Other People’s Children

The baby was asleep. The shell of one ear had worked its way loose from the pink knit cap. Her lips parted as she breathed. Once, when the woman shifted position, the baby’s eyes fluttered open. But the woman rocked her gently, humming as she did so, and the baby went back to sleep.

The woman marveled at how easy it had been. She wished she had someone to talk to, but she hadn’t confided in anyone about her plans. She had wanted to, God knows, but so many times when she broached the subject, people had responded by telling her how difficult it was to raise children these days. You don’t know how lucky you are, they’d say. Easy for them, she thought, with their briefcase-toting husbands and their yards strewn with brightly colored plastic. Yes, easy for them and, as it turned out, surprisingly easy for her, too. She snorted softly. They all thought they knew her so well, but no one ever had. No one until that gypsy and no one since.

She was twelve when the Renaissance Faire came to town. Mrs. Campbell, the history teacher had announced a field trip so that her students could “experience the Middle Ages.” Most of her classmates had rolled their eyes at the prospect, but the girl was excited. She liked history. It took her away and most days away was a better place to be. She read the assigned chapters in her text and did the extra credit reading, too. Still, nothing in those books and certainly nothing about living in Wichita prepared her for the spectacle of the Faire.

Colorful ribbons swirled from posts and stakes. The scent of flowers, sweat and roasting meat mingled in the air. Magicians transformed scarves into doves and released them skyward. Musicians coaxed melodies from instruments with names like “lute” and “ocarina.” In the distance, she could see knights in armor preparing to joust. Along the perimeter of the fairgrounds were booths where men and women called out in lilting accents, urging passersby to sample their goods.

Her classmates broke off in groups with instructions to meet at the stockades in an hour. As usual, she was alone. She had no friends in this class or any other. Her mother bought her magazines with articles about hair and make-up and being popular, as if loneliness might be kept at bay by the right shade of blush. Her father had been gone since she was two. She was different and unable to be less so, much as she tried. She knew that as surely as she knew blush wouldn’t help a thing.

Beyond a line of wooden carts, she noticed a small tent. She knew she ought to keep an eye on the time, but she made her way between the carts and approached the open flap.

An enormous man in coarse woolen breeches and heavy work boots appeared around the side of the tent.

“Good morrow, miss!” he shouted. “Come to ‘ave your fortune told, ‘ave you?”

“Oh, no,” the girl responded, startled. “I’m Catholic. It’s a sin.”

“Go on, now,” he insisted. “It’s just a bit of fun, is all.”

“No, I can’t. I don’t have any money anyway.”

“No charge, lass. Not for you. Step inside. She’s been waiting for you.”

He put his hand on the small of her back and swept her inside the tent.

The gypsy’s smooth, pale skin was ageless. Her black hair was laced with strands of silver and anchored at the nape of her neck with a gaudy silk scarf. Large gold hoops hung from her ears. Hammered gold bracelets cuffed her wrists. But it was her robe that was striking. It was pure white and billowed around her like sea foam, making it appear as if she was afloat behind the small table at the center of the tent.

“Sit down.” The gypsy raised a tapered hand in greeting, revealing the moonfaced cat on her lap. “Tell me what you want.”

“Well, I guess to hear my fortune,” the girl answered uncertainly.

“Your fortune? Fie! I have no concern with your fortune. We make our own fortunes. Tell me what you want, what you desire. Tell me what you see when you dream.”

The girl sat silently.

“Close your eyes,” the gypsy murmured. “Tell me what you see.”

She saw nothing.

“Take your time. I’ll wait for you.”

This time the vision came. She was older, but there was no question that it was her. She was sitting on a porch, watching children play on the lawn. She called out to them to be careful. She seemed so confident, so sure of herself. She seemed happy. One of the little ones – a girl – turned to her and waved. “Watch me, Mommy,” she said.

The girl opened her eyes. “I didn’t see anything,” she muttered, head down.

“Hear me,” the woman commanded. Her voice was low and strong. The air smelled like earth. “You will not take a husband. You will not bear children. The children I see around you are not of your womb. Other people’s children. So they are and so they must remain.”

“How…?” the girl gasped.

She never heard the response. Someone was calling her name. She jumped up and ran. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the gypsy standing in the opening of the tent. Her robe flared around her legs, and then the tent inhaled her.

Now the woman held the baby tightly, her eyes following the shoreline as the ferry made its way across the water. How perfect everything looks from here, she noticed. The combination of distance and speed smoothed the landscape into a pleasing stretch of greenery dotted here and there with quaint homes.

Other people’s children, she thought. Indeed. No one checks references any more. She had figured that out a long time ago. So easy to gain people’s trust. They were only too eager to pawn off their responsibilities. Needy, really. It pleased her to think of them being the needy ones. Of course, she had to move, but that was all right. She hadn’t left much of herself there. She hadn’t had that kind of life. Not then.

She gazed out across the water, marveling at the beauty of the landscape in soft focus. No chance to dwell on peeling paint or ponder the stray Styrofoam cup washed up on the beach. Yes, she decided, there was great forgiveness in distance. That was her hope. That would be her prayer.

Judy M. Drew: My husband of 30 years, Doug, and I moved to Sturgeon Bay from the suburbs of Chicago in June of 2002 after many years of vacationing in Door County. I’ve been Executive Director of Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay since August of 2004 – an unplanned, but immensely gratifying second career. When I can’t dig in the garden, I read, write – and, of course, go to the theater!