I waken to light flickering into the bedroom from the porch. There is a fire in the chiminea. Carefully, so as not to waken Cheyenne, I creep from the bed, don my kimono, and slip through the adjoining door.
Balboa is lying on a blanket Janine wove for her bed when she was a little girl. I keep it on the porch now, to warm us when there is a chill in the air. She lies prone, on her back, her head nearest the chiminea, arms at her side, palms up. Her chest rises and falls steadily in deep, even breaths. She is meditating.
She does not open her eyes when I lower myself to a corner of the blanket. I sit tailor fashion, my hands on my knees, and breathe, present for her if she needs, but wishing even my breath so still it cannot disturb her.
From time to time, I add a log to the fire, then return to meditation. Cheyenne slips in, sits on the opposite corner of the blanket, near Balboa’s feet. She places a quilt over Balboa, the one she made for Jasmine’s bed when they were small. We make eye contact briefly, then close our eyes.
How is it women of the village know to come? But they do, one by one–Ruby, Merilee, Betty, Sena, Cathy, Jessica and her mother Margaret, who taught Jessica the craft of midwifery. My eyes overflow with tears when the twins, Kami and June, enter, quietly as kittens.
No one speaks.
We sit. We sit with our love for Balboa, with our memories of her childhood, moments of laughter and tears. We breathe. We are present.
In that hour before first light, when the birds begin their morning calls, the chiminea glows red with the hot coals filling its belly, Balboa stirs. Her knees jerk to her chest and a cry escapes her throat, guttural. Blindly, she drags herself to my lap, grabs my hips and holds on as if drowning. She cries out again, a sound so deep, agony from the very core of her. It is the sound of birthing–grunting and sorrow wound together as I have never heard before.
It is as if all the pain she has held in her body these past days must come out and she is helpless to hold it back. I am aware of another cry, equally deep. It is my own throat, my own lungs, my heart that is bellowing. Cheyenne weeps, and others, so full of Balboa’s loss and suffering that none would try to hold back this aching, wounded bitterness.
We cry until we are, every last one of us, spent. Balboa loosens her grip on my hips, lays her head in my lap, snuffles into my kimono, curls up in a fetal position, and falls asleep. Blessed sleep. Cheyenne, who laid her head on Balboa’s hip and wrapped her arms around her while she cried, now moves again to her daughter’s feet, places her warm hands on them. I know they’re warm because her hands never fail to be Reiki hot when there is a need. Still, she sits silent, lips moving slightly in prayer.
Ruby rises and moves into the house, returning after a time with two teapots and a tray of sweet breads, fruit and cheese. We are spent. She serves us silently, careful not to disturb Balboa’s rest.
Then, as quietly as they came, the mothers, grandmothers and daughters of the village slip away, one at a time. Cheyenne, Ruby and I sit with our beloved daughter and granddaughter and pray that she may sleep long and waken with hope in her heart.