By Anne Nassar
Nana was pregnant. She kept it a secret from her entire family, because she was 51 and did not expect it to end well. She only told her husband and Tessa, her favorite granddaughter, her best girl.
When the time arrived Nana sent for Tessa. She was given some responsibilities. She was to wipe her grandmother’s sweaty brow with a wet cloth, and bring her water to drink. There was to be blood – she was not to mind it. Once the baby was born, she was to go out to the field and get her grandfather, and he would take care of the rest. The labor was easy and the delivery was uneventful. But there was something wrong with the baby. It had extra arms and legs
Tessa was shocked. She had heard of Siamese twins – but this wasn’t two people stuck together. This was one person with a spare body.
Nana asked to see the baby, which was still attached to her. Tessa did her best to wipe the slime off of the squirming, mewling baby. Then, she picked it up. It quieted.
Upon seeing the baby, Nana gave an agonized cry. Tessa told her, don’t worry, Nana, I’ll take care of it for you.
Her grandmother said, sharply, Go get him. Her grandfather could tell by looking at Tessa’s face that something was amiss. They ran back to the house together. When he saw the baby, he drew a ragged breath and looked away.
He told Tessa, don’t tell nobody about this, you hear? He cut the cord and gathered up the baby in a blanket and took it outside.
Tessa made soup for her grandmother, hands shaking, tears running down her face. But Nana turned her face into the pillow. She wouldn’t let Tessa wash her or change the bloody sheets.
When at last her grandfather came back it was night. He didn’t have the baby with him. Tessa hadn’t expected him to, but still. He told her that it had died, that it couldn’t live,
The next day, when it got light, he took Tessa to the place in the woods where he had buried the baby.
“Gotta pray,” he told her.
Tessa tried to, but she didn’t know what she wanted to say to God.
Finally, she said, silently, Hold it close to your heart. But it wasn’t a wish, like most of her prayers. It was an admonition.