When Molly let herself think about Fred, she told herself he was being selfish. Selfish and stupid.
Selfish because he kept wanting to take the baby, have their precious little boy all to himself. As if there wouldn't be time for that later! All the years he'd be teaching their son to play baseball, and repair cars, and work the farm they'd surely buy to replace the one they'd lost...how could he begrudge her this time with the little one, after she'd suffered so to bring him into the world?
Stupid because he couldn't get it through his head that the baby was asleep, and when he woke up she'd have to nurse him. How could a father do that?
But mostly she tried to ignore Fred, just didn't look at him sitting on his haunches over there by the beat-up truck in which she'd given birth. She hugged the blanket-wrapped baby, rocked him, and hummed a lullaby.
You don't need it, do you, sweetie? Such a good baby, sound asleep, so quiet! I know you're cold, I can feel it, but you don't even shiver. So calm, so sweet, almost like you're bein' considerate of Mommy.
She was sorry he was cold. The only source of warmth, other than the blanket and her own frail body, was a small cooking fire other homeless families had built to serve their encampment beside the railroad track.
But it's June, ain't it? Or did June turn into July when I wasn't lookin'?
No matter. He's cold 'cause he's not active, movin' around. An' he's not movin' 'cause he's asleep.
She was only dimly aware of Fred saying a few words to a passerby. And then, of that passerby walking over to her - limping, favoring a bad leg.
When he said, "Hi," she couldn't ignore him. She looked up and saw a boy who was probably in his late teens. His hair and his earnest face were damp, as if he'd just splashed water on them. Jacket, shirt, and jeans were clean, but faded and worn.
Nothing alarming about him. One of us. Not anyone I've seen before, but our own kind.
The boy said, "Ain't that a pretty baby you got!" He was just being polite. She knew he couldn't see the wrapped infant at all.
She smiled, but tightened her grip and said protectively, "Ssh. He's sleepin'."
She turned her attention back to the baby, but the boy persisted. "What's his name?"
"Michael," she told him.
He said, "Like the Archangel." She looked up at him again, and his eyes caught and held hers.
His comment was ordinary enough. She could have simply nodded in agreement.
But she didn't.
She and the boy gazed at each other for a long minute. And slowly, it began to dawn on her...
No, that wasn't right. Slowly, she began to face a truth she'd known from the start.
That her baby belonged in heaven. With the angels.
She made herself say the words. "He's dead, ain't he?"
"Yes, ma'am," the boy said gently. "He is."
He came closer, reaching out to take the baby, and she meekly handed him over. The boy said, "It's okay," and on some level she knew it was. Tears filled her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, yet she was at peace. Grateful.
The boy walked over to Fred. And that was when Molly had the strangest experience of a very strange day.
Her vision was blurred by tears.
But she saw a double image, like those double exposures you could get with cameras.
A shabbily-dressed boy handed an unmoving bundle to a grieving father.
A taller, shimmering figure overlapped that of the boy. And at the same moment, the shining figure handed an identically sized bundle to...well, handed it into a radiance so brilliant Molly couldn't make out details.
That bundle was wriggling.
Molly heard Fred's sobs. She knew she should get up and go to him, so they could console each other and deal with their loss together.
She'd do that. Soon.
But for now she sat transfixed, her gaze riveted on the departing youth. She watched him limp along beside the railroad track until he was out of sight.
"Michael," she whispered. "The Archangel."