Come

Thump! Thump!

“Mmm?”

Bony fingers tugged at the corner of a thread-bare coverlet.

Thump-thump-thump!

Creases in an already deeply creased face deepened and a finely lined throat released the barest of whimpers as a whisper-slight form struggled to turn over on a sadly sagging mattress.

THUMP! “Simone!”

Thinning eyelashes flickered.

Am I dreaming?

Again?

“Old woman!” Thump-THUMP! “What now? Are you dead in there?”

Two onyx eyes, bright for all the dimness of their surroundings, blinked open.

“SIMONE!” Thump! Thump! Thump! THUMP! KICK!

Simone’s heart exploded in her spare chest.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Stumbling along the winding streets of her tiny village beside the stout and perpetually irritable innkeeper, Simone knew she wasn’t dreaming. She was too present to be dreaming—the stones beneath her feet were too hard, the air filling her lungs far too frosty and fresh, the stars overhead too twinkling—

The stars!

Look at those stars! Have I ever seen them twinkle so? Maybe I am dreaming…

She glanced sidelong at Icarus.

No.

She shook her head.

No, this could be no dream. Icarus is too… too… himself.

Icarus’s thumps and calls and kicks sounded urgent enough, but he was fairly beside himself by the time she’d managed to unbolted her door. His ire had surprised her more than the sudden gust of wind that set her long, gray hair and fraying shawl sailing wildly about her head.

“Why, Icarus—”

“Woman, since when do you fail to answer your door?”

Her hands flew to catch her hair and capture it with a braid. “Well, since I lost Sarah and Levi’s baby—”

Icarus clapped his hands together. “Never mind! Never mind Sarah! Never mind Levi! Never mind their baby! Just get your things and come!”

“Come? What can you mean?”

“What can I mean? What can any of us ever mean by knocking on your door at such an hour? Come! Come now! Your services are wanted! There’s a woman in travail!”

Simone’s heart skipped a beat, but she drew her shawl more firmly around her narrow shoulders and took a step backward into the house. “Icarus, surely you’ve heard I’m no longer midwifing? Rachel and Jael are—”

“Aren’t willing to come. I won’t say it again, Simone. Dress and fetch your satchel. I’ll carry it for you myself.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Icarus uttered scarcely more than a grunt from there, answering no questions then or as he stomped along the coarsely cobbled streets toward—

Toward where? 

The silence that settled between them as she struggled to keep up allowed her mind, as strong still as her body was weak and weakening, to race on ahead.

Rachel and Jael unwilling? How could that be possible? Unavailable, more likely. But both unavailable?

The idea she was being given one more chance to serve as she’d been called to serve… as she loved to serve… as she dreaded to serve…

Her heart took another tumble.

But goodness, who could want me?

She could only think of one woman in the community close to her time.

And she, Sarah’s sister…
No. She would never ever want me.

“Oomph—”

Simone’s tattered sandal caught at some sharp edge and she staggered. Icarus’s meaty fist bruised the flesh of her arm even as he righted her.

They moved on through the cold and quiet night, rounding corners and following bends, up and down, over and beyond until the silhouette of Icarus’s trim inn loomed into view.

Oh! I see.
It’s a traveler in need…

Simone started for the door.

“No! No.”

Simone halted to look at him.

“That way.”

His finger pointed to a dirt path across the road.

The dirt path that led to the stable.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

To the stable?

Simone was standing where Icarus had left her when he returned from dumping her bag at the entrance of the cave serving as his lodging’s hardscrabble byre, more bewildered than she’d been the entire bizarre hour since she’d been awakened.

“Well, woman?” Icarus said as he trudged past her and toward his house. “Will you go up, or will you only stand there?”

He paused briefly, one thick hand resting on the latch.

“Well?”

He shook his jowls. “Well. I’ve done my bit. I’m done with this.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The dreamlike quality of the night had overwhelmed her anew when Icarus gestured to the stable, but the sound of the door as it thudded shut behind him brought her around again.

She stood there under the night sky—a sky that every moment appeared increasingly otherwise to any night sky she’d seen though she’d seen night skies without number through her life as midwife and, more than many for what many held, kept her keen eye on them.

There was only the slimmest sliver of moon hovering over the crest of the eastern hills, but the sky was as bright as if it were full. She raised her eyes to scan the glittering vastness.

My! Look how that single star shines!
But have I seen it before?

And what is that? Do I hear a voice?

“O come…”

A shiver ran down her stooping spine.

Before she could wonder further about the unfamiliar fragment of brilliance blazing over her silvery head or about the words she thought she heard swirling with the howl and whine of the wind, the trace of a very human cry reached her ears.

The sort of cry she recognized.

She turned to pick her way down the rubbly path.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Simone reached the cave’s mouth and, suddenly conscious of her disheveled state, paused to straighten her woolen wrapper and tuck the strands of wayward hair back within her braid. Her bag lay sprawled on the ground, exactly where Icarus had dropped it. She lifted it to her shoulder and stepped inside.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

She stepped inside and her nostrils filled with the musky pungency of birth, her eyes with a vision of raw, visceral holiness.

A woman…

A woman crouched on hands and knees upon the earthen floor. Naked. Bronze skin glistening with sweat. Grunting. Swaying. Panting. Thighs trembling and smeared with a shimmering streak of scarlet. Thick, damp strands of ebony tresses clinging to neck and back. White-knuckled fists grasping a pair of muscular forearms. Face buried deep in the lap of the man to whom the forearms belonged.

The man…

The young man, kneeling and spellbound before the formidable, transcendent form as she gripped his arms and roiled in his lap, failed to notice Simone as she stepped into the circle of light enveloping them.

“Hello,” she whispered.

He looked at her then and she saw a face, tear-streaked and pale beneath well-weathered skin and a bristly black beard, almost wild with fear, with empathy, with awe.

“I’m the midwife.”

The relief that flooded the man’s visage moved the old woman nearly to tears.

Nearly to tears.

The river of Simone’s tears wasn’t so ready to flow as it had been back when she was younger—back when she’d seen less, heard less, known less—back before she’d sacrificed everything for her calling—back before she’d experienced the full weight of her calling—back, back before she’d been stripped of her calling.

Good heavens! Where’d those thoughts come from?

Simone forced them from her mind and smiled.

“Has she been pushing long?”

“Pushing?” He frowned. “Uh—well—”

Simone nodded. “Okay. Okay. That’s fine. So, let’s see if we can get a bit of straw beneath your wife—” She lifted her brows and inclined her head toward the woman.

“Oh! Her name is Mary.”

“Mary. Hi, Mary.”

Mary turned her head just enough to look at Simone. Their eyes met and Simone smiled at her as she slid a gnarled but gentle hand the length of the woman’s slick back. Mary sighed and sunk deeper into the young man’s lap.

Simone glanced again at the young man. “And your name?”

“My name?”

“Yes, your name.”

“Oh! Oh, sure. My name’s Joseph.”

“Joseph.” She laid her other hand on his shoulder and pressed it before returning her attention to the woman.

“Now, Mary, how about we get you standing.”

Simone and Joseph helped Mary to her feet, then Joseph drew her to his chest as her bulging womb rose to squeeze her in another crushing rush.

“Hmm…” Simone said working to spread a layer of stubble beneath their bare feet. “I do believe this baby will be coming soon.”

“Oh… Oh, please…” Mary said, sinking to her knees. “Please, let it be so…”

Simone reached for her bag as the pair pressed their moist faces together—breathed together— clung together—groaned and writhed and grunted together—to pull cloths and apron, flint knife and twist of thread from it.

Tying the strings of her apron behind her as she knelt before Mary and Joseph, she noticed the light of that mysterious star had found a crevice in the stony roof through which to shine, through which to bathe the scene in an otherworldly incandescence.

She squinted up at the crack as a fresh surge of strength swept through the young woman’s frame.

Yes! There it is…

And…

The hairs at the nape of her neck prickled and rose.

And there’s that voice again…

Whos is that?

“Come… O come…”

“Oohhh—mmmhhhhhhhhh!”

Mary kicked a cloud of fine dust into the air as she scrambled to a squat.

The dust became a swirling, golden mist in that star’s luminescence.

“Come… come… come…”

Mary grabbed her shins and dug her fingers deep into the flesh.

“Mhah! Mmaahhh! Oh… mmmmmmmmaaahhhhhhhhhh!”

Mary panted.

Mary sucked in a breath.

“Mhhh—rrraahhhhhhhggggggg!”

Splash!

Mary’s waters released and a glimpse of dripping black curls swelled from the source of all her secrets, hung suspended a timeless moment, then slipped back inside till only the tip of a dribbling lock remained exposed.

Splish… Splish…

“Ahh…”

Splish…

Fresh beads of sweat spread over Mary’s brow and nose.

“Joseph.”

Joseph turned to Simone.

“Come, Joseph. Come and receive your baby.”

The pulse, the hum, the whisper on the wind seemed to repeat her words.

“Come…. O come…”

Joseph blinked, then slid to kneel beside Simone.

Mary drank another long, greedy breath into her lungs and tightened her grip on her knees.

“Oohhh—ugh! Oh! Ooooohhhh… mmmmmmmmrrrraaahhhhhgghhhhhhhhh—ah!”

The shining, silken curls reappeared and a small, round dome followed smoothly after. Two closely closed eyes, a bit of nose, rosebud lips, and a tiny dimpled chin spun slowly, slowly, ever so slowly into view.

“Mm, mmgh…”

Joseph spread his calloused hands before him and the body of a wee baby boy spiraled into them and into the enchantment of the strange starlight.

“Aaahhhh…”

“O come, O come…
Em m  a   n   u    e     l…….. .  .”

The worry and the exhaustion that had marred Joseph’s features dissolved in a gush of choking sobs even as the squirming child himself sent the echoes of his wails sounding and resounding off the rugged walls of his first earthly home.

Mary—exclaiming, laughing, sending her own spray of tears into the song of sobs reverberating through the night—reached to gather her babe to her heaving breast and slumped back to her knees.

Joseph, resplendent now with joy but with tears still streaming in rivulets down his cheeks, lifted and removed them both to a drier, warmer place on the hay.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The afterbirth came soon after the baby. Simone separated it from the child with her snip of thread and knife, then took it to the far edge of the stable yard. The baby settled in to suckle and Simone, as ever—at least, as ever the best she could under such extraordinary circumstances, set to tidying up.

Ordinarily she’d have bathed and fed and dressed the new mother, too, but there wasn’t a morsel of food nor scrap of clean clothing to be found among the couple’s meager belongings.

When Icarus refused to answer her knock, Simone decided she’d fetch what was needed from her own home, hurrying there and back with a vigor she hadn’t known in years.

In years!

By the time she returned with bread, cheese, and a clean gown, the baby was only drowsing at the breast, so Simone asked Mary if she could wipe the baby down a bit for her.

Mary smiled and nodded, more than ready to eat and clean up.

Simone bent over them.

“Come, baby.” She crooned, and she could feel the toasty warmth of the pair radiating upward even before she touched them.

Then she touched them.

She touched him.

“Come…”

Her fingers began to tingle.

She paused and looked up once more at that amazing star, burning so very brightly in the everlasting sky.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel…”

Emmanuel?

Emmanuel…

God with us…

She looked back at the baby. His eyes were open and his steady, fathomless gaze sent a shiver sparkling through her body… through her soul… through her very spirit…

God. With. Us.

And the tears sprang at last into her own eyes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Simone made her way home some hours later, oddly strong and wakeful.

Many or few hours she never thought to wonder or to guess, so full she was with all that had happened through the miraculous night…

Mary had taken the baby back from Simone when she was through wiping the blood from his tiny body, desiring to swaddle him herself before laying him away in the manger Joseph had dragged near and lined with straw.

Simone sat back to watch the young mother tuck the wee waving arms and legs snugly into cloths, tearing up afresh to see how he studied her face.

And she found her heart so filled with healing, with hope…

So filled with a sense of newly unfurling life…

So filled with…

So filled with…

Emmanuel.

A breeze rustled past her old ears.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel…
And ransom captive Israel…
That mourns in lonely exile here…
Until the Son of God appear…

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel…
Shall come to thee, O Israel…

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer…
Our spirits by Thine advent here…
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night…
And death’s dark shadows put to flight…

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel…
Shall come to thee, O Israel…”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, author unknown

Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author

Books by Kim:

Homebirth: Safe & Sacred

A Midwife in Amish Country: Celebrating God’s Gift of Life

Nourish + Thrive: Happy, Healthy Childbearing

One Little Life at a Time: Recommendations + Record Keeping for Aspiring Homebirth Midwives

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