Murderer! Baby killer!
The damning voices were back again.
Lotty Foster tried to push them from her mind as she struggled to free the new life inside her. If she lost this one she feared her accusers would return; but no matter how hard she tried to block them, the voices became louder and would not go away. Tormented by their vicious and cruel accusations, she thrashed in the tangled sheets on the old tick mattress.
Murderer! Baby killer!
It was late and her labor had been long. As the pains grew closer together they became stronger, and her head rolled from side to side with each moan and scream. Yet the old midwife paid her no mind. Sure of herself and capable, the old woman acted as if this was the most natural thing in the world. She ignored Lotty’s commotion and kept to her work. Hours slowly passed until finally the exhausted young girl began to drift in and out of consciousness and finally back…to the first one…
Although the baby was tinier than most and a few weeks early, the little girl had seemed healthy enough. She was perfectly shaped from head to toe. The daintiness of the baby’s little fingers captivated the new mama. Lotty’s own mama had been alive then and had come to help. When the baby was born, her mama had handed it to her immediately to suckle. The tiny infant was quick to latch on, and all seemed well. After the baby fed, the new grandma took the little one and cleaned her up. She placed the baby in the small cradle beside her daughter’s bed.
“She’s gonna be a beauty, Carlotta, just look at her!”
Lotty took a long look at her mama’s face. She was a handsome woman with graying hair and wrinkles that crinkled around her eyes and mouth when she smiled. Lotty remembered how beautiful her mama had been growing up and how much she’d always loved her. But now, on the day of her own daughter’s birth, she realized that she loved her mama more than she ever thought possible.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused ya,” Lotty told her.
Tears sprang to her mother’s eyes as she sat by Lotty’s bed, gently rubbing her hair back from her forehead.
“I love you, girl. You gotta put your wildness behind you now. This baby’s gonna need a good mama, and I believe you can be just that. In my heart I know this little girl’s gonna set you straight. Yes mam, God has sent her to you, and she’s gonna save your life.”
Lotty’s mama stood up and leaned over the swaddled baby in the cradle. She put her finger beneath its tiny palm, and intuitively the little girl held on. The two women smiled at each other.
“I’m gonna start a fire in the wood stove so I can fix you somethin’ to eat. You’re gonna need plenty if you’re gonna feed that child.”
Lotty drifted off to sleep feeling warm and safe for the first time in a long while.
She had been a wild one, and it had come with a hefty price. But that was all behind her now. Lotty believed her mother’s words. She had been given a second chance, and that night she drifted off to sleep feeling peaceful and full of hope.
A few days later, her mama left to go back home, and Lotty was left all alone with her new daughter. The old abandoned cabin had belonged to her grandma who’d passed in the early spring. Lotty was sent there after her death – the day her daddy turned her out. Her mama took her there and helped her get set up. She told her it would be warm enough and big enough for the two of them to make it through the winter.
The boy who fathered the baby denied that it was his as soon as Lotty told him she was with child. Hopes that he might come back after the baby was born vanished the minute Lotty saw that it was a girl. If it had been a boy—maybe—just maybe he would have tried to love her. Deep down she was convinced a boy would have made all the difference. Her own daddy had always favored her brothers over her.
The new mother had no real friends to speak of. She tried to turn to the church, but quickly found out that the church was no place for sinners. An outcast with a child out of wedlock, Lotty found herself depressed and tired all the time. She walked about the tiny cabin in a daze, talking to herself and rocking the baby day in and day out.
The only company she had was when Nancy Montgomery and Delila Barnett came to visit. They were her closest neighbors and visited regularly in those few weeks after the baby was born. They were nice to Lotty, bringing little presents for the baby – a quilted blanket and a hand painted gourd rattle. One day, they brought a jar of molasses for her biscuits. Nancy said the iron in the molasses would help her get back on her feet.
Nothing worked, though. After a couple of weeks, people began to notice how thin Lotty was getting. Her clothes began to hang on her slight frame. She became nervous and easily agitated. The only thing she wanted to do was sleep. Nancy came by a couple of times during those weeks and rocked the baby while Lotty napped. She always remarked at what a good little girl she was. The infant never cried. In fact, she slept most of the time.
“You’ve had your last baby first,” Nancy told her. “First babies aren’t supposed to be this easy. Lord, how I walked the floors with my first one! Course after two, I wasn’t so nervous anymore. So when my youngest came along, he learned to be patient real fast. I had two others runnin’ around to look after – so he had to be.”
Sometimes Delila came with Nancy.
One afternoon while Lotty tried to rest, she overhead Nancy and Delila talking.
“All Lotty needs is some sleep,” Nancy said.
“Well then, it looks like her mama would let her come stay with her for a few months,” Delila snapped. “A new mama shouldn’t be actin’ like this. Miz Foster should know that!”
“Sssshh! She’ll hear you,” Nancy chided. “You know good and well that her mama would, if Lotty’s daddy would let her! I heard he told Miz Foster that he was not gonna make his cabin a home for bastard children. That’s exactly what I heard he said.”
“Well can anyone really blame him?” Delila asked.
“Thou shalt not judge,” Nancy quoted to her friend.
Lotty remembered the day that she had finally mustered up the courage to tell her daddy the truth. He’d grabbed her clothes and thrown them into the yard – yelling and cursing at her – saying that she was dead to him.
Betrayed by her daddy and betrayed by her lover, when Lotty left to begin a life on her own in her grandma’s cabin, she was fourteen years old. There would be a warm place in hell for both of them someday, she thought. Angry and hurt, hot salty tears ran down her cheeks as she listened to the women talk. She turned her face to her pillow and muffled her sobs so they wouldn’t hear.
Several more weeks passed and Lotty still had not given the baby a name. For some reason, she just didn’t have the heart to. Fact was, she didn’t have the heart to do anything.
One morning, about a month after the baby was born, Lotty woke up to the sound of a barking dog. When the familiar sound registered, she started to close her eyes again, but something made her stop. She suddenly realized that the room was unusually quiet, and the baby had not waked her in the middle of the night to be fed.
Straining to hear the sound of her daughter’s tiny breaths, Lotty heard nothing. The deafening sound of silence rang in her ears announcing a horror she could not and would not accept. The young mother burrowed herself under the quilts on her bed and tried to convince herself that nothing was wrong. Her fierce will to deny the truth kept her from going to the cradle.
Hours passed. Finally, reluctantly, she accepted the fact that she needed to check on the baby. Pushing back the covers, Lotty turned towards the cradle. Slowly she sat up and rose to her feet. When she reached the tiny bed, she gazed down and saw her baby girl lying motionless, like a tiny doll, with her eyes wide open and set. The child’s delicate fingers lay splayed open as if she were reaching for something, and her lips were bright blue against the gray color of her skin.
Lotty reached down and gently picked the tiny baby up, cradling it in her arms. Carrying the baby back to her bed she laid back down and covering them both with quilts, tried to warm her child.
Later that afternoon, Delila and Nancy came by. When no one answered the door they became worried and let themselves in to look around. They found Lotty lying on the bed, clutching the baby to her breast. When they tried to question her she couldn’t tell them how long she’d been there or what had happened. No words would come. Delila ran for the doctor, leaving Nancy to watch over Lotty. It was the slam of the front door that finally got her attention. She grabbed the baby and sat straight up. Nancy urged her to lay back down and rest, encouraging her the whole time to speak. She snapped her fingers and clapped her hands, but nothing worked. When Delila returned with the doctor, the only thing Lotty could remember was seeing her walk over and point an accusing finger.
“Murderer!” Delila said. “Baby killer!”
The doctor pried the baby from her arms and it was only then that Lotty realized her baby was dead. That’s when she started to scream. She screamed and screamed and screamed until the doctor gave her something to make her sleep. Plied with laudanum, Lotty drifted off into nothingness and was grateful for it.
When she finally woke up, three days had passed. News of the baby’s death had spread like wildfire in and around Elkville.
Delila’s accusations led to her arrest a few days later. Nancy had defended her in court, and so had the doctor that was called in to examine her and the baby. Yet even after she was acquitted in a court of law, the doubt that was cast had stayed with folks in the community.
Murderer! Baby killer! Murderer! Baby killer! Murderer! Baby…
A splash of cold water brought Lotty back to the present. She gasped and opened her eyes. Panicked, she tried to sit up but the midwife put the palm of her hand to Lotty’s forehead and pushed her back down.
“Dis baby’s breach,” the old woman told her. “Now I’se gonna have ta pull it out as bes’ I kin, and I don’t have no time to be fightin’ wif you. You undahstan me?”
Lotty knew she would have to stay calm and do what the old woman asked. She nodded, knowing she couldn’t do this alone.
The mid wife began to chant. The pungent odor of herbs and spices mingled with the wood smoke in the room. The strange smell wafted over Lotty, and she let it fill her lungs. Strangely enough, it seemed to soothe and calm her.
“What are you doin’?” she asked.
“Some things be beyond our powah,” the old woman answered.
The midwife handed Lotty a charm. It was wrapped in burlap. The young mother began to understand. She nodded to the old woman. Whatever it takes, she thought. As long as her baby lived nothing else mattered.
“Do what you have to do,” she told her.
As the charm took hold, things that were real became unreal. Lotty was aware of the pain; but it was distant; and she was removed from it. Floating somewhere in a mist above, out of harm’s way, she looked down on the room and saw herself lying on the bed. The midwife was working patiently between her legs. As Lotty watched, a tiny glow came to light beside her. The light was so full of love and warmth and joy that she wept with relief. All the horrible fears and pain melted away, replaced by comfort and calm.
When the baby let out its first cry, it seemed distant. Lotty floated with uncertainty between the world she knew and a world she wanted to know with the tiny glow surrounding her.
“Go to her,” it whispered. “Go to her.”
But Lotty was not sure that she wanted to return. The light was so full and she was so empty. If she could just stay there for a little while longer Lotty knew she would be whole again. Drawing back further into its warmth she wanted to forget everything and pleaded to stay, but the glow engulfed her and she began to swirl. Spinning around and down, she found herself crashing back to the world below.
“Go to her,” the soft whisper told her; “go to your child.”
Drenched in sweat, Lotty was aware of the damp bed sheets that stuck to her skin. Looking down over her now flattened belly, she could see blood on her thighs and bedsheets. The old midwife bent down and placed the baby in her arms.
“You back,” she laughed, looking down at Lotty and the baby. “We wuz ‘bout to think you done lef’ us. I couldn’t get you to he’p me, so’s I had to pull her out wif my hands. You got yourself a baby girl, Missy…and she be strong.”
The old woman shook her head and sat on the edge of the bed, taking Lotty’s hand.
“You take care of her now. She be special like you. I seen one of her eyes is jus’ a tiny bit smallah than the othah. That mean she gonna see bof sides. She gonna walk ‘tween two worlds. You take care of ‘dis chile.”
The old woman cleaned up the blood with the wet rags she had used to birth the baby. She put the afterbirth in a bucket at the foot of the bed to carry outside and put in the garden. It was full of good things and would make the ground fertile. Then she gently wiped away the thick curd-like coating on the baby’s head and skin. With tight cloths, she bound the baby’s middle to make the bellybutton turn in. The old woman didn’t stop until the room, the baby and the mother were all clean. Once she was satisfied that everything was in order, she turned to Lotty and shook a bony finger at her.
“You remember ‘dis Miss Lotty. Jus’ ‘cause you is different don’t make you wrong. People be scared of different, das all. No mattah what people try to make ‘a you, you be what you wuz born to be.”
She looked at the baby in Lotty’s arms.
“She look like a angel to me. My mama lef’ me with my granny when I wuz born. Said no slave man would have her if she kept a white man’s chile. Granny didn’t pay her no never mind. Said my mama was no count and didn’t know what a blessin’ I wuz. Granny always said she wuz lucky to have a lil’ angel like me. Granny give me my name. Angeline. Yes’m, said I looked like a lil’ angel to her.”
Lotty nodded and smiled at the old woman.
“Now I gonna try and sleep in dis rocker for a time. In the morning I gonna fix you a good breakfast and cook a big pot of beans for ya. Then I gotta go home for awhile. But I be back in the evening and check on ya. You be needin’ to know some thangs and I’se happy to teach ya.”
Angeline was good to her word. The old woman taught Lotty much. She taught her things not practiced in any church – but just as real and just as powerful.
The next morning when breakfast was done and the beans were cooked, Lotty found herself alone in the little cabin with her new baby. The young mother took a look at the little girl in her arms. All ten fingers and all ten toes were where they should be. Her hair was black and curly. And when she cried out, the child sounded like she had something to say. Her eyes were bright and alive. Greedily she suckled from her mama’s breast and her tiny fingers latched on to Lotty’s finger with a vengeance.
Before any harm will come to this child, it will come to me or to someone else, Lotty thought to herself.
“You will live,” she declared aloud inside that little cabin, “and I will kill anything or anyone to protect you.”
And so it was, that in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Angeline Foster Melton came to be. Little Anne answered her mama with a fierce cry that filled the room. It was loud and strong— and the most beautiful thing Lotty Foster had ever heard in all her life.