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One Cold Night

And miss out on all the fun?

By Claudia NeavesPublished 3 years ago 9 min read
One Cold Night
Photo by Adam Chang on Unsplash

“Don’t go,” murmured the husband, laying a weighted hand on her shoulder. He might have kept her there, pulled her back from the door, had it been even one degree colder. The blustering wind howled then, shaking the glass in the windowpanes. He arched his eyebrow, as if it had proved his point. The wife ducked out from his grasp, plopping herself on the floor to pull on the thick woolen socks.

“And miss out on all the fun? Come now, be a dear and hand me my medicine bag.”

The husband wrinkled his nose but passed her the black leather. Something sharp and metal fell from the bag, clattering to the floor beside her. She snatched the instrument before her husband could get a good look at it. That particular blade did not look fun, even she would admit. Collecting her bag, she rose and stepped into her boots. The husband crossed his arms. A child, pink-nosed from her journey in the cold, looked between the couple.

“So we are going?” The child curled her fingers around the warm mug she had been offered. “You know, ‘cause if it is all the same to you, I’d rather stay here.” The wife rolled her eyes and drew their cloaks from the hook.

“And then who would show me the way? Now tuck in.” She helped the younger girl into her cloak before slipping into her own. The girl’s cloak was tattered and worn, a stark contrast to the crushed blue velvet the other woman donned. The wife frowned. She would pay the girl for the message and double for trip into the snow.

“I can’t convince you to stay?” said the husband when they were halfway out the door.

“I’m convinced,” said the girl. The wife chuckled. The wintery wind blew the door closed. The husband watched from the window as the two of them crunched through the ice and snow. Midwifery seemed a good occupation in daylight. Now in the dead winter’s night, the husband thought it seemed much more dangerous. Especially where the two of them were traveling.

“I don’t have to go in do I?” the younger girl peered at her through snowflake flecked eyelashes. Her companion laughed.

“Aren’t you the reluctant apprentice tonight? Why don’t you want to go in? I thought she was your neighbor.” The girl shook her head.

“She is, she is. Moved in with her family over the summer. But you know what they say about her.”

She did know what they said. There had been little talk of anything else in the shops, barns, and homes that made up their small village. But she shrugged, letting the young girl finish.

“They say Madame Lenora is a witch!”

It always sounded silly, even as many times as the midwife had heard it. Mothers covered the eyes of their children when she walked by. Men averted their eyes. Whispers and snickers filled the street following the distinct click of her pointy toed boots on the pavement. The midwife had felt sorry for her. If Madame Lenora noticed the reactions, she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she often seemed to be smirking.

“Midwives were once considered witches, you know. How might you view me if you heard a rumor like that?”

The girl shook her head. “You don’t look like a witch like she does. And at least you don’t have those awful black cats stalking around your house.” The girl shivered, and this time it did not seem to be a product of the biting cold. The midwife sighed. Yes, she had too heard about the cats, mean hissing spitting things that seemed to melt with affection in the presence of their Madame. Those images certainly didn’t bolster a reputation of a god-fearing woman.

The pair trudged on in silence until they reached the dilapidated shack that belonged to the supposed witch. It wasn’t unlike the surrounding houses, the younger girl’s being just at the end of the lane. A man stood outside, smoking a cigarette. His coat was well-worn, but if the cold bothered him, he didn’t let on.

“Where are the cats?” the midwife teased, seeing the young girl tense as they neared the house.

“They’re probably inside,” she whispered back. “Suckling on the witch’s mark!” The midwife dismissed such ignorant talk. This behavior was very unlike her usually confident protégé. She thought about punishing the girl with instrument sanitation duty, when they drew closer to the man standing outside the house.

“You must be the father of the baby?” The midwife had never seen the man around town before, but she recognized the uneasy tremor of a man approaching fatherhood.

“I must be.” His voice was low, slightly amused as he regarded the pair. It was dark, but as the smoke curled around him, the midwife could see the outline of his handsome face and the intoxicating blue of his eyes. She felt her skin pucker with gooseflesh.

“And you must be the midwife,” he continued. He turned to the younger girl, deliberately avoiding his gaze. “A silver coin for you, little lady? For fetching her so quickly?” The younger girl shook her head.

“Not necessary. I have to go home now.” She looked pointedly to the midwife before mouthing the word “warlock!” and scampering in the direction of her mother’s home. The midwife sighed.

“You’ll have to excuse her,” she told the man. “She’s normally not this—”

“Scared out her wits?” chuckled the man. “Go on then,” he opened the door and a rush of heat escaped the tiny house. “They’ve been waiting for you.”

The first thing she noticed was the oppressive heat. She unspooled her scarf and lowered the hood of her cloak before stripping the rest of the way. She instantly regretted the wool socks now soaking in sweat inside her boots. A fire raged and a pot of water boiled on the stove. The only other fixture in the room was a large canopy bed, much too opulent with its silky sheets and plush pillows to fit the drab surroundings of the one roomed house. Madame Lenora was propped among the jewel toned bedclothes, surrounded by three black haired beauties the midwife didn’t recognize. They patted and fretted over the fairer woman, whispering encouragement. She didn’t look as the midwife remembered. The skin on her face was stretched tight over her cheekbones and her eyes were sunken, sallow. She clutched her enormous stomach and let out a low, almost guttural moan. The one on her left shot the midwife an angry, desperate look.

“What took you so long!” she demanded, rising from the bed and grabbing the midwife roughly by the hand. “Her pains are strong, and she’s as froze as ice!” She placed the midwife’s hand on the sweat speckled forehead. She was, as reported, cold and clammy. The two other women wailed suddenly as Madame Lenora grit her teeth.

“Another pain,” the third explained. “They are very close together now.” The two on the bed began to cry. They wiped away each other’s tears before sidling closer to Lenora, stroking her back. The midwife knew she needed to get to work, but she let her eyes slide over the strange scene just a moment longer. So similar in face and dress, the three darker women could have been sisters. Their identical gowns were black, floor length, and unlike the frocks the midwife was accustomed to. Their almond shaped eyes, wet with tears, were fixated on their lady with a mix of concern and something deeper. Worship, almost. There was a niggling thought in the back of the midwife’s mind. It echoed hollowly in her own voice—where are the cats?

“Let me examine her,” she said finally. The women whimpered but allowed her to remove blankets and skirts. Lenora shivered as her bare skin was exposed to air, even as the midwife was flushed with overbearing warmth.

“Hand me my bag,” she told the woman who had spoken to her. She seemed the most capable, as they other two were still wrapped in embrace, letting out piteous cries as another contraction ripped through Lenora. Towels, measuring tapes, and instruments fell to the floor as the beauty flipped the bag upside down. The midwife didn’t have time to correct her—she grabbed the towels and went to work.

“The baby is crowning,” she explained to the other woman, who was now smushed beside her and peering over her shoulder. “Lenora? I need you to push with the next contraction.”

For a moment it seemed the air was quite literally sucked out of the room. The midwife was breathless as she felt Lenora tense under her touch. The two on the bed and even the woman beside her wailed as Lenora pushed. Their voices intwined, a harmony of horror. The midwife’s vision swam. Her hands moved as if independent from her brain. It seemed like the oxygen was gone from that too.

It was such an easy birth. Curly hair, head, tiny puckered face turned to the side. Slightly pointed ears and neck, the top shoulder and then the rest of the child slipped from her mother. A burst of air hit the midwife and she sucked in air greedily. The women stopped screaming and now the air was ripe with song. The woman at the midwife’s side plucked the child on Lenora’s chest. Their lips were moving, producing a sound that could have been music, but the midwife couldn’t quite understand the words. The midwife swayed. Something wasn’t right. A minute passed. As if she was still suffering from lack of air, confusion muddled her mind. She sought clarity, willing her mind to focus but the jubilant song of the four women was too powerful. Finally, it hit her. Crying, there was no crying. There should have been a cry.

“Move,” she said, and she pushed the singing woman behind her. She expected the infant on Lenora’s chest to be pale, lethargic. The pink bundle in Lenora’s arms looked at the midwife curiously, before popping Lenora’s bare breast into her mouth and beginning to suckle.

“She didn’t cry,” said the midwife. It seemed odd. The three dark haired women giggled and kissed her cheeks.

“Look,” they whispered, pointing to the suckling child and her mother. As the child ate, Lenora’s face grew pinker, plumper. Her eyes sparkled and her gaunt features softened to that of the Madonna. It could have been a trick of the light. She planted her lips atop the child’s head and when she met the gaze of the midwife, she smiled.

The midwife worked in silence, cleaning the blood, cutting the cord, and repacking her the spilled contents of her bag. She watched the four women in tender fascination as they fussed over the new babe and her mother, who seemed to grow more youthful as the night wore on. When it was time to leave, the three dark women helped her dress, pressing coins and gifts into her palms and bags in gratitude. They were kind girls. Odd, for sure, but odd. She suddenly felt sorry for the strange family and the rumors that surrounded them.

The exit into the winter morning was a welcome relief from the hot house. The father leaned against the house, still smoking. In the dawn’s light, the midwife saw they were the exact shade as the babe. He waved the smoke curls away and threw the cigarette on the ground, grinding it with his boot.

“All done then?” he said as if the midwife had just finished clipping his bride’s fingernails. The midwife paid it no mind. It wasn’t the most bizarre part of her night, after all.

“You can see your daughter now,” she said, wrapping her scarf more tightly around her throat. The man grinned, closed his eyes for longer than a blink.

“Praise,” he said. “A girl?” The midwife nodded. The man turned, finally reacting as a father, to enter the house, but the midwife grabbed his arm.

“Sir?”

The man met her eyes.

“The baby,” began the midwife. “The baby didn’t cry. Babies always cry when their born. But this one—she’s perfectly fine it is just—” She trailed off. She wasn’t sure what she meant anymore. But the man smiled.

“Oh, witchlings never cry,” he explained. He winked and disappeared into the house.

Fantasy

About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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