Lily Iona MacKenzie
The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up
Guest Post by Lily Iona MacKenzie
Excerpt from The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up
It was spring, and the clouds had returned. They were white but not the glary white of snow when the sun struck it. Clouds seemed friendly and soft, reminding Tillie of marshmallows. She liked their fleecy, milky color and the way they came and went, constantly changing shape, giving her glimpses of blue.
Mama’s belly was changing, too. It grew like the bread she baked. Tillie wondered if she’d swallowed some yeast. Her stomach got so big Tillie was sure it would burst. Mama let Tillie feel it when the baby kicked and moved around. It scared Tillie to think she once had lived there, too. She didn’t blame the baby for trying to get out, but he’d have to knock louder than he was doing.
Tillie longed for a boy. If Mama had a girl, Tillie would want to smother her. She knew she shouldn’t have such bad ideas, but that’s how she felt.
One morning, she woke to a lot of noise downstairs. Harold yelled, “Get up, Toots.” Tillie thought it was time to visit the farmer’s market with their eggs. She threw off the covers and ran downstairs. Mama was packing a small bag. She stopped and grabbed her stomach. Groaning, she said, “Get dressed, fast. The baby’s coming.”
Harold was already outside warming up the car. Once dressed, Tillie and Mama climbed inside, and they all headed to Calgary. Rocks from the gravel road struck the fenders. Snow had fallen during the night and covered the ground. The frosty windows made it hard to see through them. The back seat was cold. Tillie kept her hands inside a white fur muff and played here’s the church, here’s the steeple under cover all the way to the city, not daring to think that she’d soon have a brother or sister. How would it get out of Mama’s belly? How did she get out of Mama’s belly? She’d told Tillie once that she’d arrived in a teapot. Tillie had been around the farm long enough to see a birth or two, and none of them came from teapots.
Mama gasped every few minutes. She reached across and grabbed Harold’s arm. Her moaning reminded Tillie of how the cows sounded when they gave birth, so Tillie focused on what was happening under her muff. She didn’t want to think her mama was like a cow.
Water creeping under the front seat got Tillie’s attention. Her hands grew still. It was like the streams she made in the garden patch when she was supposed to be watering. They’d wander around out of her control. Tillie loved to watch them slither through the rows like garter snakes.
This water seemed out of control, too. Tillie didn’t realize it came from Mama. Noah’s ark was all she could think of. Her Sunday school teacher said the flood had wiped out everything. Tillie raised her feet and put them on the seat. Inside her muff, she kept making and destroying the church over and over.
Harold finally pulled up in front of Calgary’s Holy Cross Hospital, and they rushed inside. Harold pointed to some seats in the waiting room and said, “Okay, Toots, wait there.”
Tillie kept her muff on for a long time and worked on her congregation, whispering to herself, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple.” But she finally got too warm and took off both muff and coat.
Worried about Mama, Tillie wandered the hallways, hoping to find her and Harold. She took off her shoes and skated in her stocking feet over the slick linoleum, gliding farther away until she got lost and couldn’t find her way back to the waiting room. Harold had told her to stay put just the way he did with the dog. The dog obeyed; she didn’t. She feared she’d never see her mother again.
A nun found Tillie bawling by a water fountain. She wore a starchy all-white thing on her head, and her face was as slick as satin. She said, “Can I help you, little girl?”
Tillie nodded, wiping her eyes on her sleeve and sniffing.
The nurse asked, “Are you visiting someone?”
And then more tears came. Tillie told the nun everything. Her name. Mama was having a baby. Harold had brought them to the hospital from the farm. Tillie thought she had lost her mama forever.
The nun said, “What’s your mum’s name?”
Tillie said, “May. Bishop.”
“Wait here while I make a phone call.” The nun walked over to the nurse’s station and picked up the phone. A few minutes later, she re- turned and took Tillie’s hand. “You have a baby brother,” she said.
Tillie almost felt happy. At least she wouldn’t have to kill the new baby.
They walked through the building until they came to a large win- dow. Behind it were lots of tiny cribs. Each held a red face wrapped in white. The babies all seemed to be awake and howling at the same time.
“You stand here for a minute, Tillie. I’ll be right back. Don’t go away now!”
She nodded and stood, watching the babies squirm under their covers. The nun appeared on the other side of the glass, wearing a mask over her mouth and nose and cradling a tiny baby in her arms. Tillie stared at her brother’s face. His eyes were squeezed shut, and his tiny purple fists poked out of the white blanket.
Harold would want him for a keepsake.
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About Lily Iona MacKenzie
Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 165 venues. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. Fling!, her debut novel, was published in 2015. Curva Peligrosa, another novel, was released in 2017. Freefall: A Divine Comedy came out in 2019. No More Kings, a poetry chapbook, was released in 2020. She has taught rhetoric and literature at the University of San Francisco and other Bay Area colleges for over 30 years. Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute of Lifelong Learning. She also blogs about writing and reading at www.LilyIonaMacKenzie.com.