arranged marriage, bank, barn, break the ice, chaperon, courtship, dark, daughter, draught, excitement, fire, laughter, livestock, love, pain, pregnant, rain, row boat, sedation, stillborn, swimming, Wedding
She stood there on the bridge watching the river flow beneath, smooth, serene. It was getting dark and the water looked deep and peaceful. She needed the peaceful dark. Will she ever find that peaceful dark? Does she have the courage to try? She knew she could not continue that way any more. Something had to change, but she did not have the energy or the will to do anything about it. She just wanted that dark nothingness, that peaceful dark. She needed to be one with the river.
Suddenly John’s face flitted before her. She shook her head as though to dispel the image. No. She will not think of John. She could only think of that beautiful lost angel. She had held her for a few minutes before they took her away forever. She looked asleep and she remembered crying, even screaming when they snatched her out of her arms. Then nothing. They had sedated her, and kept her that way for a very long time. When she had finally woke up she felt nothing. She was dead inside. Absolutely nothing.
She had been so happy, during the first six months of her pregnancy. She was perfectly healthy and so was Heather. The doctor was happy with the progress and she was so busy with all the plans she had for the nursery. She painted it white with pink trimming. She had the ceiling painted as a light blue sky with little white clouds and sunny little happy daisies all round the walls. The crib was there, the one they got from John’s parents as a gift and she was very clever with her hands. She knitted the most beautiful blanket all in white and pink.
She could actually see Heather in the crib. She even saw her growing up. She envisioned the first day at day care center, then the first day at school. She was looking forward to car pools, parents meetings, ballet or music lessons, play dates and sleepovers. She had even gone as far as to plan up to her third birthday party. The theme of every year would be different from the year before, the color scheme would suit the theme, and right in the center of it would be beautiful Heather who would have her mother’s fair hair and her father’s beautiful eyes.
Then things started going wrong. She thought of that horrible day when she started having the most awful cramps, the rush to the hospital, the panic the fear. She was rushed into the emergency room and given several shots; one of them must have been to calm her down. She did not sleep but she was watching as though she was removed from the whole procedure. For quite some time there was worry and full monitoring by both the doctor and nurses, then things calmed down and they moved her to the recovery room. John had been there all the time looking scared and worried, watching her face and that of the doctor. But finally when things calmed down she fell asleep.
She was discharged the next morning and told to lie down as much as she could. She should have complete rest. She was scared enough for Heather and obeyed the doctor’s orders to the letter.
Two days later a repeat of the same thing. Horrendous pain. Again the rush to the hospital. But this time when they took her into the operating room they gave her a heavier dose of sedation yet she could still hear what was going on. The doctor was saying something about being unable to risk it any longer and would have to let the baby come this time. He was speaking about Heather. Heather was impatient to see her mother, as her mother was impatient to have her in her arms. She felt some excitement. Soon she will have her daughter in her arms. Then the whole atmosphere in the room changed, panic again. Somebody shouted “We are loosing her” then she must have fallen asleep for the next thing she knew she was in a hospital room and John was there, looking as though he had aged ten years. The moment she opened her eyes tears sprang to his and he started kissing her face.
She needed to tell him that everything was going to be all right. Heather was here and they could all go home as soon as she rested a bit. She must have dozed off again for the next time things were a bit clearer. The room was sunlit and John looked even worse in daylight. The birth seemed to have taken more out of him than it did out of her. She was starting to feel better and even a bit stronger and the first thing she wanted to do was hold her daughter in her arms. She looked at John and said “Heather? I want to hold her” He did not meet her eyes but said, “When you are stronger”
Something was wrong. She felt a cold finger of fear touch her soul so insisted, “I want to see her now” He looked so miserable that she started to panic “What is it? Where is she? She’s OK isn’t she? John?” He just bent his head to the bed next to her arm and started to cry. “No, no. I want to see her. NOW”
A nurse rushed in and was preparing to give her a sedating shot but she refused, she was getting hysterical, “I want my baby NOW” Then John told her, “She did not make it. Heather was stillborn”. Suddenly she felt that they were all lying to her. She would not take this without a fight, she needed to see her daughter, stillborn or not she needed to see her and hold her for a minute. She would know when she held her, but for heaven’s sake she NEEDED to see and hold her. The nurse rushed out and summoned the doctor, but still she insisted that she NEEDED to see her daughter. The doctor nodded to the nurse who left in a hurry and came back shortly holding Heather. She stretched out her arms and hugged her daughter to her fiercely. She needed that hug. “Why are the blankets so cold? She needs to keep warm” The doctor came nearer and said, “Just look at her for a minute because we need to take her back for her sake, she needs our attention”.
She remembered she had looked down at the most beautiful face she had every seen. A sleeping angel. But deep down she knew her daughter was now a real angel. But her brain could not accept that and she clung to her so strongly that they could not take her out of her arms till after they sedated her, but in her head she was screaming.
The screaming in her head lasted what seemed like a long time, it only stopped and the numbness settled in when they went back home. She went straight to the nursery, but John had locked the door and steered her firmly to the bedroom, got her settled in bed and kept fussing around her. She let him. Whatever he wanted her to do, she did. He wanted her to eat the soup, she did, he wanted her to sleep a while, she pretended that she did, he wanted her to get up and sit in the living room for a bit, she did. But she was not there. She was floating somewhere where there was a great deal of pain. A soul searing pain that felt like nothing ever did before. Like her heart was burning and being torn apart at the same time.
It was nearly a week since she had returned from the hospital, she and John alone, and the pain was the same. Nothing helped. This could not go on. She needed it to end. She needed to drown this fire in her heart.
She did not know how she got there. She did not know how long she had been standing there looking at the water. She only knew that the only thing that would make her feel better would be to douse the fire in her heart by jumping into that dark peaceful flow of the river and just sinking into that welcome darkness.
She sighed and lifted her leg to the first rung of the railing that would enable her jump over from the bridge into that beckoning water. Suddenly a pair of strong hands pulled her back, turned her round and she was engulfed in strong, familiar embrace. She smelled him before she recognized the feel of his arms around her. John. He was shaking and sobbing. She could not understand what he was saying, and then finally she heard him say, “If you too go, then so shall I. I cannot face living on without you. It was hard enough loosing Heather, but if I lost you too, I shall follow you immediately. If you still want to do it I wont stop you, only know that I shall be right there behind you”.
She lifted her head and looked up in his face. They stood there for a long minute, just looking at one another. After that they both felt very calm, even happy. They were going to be together, all of them. She took his hand and calmly they both turned to the river.
He was worried. The land was getting parched and there was no rain to swell the river to its usual level where water was available for all. This was the second year that the river was at such low ebb. He was starting to really worry how he could meet his payments to the bank.
He had lived on the farm all his life. It had belonged to his father and now it was his after his parents passed. He had married there and had raised his children there. But his children, like his siblings, had all left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Farming they said was getting very difficult and very unpredictable, how could they risk their future on the weather. Well he had, and it had served him well up till now, but if this dry weather continued for a second season, he really did not know what he would be forced to do.
Not only did he have a problem with the dry weather, but also that big ranch that was upriver from his spread was being run very badly indeed. Ever since the old man died and his son inherited, the running of the old place was handed over to that newcomer who knew nothing of the ways of their neck of the woods. He was not aware of the water rights each property had, and the way he wasted his share could easily affect all the spreads that were downriver from them. He would need to speak with him again and try to reason with him. It was not so much malice as ignorance. The man just did not know any better. He was hired because he was a fried of the son’s, and after the old man died and the son inherited the farm, there was no one to tell him that this new foreman was no good.
The man sighed and turned his horse heading back to his house. It was nearly time for the midday meal and his wife would be worried if he did not show up. She knew all about his problems. She was his high school sweetheart and they married after graduation. Neither one of them had ever dreamt of anything but living out their lives at the farm. They both loved the land. It was sometimes a harsh kind of life, but they were both young and healthy and thrived on the challenge. They both worked very hard and the land thrived under their care. They made a good life and had enough to see their children through school and even one of them through college. Their eldest was now a lawyer in the city.
When he was on the porch he could smell the delicious meal his wife had prepared. Before opening the door and going in he looked again at the sky. It was pale and clear with a scorching sun. No hope of any saving rain soon. Another deep sigh as he opened the door and greeted his wife. She looked at him sharply and noted the worry on his face. “Come, sit down. I made your favorite today. There is also apple pie for dessert so leave place for that” She fussed around the kitchen, chattering about the people she met when she had gone into town that morning. He grunted every once in a while, understanding very well that this was her way of trying to help him. There was nothing anyone could do to help him. If rain dances helped he would have gone up and done one, but it was really up the God, and what will be, will be.
‘Getting out of the car when I got home I felt a twinge in my hip, and you know what that means. Rain is on the way” He looked up at that and smiled at her. Yes, he loved her too. That was her way of consoling him, encouraging him and giving him hope. As long as she was by his side he always felt there was hope, even when things were as bad as they were right now.
The payment to the bank was what had him worried. He had never, ever defaulted on that, but then things were never that bad before. He just did not know whom to turn to if the rain did not come. There was a very good chance if it did not rain again this summer the river might dwindle into a trickle and that would wipe him out completely. What could he do to salvage whatever he could? Of course the first thing would be to sell the livestock. First because there would barely be enough water for them to drink, but also because eventually there will not be food for them either. The problem was that all the other farmers would be doing the same, so the price would hit rock bottom. He could gamble and sell the livestock early before the price dropped, but what if the rain came? He would lose out on a very good profit because he did not wait it out. How could people not see how very challenging farming was? His boys thought it was dull. It was not dull at all; it was full of calculated risks, of gambling on your judgment to make the right decision at the right time. If anything, life on the farm was too exciting.
He washed up after the meal and went into the barn to continue with the chores he had left when he had ridden out to check on the river this morning. Although he was no longer a young man, yet he still had the walk and strength of one. As he stepped out on the porch his wife said ‘Take your rain slicker with you, you don’t want to be drenched coming back in with all that rain” He laughed out right at that and went out to the barn.
After working for two hours his wife joined him bringing with her a flask of hot coffee and another piece of the apple pie. He took a break and sat with her and they drank their coffee in companionable silence. When they were done she said not to be too late and try to come in before dusk, as after that the rain would be in torrents. She left his rain slicker with him and returned to the house with the empty coffee mugs. He was a bit irritated by her insistence that it would rain. She knew how much he wanted that and her predictions did not help any, especially as the weather forecast was for clear skies and very dry weather for the next few days at least. But she meant well.
He was finishing up in the barn when he heard a strange noise. It was probably one of those training airplanes from the nearby army post. He finished up with putting everything in order in the barn and picked up the rain slicker and left the barn, turning to make sure that the door was properly shut. He took a step and looked up to the sky. It was getting darker and dusk was upon them, but as far as he could see, the skies were still clear. He sighed heavily and started to walk back to the house. He heard that airplane again, a bit nearer this time. He continued walking with a heavy heart, wondering what he could do when suddenly he felt a wet drop on his cheek. He could not understand, too late in the day for bird droppings, they had all gone back to their nests. Then a second drop. He looked up at the sky and it was now completely dark, he could see nothing, no stars, and no moon, just a black, black sky. With the third drop he realized it was raining!
But how? The weather forecast was clear about the dry spell. Yet his wife did say that she had a twinge in her hip. He barked a short laugh. Was he so besotted still with his wife that he will take her attempts at cheering him up as correct in the face of scientific findings as those of the weather forecast people? But before he could take another step the skies seemed to open up and a deluge of rain fell on his head and shoulders, soaking him thoroughly in seconds.
He was stunned. Then he started to laugh out of sheer relief, and finally he started to skip around in a joyful dance at this sudden reprieve. He could not believe it. It was raining and raining very hard. He just hoped that it would not be just an intense, short bout and then back to the dry weather again. It kept up all the way till he reached the house. He went in and his wife looked reproachfully at him “Why, you are soaking wet! Why didn’t you wear your slicker like I told you? Come dry up or you will catch a cold standing about soaking wet like you are” He laughed out loud and could not help himself, he just swooped her in his arms and twirled her in the air, laughing all the time, while she pretended to scold him.
The rain continued for a full ten days, the river swelled to its normal level, and then some, till there was talk even of flooding. But finally the torrents stopped yet a drizzle continued. The draught was averted and God’s mercy prevailed and saved many a farmer that summer from bankruptcy.
They had been introduced within the context of a family gathering that was set up by his mother and her mother. That was the way things were done in their community. The mother was the one to choose the bride to be. All that the son had to do, if he liked the looks of her, was to show interest and there would be understanding between both families that a courtship was in the making. They would start by seeing each other first at her house under the supervision of her mother, and then in a few weeks it would be one of her sisters or brothers acting as chaperone. But they would not be allowed to be on their own for long periods of time, yet it was accepted by all that this was how it was done.
He was a very good-looking young man and had an excellent future with his father’s business. She was a lovely young girl and came from an excellent family, was very docile and shy, exactly how a young woman being wooed should be.
After the initial dinner at her family’s place, the following week his family reciprocated with dinner at their house. Then there should be an outside outing of a picnic where more time is spent together in a less formal atmosphere and in a more relaxed environment where they could get to start know each other better. It was the height of summer and very warm so it was decided that a picnic by the river would be an excellent choice with the breeze coming off the river.
As is the custom, he picked her and her younger brother up at the appointed hour. She was carrying the picnic basket stocked with what was presumed to be all kinds of delicacies of her own cooking. He brought the wine and the blanket, and off they went in his car.
He parked as near as he could to the river so that they would get the benefit of both the view and the breeze. He spread the blanket and she kneeled on it and started taking out the food for the picnic from the basket. The moment they settled down her little brother disappeared, he ran off to play with some of his school friend who were there by the river. The riverbank was full of people so it was not a problem. They had chaperones galore; there were glances and smiles by some of the people there that knew perfectly well that these were obviously a courting couple. People gave them their space, yet they surrounded them.
They were both nervous as to all intents and purposes this was the first time they would be talking directly to one another without any family buffers. As the man, he felt it his duty to try to put her at her ease, though he was just as nervous as she was. After sitting in silence for a few minutes he stiffly asked her if she was comfortable. Was it too sunny? Would she prefer another spot? Would she prefer sitting under the tree? She kept reassuring him that she was perfectly comfortable and even, after his questions went beyond the normal, she started to giggle. This effectively shut him up. The tension between them was palpable. He wished he had not worn a tie, but it was mandatory that he takes her out the first time wearing a suit and a tie, even though they were going on a picnic. He started to feel choked and ran his finger inside his shirt collar. She noticed his nervousness and took pity upon him and started a conversation asking him about his work. He was a bit distracted, not thinking that she would be interested in taking inventory, which was his current task at his father’s shop. Silence.
He knew it was his turn to find a topic that would be interesting yet appropriate to a delicately brought up young lady in her position. So he started talking about the river. He recited all the facts that he could remember about it, where it originated from and where it flowed to, naming some of the cities and towns in ran through and even how much traffic ran up and down the river and the goods that were transported on it. When he no longer had anything more to say about the river it was her turn to find something to say. She suddenly asked him ”Did you ever swim in it as a youngster?” He was surprised as it was not the kind of question he had expected from her, but he replied readily enough “We were not allowed to swim in the river, my mother has a fear of one of us drowning. But I was on the rowing team in high school” he was proud of his record there as his team always won. “Oh” she said and looked interested.
If he had known her any better he would have immediately been on his guard at the look on her face, but all he saw was genuine interest and was flattered. She was getting desperate trying to break the ice. This situation was getting intolerable. A plan was beginning to form in her head so she started asking him about his rowing career and his team and how many times they won and whom did they beat. He became more and more animated and found it very easy to talk to her about his abilities in a rowing boat, reminiscing about his days of glory as captain of the rowing team. He got so worked up that at the right moment when she asked if he could take her on a little rowing trip on the river right away before they had lunch, he agreed without thinking. She startled him by jumping up in excitement and he was slightly taken aback when she told him that she knew of a place that rented rowboats by the hour just a little way down the river. They could walk there. He agreed but started having reservations, not knowing if this was something they should do or not.
She was so excited and so animated at the prospect of a boat ride that he ignored his reservations and started to enjoy the prospect. He would show her how great he was at rowing a boat, how in control he was, he really saw it as a wonderful opportunity to try to impress her by his skills.
They found the man who rented the boats and rented one for half an hour. He thought that that would be acceptable and vowed that they would not be out of sight of the shore all the time. She just gave him a dazzling smile and he swelled with pride as he paid the boat owner and helped her in, pushed the boat off and nimbly jumped in.
This was a cumbersome rowboat, unlike those used for racing, but still the principle was the same and he started maneuvering it slightly away from the shore. It was a pretty hot day and there were many boats on the river, quite a few of them speedboats. But there were still a number of rowboats with couples, probably all in their same situation, courting. He took the boat out into the deeper part of the river, away from the shore, but still within sight of it. He was telling her all the time about the finer points of maneuvering a row boat, how to properly row, when all of a sudden she jumped up and started waving at another boat that had another young couple. They seemed to be heading in their direction, but she was paying more attention waving at them than she was to the balance of the boat. The boat started rocking precariously and he sharply told her to sit down or else they would capsize.
He had not finished the sentence when that was exactly what happened. Both of them were dumped into the river. The trouble was that he did not know how to swim and started floundering and trying to grab an oar or the body of the capsized boat. But as he tried to grab on a speedboat rushed by leaving them bobbing up and down in the waves its wake generated. He started to panic, but suddenly he felt a strong arm come round his chest and he was supported and held above the water and slowly steered to shore. His delicate companion was a very strong swimmer and swam like a fish. She dragged him to the shore, sat him down and asked if he was all right.
His near death experience had its effect on him and he immediately started shouting at her and blaming her for jumping up and down and capsizing the boat. She had the presence of mind to realize that his temper was the result of the fright he had had and was contrite and very humbly apologized. In a few minutes, after he calmed down he looked at her and found her shoulders shaking. He was immediately concerned that she was chilled or was going into shock after that horrible experience but when he touched her shoulder to try to comfort her he saw that she could barely contain her laughter. His delicate, shy fiancée-to-be was laughing her head off. Tears were streaming down her face as she tried to explain. “You should have seen your face when you hit the water, it was priceless” and went off in another peal of laughter. “You see I was just trying to break the ice, not drown you. I’m so sorry, I hope you forgive me”
He tried to keep a straight face but he could not “You are forgiven, only if you don’t try it again” he said grinning.
Her laugh was so infectious and her humor totally inoffensive, he started to laugh as well. Gone was the stiffness of the morning and they sat there on the shore of the river, both soaking wet laughing and talking as though they had known each other a long time. The ice was thoroughly broken. He started looking forward to getting to know this young lady who seemed to be totally different from the first impression he had of her as docile and quiet. Life was getting really interesting.
A few months later they had their wedding reception by the river for they both felt grateful that it was through the river that they started to get to really know one another which eventually led to their falling in love and turning an arranged marriage into a love union.
23 Oct. 2014