Fletcher: Martha

The February wind howls around the small frame house. It is snowing again.

Inside, a fire burns in the kitchen cookstove.

The fire is warm, but Martha feels the chill in her body. She huddles near the stove under a quilt hand sewn by her mother.

Arthur adds another log to the fire. The kitchen is the warmest room in the house.

In the corner two young girls play quietly with their wooden dolls. They know Mama is sick. They worry.

Arthur encourages Martha to drink some of the broth he has warmed. She tries but the searing pain in her throat does not want the liquid to go down.

Although he protests, she hands the blue enamel cup back to Arthur. Their eyes meet and share the worry neither of them dares to speak.

Martha weeps. But she does not weep for herself.

Martha prays.

Arthur holds her. He fears that she will begin coughing again. He feels her body shake.

Martha has the flu. She is nine months pregnant.

Martha grieves. Martha prays.

The year is 1920. It is a Saturday.

Just hours ago, Martha held the lifeless body of her youngest son. Only two years old, he had fallen victim to the influenza epidemic that had ravished the world since the time of his birth.

Martha knows that her tears cannot last long. She knows that crying will only worsen her symptoms. She is needed to care for her other young son, also devastatingly ill, sleeping restlessly at her side.

She is needed to care for the young daughters who, so far, have not been sick.

She is needed to care for Arthur who cannot raise the children alone.

She is needed to care for her aging Mother.

Martha worries. Martha prays.

She worries not only for her son and herself, but for the unborn child who will arrive any day. Her
breathing is difficult. She knows that she may not survive the labor and delivery.

The oldest daughter, just turned nine, is now taking care of the cooking and what cleaning she can. Martha’s mother helps when able.

While he is still well himself, Arthur walks the two miles to work every day even in the coldest of weather.

As he opens the door to leave, he turns once again to meet Martha’s eyes. There is no need to exchange words.

Martha prays.

It is Wednesday.

The snow has stopped, but the bitter chill remains.

Martha feels the beginnings of the labor pains. She prays that her newborn child will survive. She prays that she will survive to care for him.

Martha’s mother places a cooling cloth on her forehead. The doctor will arrive soon.

A neighbor goes to tell Arthur that it is time. The child will arrive before Arthur gets home.

A boy. He is healthy. They name him James.

Martha is too weak to care for the child. She is not too weak to worry.

Martha prays.

It is Saturday.

Martha wakes to the sound of quiet voices.

The baby, she asks.

Still strong and healthy.

She does not ask again. She knows. Her four-year-old son is gone.

Martha grieves.

Martha prays.

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