The wind rattles the small window pane and she looks up. The dark sky littered with the stars. The moon is clear and lights up the track. She is bent over her child pulling the blanket up over his shoulders, keeping the cold out. He coughs a little; she freezes while looking at him; the candle light flickers in the breeze. She sits down on the little wooden chair by his bed to continue her night’s vigil. She wonders what tomorrow may bring; work certainly… but will he recover? To lose another child would again take the light from her eyes, deaden them just that little bit more make her sigh once again and weep in private. He stirs and she turns, but he murmurs and falls back into his deep sleep. Deathly sleep. She leans over to hear his quiet breathing, his chest barely rises. The candle still burns and his pale skin looks waxen in the yellowy light. He has never looked more beautiful that’s the cruelty of it all. She is getting colder and pulls her shawl to her chin, her bones are stiffening from sitting so long she leans back a little, rests her head on the white washed wall and gently shuts her eyes. Sleep comes but the whistling wind still rattles the glass and cuts through her consciousness. She sees the trees bending and thrashing through the thin fabric at the window. The dark clouds moving quickly. It’ll be a long time ’till dawn…
He is her fourth child. A large, strong boy who can carry the weight of men on his shoulders. His help is needed on the farm. The harvest needs bringing in. Fruit to pick and store, ready for the long winter. She heard of his accident from her neighbour who ran crying into the cottage. He was carried from the field she now looks over and in that short distance her world changed forever. Laid out on the floor voices all around him people jostling to see. Advice being offered the urgency of the situation apparent to all. Carefully he is carried through the small room, up the narrow wooden stairs and laid on the bed. The stark room reflecting her focus. Nothing distracts her from him. He moans and turns cries out her name she rushes to him but his eyes are non-seeing. She’s not there, he can’t find her, a silent tear flows down his cheek.
One by one they leave the cottage the noise down stairs lessens. She hears them say their goodbyes; their wishes for recovery always with that last accent of too much hope that only the hopeless can give. She knows what will happen but as she sits in the tiny room maybe there still is a chance..? He is washed, the bruises show but the blood has gone. His silence is deafening her. She wills him to wake, be the boy he once was if only it were yesterday.
Food left at the door. She lifts the latch, the familiar click open the cottage to the night air. The cold breeze touches her face and she closes her eyes. Bending down for the food she holds it in her hands and looks out onto the field where he should be. The others have long gone but the cart is full and the bales are made. Collection is tomorrow’s job. The heavy wooden door pushes the cold out as it shuts and she looks back into the small room. The fire cannot heat her, her soul is weeping.
The calm in the room is unnatural. Hers is a busy house. Mouths to feed, work to be done. Scrubbing the grate in the morning then lighting the fire to cook. Hard labour is done by all but the changing of the seasons give the rhythm of the day and the sense of purpose gives a satisfaction. Hard work brings sleep, deep and long. His sleep is too deep and she knows this. He will be her third lost child. Her third cross in a graveyard. She will visit him on his birthday, bring a flower, sit a while and remember. She will weep at his grave and say no more of him at home. Her memento will be his blanket, the sewn blanket stitched with love while she sat at the fireside in expectance. She will keep it with the other two. She will remember his face, big and round with his open eyes framed with his father’s curls. She will remember his birth into the world just as she will remember this last night. It gives her comfort for him to be with her. She feels she will break with pain.
Time will not heal her but lessen the ache for a lost son. She rises from the small brown chair and goes to his cupboard and takes out his Sunday best. Not a fine set of clothes but just a little better than the rest. She feels the fibres of the fabric, gathers it in her hands and brings it too her nose to drink the smell of him. Her eyes shut she is lost in the shirt. She turns to the window her eyes becoming tired. She wipes her brow moves her fingers up into her hair and pushes her white cap a little further back. Grief overcomes her and she sinks to her knees then to the wooden floor the shirt still in her hands.
Sleep engulfs her and here she lay for some hours whilst the branches silently dance in the light of the moon.
Slowly she wakes and the confusion of a disturbed night’s sleep clears as she remembers him. She rises quickly and goes over to his bed and his breathing is still the same. No change for the better but no change for the worse. His bruises look violent on his pale skin, the wounds from the fall show their true worth and this takes her breath away as she puts her hand to her mouth to stop the gasp. As she moves to the window the mist is rising from the field and the grey light is beginning to creep though the hedgerows. A pheasant walks along the track with his mate proudly like a gentleman out with his lady. He in his finery and her pristine, head held high. She looks at her own dress, one that was made many years ago, scrubbed so clean over time that the pattern is hard to make out. Her white apron over her long stiff skirt bear the signs of his accident and she moves her hand down to brush the creases away the proudness within her troubles her for a moment until she hears him stir…
She turns towards him in surprise and goes to him. He moves his head gently and calls her name. ‘I am here..’ she says, her voice full of love and she sooths his brow. He’s warm to the touch and this surprises her and she cups his curls in her hand. He gradually opens his eyes and whispers ‘Mother…’ and she buries her head in his neck. He calls again and she raises her head and looks at him. The pheasants call and her attention is drawn to the window where the mist has turned golden orange. A fire seems to be burning across in the distance and she takes a moment to watch the sun rise. The apple tree at the front of the cottage casts shadows; the gold lines of light that pass though make spotlights on the track. She turns to him and he slowly smiles and she knows that this will not be the last day.