A kneeling young woman is placing river stones methodically into an ash wicker basket. She has a drawn miasma of sadness and effort, stopping every few stones to assess the weight of the basket. Whipping, angry and wild African wuppertails of jet-black hair are annoyingly unbecome from the crease of her chapped lips by a delayed finger that clearly knew it had more important work to do. A black-tailed jackrabbit tattles his presence by hopping across the wispy meadow beyond the far bank, a river’s up-gust gurgling from the swift rapids.

I look up at the sun, as if to realize to ensure her she ought be shining. So much so, naked and baldly glaring, I am compelled to shade my eyes. It is a gray-breasted robin that flits across the cloudless landscape and rests on the rocky bank, early-worm pecking between spigots of reeds tortioning from the glistening stones. But in lieu of worm, she scatters twigs. Irrespective, the young woman buries her face in her muddy palms, fingers extended. She lets out a groan colored full with the weight of tall burdens. The mud is soft amongst the softness of her cheeks. Lifting her chin to the west, where the sun will surely end its arc, she unties her kerchief solemnly and shakes her neck, as if to stretch newly sewn muscles. The robin, bored by today’s river’s edge offering, carries my sight to wriggling of tall grass.

The young woman stretches her kerchief out to its full square on the stones, folds it once meticulously and rises with another heave of disappointment. She nears the wriggling nest of reeds and reaches in. I step down the incline through the low brush, curious. A caterpillar pinches its way up the trunk’s barky mesas, a score of sticky feet catching the fissures and ruptures of the terrain. Its tiger stripes crimp and sprawl as it moves, indicative of its symmetrically beautiful future. A droplet of dew topples from the sagging edge of a maple leaf, and I smile to hear its tiny ping on a current-softened Coke-bottle green glass shard below.

From the bulrushes she pulls a confused but sanguine infant, and places him on the rocks, his lower half in the triangle of cloth, which she ties around him below his navel. He giggles with his legs pushing against the sky, as if it possessed enough gravity for him to pedal his way past clouds and disappear into the kiss of the sun. A gnat has landed on my neck and she digs her proboscis through my skin and pierces a capillary. I shrug in the opposite direction to discourage her further access, and she understands, taking flight again to rejoin her swarm. The young woman has placed the infant boy into the basket half stuffed with stone.

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?

Yes.

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.