Sunday morning brought church as it nearly always did. When I woke that day, I could tell it was time to rise only by the sunlight piercing the curtains at the window. The air was still, even the animals seemed unusually quiet and I wondered if Da would come in from milking to tell us that there would be a storm.
We dressed in our best, the clothes we’d worn for the photograph. The clothes we had worn for the wedding. Claire reminded us all, Willie in particular, that there was no extra water for washing. I could tell she wanted us not to worry but I knew already that she was.
The church was cool, as if it had been sheltered from the arid land right outside its doors. We sat close together on the hard pew, Da then me then Claire holding Willie on her lap even though he wasn’t a baby. Willie fell asleep, his still-chubby cheek pressed against Claire’s shoulder. Da reached over my shoulder and placed his big hand at the back of Claire’s neck. I could feel it, like she belonged to him, like he was protecting her. It made me feel safe.
Jenny, Ian, and their family sat in the pew in front of us and I could tell they found the cool peaceful as well.
There is a word, sanctuary, which means the inside of a church. It also means a safe place where you dwell.
Pearl and Ruby sat on either side of their parents, fidgeting on occasion, but not as much as baby Ian who chewed his own hand with a gummy smile. He reached out to Claire at the close of the service, when Willie had woken. She took wee Ian in her arms and he grabbed her hair, bouncing happily.
Reluctantly, we left. Back into the sun.
Claire and Jenny walked to the shade of a large tree to talk.
“Any news?” inquired Jenny, always curious, cat-like eyes watching.
“Well,” answered Willie as if she had asked him instead. “Adso is going to have kittens. Lots of kittens!”
That made Jenny laugh.
“I do think I’ve seen her about with our barn cat Sam, the big orange cat,” she explained.
“So, it’s Adso and Sam then?” Claire raised her eyebrows and she and Jenny shared a laugh.
They were quiet for a moment and Claire kissed wee Ian’s head, covered in downy hair, as he continued to wrap his tiny fingers in her curls that could not be contained.
“I’m surrounded by motherhood,” she said softly.
I watched her then. She sounded thoughtful and almost sad, somehow. She looked as if she saw something very far away, though there was nothing to see aside from dried prairie grass.
“A calf will be born soon,” she explained, bouncing Ian gently. “Then the kittens.”
When Ian and Da joined us, she still had that peculiar look on her face and Jenny hadn’t spoken. It was as if something was supposed to be said but no way to say it.
“Mph,” grunted Da, making one of what Claire called ‘his Scottish noises’. His expression was rather somber, but aside from the times he smiled at Willie, myself, or Claire, he was never overly exuberant. Still, this was different.
“What is it, Jamie?” she asked softly.
“‘Tis the water level in the church well. It’s lower than our own,” explained Da.
“Down a whole foot,” Ian added, hesitating to make eye contact.
“A foot?” interjected Jenny. “That’s the most I’ve heard around these parts.”
As I stood there, Da looked up at the sky. There were no clouds. Pure blue expanse stretched as far as the eye could see.
“What if it doesn’t rain?” Willie asked. I nudged him, wishing that he’d just be quiet because I knew. I knew that the rain was not going to come soon. First things would get drier, life would get harder, and the rain would not come.
“It will come, Willie,” Claire said, reaching out to ruffle his hair.
Wee Ian untangled his pudgy fingers from Claire’s hair and, without warning, leaned himself back to reach out to Da who took him deftly. Da smiled then.
“Aye, it will rain,” Jenny affirmed what Claire had said. “‘Tis the time before that is hard. It is always that way.”
That afternoon we rode home in the wagon, plumes of dust raised in the wake of the wagon wheels. The land looked rippled and shimmery as heat waves rose. As much as Claire and Jenny had said that it would rain, there were no clouds in the sky.
Morning light streamed across my quilt as Claire swept the curtain to the side. She looked disheveled, but quite pleased, a look that was almost smug upon her face.
“The calf is born,” she smiled. “I wanted you to know before I woke Willie.”
I threw back my covers and sprung from my bed, wrapping my arms tight around her and burying my face against her. She held me there, tucked against her, hand smoothing my hair. For a few minutes, even though Da knew about it, I pretended that it was our secret -mine and Claire’s.
“You could have woken me!” I told her, eyes alight with excitement as I stepped back, eager to grab my dress.
“I suppose I could have, but your Da came and got me before it was even light out. I could barely see my way to the barn!” she laughed. “It was like watching a miracle, Bree. A messy one!” She laughed again as she gestured to herself, hair askew, missing the apron that she usually wore (presumably because of the “messy” miracle.)
Claire helped me get ready that morning. We were quiet, just watching each other and being . It was perfect.
When we went to the hallway, Willie was standing there, sleep blurring his eyes and hair wild. He seemed to realize quite suddenly that he was awake. He stood abruptly straight, looking slightly confused and slightly frightened in turn.
“You look like a fretful porpentine!” exclaimed Claire, swooping down to plant a kiss on his head and soothe his surprise.
I giggled in amusement. “Come, Willie. We’ve breakfast to eat and a new calf to meet!”
“A new calf?” He seemed suddenly to be completely alert, turning abruptly and running back to his room. “I’ve got to get dressed!” his voice traveled down the hallway to myself and Claire. “And then eat and then meet the baby cow!”
We ate in a hurry, shoveling our food into our mouths in the way that Claire typically discouraged.
“What do you think, Da?” Willie asked, mouth full. “Does Eilidh like her calf?”
“I dinna ken,” Da paused. “I cannae say as I’ve ever seen a cow show that much emotion o’er her calf, to be sure.” The corners of his mouth turned up though. “What say you, Claire? Does she like her calf?”
“I’m rather certain that she does in fact seem fond of the calf, yes,” she murmured, looking more at Da instead of Willie.
“What does the calf look like, Da?” Willie pestered.
“Like a wee coo,” Da replied calmly.
Willie rolled his eyes. “I know . But like what?” he insisted.
“Covered in ruddy brownish tufts, red like the clay on the banks of the creek.” Da’s hands moved as he talked almost as if he was sculpting the calf before our eyes.
“We ought to call him Ruaidh!” exclaimed Willie.
“Name him what?” uttered Claire, both amused and confused.
“Ruaidh means red ,” Da told her.
Sometimes Da was not good at sharing all his words, but this time he was. The calf was as ruddy as the clay on the banks of the creek.