By Mary R. Davidsaver
Not a bad turnout for the Saint Lucia
festival of lights. Crisp night air and a couple of inches of snow makes it
pretty and not too difficult for those who dress warm. There are always the few
naïve, impetuous teenage girls who come with bare legs. Bishop Hill has never
been kind to vanity.
The store is crowded, packed at
times, but we are managing quite well. I’m handing out cheese samples, smiling,
answering questions, and looking forward to a break. Sophie comes by to relieve
me and I’m free.
As I’m straightening my apron and
otherwise getting myself in order, a girl comes up and shoves something at me
saying in a small voice, “Hold this for a minute.”
Suddenly I have a bundle in my arms:
it’s cold, heavy, and warm all at the same time. I’m startled. I frantically fumble
to keep from dropping it. I look down as the cover slips away and I see a tiny sleeping
face. Looking up I see an ocean of coats and hats, but nothing of her.
This is great. Only a few free minutes
on the busiest night of the year and I’m stuck babysitting for a stranger. I
have all the luck.
Ok, I’ll give her 10 minutes, but
only if there’s no crying. All bets are off if there’s noise or odor.
So, I’m standing, rocking, trying to
get back my pleasant looking “people face.” I scan the crowd, searching for the
girl. What did she look like? I can’t remember. Her coat? Blue. Maybe? It was way
too fast, and I have a spotty memory even under the best of conditions.
“Be patient. Be patient,” I drone soothingly
to the child, and myself. “She’ll be right back.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve even
held a baby. I don’t have the knack with the little ones; they usually cry when
placed in my arms. I like them older and talking.
Studying the baby’s face, it doesn’t
look right somehow, too small, too splotchy. I can’t recall the last time I saw
one like this.
I will myself to keep calm, look
natural, smile, when it comes to me—I’ve seen a face like this before, in a
hospital—this is a newborn.
Crazy. Just plain crazy. Why would
anyone hand so tiny a baby to a stranger?
I don’t like what I’m thinking next.
Could it be? Did she just abandon her baby?
I’m so paralyzed with fear that
nothing comes out of my mouth. This can’t be real. I can’t make this kind of
decision. No one trusts me enough to handle something like this. It’s too big.
I could be wrong. I tell myself, I’m probably wrong.
Why? Why here? Why now? Crowds? She’s
lost and wants to stay lost?
What should I do? Pray? Beg? Plead to
I’m looking around when I see her; we
make eye contact. She’s coming my way.
She’s not alone this time; there’s a
young man with her. Man, hardly, they’re both just kids.
They make it through the crush of
bodies to where I’m standing, still rocking the baby.
“Thank you,” she whispers as she
I hesitate. Stiffen. I wonder if it’s
the right thing to do. I give her a stern look and utter a low-pitched demand, “Don’t
ever do this again.”
“Promise.” I glance at the tiny face
and back to her, “Promise.”
The young man takes a step forward.
She halts him with a small gesture. The
strain on her face softens and disappears. She vows, “I promise.”
Mary R. Davidsaver
One of the last events for a
typical Bishop Hill tourist season is St. Lucia’s Festival of Lights. Our
version of Lucia Night’s is held on the Friday and Saturday evenings on the
weekend closest to Dec. 13, the traditional day it’s observed in Sweden. After
dark, buildings are illuminated by a single candle in each window. Some use
real candles for this. The sidewalks around the village park and along Main
Street are also glowing with candles burning in white paper bags set out by
anyone who wants to add to the magic of the experience.
My story, “St. Lucia’s Promise,” came to me as I was walking home from one Lucia Night. I had gone past the Colony Store and by the time I turned the corner by the Bjorklund Hotel, I had all the essential elements in place. It was my first work of fiction during a time I wrote mainly for newspapers.
St. Lucia’s Promise was first published
as part of Winter Worlds: Three Stories in 2017.