A MURMURATION OF MOTHERS

By John Thomas Tuft

Dr. Grace Paraclete checked her schedule for the ninth time, her eyes darting from the road to the iPad, back to the road, in a high-risk ballet of mental gymnastics; trying to prepare herself for the day’s work with her patients, balanced with arriving to the clinic in one piece as her mother used to say. The thought of her mom brought a smile to Grace’s lips, recalling another favorite expression. “Gracie,” the short, intense matriarch would say, “being a mother is a whole lot of hurried waiting. Every day is pregnant with hopes and worries.” Then the sadness came back in a rush. Grace had been a mother. Once. For twenty-five minutes.

A few years back, she let herself remember, on  a “piano kind of day,” days with rain and clouds that kept you inside, she and Aliento awaited the birth of their first child. Mom lived with them on the old homestead. Grace came home from the doctor with serious news to ponder. Their baby girl had a tumor growing in her body the size of a walnut and growing rapidly. Then and there, she and Aliento decided to name her Hope.  The next visit it was the size of a grapefruit. There was nothing that could be done other than to suffer Hope to come to them. By the time of delivery, the under five-pound baby had a tumor the size of a volleyball crowding out life.

The evening before the delivery, Mom asked Grace to go on a walk with her. They slowly made their way through the orchard in the shadow of the mountains, down to the stream, and sat beneath the gentle arms of a willow tree. “Did I ever tell you the legend of this weeping willow?” Mom asked Grace. Grace shook her head no although she knew it by heart. She needed to hear her mother’s voice right now, for some reason. “This was Cherokee land, all through these mountains. The tribe here stored up food as best they could to make it through the winters. One night a raiding party came and stole their food. They faced starvation.”

“What happened?” asked Grace. “The chief put together the best of the braves to go and get their food. He appointed his only son, the strongest and,” here Mom always got dramatic, “most handsome of them all to be the leader. His mother begged her husband, the chief, not to send him. But away he went. His mother sat down beside this stream to wait for him to return. Day and night, week after week, she waited. But he never came home to her. It broke the mother’s heart and she laid down here in her grief and died. The chief buried her here and overnight this weeping willow sprang up. If you sit here in the evening coolness, you can feel her tears bathing you.”

The next day, Grace delivered Hope into this world. Grace held her misshaped and tortured precious body close, wrapped in swaddling cloth, and loved beyond measure. For the twenty-five minutes of her life, Hope did not struggle or cry out. And when she drew her final breath, Grace’s tears guided her on the journey. She and Aliento took Hope home and walked with her and Mom down to the stream. There they laid her to rest beneath the willow. Where in the cool evening you can feel Grace’s tears washing your soul. Next to the grave of Mom, the grandma of Hope.

Grace pulled into the parking lot of the clinic. She checked her mascara in the mirror, clucking at her own reflection. A knock on the window startled her. “Dr. Paraclete, they need you. Quick. Mrs. Pneuma is in labor!” As Grace stepped out of the car, a cloud passed over and rain began to fall. She smiled. “A piano kind of day.” The office assistant looked at her with a question mark. Grace waved her on. At the glass doors she stopped, just for a second, to touch the lettering. It reads “Hope’s Home.”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.