She’d mottled like a gull’s egg in the carrying of her, left the bairn newly birthed, howling in twitch grass by the river; returned to her wheel to draft wool skeins, skirts crusted brown, foot against the treadle, fast and even.
Her husband found it, batted the flies from the cord freshly cut, took the bawling bantling in his great flat palms and the babby calmed, took to suckling his knuckle still sweet with wood sap.
He pressed his wife to take the infant back, held her raw hands, once as smooth as corn-silk; called her harvest moon as he’d done summers ago in the stubble of the twelve-acre. But with each appeal, she plucked a sheaf of her hair and taking up her spindle, twisted the shafts to a silver ply that coiled like steel around her.
The child whined, beat the lattice of his ribs for love or hunger so he fossicked a horse bridle to hold her and that was how he worked—daughter hoyed across his back in quarry and field until spring, when driving his pony string from shoreline to pithead he unhitched the girl, for the bridle was needed for the journey; left her at her mother’s feet playing with the rovings that fell from her spinner, hoping her laughter might feather his wife’s heart.
When he returned, a hundred gold sovereigns lighting his wallet, a wattled crib swinging from his side, he found the farm deserted but tied from the spinning wheel, a noil of thread which he followed past alder groves and drying sheds to the banks of the river. There was his daughter at the water’s edge: naked, cough-kinked. He scooped her up, swaddled her as best he could but nothing, not even his knuckle dipped in bee-bread stemmed the crying.
Then he saw it: a shimmer of cloth caught in shingle on the bank. He unhooked it. So soft. Delicate as shell. Held to his cheek he heard it sigh something akin to the crepitation of hay, felt its weft of eye and limb upon him as he wrapped the child within it and lay her cooing in the crib.