Emma couldn’t run anymore. Her legs ached under the extra weight. Her arms were sore as she swapped them between her belly and keeping her balance. Still she ran, her green shawl flapping in the cold, north wind. Her baby kicked and twisted and squirmed inside her, and she felt twice the adrenaline she had ever felt before. My child knows, she thought.
She had made it out of the grounds of the house, over the road and into the long grasses. It was her only opportunity. Perhaps she wouldn’t survive the night. But she had to try. She wouldn’t live this life, that was for sure. Death was better, if it was on the cards.
The grasses had snakes, she knew, and she – it was a she, the doctors said – would be vulnerable to all kinds of dangers in the open fields. Emma knew she had little energy and even less time to find a spot.
Finally she stopped, the weight of the child demanding that this be the place. It had to be; they were out of options. Emma knelt down in the meadow, alone. If anyone had seen her leave they’d have a hard time finding her, as long as she kept quiet. But such a thing was hard to do. The pain was excruciating, and she laid down on her back, breathing as they taught her, stuffing a part of her shawl in her mouth and biting down. Sometimes, the doctors said, it took days. I could die here, Emma thought. We could both die here. She could scream for help – probably someone would hear her and come running, but then that would be it. The man she had loved, the promise she had made, the choice to stay: Emma regretted it all. She was not about to let this child suffer for those mistakes.
Her regret worked like a strange analgesic, like when her father would bite his own hand to get a moment of relief from the pain in his bowels. It gave her conviction, and she threw more of the shawl over to muffle her grunts and cries. Hours passed, and she grew weak. It was the dead of night now, and she felt anew the fear of being alone, when anything could happen now.
And then here was another cry, from another mouth. The pain subsided a little, now a sharp throb where she had torn herself in two for her, and she felt the legs and feet slide out of her like it was nothing compared to what had gone before.
She cried. Emma held the child to her breast and pressed its face into her. Stop, please stop.
The child soothed, but she couldn’t stay. She heard shouts in the distance. Time to go.
Emma removed her shawl, grass green, and stained red in places with blood. She looked around her, the world foggy, misty, confused. Nothing safe.
A rose bush. Rose. Whether they saw each other again, that was her name. Emma wrapped Rose tightly in the shawl, and placed her carefully in the bush, carefully amongst the thorns. Then, with one quick parting kiss on her forehead and a last, desperate glance, Emma used the last of her strength to push away, and hurry back, as fast as she could, through the grasses to the road. Please don’t cry, she wheezed under her breath. Don’t cry. I’ll come for you. When they asked her what had become of her child, she would say she was born cold, lost; and they would say in return she should never mind it, but they would never know the truth: that Emma had got away with birth.