Photograph courtesy of Global Pillage.
The new baby’s endless squalls put Gloria’s plan into action.
The baby was the result of Husband Will who she hated. Husband Will chose her last among them all. She was the thirteenth, bad luck from the start. The other wives gave her the most grueling chores and left her alone to her thoughts when they snuck away into the barn to drink an illegal bottle of red wine. Not so illegal that it couldn’t be bought by whomever did the shopping that week down in town, but illegal enough that they would get a beating for it if they were found out.
Gloria could have told, but she didn’t. She told herself she refused to be a tattletale girl, since she was a woman. Why Husband Will chose her was a mystery to all. She had been set on being an old maid. He said she had good hips and a steady constitution. Obedient. That was enough.
The months of the baby’s congestion of her womb were miserable, even though the other wives cared for her, if grudgingly, for the good of the family as a whole. The baby must be protected. The baby would be another mark of pride for Husband Will. The baby would be beautiful, hopefully like Husband Will.
Gloria was not pretty, and nobody pretended she was. Everyone told Gloria the truth about herself. She was the thirteenth. She was unlucky. Gloria had read a hidden, forbidden, magazine about sororities. They sounded like her home. She didn’t understand why any girl would join her home willingly. She didn’t understand the other wives.
The plan’s germ nested in her, an egg she could sit on, unlike the baby’s intrusion inside her. During the delivery, her arms were tied to posts in the wall, the birthing mattress underneath her, the barn echoing with her screams, and the midwife, Richard’s wife who was kind, pushed her hands inside Gloria and murmured encouragement. Richard’s wife didn’t tell her even once to shut her trap. And there was the baby, who looked like Husband Will with its scrunched up face and bald head, prematurely old, unclean and toothless. Handsome, they called him.
The new routine was little different than the old. Cleaning the baby took priority over cleaning the chicken coop. Sleeping with the baby beside her was more important than sleeping with Husband Will. But the baby knew something was wrong and cried and cried and cried until Gloria’s plan finally hatched, tender but certain of where and to whom it belonged. She cooed at it, comforting it, and got out of bed. She stayed in her nightclothes, short this time of year because of the heat. Modesty was not so important to the wives when they were alone.
There had always been a bicycle in the shed. For the boys, but some of the younger wives, the children rode it too, and had a cloth to put over the hard seat. Exercise was encouraged for young wives. It made them stronger birthers.
Gloria dragged the heavy bicycle out. She stood it upright on the trail that led away from her home. She smiled, ready to go, and she froze. Day came, and there she was found, clutching her escape route for dear life. The baby squalled.
Ilana Masad is a writer and editor living in NYC. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Tin House’s Open Bar, Printer’s Row, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is also the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast featuring new, emerging, and struggling writers. She tweets too much @ilanaslightly and can be found at slightlyignorant.com.