|Book Release scheduled |
for May 19, 2011
When I was almost fourteen years old, Mamma Barbara fell into a fever. The leaves were just starting to change that week, and I was anticipating the crisp weather and the pleasures of Mamma Wanda’s stews, which she only made after the summer had passed. As the oldest student, Mamma Barbara had made me her teaching assistant, a role I relished because I got to spend more time with Mamma Barbara, a kind and beautiful woman who loved books more than anything else in the world.
Mamma Barbara was far along in her pregnancy, having succeeded in carrying the baby well past the danger point. Though I knew only a little of how grownups lived, I understood she had lost four babies in the last four years. I imagined the small children letting go of her when she wasn’t paying attention and wandering off into the forest surrounding our home. Every time she lost one of her children, she would be so sad I feared she would wander off to look for them and never come back. I would try to cheer her up by hugging her or bringing her drawings, but if the other mammas caught me, they would tell me to leave her alone and stop being such a pest. Before long, she would be back to normal – at least on the outside. But if you looked in her eyes, you could see her hidden sadness.
Anyway, this time her baby wasn’t going to disappear into the forest; all of Mamma Barbara’s fear and sadness were replaced with a kind of exhausted happiness as each day passed and the baby grew inside her. Mamma Una, the oldest and wisest of the mammas, came to the schoolhouse to talk to Mamma Barbara one day while the younger children were at lunch.
“Sheena can take over classes until after the baby is born. Now that the harvest is over, the garden won’t take up much of her time.”
Mamma Barbara laughed. “Sheena’s hardly in any condition to do my job.”
“What do you mean?”
“Una, who will supervise the children when she nods off?”
“Irene will. Won’t you, my dear?”
I nodded reluctantly. It wasn’t that I disliked Mamma Sheena, but I couldn’t help being disturbed by her constant state of sleepiness.
“Why not just let Irene teach while I’m recuperating? It will be a good experience for her.”
I felt a blush of pride rise on my cheeks at Mamma Barbara’s words.
“She’s still a child,” Mamma Una said dismissively. “She’s too young to be left in charge.”
“You’re wrong. She’s very mature for her age.”
“And you know why that would be a problem.” Mamma Una raised her eyebrows and looked at Mamma Barbara meaningfully.
“Why would that be a problem?” I asked.
“Never you mind, young lady,” Mamma Una said. “Go inside and help Mamma Wanda with lunch.”
I frowned but left the two mammas alone. In the main house, Mamma Wanda greeted me with a brief hug. Despite my dislike of cooking and cleaning, I loved being with Mamma Wanda.
My siblings were already eating their dessert – a cobbler Mamma Wanda had made from some of the peaches I had helped her can during the summer. Though I had claimed not to be hungry, my stomach rumbled loudly at the smell of the sweet dish.
“I thought you weren’t coming in,” Mamma Wanda said as she went back to washing the lunch plates.
“Mamma Una made me leave,” I pouted.
“I’m sure she had a good reason.” The dishes clanked in the sink and the kitchen’s warm, moist air made me want to curl up and take a nap right there.
I mumbled my agreement.
“Are you hungry? Do you want a sandwich?” Mamma Wanda was the only one who knew why I didn’t like to eat lunch on Fridays: I didn’t like fish. Father always went fishing on Thursdays, and therefore, we always ate fish on Fridays. Sometimes, I got lucky and Father didn’t catch enough to feed all of us. Usually, though, there was plenty to go around and extra to salt-cure for the winter. Mamma Wanda caught on long ago that I was usually not hungry on Fridays. When she was able to do so, she always offered me a honey and butter sandwich to keep me from starving.
“No, thank you. I just want some of the cobbler, if that’s okay.”
Mamma Wanda wagged her head in exasperation, but dished me up a helping of the dessert.
“Mamma Una wants Mamma Sheena to take over school when Mamma Barbara has her baby.” I hopped up on the corner cabinet behind her to enjoy my treat.
“Hmmph,” Mamma Wanda sounded.
“That’s what I think too. She won’t be able to stay awake – doesn’t matter how many screaming kids are around, she’ll just fall asleep.”
Mamma Wanda’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. She rarely laughed aloud; she said it wasn’t dignified. None of the mammas laughed easily except Perdita, who was the youngest of all of them. I made it my business to try to get them to laugh – a rewarding but scantly paid job. If my goal at that moment had been to make Mamma Wanda laugh aloud, I would merely have done my impression of Mamma Sheena. However, humor wasn’t my aim that afternoon. “I’m serious, Mamma. How is she going to supervise all of us when she’s facedown on the desk?”
“Now, Irene, don’t be dramatic. You know you’ll just take over for her.”
Setting my dessert down for emphasis, I said, “Mamma Sheena doesn’t like me very much. I doubt she’ll be happy when she finds out I’m more teacher than student.”
“Sheena loves you just as much as we all do, sweetheart. Why, just the other day—”
The kitchen door crashed open and Ulmer, one of my eight-year-old twin brothers raced in. “Mamma, come quickly! Something’s wrong with Mamma Barbara!”
“Oh, no!” I jumped from the counter and grabbed Mamma Wanda’s still-wet hand, dragging her along with me as I raced after Ulmer.
In the classroom, we found Mamma Barbara with her head in Mamma Una’s lap, her normal color drained and pain creasing her face.
“Try to relax, Barbara,” Mamma Una soothed. “We’ll take care of everything. Just let the pain go.”
A scream wrenched itself from Mamma Barbara’s body and she went limp, her eyes rolling back in her head.
When Mamma Una realized she wasn’t alone, she started issuing orders. “Irene, get Mamma Sheena. Ulmer, find Father. Wanda, help me lift her.”
I glimpsed Mamma Wanda as I ran from the room. I thought I saw her shoulders shaking.
If you have enjoyed this excerpt, I hope you will look for Forsaking the Garden on its May 19th release date. In the meantime, please check out The Prophet's Wives and The Thief of Todays and Tomorrows.