Death's Midwife

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A Clam for Maggie
Death's Midwife
Miracle Muskie
Tater Babe Trio - Episode One
Tater Babe Trio - Episode 2

A Short Story
 by Ruth Souther

      The old woman sat with her head forward, gaze adrift in the flowered print of her dress. Her white hair was short and thin, with patches of pink scalp showing through. Years of hard life had left her fingers twisted and ankles too swollen to carry her more than a few steps away from her porch, yet she smiled to herself as she rocked. The bent cane chair creaked much like her bones, resisting the movement.

      “Hello, Grandmother.” A young woman stood with one foot on the first step of the rickety stairs, her left hand resting lightly on the iron railing.

       The old one grinned at the respectful way the sweet-faced girl spoke to her.

       “I bet ye call all us elders grandmother, don’t ye child?” The old woman’s laugh bubbled up in a deep rich sound denying the ninety-eight years of her life. “Though I don’t mind, not a bit. Haven’t heard it since all my grandchildren up and left.” She nodded, lost for a moment in the past. “They was good kids, too good fer here, I reckon.”

      “You have lived long and well, Grandmother, with many offspring. It is my honor to be here.”

      “That’s right kind of you.” The old lady squinted, one hand lifted to shade her eyes though the porch was a cool oasis in the heat of the day. “But I don’t recollect yer kinfolk. Who be you?”

       The girl responded with a chuckle, hinting at a secret joke. “You may call me Medea.”

       “Well, Medea, what is it ye want today?”

       “I think you know already,” Medea answered. “I have come to take you away from here.”

       “What if I says I don’t want ‘t go anywheres? What if I want t’ die here? Been here all my life, birthed my babies, raised ‘em on up…buried a few, includin’ my man. I don’t really want to go anywheres.”

        “Ahh,” sighed the girl as she sank down on the first stair. “I only want to do what is best for you.” Medea sighed. “Aren’t you curious to know where I am taking you?”

      “They says curiosity killed the cat, and I ain’t no cat.” The old woman shook her head. “No sirree, I’s happy here.” Her gaze soared to the mountains in the distance. “I used ter run along the tops of those there hills.                                                                                                    

       “You will run again, Grandmother.”

The girl spoke with a gentleness that made the old woman’s heart hurt.

       “Not in this here life,” the old one answered, faded eyes wandering to the dusty path leading away from her house.

        “No,” the girl agreed. “Not in this life.” Medea’s fingers crept up to cover the age-spotted hand nearest her. “Truly, though, you must come with me. There is nothing left here for you.”

        “I ain’t goin’ without us having a chat first…granddaughter.” The old one smiled slyly. “Been awhile since I had chat.”

        Startled, the girl withdrew her grip. “Granddaughter? I have never been addressed in such a way.” A smile lit her tender face. “I like it.” She nodded, “Yes, I like it. Go ahead, then and let us talk.”

       Grandmother began to rock again. “Death, or leastwise one of his own, came to this stretch last week. Sure enough did, up and took Tillie’s babe. Silvy tried to save him, lil’ bit that he was, but he was snatched up with hardly a breath in between birthin’ and dyin’.” Grandmother’s head bobbed up and down as she gave a wheezing cough. “It was awful hard on Tillie bein’ as it was her first. The babe was scarce a minute old with no chance of knowin’ what he might’a been. It was real sad, it was.”

      “Why so, Grandmother? Is death less appreciated than life? They are both gifts.”

      “Tillie’s babe didn’t have chance to know life. Nuthin’ to appreciate about that.”

       Unperturbed, the girl laced her fingers around one knee. “Is it not possible that desire might be better than breath?”

  “Ye mean, what is at the end o’ life? There’s a question that ain’t got no answer,” Grandmother retorted. “Ye calls it ‘desire’, I calls it turrible. Death haunts us all ‘r lives and in the end, he catches us, sure ‘nough.”  

  “But Death brings peace,” protested Medea.

       “So does life, why won’t he leave us in peace until then?”

       “Well…” the girl cleared her throat. “I don’t know.”

        “He don’t even come his self, but sends his creature…”

         “Death’s midwife is no creature.” Medea’s face was flushed. “Who do you think moves between here and the Shadowland where Death waits? The midwife guarantees safe passage.”

        “An’ what of those left behind who weeps for the ones gone? She ain’t got no feelin’s for them?”

        “What’s left behind is not her concern,” the girl answered stiffly. “She only cares for those who are leaving.”

        “That just ain’t right.” Grandmother shook one gnarled finger at the girl. “Why don’t Death care? He gets us sooner or later.”

        The young woman shrugged. “Death is called, you know. He doesn’t just…pick…”

        “Called? Like on one them tellyphone things?”

        “Not exactly like that, but still, called,” Medea insisted.

        “And Tillie’s babe called out to Death?” The old one snorted. “Bein’ just a few breaths with the world?”

         “Of course.” With one finger held up, she added, “I know you’ll want to know why. Perhaps he didn’t like what he saw. Maybe his reason for being here was already done.”

         “He was too young,” the old woman said. “Way too young. Not like me.”

         “Not like you,” granddaughter agreed. “No one is like you. No one knows like you.”

         “They says that Death is a han’some fella, and his midwife, well, she’s a pretty little thing, full o’ kindness for them that’s dyin’.” The old woman winked, the creases in her

face deepening. “But who’d really know, seein’ as how she takes ye to the Shadowland and leaves ye there. Not much ye can say after that, is there?”

          “I suppose not.”

          The two women sat in a companionable silence until the old one grunted and shifted in her seat, then spoke again. “How do ye know when ter call? How do ya know it’s time?”

          “You feel it.” The girl brushed a silky strand of hair from her cheek. “Like the wind.”

          “How do ya call to sum’un like Death?” Grandmother whispered, a bit afraid.

           Granddaughter rose to her feet. “You have already called.”

           “I su’pose I knew that.” The old woman reached to take the young, strong hand held out to her. “I su’posed that was why ye was here. Didn’t think it was just to pay a visit.”

         “But it’s been nice…talking…” Death’s Midwife smiled.

         “Thank ye, granddaughter, fer all the day’s I been here.” Grandmother stood up, delightfully free of pain. She felt feather light, and could breath in the clear air without coughing. Eyes that had been clouded could see again. She danced a little jig before leaping to the ground, the story of her life bursting forth in a song.

         “You’re welcome,” the young woman answered as she followed along behind.                                                                                           

Ruth Souther, Author of the Immortal Journey series