Power of Prayer, Chapter Two: The Baby
The young mother leaned her head back against the rocking chair, closing her eyes. She continued to pat the back of the infant draped across her knee. Pat-pat pause. Pat-pat pause. The pat-pat fell as she rocked back and the pause came as she rocked forward. For the past three hours she'd rocked and patted, rocked and patted. This is my life, she thought, tears sliding down her cheeks. The Doctors said there was nothing wrong with her daughter. Innumerable tests all came back showing the child was healthy, but there was something wrong. Every night for the past 3 months her child screamed. Not a fussy attention-seeking wail but a shrieking screech of pain and fear. This was not a scream which could be ignored, and unfortunately, it was not a scream that went away. The only thing that seemed to help - and that help was inconsistently helpful - was draping the child across her knee and rocking while patting with a heartbeat rhythm.
And this she had done for several hours every night for three months. Her child wriggled against her thigh and the mother opened her bloodshot eyes. Tonight the pat-pat pause would not succeed for the full night, she knew. Her daughter hiccuped a whimper and began to squirm in earnest. The mother looked out of the nursery door to the barely visible clock hanging on a far wall. The analog clock read 2:13. There would be no sleep this night. Her daughter whimpered and writhed, arms joining in the fidgeting begun by her fat legs. Her round face pinched into an awful woebegone scowl and a wail poured from the small pink mouth. The mother lifted her child from her leg and cradled the screaming infant her arms. Everything else had been tried on previous nights: singing, reading, toys, nipple, bottle, pacifier, co-sleeping, the scream it out method, mimicry, driving, baths, rubbing, talking, television, diaper changes, clothes changes, naked time. Everything worked with the same effectiveness, which was none.
Usually sadness accompanied these sleepless nights. Sadness or sorrowful resignation. Both mother and child would cover their faces in tears, the child screaming and the mother quietly sobbing as their mutual desperation filled the room. As the little girl's wails pounded into the mother's ears and reverberated through her skull, a bubbling, spewing rage gurgled up. In a moment of frantic, visceral excitation the young mother screamed "Why won't you do something?!"
Her scream was to no one and everyone.
The words poured out not from a lower middle class American woman but from the essence of motherhood which had existed before humans wandered the earth. In that moment the woman was every mother - human and animal - who had ever watched her child suffer and been helpless to assist. Her words tapped into that mystic something and ran through the air, into the ground, out into space and into the nether-sphere.
One thousand miles away, just outside an unadorned window which glowed blue: an answer.
The old woman sang. Her voice lifted and pitched, warbling threateningly before dropping down to curling hums and growls. Her spirit hovered outside the window on shimmering blue. Moonlight covered the dark neighborhood in an ethereal glow, casting ominous shadows with sickly silver light.
A cry in the night, guttural and desperate.
The spirit piqued and flew, up up and up through the air toward the black, up past clouds, with a scream of animistic delight. The neighborhood shrank away and the city became a field of glowing orange lights. Up and up until the city was a single light in a sea of black and other orange specks sprawled across the inky dark. Soaring and sailing with frenetic whirls, the spirit spread ethereal wings and hastened through the night. Over a thousand miles and down down toward a tangerine dot. The dot spread to a thousands dots, a million dots, and buildings and roadways sailed into view. Down through the dark, down a large street and a smaller street. Down to a cluster of three-high stacked apartments, weaving between street lamps and oak trees to a building in the back of the complex. The spirit hovered in the air near a window. The air was warmer here, damp, oppressive.
A wail of suffering and misery pitched over the sob of brokenness.
The spirit drifted along the wall, pressing her essence against the vinyl siding, seeking entry. Around a sharp corner and over cool concrete stairs to the front door and through the crack at the bottom. The home was sparsely decorated and the kitchen sink piled high with dirty dishes. Toys and blankets covered the floor, a discarded bottle and neatly folded dirty diaper. Hovering above the untidy carpet, noiseless and invisible, the shaman's spirit glided to the nursery where an infant screamed and a mother wept.
The mother's desperate cry still echoed in the spirit's ears and she eased closer, invisible, probing. Her blue ether brushed against the mother with a curious caress.
The mother grew still, finding an unknown groundedness and calm, unexpected and unknown.
The shaman stroked the child's hair, and the child looked up with awe at the presence felt but unseen. Her eyes drifted slowly around the room seeking the presence and finding it not. Finger-like tendrils stretched toward the infant, probing and caressing over the sandy blond hair and bright hazel eyes. Caressing fat, round cheeks and chin, over the child's ribs, seeking, curious.
There. In the abdominal region a knot in the gut squeezed and gnarled. The spirit reached toward the child's gut and grabbed tight to the infant's spiritual sinews and began to pull. The infant squirmed, confused, but not distressed. The mother found herself unable to move, unable to panic, unable to feel anything but unquestioning calm.
The spirit pulled and tugged at the knot, smoothing out snarls with the brute strength of a woman determined to victory. For an hour she pulled and sorted.
The mother thought she heard a strange magical cry and ululating song on the breeze. But there was no breeze inside the apartment to carry a song.
As the knot unwound the child stilled, eyes wide. With every released gnarl the child's shoulders and head relaxed. Slowly her eyes began to drift closed and she slept. When no more of the knot could be found the spirit flowed away from the mother and child.
The mother's shoulders drooped as she watched her child sleep. Her entire career as a mother had been spent watching her child suffer night after night. The past three months she had known nothing but an overwhelming sense that she had failed as a mother, failed in that basic premise of motherhood: to comfort and protect. Watching her child sleep peacefully in her arms she felt for the first time the joy of successfully finishing a day with a calm and blissful child. She rocked slowly in the chair, overwhelmed by the prospect of sleep.
The spirit flitted from the nursery and through the crack in the front door, back into the night.
The shaman's spirit careened through the window and settled against the old woman's skin. Her voice, ragged and dry now, still scratched out incoherent words, rasping mysticism into the cool night air. As her spirit settled she slowed the rocking chair and opened her eyes to the dark. The moon was setting as she pushed herself to standing and set the thin black book on the small table. She pushed open the door and stepped into the dark hallway, removing the fog and magic colored shawl, draping it across the knobby wooden peg. Weary booted feet shuffled along the hall toward the strip of golden light pouring from her bedroom door. She was glad she'd left the light on. A grey tabby walked out of the pool of light and met her halfway down the hall, curling around one foot and then the other, greeting her with a chirping call before trotting back into the bedroom.
The old woman stripped out of her skirt and shirt. She stood in her under garments and considered the pleasantness of a bath before discarding the idea. She needed sleep. Removing her undergarments she crept to the tall four-poster bed and pillow top mattress. Peeling back the thick maroon and gold comforter to expose cream colored sheets, she slipped her creaking body between two sets of Egyptian cotton. The cat padded up to the pillows, kneading and purring, circling her head as she clicked off the lamp and rustled down into the blankets. She felt the cat flop on top of the comforter beside her, the gentle pressure reminding her that while she was alone, she was never alone. And the old woman slept.