There I lie sleeping, my cradle shadowed by twilight and candle light. My last recollection before sleep had been of five distant bongs. I am not sure how long I had slept before the thunder cracked, starting me wide awake and screaming. Was my father still here? My entire room was enshrouded in darkness, and I heard frantic footsteps approaching from down the upstairs hallway which led to my nursery. The rain fell heavily in large droplets that pelted the glass panes of my dormer window, and there came a strange scratching sound like something sharp requesting entrance through the wet window. The darkness prevailed.
Suddenly the large wooden door to my nursery flashed open, rattling the walls of my bedroom, causing the mirror above my crib to fall and shatter in pieces all around me. My frightened screams brought a frantic response as my mother rushed from the doorway to my bedside and urgently picked the broken glass from my covers. Her voice was genuine but shaky, “I’m so sorry, oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” she kept saying sorry over and over.
I didn’t appear to have suffered any injuries, and although she looked for them I closed my fist and hid from her the gash in the palm of my left hand. I silenced myself, not wanting to cause her more trouble than it appeared she was already in. I wondered about that as I lay obediently in the crib where I spent much of my time. I watched as she picked up more of the pieces the mirror had left and her reflection showed to me a woman of great beauty and frail heart.
“Damn, ow,” she muttered once and a single red drop landed like thunder on my mocha hand. Like raspberry syrup, it tainted the silver shine of my heirloom ring, oozing, seeking hiding. I quickly licked it away before she would notice.
My vision was hazy, dark as the night was, only the lightening cast shadows of events all around me. His voice was hushed, but still I recognized that my mother had not come into my room alone. There was another, a man whose name I knew to be William, and whose face I had seen before. Hastily they moved further into the safety of my room, leaving the door open just enough to allow for light from the hall. His presence seemed to calm her and I watched them silently, unnoticed. I didn’t make a sound.
My mother was crying but trying to hide it and the man, he was comforting her and assuring her that everything was going to be just fine. In the shadows his face moved very close to hers. I imagined the heat of his breath where it mingled with hers.
She pushed on his chest with clenched fists while her eyes pleaded with his. His large frame easily moved through her protests and he squeezed her shoulders in a firm grip, drawing her very close to him. Her tiny frame caused her head to tilt back as she looked up at him. The thumb of his hand wiped the tear from the flush of her cheek. The other moved to the small of her back, gently bringing her hips to his. I peered through my cradle’s mahogany slats as he pulled her close to him. She did not protest.
He lowered his mouth to hers then, in frenzy. Her blouse ripped open and fell to the floor. She tore at the cotton of his collared shirt as if it were purposely blocking her way. With eyes half closed, his gaze locked on the black lace which teased him in glimpses of her milky fullness, tempting his mouth into a frantic search of hidden dark pearls. He tugged at her roughly, deeply. She gasped, her rapid breaths pleading with him, pressing her body into the swell of his, turning him savage. She tugged at his belt, and I thought someone would hear when he lost all control. His fingers disappeared beneath the cloth of her skirt. Her sounds no longer stemmed from fear.
The dim light seeped in from the west corridor, unthreatening because our houseful of party guests were all gathered with champagne and fine cuisine in the southern back area of the modest mansion. Music sounded faintly as it traveled so gaily up the handrail of the grand stairway, and peeked in through the opening left in my doorway. The man effortlessly lifted my mother from the spot where she stood in black heeled sandals, and laid her delicate frame on the velvet settee where it seemed to have waited weeks in solitude for their love to return.
The full moon lit the dark hair on his chest as I watched him move swiftly by me, his belt jangling and barely managing to hold his pants to his waist. He reached the door which he closed softly, discreetly locking, and his rapid breath seemed to propel him back to her once again. She reached for him and I lost sight of her as he came down upon her, bringing with him the baby blue blanket from the back of the chaise.
I saw only movement from that which was hidden from sight, yet for one brief moment I saw something I had never seen before, a part of him showed how my mother had affected him, his natural response to the touch of her hand. I witnessed a secret between lovers, one the darkness promised to keep, one that bonded deeply to my intrigue.
My presence was dismissed while passion prevailed. His body rose and fell in waves of desire for her, and together they spoke in a primitive language only of sounds. I closed my eyes and covered my ears, but still I heard heavy breaths, staccato, and sometimes a sudden deep cry like wilderness on a hot summer night.
A very long time later certain stillness settled in with the moonlight, not accusing, as it glinted off the large diamond of her left hand which drew traces of circles upon his light, bare skin. If it weren’t for faint whispers and the softness of kisses that follow in the wake of such passion, I might have thought them asleep. Instead I strained to hear their words which seemed to be laced with fear, a continuation of their conversation before their encounter. Dread creeped up from the pit of my stomach to the bottom of my throat. I tried to push it somewhere it refused to go.
“They’ll think it’s her, I know they will,” my mother whispered loudly, her voice sounding hoarse with fear. “I haven’t told you the whole story, we haven’t had time. My God, Will, why haven’t we had time?” She spoke again in desperate sobs, and I worked to know the difference between pleasure and pain. He pulled her in close and stroked her long blonde hair, the opposite of my own which was wild and dark, and he soothed her with shushes, as if she were a child.
“Shhhh, Anna, don’t think on that now.” Absently, he caressed the innermost softness of her slender leg, where it draped over his own. He kissed her lightly, thoughtfully before he said, “I think you’re right, they’ll come for the baby as soon as they realize. Are you sure it’s Acacia? How can you be sure?”
Anna trusted him wholly, and I knew she would tell him the entire truth. Even through damp eyelashes it was obvious how she needed him by the pleading in her eyes. He gave her something my father could not.
“There’s something you don’t know,” she began. He propped himself up on his elbow so that his gaze looked down directly upon her pretty face. Tenderly he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and she continued, “There are certain things only a mother could know, knowings from the night she was born.”
She paused while her smoky blue eyes scanned my room. “I was alone in this room that night,” she continued from somewhere far away. Searching her memory, she said, “It was the night of the Winter Solstice. Sergio had planned another one of his grand hurrahs and we were expecting a house full of people, who were expecting fine wine and delicacies. It was a special sort of night, the longest of nights on the shortest of days. He had planned a bon fire to be lit outside, near the koi pond. I was not feeling well, so tired and not up for guests and I told him so. He didn’t know how he could cancel such a large gathering of people, especially, he said, because it was the expectation that our family continue its dynasty here.”
She meant in this small, elite town.
Continuing her story, she explained, “He meant his family. He dismissed my hunch that the time had arrived. But to me it was more than a hunch. The baby was restless. She would arrive that night, convenient or not. I was worried some too, her angry kicks against my insides made me wonder if she knew what Fate had in store.”
Here my mother stopped talking. She seemed to drift off again and he watched her closely, knowing the importance of what she was saying. He reached across her for the blanket and tucked it up and over her bare shoulder. When she spoke again it was trance-like, and her arms folded in a display of her own protection. The blanket draped down around her middle, but she seemed not to notice. He did not move to cover her. The story she told was familiar, the very one I witnessed the night of my own birthing.
“I felt nauseous, like I needed some air, so I left the house before any of the people arrived and I walked to the park, the one where the creek flows through the center. Here I met an old woman, her wild, grey hair flowing freely in the light breeze of that night. The stars were so bright! I watched them, but then noticed the woman was staring. She looked right at me, or through me. It was more like she stared right through me. She reached for me, her withered hand coming toward me with her palm open. I stepped back, but she laid her hand on my stomach and I remember it was so hot. Her skin was so hot I thought she would burn me. I looked at her face and for a split second her eyes were crimson flames. She spoke to me, her hand keeping contact with Acacia unborn. She sounded strange, gargley, like a hag. Only she was radiant of violet light; the omen’s Enchantress, I’m sure. Even the baby knew, Acacia knew. She flipped inside me, a full somersault. Everything was magical. A star fell as the enchantress began to speak. Before my very eyes her words, they came to life…”
Anna’s story trailed off momentarily while her attention focused inward, lost in her memory. Will raised himself up then to look at her more clearly, questioning if he heard correctly the words she had just spoken. My poised and picture perfect mother had not sounded this way to him before.
He did not interrupt and she did not notice his concern, his doubt, or perhaps it was just that she was beyond care. Instead, she rose and she came to my bed and she hoisted me out, wrapping my baby blanket around me and herself, providing privacy for her nursing child. Other than my occasional feeding sounds, I was quiet as she carried me back to the purple chaise and the three of us sat together, me resting on her chest, her resting on his. I know what she spoke was the truth. It was the same truth I recalled from that very same night. Her voice was distant next she began, her eyes vacant, seeing into the past.
“The baby was coming and I was overwhelmed by the force. I fell to my knees and my breath caught suddenly in my throat. I was hearing the squeaky sounds of the merry-go-round, only the playground was empty, and yet still it began to slowly turn. I imagined I was its rider and the scene as it appeared before me, materializing of the witch’s words, began to spin.
I saw the vision of this enchantress, the Great Seer, as she spoke it into being with her marbley voice, ‘There came to rise a tree, a mighty Oak, whose branches twisted and writhed their way up through the mounded dirt layers of a small island, one that had only recently come to be, amidst the waters near the swollen center of White Wolf Creek.
With each passing moment the tree rapidly revealed itself, pushing through the earth. The highest branch broke through the ground first, and upon its bow stood the Great White Spirit Bear. The branch did not bend from the weight of the bear who stood regally, surveying this land to which he had just arrived. His attention focused on a small child where she lay sleeping in the wild grasses growing uninhibited on the riparian banks of the opposing shore.
From where she slept took silent flight a magnificent bird, a raven, black as coal and glowing of indigo, with two others the same, circling once high above the incredible scene, twice cawing, and twice again, before alighting on another emerging branch. This branch seemed to be reaching for the sleeping child who was now stirring, having been awakened by the call of the raven.
Behind the sight of the child appeared something very strange, an enormous masked creature, the size of a bear cub, hosting not only four legs, as would be expected, but a third set of legs that had formed directly below its midsection, giving it the appearance of a zebra-like caterpillar. In frozen awe, the girls watched the creature enter the swiftly flowing creek and swim without trouble to the peculiar island. Its dexterous paws wrapped tightly about the outstretched branch of the formidable tree and, following suit with the bear and raven, began its ascent.
The dreamy child sat rubbing her eyes with her small fists, adjusting them to the warm rays of the late afternoon summer sun, when strangely, from within this tree, born of its bark, arose a splendid hawk, her red tail releasing from great heights a protection feather which spiraled toward the earth, coming to finally rest on the toe of one small, worn sneaker whose wearer reached for it before rising herself and advancing trance-like toward the turbulent creek.
One misstep sent her slipping down the muddy bank and swallowed by the swift current, heading rapidly toward the peculiar tree on the lone island. The child sputtered and splashed about, managing to grab hold of something wooden, wrapping her spindly arms about its curved protrusion as if it were a strong-necked serpent swimming effortlessly by and delivering her to safety. Spent, clutching tightly to the stem of the feather in her left hand, the child lay unmoving atop the virgin soil. Her vision then granted her sight of something orange and slithering, sidewinding its way toward the thick, protruding roots of the superlative tree. Excitement crept into the heart of the child, although she had yet to be made aware of its source.’”
As my mother spoke, I saw once again the scene take place before my own eyes, each action and creature appearing in the flesh, just as she told it, the same as it had on the night I was born. Only she did not tell him of the roses, nor the true omen. The question did not come up. In birthing me, my mother would shoulder a great burden of which he did not know. I suppose that is why he did not ask.
Perhaps that night she did not notice the flight of the visionary hawk like I had, nor its release of a feather in the center sky over the woods where stood a lopsided tent near the edge of town, within which a new mother nursed her child, hidden well from the dangers of those who might wish her unwell. The feather fluttered first to the north and then to the south, its hue altering from a striped rusty red to colorless brilliance when it drifted next west, then east, aimed steady toward its landing place in the garden of abundant white roses showcasing great pride near the fountain in the downtown square.
The magnificent bird, with its gorgeous red tail, shadowed the whole of the storybook town over which it flew, its high-pitched calls dissipating the laboring screams of my mother. Each hour of my coming became a new measure in some written masterpiece, first one scream and then the other; a symphony of suffering, a witness to the birthing of the baby, the one of which the ancients spoke.
Anna’s gentle voice lulled me back to the jarring present by a faceless voice in the shadowed room delivering a prophetic declaration. “The child in the vision is Acacia, I saw her,” my mother continued, and she was trembling now. Will’s eyes stared while she continued to reveal what she thought she knew. “The Great Seer spoke of the omen which we all know tells of a mark, some sort of sign that the baby would have, like a birthmark or maybe a freckle or something like that…I don’t know, it’s not clear. Do you know?” Her question seemed rhetorical because she forged forth with more, “I’ve seen something on Acacia. Sergio saw it too.” Eyes wide, she twisted her body, angling to stare him directly in the face which brought safety and calm to her heart. She waited for his response.
“What does it look like?” he barely whispered.
My mother seemed relieved, and out tumbled her confession. “It appears invisible in the winter and I never noticed it until this summer,” her words were jumbled, not careful. “It looked like the straps from her bathing suit had caused it, and it was squiggly like an S, only it was lying down, like an 8. Yes, it looks like an 8 lying on its back!” Sounding senseless and unaware, she raced on, “I teased him that he missed a spot when he was applying sun lotion to her back, and he denied it. It never faded away and so even into the winter I kept checking, not letting him know, but I worried that it was the sign the prophet had spoken of, and then today…today with the roses..ohmygosh!..I know it is her.” Her burden lifted, she slumped heavily into him. For a moment she covered her face with her hands and then she began fussing with me, preparing my swaddle and then fumbling to dress herself. “They’ll get her, they’ll come for her I know they will!” she suddenly declared. “They’ll find a way to stop her; they’re already looking. The path of the roses will lead them right to her!”
“Shhhhh,” Will soothed her, but I sensed his agitation. It was all over the news that morning, and he seemed finally to understand its connection and why Anna had been going on about the roses.
The town’s prized garden, a central portrayal of importance, was front page of the paper. I had noticed it this morning at breakfast. My father read the paper every morning, like clockwork. This morning had been no different, except that the news sparked a heated conversation between my mother and father where usually we ate in prim silence.
“She will ruin everything,” my mother said as she returned me to my crib. Will’s eyes probed the corners of my room as if expecting to see someone, something, hiding in the shadows. Briefly he gazed down at me, but quickly he looked away. He did not look back, even as I lay helpless and waiting.
My mother was becoming more agitated. “They won’t allow the prophecy to come true. They’ve seen the omen, and now they will come for the baby. Even if there were another child born at Solstice, another baby girl, how likely is it she would have the same marking as Acacia?”
He stared at her as she spoke, thinking hard on what she had said. Then he looked up from his thought stance and he said with authority, “Anna, we need to go. Get the baby. We need to get out of here, now! Where’s Serg?”
Panic flashed worry across her delicate features at the mention of her husband. Her lover continued, “We’ll call him later to let him know she’s ok, but tonight you can’t stay here. Neither one of you is safe here tonight.”
Eyes wide, she turned toward me, and then stopped. “Shh! Someone’s coming,” her whisper announced. Both of them froze, not making a sound. Footsteps came and went down the hallway, a servant checking the lights. My mother let out an audible sigh. He wrapped his arms around her and they stood like that for a very long time, freeing the moment of chaos and haste. Off in the distance the church bells sounded off a reminder of impending pursuit; Dong!…Dong!…; Will tilted her gaze up into his own and wiped a tear from her cheek. Then he bent down and kissed her; gently at first, but soon it turned desperate. On a sob she pushed him away, turned toward the cradle and hoisted me out.
“I’m not leaving without seeing Sergio. He deserves to know where we are, why we left.”
“Honey, there’s no time!”
“We have a houseful of guests. No one is getting at the baby tonight.”
He kept us in his sights as he contemplated what she said, finally arriving at his conclusion. “There’s no time, Anna.” He ran his fingers impatiently through his own sandy hair. “I know what you’re saying, but there’s just no time. With a houseful of guests this is the perfect chance for someone to grab her. They wouldn’t get caught. I’ll go home and pack. You do the same. Meet me in an hour by the lamppost at the rose garden.”
She agreed, but finally. Then he reached for me, giving a quick twirl to one of my many curls and next bouncing his index finger off the tip of my tiny curved nose, making a short popping noise, what he always did to get me to giggle.
Addressing my mother, he cautioned her firmly, “Don’t leave Acacia alone.” He had a way of sounding my name resolute.
He kissed her once then, briefly touching her lips with his own in a way that pronounced both his guard and his love. Then, just like that, he was gone.
She held me close for a very long time just there in my nursery, bobbing me gently and humming to me the mocking bird song she often sang to settle me. I guess it did the same for her. She had the most beautiful voice, like the harp of an angel. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. If that mockingbird won’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring…” The way the words always came out of her sounding both melancholy and divine, made me wonder sometimes of my mother’s true feelings.
The rose colored flush that had shone high on her cheeks was beginning to fade when she placed me gently back in my cradle. I noticed his scent lingering with hers as she leaned close to kiss me, whispering in my ear, “I’ll be right back, Sweetheart. I’m going to say good-bye to Daddy and then you and I are going away for a very long time.”
My eyes, translucent like a star on the clearest night of the darkest sky, gazed back at hers in trusting innocence. She was my mother, and that was all that I knew. It was enough.
Soon after she was gone a lone woman entered my room. Darkness itself could not mask her presence from me, even when she moved like a phantom. I looked at her with large, curious eyes and she looked down on me through black eyes of a hated glare. “You’re just a baby,” she seethed through clenched platinum teeth, a sharp contrast to her engorged ruby lips. She reached for me, my stiff-bodied resistance no match for her cruel determination. She squeezed me tight in an arm left exposed by her sleazy emerald gown, smashing my face to her nape of stiff, brassy hair, antiquated and controlled, buzzing and tight like a bee hive. She reeked of putrid rose water, and I thought of the omen.
She hesitated, just for a moment while I was her prisoner. Then frantically she snatched my small day bag, shoving inside some essential diapers and a bottle. I bobbed haphazardly in jerking movement with her evil clutches.
Suddenly she froze, cocking her ear. Someone was coming! Cursing and panicking, the woman dumped me hard to the bed, the thump triggering sounds from my elephant mobile, exposing her thieving presence with accusations and unadulterated songs of twinkling stars. In a flash she was gone, out through the side room door leading down the back stairs and in to the kitchen.