Author’s Note: Just so you all know, this is the first in a long string of BABY posts. I’ll be putting other things in between to spice things up a bit, but yeah — babies are kinda gonna rule from here on out, at least until the end of the round!
“Who’s gonna come out and meet Mama and Da-Da soon?” Neil Porter poked his wife’s protruding stomach. “Ye are!”
“Oh, Neil, ye’re such a loon,” Ailís chuckled.
“Shush — oh, what’s that?” He cupped a hand to his ear and leaned in close. “Ye wanna know about yer livin’ accommodations, and then ye’ll come out? Well, I don’t blame ye fer wantin’ ter know more, ‘specially as I imagine that ye’re right comfortable in there.”
“Never mind what Mama might be feelin’ about the situation.”
“Aye, I think Mama wants ter be able ter get a good night’s sleep without ye kickin’ her insides black an’ blue — and Da-Da wouldn’t mind that, neither, seein’ as Mama always turns over so-as Da-Da gets a few kicks in the back, too.”
“Ye put the babe in there, ye ought ter be able ter experience some o’ the joys of it!”
Neil turned a pained look on his wife. “Er — right. Anyway, what was I sayin’?”
“Aye! Well, I wish I could say we had a big room fer ye, done up real nice, but … well, ye’ll be sharin’ with yer sister. But not right away. First ye’ll be sleepin’ in the same room with Mama and Da-Da. That ain’t so bad, now, is it?”
“It shouldn’t be, considerin’ that’s what this little one is doin’ now.”
“Aye, true — an’ Da-Da’s made a nice little crib fer ye to sleep in. So ye can stretch and kick ter yer little heart’s content, an’ ye won’t be wakin’ up Mama or Da-Da.”
“Ye’ll have ter cry ter wake us up,” Ailís remarked drily. “Which I’m sure ye’ll be doin’ plenty of.”
“Aye, Nellie sure did at yer age. Er — well, the age ye’ll be when we finally get to get acquainted.”
Ailís laughed under her breath and rubbed her stomach.
Both parents turned to look at their elder offspring, currently seated and playing at their feet.
Nellie turned her head a little to one side, her little lips pursed together as she looked from her father to her mother and back again. “Da-Da, where baby?”
“Er …” Neil looked at Ailís.
Ailís shrugged. “She asked ye.”
“Er, um, well.” Neil swooped in and picked Nellie up, expertly balancing her on his hip. It was going to be a trial for both of them, Ailís thought, getting used to the small weight of a newborn after being accustomed to lugging Nellie around. “The baby ain’t here yet, Nellie.”
Nellie turned her little head to one side. “When come?”
“Soon, Nellie, soon,” Ailís said, stroking her daughter’s hair. Nellie turned her head to smile brilliantly at her mother, revealing two mostly complete rows of tiny, pearly teeth.
Then she turned back to her father. “So where baby now?”
“Well — um — well …”
“The baby’s up in Heaven with the Lord Wright,” Ailís answered. “He or she is playin’ with the llamas an’ jest waitin’ ter get here an’ meet his or her beautiful big sister — I bet the baby’s excited as anythin’ ter get here, don’t ye, Neil?”
Neil didn’t answer, probably because he was looking at Nellie, who was looking at him, her eyes skeptical. How the two-year-old had learned skepticism at such a young age was beyond either of her parents, but there it was. “Where baby now, Da-Da?”
“Um — the baby’s in Mama’s tummy.”
Nellie’s eyes went wide. “Mama EAT baby?!”
“What? No, no, no! Not — not that part of the tummy!”
“Leave it be! She’s two!”
Nellie’s head volleyed between her parents, then she turned her best pouty stare at Neil. “Mama no eat baby?”
“Mama didn’t eat the baby. It — er — well, in all mummies’ bodies, there’s — there’s a part like the soil, ye know? That’s where mummies grow babies.”
“Oh, Wright, I can’t believe I’m hearin’ this. Neil, she’s two!”
“Aw, she won’t remember once she gets old enough fer any o’ this ter matter.”
“She better …” Ailís’s voice trailed off. She rubbed her stomach.
“Da-Da?” Nellie asked, tugging on Neil’s sleeve.
“What da-das do?”
She looked at him as if he were being too foolish for words. Neil suspected that Nellie had picked that expression up from the ones her mother probably shot at his back — or did all children have that expression naturally? He’d have to watch Grady and Berach’s little ones more closely, just to see.
“If Mama grow baby in garden,” Nellie replied, “what Da-Da do?”
“Oh! Er — well, he’s the farmer, and he plants a seed!”
“In — in the Mama’s belly button!” he said — and then proceeded to tickle Nellie and hopefully drive the conversation from her head.
Nellie squealed and giggled and Ailís smiled and shook her head. “I talked me way out of that one all right, don’t ye think?” Neil asked, looking up.
“Ye better hope she fergets this whole thing, else –” Ailís paused with a slight gasp.
Neil didn’t hear it. “Aye, aye, I know — we’ll have the most confused little girl in the kingdom. But our Nellie ain’t confused, is she?”
“And why is that?”
“Because Da-Da ‘splain EV’RYTHIN’!”
“That’s right, Nellie!” Neil tickled her and she squealed again. “Da-Da knows everything, and who does he tell?”
“An’ why is that?”
“‘Cause Newwie is Da-Da’s girl!”
“And whenever Nellie has a question,” Neil went on, “who does she go to?”
Neil turned around to find his wife doubled over in pain.
“Mama!” Nellie cried out — Neil had to hold the little one tight to keep her from trying to squirm over to her mother. He could see her eyes starting to fill up with tears already.
“Aw, Nellie, don’t worry, Mama — uh — Ailís –”
Ailís looked up with a smile for her daughter that was mostly a grimace. Then she looked at Neil. “Get the midwife.”
“The mid–the midwife! Aye, aye, the midwife!” He started to make a dash for the door.
He stopped. “Ailís, what if she’s with the Lady Clarity?”
“The wha–oh, Neil! Don’t even say things like that!”
“But she could be, the Lady –”
“NEIL! GET THE MIDWIFE!”
“Aye, aye! Midwife!” And out the door Neil ran.
“Neil! Wait! Don’t –” Ailís sighed as she straightened. “Take Nellie,” she muttered below her breath.
It was too late anyway, considering that Neil had run out the door, Nellie still in his arms.
“Oh, Wright — I must’ve married the best-hearted man on yer earth — but he don’t have any sense,” Ailís murmured to herself. She rubbed her stomach. “Sweetheart, I hope ye’ve got yer Da’s heart, that’s fer sure — but please, get me sense! Yer sister didn’t seem ter get much of it, an’ I can’t handle bein’ the only sane one in the house much longer!”
She recalled that, a little over two years ago, she had made a similar remark to Nellie. Nellie had replied with another pain. This baby did not.
Ailís decided to take that as a good sign as she climbed slowly up the ladder and made her way into the bedroom.
This time, being much more familiar with the whole process of birth, and knowing that, though it would probably be quicker this time, she wasn’t likely to have the baby as she bustled about, she was able to get things in some degree of readiness. She got her dress off and neatly folded away, undo her hair (it was going to be a mess soon anyway, might as well just get the thong out and shake it loose) got plenty of sheets and blankets out for whenever they would need changing, and for wrapping the little one in when it finally came. She was still puttering around in her undergarments when she heard the front door open and shut.
Maybe Kata had grown faster in two years, for Ailís felt that she had scarcely any time at all to put the sheet she was folding down and get herself into bed before Kata appeared by the bedside.
“Well,” she asked, “an’ how are we doin’?”
“Fairly well.” Ailís paused, listening. “Where’s Neil?”
“Oh, I sent him on ter yer ma’s.”
“Oh … er, where’s Nellie?”
Kata chuckled. “Yer husband’s a funny one, ye know that? ‘Twas the first time I got summoned with the father-to-be an’ the big-sister-to-be — mind, it ain’t the first time I’ve been summoned by an older sibling, an’ I doubt it’ll be the last, but still …”
“But where is she now?”
“With her da, goin’ ter yer ma’s,” Kata replied. “I told Neil ter ask yer sister-in-law, or yer brother an’ yer pa, ter watch her for the day. She’s too little, she don’t need ter be gettin’ all scared hearin’ what’s about ter go on here.”
Remembering how frightened Nellie had been just with Ailís’s initial cries of pain, Ailís could only nod.
Then, as the child made its presence felt again, she could only grind her teeth.
“Right,” Kata replied. “Enough chit-chat. Let’s get ter work.”
“I know ye’re sleepy, Nellie-Bly,” her father whispered into her ear, “but if ye’ll stay awake a little while longer, ye’ll get ter meet someone who’s gonna be very, very important to you.”
Nellie was tired — very tired. Tired and cranky. She wanted nothing more than to go into her nice warm crib, have her Mama pull the covers over her, and go to sleep for a good, long time. But no, the grown-ups had other plans.
She hoped that whatever they had in mind, it was quick. Her day had already been interrupted enough, thank you! First there was that scary moment with Mama — and then she’d been run all over the village in her Da-Da’s arms. Not that she minded going anywhere with her Da-Da, but she didn’t really like being outside in the cold, with no coat on, being run from one location to the next — and then dumped at Grandma and Grandpa’s house like so much baggage!
Her afternoon nap had started an hour late, and that was an hour of being prodded, poked, and otherwise tormented by her older cousins, Paddy and Katie. And when she cried (as anyone would cry, so beset by them!), she’d only gotten scolded, since “the baby was sleeping.” Wasn’t she the baby around these parts?
Well, now that she was home, hopefully things would get better. Her father carried her up the ladder and into the upper loft. Did this mean that bedtime was to be soon? Nellie hoped so, she couldn’t keep her eyes open much longer. She leaned her head on her father’s shoulder.
“Jest a few more minutes, Nellie.”
The familiar tread went past her bedroom, toward her parents, where Nellie now only went if she was sick. Nellie peeked her eyes open. “Mama!”
“Hello, Nellie. Look who I have fer ye ter meet.”
Why was Mama holding a doll?
A very strange doll it was, too. It moved and wiggled as Mama moved closer with it. It was very small and reddish underneath the dark skin that the doll shared with Nellie.
“This is yer baby sister, Josie,” Da-Da said. “Ye’re gonna have ter be a good big sister now, an’ show her all the ropes an’ such.”
“When she gets a little bigger,” Mama added hastily. “Right now, she’ll mostly jest be sleepin’ an’ eatin’ with Mama.”
This … this was a sister?
Nellie examined the baby as well as she could, given the way her father was holding her. If this was a sister … well, sisters weren’t all that impressive, that was all she had to say.
But both of her parents were looking at her, like they expected some sort of response … if she gave one, she’d probably get to bed that much faster. “Hey-wo, Josie.”
“The beginnin’ of a beautiful friendship,” Da-Da said.
“Let’s hope,” replied Mama.