A Time to Be Born
by Laurie Burger
Tara would be heartbroken, he knew, but even the love of his wife, even her tears and pleading could not change his mind. As he crouched further into the shadows, Thomas thought about what Tara would do when she awoke and found her baby gone.
Thomas was out of breath and it was beginning to rain, so he sat down carefully under a tattered old awning in the alley, obviously left over from the better days the street had seen, taking no pains to shelter the infant from the storm. No, not "the infant," he thought. My son
Thomas had never known his father. He had heard the rumors, of course any child of a single woman in the early 1930's was the subject of much rumor. And, of course, being born in the heart of Alabama didn't help. There, any fatherless child was rumored to be of "mixed heritage," to put it politely. Finally, when he turned thirteen, his mother told him of his father.
"You've heard what people say of me of us, haven't you, Thomas?" his mother asked quietly.
"Yes ma'am," he answered respectfully, although inwardly he was feeling so nervous and anxious he could barely croak out the words.
"You've heard them say your father is black, haven't you?" she inquired.
Again he could not deny her.
"And I'm sure you've heard me called a few names." She stood up and walked silently to the large window that looked out onto the grounds. It was dark out and although the moon was full, dark, oppressive clouds covered it.
Thomas had heard the townspeople say his father must have been black, for surely there could be no other explanation for his skin color. He was darker than all his few friends were, and in the summer he had more than once been mistaken for an African boy. He looked up at his mother by the window. The clouds had shifted and now the huge moon shone down on her. She looked like an angel, he thought fiery red gold hair, deep blue eyes, and skin so pale it appeared translucent in the moonlight. He saw her throat constrict as she swallowed deeply.
"Well," she began slowly with her back still turned to him, "your father wasn't black. When you were born-" she broke off, her breath uneven and painfully loud-"the nurse gasped when she saw you: your split lip, your dark skin. I thought-" again she broke off and this time Thomas heard the terror in her voice, terror long remembered from so many years ago. "I thought you were like him," she finished weakly.
"But I am," Thomas said, confused. "I mean, I'm certainly not like you-"
His mother whirled around, her normally pale face stark white now. "No! Don't you ever say that! You're human! You're-" she fell to her knees.
Thomas ran to her and knelt awkwardly on the floor beside her. Even at thirteen he was already taller than she was. She had buried her face in her hands and was sobbing uncontrollably. Thomas reached out and gently gathered her head in his large hands. He lifted her tear stained face to his.
"Momma," he said quietly. "Tell me."
The child had begun to cry. It was wet, cold, and, no doubt, hungry. The rain had slackened off, so Thomas stood, picked up the child, and began to walk quickly out of the alley and into the street. He didn't know where he was going-he only knew that he had to get away from Tara, far enough away so that she wouldn't be able to find the child and bring it back. Passersby stopped to stare at the tall man, hunched over a small bundle that looked for all the world like a baby wrapped in an old blanket, but couldn't possibly be, for who would carry an infant that way and in such weather? Thomas strode on, oblivious to their stares.
St. Vincent's Hospital. Yes, that looked like a good place to leave the child. Perhaps in the back, close to the trash bins. While Thomas did not want to kill the child outright, he had thought he had no qualms about leaving it to die. However, some part of Thomas whispered that he had to give it a chance, no matter how slight, and so he began to stride purposefully towards the hospital.
"I was seventeen when I met your father," his mother began. "My family lived out in the bayous of Louisiana, and I used to love to go out at night and walk out among the trees. I loved the night " she trailed off.
Thomas wondered at that. "But you hate the dark," he said haltingly. "You sleep with the candles burning every night. We have more candles than anyone I know!" he finished.
"I said I loved the night then. After your what happened I can't stand to be alone, or in the dark." She cleared her throat painfully and continued.
"It was after midnight and dark, oh so dark but for the moon. The moon was full and beautiful, round as a ring. I was looking at the moon when I first heard it."
"It?" Thomas asked.
"A low growl. I though one of daddy's dogs had followed me or worse, one of the wild ghost dogs the servants swore haunted the cypress woods at night. Then he stepped out of the trees. I'd never seen anything like him."
Thomas had. He knew now the face of the Beast and shuddered when he remembered his mother calmly relating the story of her friendship with his father, someone she had begun to call Bete. Thomas remembered her smiling slightly as she told him what her nickname meant. Animal. Beast. He was her age, as far as she could tell, she said, but far larger. He could not speak at first, but by and by she began to teach him a few words. She laughed without humor as she remembered that he had never known what his name had meant.
Then she stopped laughing. Her face grew dark and her eyes swelled with tears as she told Thomas of the night she went back to see him later that month. How he had pounced on her, ripping into her flesh whenever she struggled. How he had raped her in the woods. How, when her parents had discovered her unexplained pregnancy, had forced her to pack up and leave. They cut her off from their family completely, including the lofty inheritance she, as the only child, would have received. With no money, no family, and no husband, she moved to Alabama, where there was work to be had with the help of some old friends.
"And so you must promise me, Thomas," she said to him when she had finished her story. "You must never father a child. The risk is too great that it would be like your father. I was lucky once, blessed with a human son. You might not be so fortunate." And so, that night, Thomas swore to his mother that he would never have a child.
The years passed. Thomas grew older; his mother died. He moved to New York City in the hopes of becoming a writer. When he met Tara and told her his story, she managed to convince him that his mother, while not exactly lying, was exaggerating his father's deformity. She agreed with his childhood assumption: his mother had been raped by a deformed black man and had conjured up the "Bete" either as a sympathy ploy or an honest hallucination.
But the child Tara had given birth to left no doubt in his mind as to the truth of his mother's story.
Thomas paused beside one of the old garbage cans behind St. Vincent's hospital. He was getting more than his share of dark alleys tonight, he thought. The wind whipped through his old tattered trench coat. He wondered of anyone would find the child. If not, no one would ever know of his existence. Thomas and Tara were too poor to even think of a hospital for the birth of their child, and so it was decided that Tara would have the baby at home. The birth was difficult, but Tara and the wretched child had survived. He would tell their few friends that Tara had delivered a stillborn child; he had no family to worry about. Tara's father had disowned her when he had discovered she wanted to marry a penniless writer with no family and no background. Her only other family tie was her sister Margaret, who had left for Paris weeks earlier, leaving behind nothing save her now-annulled husband. He had been supposed to assist with the delivery, for he was a doctor, but he had disappeared after a scandal that caused him to become blacklisted, resulting in his marriage to Margaret being annulled by her father. Thomas had always privately thought that Jacob had committed suicide because after Margaret left he seemed very distraught and withdrawn.
Thomas sat the baby down in the dirt beside the dirty bins full of garbage. That thing was his son; although he hadn't the heart to kill it outright, he couldn't forget his mother's story and he swore that he would not be responsible for this monster.
Thomas looked down at the baby. It had finally dropped off to sleep. Thomas shook his head in disbelief. Any human baby would never have been able to sleep in such conditions. Or perhaps it wasn't asleep. Thomas peered down at the animal face, wondering how ha could tell if it were dead without actually touching it. He finally decided that he had seen the tiny chest move with a breath. He knew he had to get home; Tara had been asleep for almost three hours. And Tara always seemed to know when the child was awake, or hungry, or upset. Thomas had attributed it to a mother's instinct, but it was uncanny how she could know exactly how it felt. It was as if she had some sort of connection with the child.
Suddenly, Thomas heard a noise. He crouched low behind a pile of old, useless gurneys and waited to see who was coming.
From around the corner stepped a beautiful woman in her late twenties with dark hair and an angelic face. He stared in amazement as she began to dig in the trash cans. He stared not only because of her beauty and the oddity of the situation, but also because if she moved ever so slightly to the right she would discover the infant asleep at her feet.
The woman began to hum to herself as she removed several old, discarded hospital gowns and placed them in a basket under her arm. Thomas watched as an old broken i.v. stand caught her eyes and she stepped to her right to reach it. Thomas winced as her foot hit the child and it began to cry.
The woman gasped loudly and inhaled sharply as she bent down and saw the baby. She picked up the child and placed him securely in the basket and tucked the old gowns in around him. She straightened up and looked around warily. Thomas saw disbelief, concern, and compassion on her face as she stared at the child. Finally, her mind made up, she carefully backed up and walked briskly towards Central Park.
Thomas stood and watched her depart. Then he raced back to his flat where he found his wife still asleep. Only an hour later, when he tried to wake her, did he discover the knife she had buried in her chest under the covers when she had somehow sensed what he had done to their son.
Thomas never recovered from the death of his wife. After finding her lying in her bed, he had rushed off, anxious to find his son, the child he had abandoned, his only link to Tara now. He wanted him so badly that he was willing to do anything to get him back. For weeks he watched the area behind the hospital, hoping, praying that the woman would return, although somehow he knew she never would. He tried to write to Margaret in Paris to tell her that her sister had died, but never received any response. A few months later, the police found his body lying beside a letter he had known his son would never read.
To my son,
I know that you have no cause to forgive me for what I've done to you. I can only hope that some day, when we are finally reunited in whatever life comes after this one, you will have the courage and the strength I never had and you will be able to forgive me. The only thing I want you to know, besides my horror and sorrow at what I have done, is that your mother did not want this. She would've tried to stop me if she had known. She died because of me, because of my actions, not because of you. I am sorry that you will never read this or know anything about me or her, but I hope and pray that one day I will be able to see you again.
Laurie Burger is an all-seasons fan, although she prefers classic and SND stories. This is her first story about B+B and would welcome your comments. You can email her at email@example.com.