Little Star, Second Place Adult Division

By Alana Harrison

Waaaaaa wa waaaaa

I spin toward the sound, searching for the screaming infant. Tall pines loom over me and thick trunks obstruct my view. I begin to run toward the cry, dashing over fallen logs and clawing through brambles. The chill of the night seeps through my thin night dress and the darkness lies thick as a blanket, but I run on. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, my foot catches and I fall to the damp earth. Heaving in great gasps of air I listen for the wail. It seems to be getting further away. The woods close in around me as I stand, locking me in a cage of limbs and brush. I have to reach him, I think, frantically trying to break through the circle, I have to calm him. He needs me! The trees block all trace of light, but I still hear the baby clearly. Suddenly, the earth drops out from under me and I am falling. Down, down, down into the black heart of the earth, the wail echoing all around me. I cover my ears, trying to block out the hopeless cry, but there is no escape.

I lurch upright in bed, my heart hammering twenty miles an hour against my ribs. I frantically scan the small bedroom, the echo of the baby’s cry still ringing in my ears. Slowly, my pulse calms and the nightmare dissolves into the darkness. Sliding out from under the sweat-dampened covers, I shuffle from the room and down the stairs to the front door. It creaks quietly as I pass through and slip my bare feet into my rubber boots. Standing on the gravel path, I inhale deeply, the chill of snow and smell of pine clearing my thoughts. I look up through the canopy of blanketed boughs to the stars above, dancing like bright flames on the sea of black sky.

My father used to call me his little star, but when Mom got sick and died he retreated into his whiskey and drinking, forgetting me. The stars were my only comfort, but tonight I search the heavens for something more. An answer. The answer to a question that has plagued me for almost a year now. I wrap my arms around my empty belly, shivering in the chill night. A shadow appears at the edge of my vision as a thick quilt wraps itself around my shoulders, a strong chest pressed against my back.

“Thought you might be getting cold out here,” a familiar voice says softly in my ear.

Smiling, I turn in the quilt and look up at my husband. Herman’s eyes shine in the moonlight as he studies my face, concern written across his. “Was it the nightmare again?”

I nod mutely. He leans in and kisses me gently on the forehead, hugging me tighter. “Oh, Hannah,” he whispers into my hair and I wish I could stay here forever, wrapped in his embrace, safe and protected against any invasion. But the thought of why I am out here returns and I turn back to the stars. Herman sighs behind me and rests his chin on my head. “Sure glad I left Seattle,” he says, “Can’t see stars this bright among all the lights. Did I ever tell you what convinced me to leave the city?”

I smile, knowing where this is going, but he continues. “After moving there in my rebellious years, I heard that my brother had found himself a lovely little lady, the daughter of a logger who had died in an accident. Of course, being the jealous little brother that I am, that made me determined to find my own gal, so I started looking high and low for the perfect one.”

Herman spins me back toward him and stares into my eyes, affection and love showing through, “And after almost a year of searching I found her. And even though she may not be exactly what I was expecting, she is the best I could ever ask for, and more, and nothing will ever change the way I feel about her.”

A tear slides down my cheek. “Even if that girl is . . . broken?” I ask, choking on the last word.

“Especially if she’s broken,” he says, “because that means I have to put her back together.” And he kisses me softly on the lips.

“But you’re not broken, Hannah,” he whispers, “no matter what the best doctors say. You are just the way you’re meant to be.”

I nod and nestle closer, savoring the feeling of his strong, protecting arms around me. We stand silently for several minutes, two figures melded into one beneath the canopy of night.

¤ – ͻ – ¤

The snow glitters like thousands of diamonds in the bright morning light. I smile, thinking that God must have wanted us to have stars even during the day to compensate for these long winter nights. Herman sits beside me beneath the layers of blankets, humming a Christmas hymn. Catching onto the rhythm I begin to sing along and soon we are belting out the song at the top of our lungs, the hills around us echoing with our singing and the bells on Gideon’s harness jingling in time. The song comes to a close and we break down laughing. My face hurts from all the smiling, but I can’t help but enjoy the moment sitting beside the love of my life, riding through the fresh snow, in the beautiful country that has adopted me.

Soon, we are driving along the depleted banks of Wolf Lodge Creek and I know we are almost to our destination. Sitting higher in my seat, I strain to catch the first glimpse of the lake. Herman laughs under his breath at my silliness, but I don’t care. Every time I see Coeur d’Alene Lake I am awed by how such a beautiful land-locked sea could come to exist from just a few small creeks. Sunlight reflecting off water shines in my eyes and I sit back down in the wagon as we drive into a clearing. Before us sits the lake and off to the right, backed up against the tree line, is a large two-story house.

Children of every age run through the snow, laughing and throwing snowballs at each other. I smile at their silly antics, but a vice chokes my throat and squeezes my heart as I think of the children that I will never have. Who will never spend Christmas with the cousins, or pick strawberries from my garden. As a tear slides down my cheek a strong hand brushes it away. I turn to Herman who watches me, understanding and pain in his eyes. He too wants little ones, but knows I cannot give them to him. And yet he remains beside me, my rock. My knight who will never forsake me. “You’re not broken,” he whispers as we pull up to the house.

¤ – ͻ – ¤

Happy chatter fills the large dining room as the leftovers of the Christmas Eve feast are cleared away from the tables, savory scents lingering in the air. The youngest of the children pull out tacks and marbles while the girls bring dishes into the kitchen. Taking a plate from the top of the growing stack, I scrape the scraps into the dog’s food dish and slip the plate into the grey, soapy water. Once the dishes have been washed and coffee served, everyone will gather around the tree to exchange our secret gifts. I smile to think of the children on the other side of the wall in the living room, scooting closer and closer to the tree, gently shaking packages and trying to guess what is wrapped inside the brown paper. Even the adults whisper of what they may receive and for the hundredth time, I wonder whom I will receive a gift from.

The kitchen is soon empty of dirty dishes and, once everyone is settled into chairs and on the floor in a ring around the large tree, Grandfather Silver takes the family Bible down from the shelf. I snuggle closer to Herman on the sofa as Grandfather Silver begins reading in his smooth bass. The story flows through the room of the Christ’s conception and birth, reminding all of the fulfilled promise revealed in a tiny infant born in a stable. As he reads I wonder how Mary must have felt, carrying the Son of God within her body as her own child. I glance up at Herman, sitting tall, my knight in shining armor, and think of the admiration that must have been in Mary’s eyes when she looked at her husband. Her knight.

“This is the Word of the Lord,” Grandfather Silver says, closing the Bible gently.

“Thanks be to God,” echoes the room.

“Now,” he says, slapping his knees with a twinkle in his eyes, “I think it is time we all found out who our secret partner was.”

The children erupt into cheers. One by one they bring forth packages, as if from thin air, and hand them to each other. As paper flies in bits and string is wadded into piles, the adults exchange gifts among themselves. “I’ll be right back,” Herman whispers as he slides off the sofa and follows his brother, David, out of the room.

“Well, what do you think of all this, Hannah,” my sister-in-law, Ruth, asks as she sits down beside me on the sofa, shifting to accommodate her swollen belly.

“Honestly, I love it,” I reply, smiling at the bright faces of the children. “After my mother died, my father sent me to boarding school. When the holidays came around, I stayed at the school, so I never really experienced Christmas.”

“Well then it is a good thing Herman convinced you to marry him,” she says, holding out a neatly wrapped package, “or else I wouldn’t be able to give you this.”

Smiling sheepishly I take the package and carefully tear the paper. I gasp as I hold up a shawl of thick wool dyed a deep purple, my favorite color. “Oh, Ruth, it’s beautiful,” I say.

“Herman helped with the color and David kept me entertained while I crocheted, so you could say it was a team effort.”

I wrap the shawl around my shoulders and am instantly embraced in warmth. “It’s perfect,” I say, trying to hold back tears of joy, “thank you.”

“Hannah,” I turn to see Herman standing by the door with David, “would you mind coming with us? There’s something I want to show you.”

“You too, Ruth,” David says, “you both might want to see this.”

Puzzled, I help Ruth to her feet and we follow our husbands out to the front porch where they slip into muck boots. Ruth and I follow suite and our foursome heads to the barn. “I needed David’s help bringing in my gift for Ruth,” Herman says as he lights a lantern and opens the door of the barn, leading us inside, “but when we came to get it, we found something . . . unusual.”

Images of a dead animal flit through my mind and I glance at Ruth, hoping Herman and David haven’t brought us out here to show us needless carnage. Herman hands me the lantern and he and David move into the last stall on the left, appearing a minute later with a large object covered in a ratty quilt. They set it down and Ruth and I draw closer. Herman throws off the quilt and I freeze. The object is a beautiful oak cradle, pine trees and mountains carved into the wood and polished to a dark shine. Inside the cradle rests a baby, asleep and wrapped in a thin shawl. David moves to Ruth’s side and wraps his arm around her. “We don’t know where the baby came from, but this was pinned to the blanket.”

He hands me a dirty piece of folded paper. The note is written in hurried looping letters. The hand of a woman. “His name is Samuel,” I read aloud, Herman’s hands resting on my shoulders, “I made some terrible mistakes and dare not keep him. I know that good, Christian folk live in this home, so I took a chance and left him. Please look after him.”

I refold the note and look down at the infant. While I read, he woke, and is staring at me with big brown eyes, waiting. Suddenly, his face contorts and he begins to cry. Quickly Ruth picks him up and begins to shush him, but his cries continue. My nightmare returns full force, the wail of the lost infant calling to me. I have to calm him, I think, staring at the baby, he needs me! “Give him to me,” I say quietly.

Ruth hands the boy to me and he instantly calms, snuggling closer to my chest, his tiny fingers clutching my new shawl. “Well I’ll be,” David whispers as Ruth moves to stand beside him. “The way he takes to you, Hannah, you’d think you were his mother.”

I look over my shoulder at Herman who watches the little boy. He turns to me and I smile, reading his answer in his face. “I’ll get started on another cradle,” he says, drawing me closer and kissing me on the forehead. He brushes a finger along the boy’s knuckles and the tiny hand releases my shawl and grasps the finger close to the little chest.

I glance at Ruth. Tears stream down her cheeks, her hand resting against her pregnant belly. I may never give birth to children of my own, but this little boy in my arms is mine now. The answer to my prayers. I turn back to the baby in my arms and kiss his forehead. “Samuel,” I whisper to him, “my little star.”