“The Midwife” is an excerpt from Eye (Guernica, 2018), a collection of stories by Marianne Micros. Eye launches on November 18, 2018 in Toronto at the Supermarket Restaurant and Bar at 268 Augusta Avenue at 3:30pm. Click here for more info.
Monday, 2:00 a.m.
She comes every morning at this time and sits beside my bed. She talks and talks but I cannot understand her. Only a few words now and then. Goat. Chicken. Lemons. Basil. Sunshine. Babies. Sometimes she cries. I lie there listening while she mumbles. She is a shadow in the darkness, dressed in black, telling her incomprehensible stories.
My mother. Dead for twenty years. Forever present in my darkness. Sometimes giving me advice.
Chamomile, she now says. Hamomee-lee. And then she says, Horta.
Chamomile tea helps with labour pains, as does the juice from boiled greens. Greece is a country with little grass, but the mountain greens bring strength to the ill – and to pregnant women.
I am not surprised when a young man knocks on my door and calls through my window.
“Fotini. Come. My wife is in labour. She is suffering. Please help us. Bring our baby into the world for us.”
I change into a loose housedress, one that had belonged to my mother, slip on sandals, gather up chamomile, some dandelion greens, and other herbs, and follow him to his house. As we draw near, I can hear his wife screaming. I quickly enter. “It will be all right,” I say. I touch her stomach and look into her eyes. “The baby will be here soon.” I start water boiling for the tea and also for the greens. I feed her the broth from the greens and help her sip the tea. Then I encourage her to push. The time has come. The baby boy comes out into the world. He is beautiful.
“Thank you, Fotini,” the man says, and his wife smiles down at her baby.
My eyes water. I am happy for them. But I remember my own baby, a sweet girl I named Eftihia, happiness. Because I was seventeen and unmarried, my mother took the baby to the priest, who gave her to a couple in another village. I had loved the baby’s father, but he had gone away soon after I became pregnant. I never heard from him again. I never saw my daughter again. She would be thirty years old now. Once, years ago, I walked to the village where I thought she lived, but my mother and the priest followed me and brought me home. “She is happy. She is with a good family. Do not disturb her life.”
So I did not.
I learned my mother’s trade – midwifery, healing, repelling the evil eye, performing rituals for good luck and success. “No one will ever want to marry you,” my mother said, and she had been correct. In this small village an unwed mother was a curse on everyone. I was considered unclean. Except when it came to helping others with their troubles.
Tuesday, 2:00 a.m.
Eftihia, my mother says. Happiness. She is giggling in the darkness. Then she growls and swats me with her slipper. I feel nothing. She must be frustrated that she cannot hurt me with her blows. I am responsible for ruining her life and her reputation – at least she thinks so. She herself had no husband, though she claimed that she was married, that my father left her for a putana who lived in the wilderness high up on the mountain. But I never met him. No one knew who he was. I was always Alexandra’s daughter. If I asked people if they had known my father, they never answered. Perhaps the devil was my father. I make the sign of the cross three times as I lie here.
Later that morning a woman comes to me. Her seven-year-old son is very ill. I follow her home. He is screaming and writhing. I can tell this was caused by the evil eye. I take a glass of water and drop oil in it. The oil sinks to the bottom of the glass. It is the mati, I say, the eye. I say the words that I learned from my mother and make the sign of the cross on the boy’s forehead. Then I say the prayer I learned from my grandmother. He is quiet now. Tomorrow he will be well again.
Wednesday, 2:00 a.m.
My mother is crying. I can almost feel wet tears dropping on my face. Her mouth is moving rapidly but the language sounds like gibberish. Koritsaki, she says. Little girl. She keeps speaking but I try to tune her out, to sleep. She shrieks out my name. After a while, she disappears, and I finally fall asleep. I wake at dawn with the crow of the rooster. My mother is gone.
A boy hands a letter through the window. A letter from the next village. My heart is thumping. Perhaps this is from Eftihia. All that is in the envelope is a small amulet, an evil eye protector worn by a child.
Thursday, 2:00 a.m.
I am dreaming that I am holding my baby girl. I feel such joy. This is truly happiness. When I wake up and know it is not true, I begin to tremble. My mother’s hand is on my arm. She is smiling. Avgo, she says. Egg.
Today is like all the others. I get eggs from my chickens. I milk my goat. I work in my garden. When customers come, I give them whatever concoction will be helpful to them. My neighbour Kalliope tells me that her mother is dying, is suffering. I give her herbs that will ease the pain. I remember my mother’s final illness. I asked her where my daughter was, what happened to my lover Yiannis. She opened her mouth but no words came out.
Now she cannot stop talking. Sometimes she keeps me awake all night. Words I do not understand.
Friday, 2:00 a.m.
There is a man with my mother – younger than she is, about my age. He pats her shoulder. He looks at me lovingly. I recognize him. Yiannis. I sit up, reach out for him, but my hand goes through him. “You are dead. Yianni, I missed you so. And now we will never be together, at least not in life.” He smiles sadly. He nods. “Where is our daughter?” I ask him. He looks troubled. I see that he does not know. He does not speak but stands there nodding at my mother’s unending cascade of words. I leave my bed and make myself a coffee. I see them standing beside my bed – as if I am still there. “Look at me,” I cry. “I am over here.” My mother continues to talk to the bed, but Yiannis turns and looks at me. He walks away, through the closed door, into the darkness. Skotathi, she says. Darkness.
I hear the news that afternoon that Yiannis has died. He had been living in America all these years. He never married. I get out my mother’s black dress and veil, the clothing of a widow, and put them on.
Saturday, 2:00 a.m.
She is angry today, her mouth moving frantically, her hands gesturing. I want to grab her words, throw them back at her. Perhaps she is still angry at me. “Mother,” I say, “I have carried on your work, lived forever in this tiny house. I loved Yiannis, but you stole my daughter. I can never forgive you. I am the one with the right to be angry. Not you.” I turn my back and stare at the wall. But I can see her shadow on the wall, her hands waving wildly, her mouth uttering curses or threats. All I understand is my name. Fotini.
I go to the fireplace where my herbs are drying. I take some, mix them together, boil them. Then I pour the mixture into a cup. I hold it up, as if toasting my mother. “Mother, I repel you, once and for all. Leave me now. Go to the land of the dead. I avert your curse. Take it off me.”
I had tried this before, without success, but I feel that this time it might work. My mother turns and looks at me. Her mouth grows still. She is silent. She holds out her hands as if in supplication. As if asking for forgiveness. I cannot forgive her. But perhaps I can make her talk, put my hand behind her back, find a mechanical gadget, and move her mouth. I will say the words I want to hear from her. I am sorry. I love you. I love Eftihia. Go find her.
Sunday, 5:00 a.m.
My mother did not come this morning. I slept well until now. Now I drink my coffee, dress in my widow’s clothing, and pack a lunch. The evil eye amulet is hanging on a string around my neck. I am walking to the village where I believe that Eftihia was taken. What will I do if she has had a child out of wedlock? Will I let her keep her baby? Will I forgive her? I will climb the mountain and walk the dirt paths until I find her. I will sit by her bed and hold her hand. I will speak clearly and slowly. Not gibberish. Words with meaning. Words that I hope she will hear and understand.