxed somewhat, deliberately slowing my pace.

I had selected Cardiff due to its rapid growth. With so much flux in the population, there would be little attention paid to me, I hoped. I would tell everyone that my husband had died of typhus after returning from the war, thus explaining the pregnancy and my loneliness. Once I had delivered, I would move on elsewhere, and then move again, putting as much distance between me and any question of my character as I possibly could.

The enormity of everything was not lost upon me. On some level I was stealing this child. I struggled with the urge to let Nathaniel know, I did not want to do this alone, but in the end what would that accomplish? Only more heartache for everyone. How could he be expected to choose between two families? And what if he tried to take this child from me? I would be destroyed. No, this was a secret I must bear alone.

The train whistle blew, startling me… piercing my thoughts.

Sweeping the stray wisps of hair back under my bonnet, I carefully climbed back into the car and took my seat, steeling myself for the onslaught of words.