I just witnessed another human being coming into the world.
Kathleen’s head sunk deeply into her feather pillow as she stared upward. Her oil lamp, as always, was dimly lit and projected a small yellow circle onto the ceiling. Kathleen had always despised the blackness that surrounded her at night. Keeping the lamp aglow meant that she never had to endure the black night. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt safer when there was light, even a flicker.
She tossed back and forth as sleep eluded her. How could she possibly rest — or sleep — after what she had just experienced? And would she see other births at nursing school?
While she looked forward to college, she wished that her non-marital state hadn’t necessitated her making a decision to attend post-secondary school. She would have been happy to be married at this age, but thus far, no eligible bachelor — at least one with whom Kathleen approved — had shown serious interest.
The clock downstairs struck quarter past three. Her brothers hadn’t wakened during the night – Mama had kept fairly quiet during the birthing – but in the morning, they would all be excited to discover they had a new sibling.
For the moment, Kathleen thought of her own vocation, of which she was certain was marriage and motherhood. At 19, her “coming out” reception early last year was a tremendous success. Two of her friends from high school, Margaret and Anne, had already married. Kathleen was beginning to think she might become a spinster or, heaven forbid, an “old maid.” Therefore, it was essential to meet her future husband immediately. Of course, after seeing firsthand what her mother just went through, Kathleen questioned whether she would have the high endurance for pain her mother obviously possessed.
Turning up the lamp, she got out of bed and sat at her desk. She reached deep inside the top drawer for her journal.
At the front, she kept the tintype portrait of her mother and her “real” father, Papa’s brother, Liam, at his wedding to her mother. Mama had given her the photo when she was 12, explaining that her first husband had died and that she had married his brother. Over the years, she had learned that Liam was a fine, godly man who had died in a carriage accident before Kathleen was born. Staring at his face, she concluded that he was a handsome man with light hair, which Kathleen obviously had inherited from him. When she was a toddler, her blonde hair was so light, it was almost white. Now, of course, her hair was a darker blonde.
She pulled out a small holy card with a picture of St. Agnes holding a lamb.
St. Agnes, where is my sweetheart? Please send him to me soon!
St. Agnes, patron and martyr, had become Kathleen’s favorite saint a few years previous. In the fourth century, Agnes’ virginity was preserved despite the young girl being stripped naked and taken to a brothel to be violated by a group of men after she turned down one man’s proposal of marriage. The saint was saved when most of the men could not go through with the heinous act. The man who wanted to forcibly marry her was struck blind. She was eventually martyred.
Kathleen paged through the earlier entries until she came to January 20th of last year, on the eve of St. Agnes’ Feast Day, where she wrote down a prayer/poem to St. Agnes.
January 20th, 1895
Now good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And show me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.
On that January day a year and a half ago, she had recited the prayer, then had finally drifted to sleep. Indeed, she had dreamt of a man.
His face was blurry like an Impressionist painting, except with less detail. The man leaned in to kiss her, a soft kiss that gently brushed her lips. Immediately, Kathleen knew that this was her beloved. She couldn’t explain how, but she knew that this man’s heart was pure and true and good. All of a sudden, he vanished. In his place was a blue and green hummingbird hovering above her. How would she recognize her sweetheart if she could only see his heart?
Excerpt from A Subtle Grace, copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach