She pulls a leather pouch from her dress, and presses a silver coin and mustard seed into the jiggling infant belly. Tiny fists struggle above the rim of the basket, lashing out at blurs of ghastly shadows. She turns and gathers a stone half the size of the child, placing it gingerly on the baby’s chest as to not crush him.
The baby will die, young woman.
She nods. He is sick. The villagers have told me what I must do.
Why is he sick?
She lifts the basket by the handle and stoops over the river’s edge. Because I am his mother.
As she lets go of the wicker handle, the restless current immediately scoops the basket, but is unable to hold aloft the basket, relinquishing its clutch to the basin. A fern’s soothing chemical whiff comes twining down a gust of wind, coincidencing with the direction of the river.
Are you going to watch, young woman?
I… cannot watch. The villagers told me to watch him until… they told me to watch him to the end. And not to shed a tear, to not do it until I would not shed a tear while I watched. But I cannot.
Without turning to me, but turning to me in her mind without meeting my eyes, she asked: Will you promise to watch him die for me?
With little more than a bittersweet nod, she hitched up her skirt and took up the embankment.
The handle of the basket twirls in an ephemeral eddy, snagging a lily pad on an errant small stray wicker frond, carrying it down below the surface of the whistling and complicit waters. A young buck finds my eyes as headlights, frozen in the belief that if he does not move, I cannot find him.