It is my fourth miscarriage, but that doesn’t make it easy. Miscarrying isn’t a skill. You don’t get better at it the more you practice, like playing the clarinet or clearing the tennis net with a sweet backswing. This pregnancy had barely begun, though, so the process is mercifully straightforward. Not like some.

I clean myself up in the bathroom and wipe the droplets of blood from the tile and the toilet seat. Ray doesn’t need to know. We’ve been married two years now and I’ve learned a lot in that time, mostly that fairy tales are just that: tales. Dreams die as fast as fetuses, and sometimes at the same time.

I take four Midol, and sigh.

The doorbell rings and my heart lurches as I smooth my hair and peek through the curtain. My brother waves at me and the dark churning of my stomach eases.

“Hey Krista,” he says, kissing me on the cheek as he enters.

“Hi Charlie. It’s really good to see you.”

“Having a bad day?” he asks as he stashes his twelve-pack in the fridge. He stands before me, takes my chin gently and examines my face. The latest bruises have faded to mere yellow shadows, but he sees them. He shakes his head.

“Why don’t you leave him, Krista?” he says, his voice soft. “He’s not going to change.”

“Let’s not talk about that,” I plead.

“Why not? Why not ever?”

“It’s pointless. I have nowhere to go. No way to live.”

“You could live with me.”

“You live in your car.”

“Fair point,” Charlie says with a laugh.

“I’ll leave Ray when you leave off drinking.”

“I’m quitting on Monday,” he says, taking a bottle from the fridge and popping off the cap.

“You quit every Monday.”

“So what? I do what I’m good at.” He says, smiling his crooked smile. “You look just like Mom when you make that face.”

I relax my pursed lips. We sit on the porch swing and talk about his latest ideas. Charlie says one day all his great notions are going to pay off, and I’ll be proud to be his sister. I tell him I’m already proud.

“Come on,” he says, rising. “Let’s walk down to the corner store. I need some dip.”

“Charlie, I can’t just leave,” I say, waving my hand at the house. “I’ve got stuff to do. I have to clean, and get food ready for the table when Ray gets home. You know how he is about that.”

“What’re you making?”


“Damn. That won’t take but thirty minutes. Come with me to the store, and I’ll help you clean and cook. You need to breathe some fresh air. You look pale.”

I consider, twisting the ring on my finger. The dragging weight in my gut has eased with the liberal dose of painkiller and I am not as tired as I thought I would be. I check my watch. It’s 1:30 and Ray gets home at six. I calculate how long it will take me to have supper hot on the table, and decide I can risk it.

“Okay then,” I say, slipping on my windbreaker. “Let’s go.”

It is a bright, breezy October afternoon and as we walk the leaves float down around us like ticker tape. I imagine we are riding on a parade float and everyone is cheering as we pass because we are a couple of somebodies. The Alabama humidity has finally relented, and the air smells like campfires and football games. Charlie pulls out a pack of cigarettes and offers me one. I decline.

“How many forms of tobacco do you plan on abusing?” I ask. “Cancer is nothing to sneeze at.”

“I’ll take my chances,” he says, blowing a cloud of smoke into the air. “Hey, let’s go to the movies tomorrow. I want to see Crocodile Dundee. It’s supposed to be hilarious.”

“Seriously? And how would we pull that off?”

“Same way we’re doing this. Go while Ray’s at work. Get back before he gets home. Simple.”

“I just can’t take the risk, Charlie. What if he came home for lunch?”

He takes another drag on the cigarette and doesn’t look at me. I know he’s disappointed.

“I’m sorry I’m no fun anymore,” I apologize. “Marriage just comes with responsibilities, you know?”

“It’s okay,” he says, draping his arm around me. We reach the corner store and he picks out his dip. I throw a chocolate bar next to it and he pays. As we leave I tear open the wrapper and savor the sweet, creamy flavor. It’s been a long time since I had candy.
Chocolate is for fat girls Ray always says.

I offer Charlie a bite but he has his tobacco. We walk in silence back to the house, where he dusts and vacuums the living room and helps me fix dinner, making me laugh and cheering me up until I have nearly forgotten my traumatic morning.

“Gotta go,” he says, glancing at the time. “I know Ray doesn’t like strangers in his house when he gets home.”

“You’re no stranger,” I say. “You’re just strange.”

He hugs me tight and slips out the door just minutes before Ray arrives.


Months later in January, when I hold the test result in my trembling hand, I know this pregnancy will stick. I’m sick to my stomach every morning and rejoice every time I vomit. I’m exhausted by the end of each day. Ray notices nothing, oblivious to my emotional state as usual, and I don’t tell him my news. I want to treasure it in my heart all alone for a while.

I tell Charlie first. He smiles at me but his eyes are worried as he runs a hand through his auburn curls.

“You’re sure about this one, aren’t you?” he says. “I hope you’re right. I’m happy for you, sister. Really happy.”

He pats my shoulder, his hand warm and reassuring and tethering me to earth. I am so light I feel like I might blow away in the next breeze.

“What are you gonna name it?” he asks.

“Still thinking. Did you know that the baby is the size of a raspberry right now? And it’s growing eyelids and retinas and everything?”

“How do you know all that?”

“Got a book from the library. It tells about each stage of pregnancy. It’s really interesting to know how the baby develops.”

“Like it’s a real person already,” he says. “Hey don’t scowl at me like that. You know I’m joking.”

I laugh because I do know, and because joy is burbling up out of me.


The pregnancy book is an endless source of information, and I drink it up like a woman who’s lived too long in the desert. Every word is a coconut palm, laden with possibility. The idea of a baby makes me heady with relief, with fear, with anticipation, with a tumult of desire. Will I be a good mother? I wonder.

Your baby is the size of a lime the passage reads at week twelve. She is kicking and moving and you may feel movement soon. She is also busy growing eyelashes and fingernails!

I am certain that the baby is a girl. She will have dark, curly hair and rosy cheeks. She will mend my broken heart with her chubby fingers. She will fill all my dark, constricted places.

Her name will be Evangeline. Evangeline, the bearer of good news.

Maybe I will tell Ray when he finally notices my expanding waistline.


“You’re so useless,” Ray says to me after we finish dinner one night. I am sitting on the couch watching Reagan talk about Russia on the evening news. “Look at this, Krista. What the hell do you do all day?”

He is holding a white dress-shirt in his hand and his face is stony. There is no safe way to proceed from here. If I speak, I’m arguing. If I don’t speak, I’m disrespectful. I can feel the back of his hand already.

“The ironed shirts are hanging up in the closet,” I say, mouth dry. “There are several in there, for this week.”

“I wanted to wear this one,” he says, flinging it into my lap. “Get it done.”

I take the shirt and move to the ironing board. If I act quickly enough he may calm down, but when I try to fill the iron’s reservoir with water, my shaking hand spills half of it onto the tile floor.

“You can’t do anything right.”

Ray’s voice is mocking and cold, and I know what comes next.

“Can’t even hold onto a baby long enough to make us a family. Useless.”

I’ve learned to accept all his insults but that one. The blood rushes to my face and I pray he doesn’t notice.

“What’s that look? I see you. You got something you want to say?”

I shake my head and spread the shirt out on the board carefully. He crosses the room and clutches my elbow in a vice grip, shaking me. The iron sputters and hisses as I grip it, feeling its burning weight in my hand.

“You want to say something?” he repeats in his jeering tone. He shoves me hard; I crash against the wall and fall to the floor.

He’s towering over me now, and my heart is slamming in my chest. I think of the sweet green lime in my uterus, the swallowing, stretching, kicking lime that even now is growing fingernails and eyelashes, and suddenly I feel very strange. The air takes on a hazy red hue, like the sky just before the sun goes down. I try to breathe but my lungs are tearing out of my chest and tiny spots appear before my eyes. I reach up to clear my vision but I stop at the sight of my hands. They are stretching and lengthening, and hair is sprouting over the flesh like grass in springtime as my entire body stiffens. The fingernails thicken and grow sharp as I cry out in terror and anguish. The room stops spinning but the light is still red. I look up at Ray, whose face is a mask of horror.

“Help me,” I try to say, but the words are garbled, a mixture of growl and groan, and my tongue feels my teeth growing thick and long and sharp.

I stumble upwards and fall heavily against the ironing board. It crashes to the floor, sending the iron spinning between my feet, which are also transforming into something wild and fearsome. With a tearing sound, my shirt and pants release their hold on my torso and my breasts disappear beneath a dark and grizzled pelt. Fear ebbs away as it is supplanted by rage. The anger that only moments ago was stifled and suppressed spreads through me, and I stand on powerful hind legs to tower over Ray, who is now cowering and crying out to a god who will never hear him. I raise one arm, massive and terrible, and swat him across the face. He flies through the air and slams into the opposite wall with a high-pitched cry. I put my head back and roar. I want to tear his flesh off and eat it, want to disembowel him right here and use his flesh to nourish mine.

I cross to him and take his face in my large paws, shake him like he has shaken me. His eyes fix upon me in terror and he ducks beneath me, scrambles away and disappears into the kitchen. I lope after him, grunting and snorting, and catch him by the pant leg with one gigantic claw. He is wailing then, but it only excites me more. I take his calf in my mouth and bite down, hearing the bone crunch between my teeth. His wailing takes on a higher pitch and I would laugh if I could, but I can only roar. He pushes away and scrambles into the corner with me close behind. I catch him by the neck and shake him like a cat with a mouse, flinging him back to the floor when I am done. He makes a gurgling noise and lies still. I wait for him to look up; I hope he cries and begs for mercy as I have, countless times.

His eyes don’t open, however, and when I nudge him his head falls back against the cabinet with a dull thud. There is blood on the wall and covering his head and face, flowing down onto his starched collar.
The red air clears and I am a woman again, staring in wonder at the spectacle before me.


“Jesus, Krista,” Charlie whispers with a low whistle, crouching over Ray’s form. “You hit him with the iron?”

“I guess I did,” I say, gazing down at my long white fingers, my wedding ring sparkling on my left hand. “I don’t really remember.”

“You got some kind of amnesia, I guess,” he says with a sigh as he rises and spits into his empty beer bottle. “Well, you clocked him right where it hurts. He ain’t comin’ back.”

We are both silent then, gazing down at Ray’s broken body. The mantle clock ticks the seconds away. Maybe, I think, maybe Ray will get up soon. Maybe he’ll open his eyes and wipe the blood from his face and stand up and then sit and watch TV with me, and just love me like I had hoped he would. But he doesn’t, and he won’t, and now there’s a dead man on the floor of my kitchen.

“Am I going to prison?” I ask.

“Not if I can help it,” Charlie says, turning on me with a fierce expression. “Ray was a mean sonofabitch who got what he deserved. I’m goddamn proud of you. I should have been the one to do it.”

His eyes are red and I think he is about to cry, but instead he stands tall and gathers me to him. I bury my head into his neck and close my eyes.

“I’ll take you to Annie’s,” he finally says.

“She’ll take you in. Okay? Krista, do you hear me?”

But I am running to the bathroom, retching into the toilet until I feel like I might turn inside out. Charlie presses a cold washcloth to my forehead and brings me a glass of ice water and I drink it slowly, trying to untangle my knotted thoughts.


“Come on in, honey,” Annie says, concern written on her face. “What’s wrong? What’s happened? Are you sick?”

“No,” I say, trying to steady my voice. “Charlie—”

“Oh my God, did somethin’ happen? Is he okay?”

“He’s okay. He brought me here," I say, pointing at the retreating car with a trembling finger. "Said maybe you’d let me stay a while.”

“It’s that asshole Ray, isn’t it?” she says, fair face clouding over. “You’re finally runnin’ from him, right?”

“He…he…” and then I start to cry. Annie puts an arm around my shoulders and draws me into the house, letting the screen door slam behind us. In the living room we sit on the worn, flowered couch and she pats my hand.

“D’you want some tea?” she asks. “Or whiskey? Or both?”

“Tea is good,” I answer, drying my eyes with the tissues she presses into my hands. “Where are the kids?”

“Playin’ in the creek out back,” she calls from the kitchen. “They’ll be in shortly for supper. Are you hungry?”

“Not really,” I say, stomach still churning. I put a hand over the small swell of my gut and pray silently.

Please, God. Please let my baby be okay. Baby, give me a sign.

At that moment I feel a small flutter, like butterfly’s wings, deep within. Relief washes over me and start to laugh, a high-pitched, frenetic cackle that I cannot stop. Annie comes back into the room.

“Krista, are you okay?”

I cannot answer but nod my head. I double over, laughing and laughing and laughing until I stop laughing and am instead weeping with violent, ugly sobs. Annie comes beside me again and holds me against her chest, rubbing my back as though I am a colicky child. Finally, the hysteria abates, and I heave a long, shuddering sigh.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

“Better to get it all out,” Annie says.

“Whatever you been holdin’ in, it was high time to let it go.”

The teakettle begins to whistle and soon Annie presses a cup of hot chamomile tea into my hands. I sip it, letting the warmth spread through my chest. I realize I am intensely weary. When the tea is gone, I fall sideways on the sofa and lose consciousness.


I awaken in a small bedroom, the walls covered in blue chintz wallpaper. There is a tattered armchair and a small bedside table with a clock that reads 9:02am. Sunlight is streaming through the lacy white curtains on the window. I stretch, and wince. My entire body is sore, as though I dragged a colossal weight across the world just the day before.
My memory returns, and I see Ray again, crumpled and mangled. I stare at my hands, trying to think. Did I imagine the hair, the claws, the sharpened teeth? Did I have a psychotic episode? Am I crazy?

There are no answers, and so instead I swing my legs to the side of the bed and stand. The white nightgown billows as I raise the window, and I drink in the fresh, cold spring air that blows past me, scented with wildflowers and the faintest hint of manure from the barn just beyond the pasture. I hear the door open behind me and turn to see a small, red-haired girl standing uncertainly in the room, holding a tray.

“Hi, Janie,” I say and try to smile. She carries the tray to the bed and sets it down.

“Hi, Aunt Krista,” she answers. “Mama wanted me to bring you breakfast.”

“That’s nice. Thank you for bringing it. It looks delicious.”

“Mama says I should leave you alone to rest,” Jane says, heading for the door.

“No, don’t leave,” I say. “I’d like your company.”

“I made the toast,” she says, climbing up beside me on the bed.

“It’s wonderful,” I say with my mouth full. I share my bacon with her and we eat together, discussing her kindergarten classes and how difficult the alphabet can be. Soon the plate is empty, and I feel a modicum of equilibrium returning.

“Are you feelin’ better now?” Jane asks, patting my knee.

“Yes, lots,” I say, and stroke her russet braid.

“That’s great. Daddy wanted to know if he could come in.”

“Charlie’s here? Sure, he can come in.”

She slips out the door and soon Charlie enters, looking haggard. I stand to hug him, and he holds me tight before collapsing into the armchair. I am afraid to voice my fears, and so I wait for him to speak. He looks as though he is not sure where to begin.

“I called the cops,” he says finally. “Thought about just burying him in the garden, but finally decided they better just take care of it. They brought the paramedics, and the coroner, and the detective. Snooped around for most of the night before they let me leave. Asked me about a million questions.”

“What did you tell them?” I ask.

“I told them that I came over, found him there, and that you were missing.”

“Did they believe you?”

“Hard to say. They didn’t arrest me, anyway, though they sure did look at me. I reckon if you just hang out here for a few months we’ll figure out what to do next. Don’t know why they’d look for you here, but best to just lay low. They might come and ask Annie some questions too.”

“Okay. I can do that.”

“There’s somethin’ else, Krista,” he begins, but hesitates.

“What is it?” I finally ask.

“The detective said it looked like some kind of wild animal had been at Ray. Like, something big. Something that swiped him across the face and killed him. Said his neck was broken good, that his leg was mangled and that the blood on his face came from claws. Big ones.”

His gaze is penetrating. I’ve never been able to hide anything from him, and my face is burning. I cannot meet his eye and instead look at my hands, twisting them around one another.

“Krista,” he finally says. “You know you can tell me anything. I hope you know, anyway. But you don’t have to tell me now. I’m just glad you’re safe. Rest, and keep your strength up. You need it for yourself, and for that baby.”

He rises and hugs me again.

“Annie says you can wear her things while you’re here. I thought it might be too suspicious if somebody saw me leavin’ the house with your clothes. If the cops come by here, hide somewhere, okay?”

“Okay,” I answer.

“I got a job,” he says.

“You did?” I look into his green eyes then, and he smirks.

“Yeah. Workin down at the Piggly Wiggly. Got a friend to put in a good word. I just gotta stay off the bottle during work hours.”

“Oh, Charlie. That’s great news. I’m so glad.”

“Well, don’t get too excited yet. You know I’m a world-class screw-up.”

“You are not,” I protest, but he only laughs again.

“Annie would beg to differ. But then, she’s got good reason to.”

“I guess.”

“Anyway, take care of yourself. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come over too often. Don’t want to raise suspicions. When a man starts visitin’ his ex-wife too often, people are bound to talk.” He winks at me and then he is gone.


The police come by as Charlie had warned. Though there are only two of them, they fill the living room with their large forms, authoritative and suspicious, eyes darting about the room as though they might find something incriminating amidst the canned peaches and flour bins. I peek at them from the cracked door of the basement where I am told to hide, and stifle a giggle that I cannot explain. They seem satisfied with their interrogation and as they have no search warrant, they leave without fanfare.

At Annie’s, I learn how to milk a cow, and how to gather eggs from the chickens in the long, low coop where they reside. I learn how to hold a flashlight when a calf is being born in the middle of the night. I learn how to plant peppers and sweet potatoes and watermelon, poking the black seeds into the mounds of earth along with Annie and Jane and the three older children from Charlie and Annie’s union.

Charlie comes by as often as he can, but that isn’t often enough for me. I miss his presence, his easy smile, his comforting touch. But Annie and the children are solace too, and I soak their concern in. Jane, especially, is drawn to my burgeoning belly, and watches with fascination as it undulates with the life buried beneath.

“Aunt Krista, can I watch the baby bein’ born?” she asks one day as I enter week thirty. I am swollen in all ways, tired and restless and irritable. Still, I look into her eager face and have to relent.

“Why in the world would you want to watch that?” I ask.

“I seen calves bein’ born. I seen chicks hatch, too. Even saw mama’s donkey have her foal a year ago. I just wanna see what a human baby looks like, comin out into the world,” she declares, looking defensive. I stop smiling because I understand that she is serious.

“Well, we’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?” I answer. “I think you’d make a mighty fine midwife, personally.”

I have had no obstetrician visits. No prenatal care. Annie and Charlie tell me that we cannot risk going out to doctors or pharmacies or clinics, and I know they are right. The investigation into Ray’s death is not over, and policemen are keeping a close watch on Charlie. He says that they tail him to work and back, and even in the dead of night when he pulls the curtains back, there is a patrol car parked outside his apartment.

“Don’t you worry, Krista,” Annie assures me one day as we throw watermelon rind to the cattle in their field. It is August now, and the air is sticky and thick with humidity. The cicadas drone in the trees, and everything moves at half speed. My sundress is plastered onto me, and sweat drips down my neck.

“I’ve delivered a lot of babies,” she says, looking sideways at me as she fishes another rind out of the bucket. “Cows, donkeys, dogs…they’re not all that different from people. Birthin’ my own babies taught me that. We used doctors but I don’t even think I needed them. Birthed Janey almost without their help at all. Pushed her out onto the bed before the OB even got there. Showed him good.” She snorted. “You’re a strong woman, and you’re healthy. You’ll find that when the time comes, you’ll be as good as any cat at gettin’ that baby here safely.”

“Thanks,” I say, watching the cattle as they munch the watermelon with satisfaction. “I’m sure you’re right.”

“And I’ll be right with you,” she says, turning to me eagerly. “I’ll help you all I can. I know what it’s like. It’s hard as hellfire, but it’s worth it. That baby in your arms will make all the pain worth it. Why do you think I have four?”

We laugh together then, and return to the house with our empty buckets banging our knees.


I awaken to the full moon pouring through the window onto my pillow. For a moment I think I am home and that all is normal, but I am alone and there is no inert form snoring beside me. I remember that Ray is dead and nothing is as it should be, and the familiar ache of grief wells up within me. I know that sleep is fruitless and so I rise and move to the window, my stomach restless and uneasy.

The night is bright and surreal; the barn and far woods are glowing in the moonlight, and I raise the sash to drink the scene in. A movement from the field catches my eye and I turn to see a clutch of deer grazing on the lawn beyond the hedge. There are ten by my count, and the largest is a buck, antlers spreading over him like a halo. His head swivels my direction and I am frozen in place as our eyes meet. He stamps the ground and tosses his head, and the churning in my gut intensifies. Without thought, I unhitch the screen from its place, and crawl through the opening.

I hit the ground and fall to my knees with a grunt. I feel my fingers and toes curling inward and I am frightened but not surprised. My arms are sprinkled with a coarse tan fur, and as I watch it spread over me, I moan in helpless agony. It is happening again.

Instead of brutish bulk, however, my arms and legs are elongating into an elegant dancer’s limbs. I cry out as my hands swell and the fingers cleave into hooves, churning the damp earth with impatient anticipation. I lay on the ground and writhe as my ears stretch and my neck lengthens, every vertebra on fire. When the affliction lifts, I raise my head to find the buck standing over me. He licks my face and gazes at me curiously. I stand on wobbly legs like a newborn calf, but he nudges me forward and then I am in the midst of the herd. He bounds into the trees and the other deer join him until they are invisible within the foliage. I follow.

Within the shelter of the woods we jostle one another to find the lushest patches of grass and seeds. I eat until I am satisfied. Everything tastes richer, sweeter, and more filling than anything I have ever known. Among the herd are several fawns who suckle from their mothers as they graze. I watch them, feeling intensely connected. Primal emotion surges over me and I wish to be one of them as they care for their young without analysis, without introspection, but only with pure, animal concern. We must, or we will perish they say to me with their lash-rimmed eyes, deep and dark. I move as one with them, trying to learn.

Eventually the buck snorts and turns, and we understand that we are to stop and bed down for the night. The woods are thick here, and we will be safe. I lie down in the underbrush and listen to the other does find rest. The nearness of the heavy, warm bodies around me and the smell of animal sweat and breath is as comforting as a blanket in winter. I fall asleep with the taste of acorns in my mouth.

In a dream, I am holding a chubby, rosy cheeked child in my arms. She giggles and coos as I tickle her beneath the chin and talk to her. Ray is there, and he comes to stand beside me, putting one arm around my shoulders as we look down upon our perfect daughter. She’s so beautiful I say to him. Isn’t she delicious? He says nothing, but as I look up at him I see his mouth opening, jaws gaping in a cavernous yawn that devours both of us.

I open my eyes to birdsong. The sun is dappling the sky with the rays that herald its dawning and I rise unsteadily to my feet. I cross the mist-covered meadow and make my way towards the farmhouse, naked and damp with dew. When I stagger up the front porch steps Annie meets me there and wraps me in a terrycloth robe.

“I saw you comin’ from the trees. Come on honey, you’re chilled to the bone.”

She bundles me into the shower and I stand beneath the stream of hot water, shivering long after the cold has all been washed away.


“The investigation is ongoing,” Charlie tells us one night as he visits, his fingers crooked to make the quote signs around the words. “And that’s all they’ll say. I went down to the precinct to ask them why a cruiser is still parked under my window but they wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Am I a suspect? They won’t say I am, but they won’t say I’m not, either.”

“That sounds so shitty,” Annie says, bringing him a beer. He cracks it open with a shake of his head.

“I’m sorry I haven’t come by more,” he says after a long drink. “I just don’t know if it’ll make things worse.”

“I understand, Charlie,” I say. “I know it’s for the best.”

“But I miss you,” he says, looking at us with sad and lonely eyes. “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“We miss you too,” Annie says, taking his hand.

“You, young lady,” he says, turning to me. “Are being searched for high and low. People you hardly knew are talking like you were their best friend. Things have settled down a little, but flyers are still tacked up all over town. Have you seen this woman? Contact your local law enforcement!

“I’m sorry,” I say. I am ashamed that this has made his life so hard.

“Don’t do that,” he says, shaking his head. “Don’t do that. It doesn’t do one damn bit of good. You don’t have anything to be sorry for. We’re here to protect you and that baby, you know?” he nods towards my swollen midsection. “We don’t give two shits about how Ray died.”

But I do I want to say, but I know it makes no sense; it shouldn’t make sense to any rational person. Ray was a monster, a dark and twisted soul who only cared about sucking the life from whomever would give him the time. My body bore the marks of his fury. He abused me, he disparaged me, he dismissed me, he made my life hell.

But not always.

There were times when he was kind, and his touch was gentle on my skin. Especially in the beginning. Times when he whispered that he loved me, times that he begged me to forgive him, told me I was his sugar, his darling, his sweet thing. It had been four months since I had shared his bed but only a handful of times that I hadn’t missed him lying beside me.

I do not say any of this. I know it is madness.

“Thank you,” I say instead.

“Don’t thank us,” Annie says, crossing the room to sit beside me. She chafes my hands and looks at me with her clear blue eyes. “We only want to help. It’s our honor to help you and this little one. Understand?”

I nod. I am grateful for their help, too grateful to express.


It is September when the contractions grip me, and I am standing in the orchard at sunset. The apples are hanging above me like jewels in the dying light and I reach up to pluck one more for my basket. I’ve been feeling cramps all day long but I haven’t said a word, unwilling to share the information with anyone else, not even Annie.

The children have gone in for supper after being called, but I gave my excuses, feeling the need for solitude and silence. The grove feels holy somehow, a cathedral of branches and green leafy stained glass stretching overhead like a benediction. I am brought to my knees by the next contraction, but where pain ends and awe begins, I cannot say. There, in that sacred space, my baby declares her arrival.

In the midst of contractions, I feel the familiar burning sensation spread through my torso and I cry out, hoping to stop it, but there is no stopping it—it is happening even as my voice dies in my throat. I get up and run for the barn, hitching my skirt around my knees and pelting across the grass until I am safe within the bounds of those faded redwood walls. Here I can labor in peace, alone and unaided—a cat with cat-desires and cat-instincts.

I climb the ladder to the hayloft and collapse amongst the bales where the loose stalks have been tamped down and softened by tramping feet. I can feel myself shrinking, closing up like a telescope, my bones and flesh collapsing in upon themselves in a torment of keen sensation. I grip the wooden beams and scream, sending the resident cats fleeing as fine, soft fur sprouts along my limbs. I feel a lengthening in my tailbone and whiskers curling from my cheeks and I am transformed. Thoughts cease and only instinct remains.

The urge to push comes, and I bear down and open as Evangeline emerges, wrapped in sac and placenta, which I am compelled to consume. I lick her vigorously and she begins to breathe. I nudge her towards a teat, a throaty purr rising as she latches on, and I drift away, exhausted from the ordeal.

I awake to the sound of my name being called from all around, urgent and fearful. The barn is dark and I feel for my baby, finding her sleeping at my breast. I lift her and cradle her in the crook of one arm as I climb down the ladder.

“I’m here!” I say. “I’m here.”

Annie runs into the barn with a flashlight that sweeps over me. She takes one look at my form, bleeding, shivering, and holding an infant, and removes her coat to throw it over me.

“You had us scared to death,” she says, but she is smiling with relief and joy. “We found your clothes in the orchard and couldn’t think what had become of you.”

Back inside the house I am bathed and tucked into bed with my baby. I press her against me and feed her again, marveling at the wrinkled, grasping hands, the pink seashell ears, the sweet perfume of her fuzzy head.

As the days pass I learn to change her diapers and bathe and clothe her under Annie’s tutelage. Annie is a patient teacher and lets me fumble my way into proficiency. Soon I am able to soothe Evie when she wails, hold her in different positions to help her expel gas, and do just about anything with only one hand.

“She’s a pretty one, that’s for sure,” Charlie says of her, and I know he means it because he always said that all babies look like potatoes.

The FBI has taken over Ray’s murder case, and there are paranormal investigators among the team. Small details leak out to the public and the rumors begin to fly, each one more fantastic than the last. Ray was killed by a mountain lion, dissected by aliens, half-eaten by a monster that emerged from the sewer. I don’t care anymore. My thoughts of Ray have all but been eradicated by the fulfillment of my sweetest dream, this thing that fills my heart until it bursts, this child, this gift.


It is October when she dies. She is one month old and I go to check on her in her cradle. I think she is asleep but there is something odd about her appearance and my heart stands still as my insides turn to jelly. I lay one hand on her chest but there is no rise and fall, and she is cold. My knees will not support me and I collapse to the floor, screaming and screaming until there is no breath left in my lungs.


We bury her in the orchard, amidst the apple trees. Charlie makes the coffin, an impossibly small pine box that he polishes until it glows. The gravestone is a mere scrap of rock, sufficient for a baby who was, and then was not. We carve the name Evangeline on it together, our tears splashing on its surface and staining the letters.

The next morning, I stand before the bedroom window, staring at the awakening sky, breasts leaking milk onto my nightgown. I think about Charlie and his barn-siding hair and crooked grin, his constancy, his great love for me that manifests in so many intangible ways. I think of Annie and her help, her affectionate care, her determination to make things right. I think of Janie and her sweet spirit, her ability to heal with just a touch.

A flock of terns soars above me, winging their way to the gulf coast, and I envy their freedom.

Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at peace

The words stir up from the recesses of my brain and I have a sudden memory from Sunday school—a lesson on the afterlife.

I look to the sun rising over the treetops and feel the heat swelling in my chest. This time, I don’t even try to fight it. It hurts but I don’t cry out, not even a little bit. No one in the house needs to know. My bones collapse and my muscles shrink and my skin is on fire. Feathers of cream and grey prickle up like a spreading conflagration. I gasp and thrash on the carpet until the pain passes finally and I am left panting on the floor. I stagger up on webbed feet, my heart beating an erratic rhythm behind my ribs. Charlie and Annie and Jane and all the children dissolve into a dream of love and joy and sorrow and suffering and hope. Peace is all that is left.

The terns are mere specks in the sky now, but I can still hear them calling to one another.
With a cry, I stretch my wings wide, rise into the air, and join them.