Shawn Dell Joyce artist
Baby in a Tree Part 2
Continued from last week...
Then I blamed myself for being too old, or maybe our genes were stale, or I gained weight at the wrong pace during pregnancy, or slept in a wrong position. I hated myself and my body for betraying my dead baby. I hated my husband for not being able to help or make it go away.
Then finally, I blamed God. How could any omniscient being let one so innocent and helpless die before they even had a chance to live? After that, I had no interest in sex any more, or my husband. Every time I looked at him it just reminded me of that day, that face, that look of desperation, helplessness and dismay. I could never look at him with love again. It took us five years to realize that our marriage died with our baby, and another year to legally end it.
I sobbed for an hour or so with deep welling tears, wet and hot on my cheeks. The cool weather quickly turning them cold against my skin. The rustle of leaves in the wind, and skittering of twigs, leaves, and small creatures around me. I became oblivious to my surroundings. Consumed by grief and sadness, it all poured out.
A bright flash of red-orange caught my eye. A monarch butterfly landed on the tree, the deep orange color of it’s open wings analgous to the warm yellow of the leaves. For a second, it distracted me from my grief, and I took a deep breath of the fall air. It felt cool and delicious, filling my lungs like a refreshing drink of water on a hot day. I breathed deeply, and the breeze caressed my cheek, lifting the butterfly in turn. I followed it’s path with my eyes, and suddenly felt calm again. I needed a good cry. I’ve needed to cry like that for a very long time. I felt lighter and calmer, like some festering sickness had been lifted from my chest. I could breathe again without the tightness and hitch in my throat. I felt good!
Footsteps came from the direction of the path and a figure of a man approached. He wore khaki pants and a blue polo shirt. He had messy blonde hair and sunglasses on his downcast eyes. He walked purposefully, like someone feeling his way through a dark tunnel, like he wasn’t used to walking in mushy bog fields.
I started a bit and caught his eye. “Hallo!” he hailed, as if in a movie. “You must be the woman who found the mummy?” He smiled brightly at me like nothing was wrong. I wiped my tear-streaked cheeks dry with my sleeve before answering.
“Yes,” I managed a smile, “and you are?” I asked enquiringly.
“Thomas” he said, offering a hand to help me to my feet. “I’m Thomas Sharpe, from New York State Archaelogy Department.” I took his proferred hand and he quickly hauled me to my feet with surprising strength. He fished in his pocket and pulled out a business card. It was simple and official, name, title, state ensignia, email and phone number.
“What’s your name?” He flashed a warm smile at me.
For a second I forgot. What was my name? Seemed like a long time since anyone had asked, and now, since the divorce, I’m never sure what to call myself any way. Do I go back to my maiden name? Do I still use my married name since it’s on my driver’s license, credit cards, and everything else I own, or at least own half of.
“Joyce,” I said cooly, you can call me “Ms. Joyce.”
I reached for the small bundle still on the ground, averting my eyes from his gaze. I wasn’t ready to be seen like that yet. No suitors. Closed for business. He seemed to get the hint.
“Hold on there,” he said, snapping latex gloves on his hands, “I want to see what we’ve got here.”
He reverently handled the wrapped baby, smoothing the leather gently back with his fingertips as if he were cuddling a live child. He supported the small skeletel head with his palm and let the curled figure of the child emerge from the wrapping cradled in his arm, against his chest. A few colorful fibers stil clung to the leather and the baby’s skin. There was a few wisps of black hair, long and thin, and a hint of facial features remained sunken in the skull; sealed eyelids, a caved-in nose and lips that looked more like a tear in stiff fabric than actual facial features.
“Just as I suspected.” Sharpe said, eyeing the baby mummy’s face. This child has been dead for over two hundred years. “We are looking at a newborn Iriquois.” He announced, then produced a clear ziploc bag from his pocket and neatly folded the leather back around the baby and delicately slid it into the ziploc, taking the small bits of colorful thread from the ground and tucking them inside the bag as well.
“Would you care to join me for lunch and I’ll tell you what I think happened?” He flashed that smile again, and this time, it caught me off guard. My stomach rumbled. I looked at my watch, it was well passed noon. I’m not sure where the passed few hours went. I was suddenly famished.
“No,” I said, yet every fiber of my being was arguing with me. “I want to stay here and finish the painting.” I motioned toward my easel across the field, now in full sunlight. I thought of the soggy pb&j waiting for me there.
“Oh,” he said rebuffed, “you’re an artist.” Then he laughed, “Of course, you’re an artist! Why else would you be in this forgotten field?” I looked at him blankly, not understanding what he meant. “The only people who ever come here anymore are artists who know about Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School painters.” He grinned in a boyishly handsome way. “Ok I’ll leave you to it then.”
He turned and left, and suddenly, I felt all alone again, instantly regretting chasing him away. My hand alighted upon my pocket where his card rested, and I felt a small lift thinking I could still call him if I dared. I wandered back up the hill and packed up. This painting wasn’t worth saving, and I was ready for something more substantial than the pb&j.
I couldn’t seem to forget the events or let go of the little baby mummy bundled in the tree. I tried to focus on other things, painting, hiking, and returning to my loney little camper. Somehow my hand kept finding the business card in my pocket. There it was, Thomas Sharpe, New York State insignia, Department of Archaelogy, his office and his cell number.
I should just call him. As soon as the thought came to me, fear swept in like a hungry vulture. I can’t call him! What would he think? This is so hard! It had been more than 25 years since I last dated. I didn’t know how to date, or if I even wanted to date! I was paralyzed with fear.
That night, I lay awake thinking about it, and listening to the wind blow the fine tree limbs against the roof of my little travel trailer. I really should call him. Just to follow up and it, and find out what happened with the baby. Then it dawned on me, I don’t have to actually talk to him, I could just text! Everyone does that now anyway! No one calls anymore!
So the next morning over coffee, I took a deep breath and texted Thomas’s cell phone. “Hi, this is the artist you met in the field yesterday. I’m just wondering if you have any news?” A few minutes passed, and I instantly regretted sending the text. He was probably ignoring me. Suddenly my phone rang, it was his number, he was calling me!
I picked up. “Oh hi! I just texted you!”
“Yes!” He answered excitedly, “I’m so glad you did! You won’t believe what happened. I have a meeting with the Governor this afternoon to talk about it!” he was talking so fast!
“What?” I queried.
“The BABY!” He said emphatically. “The baby is full blood Iriquois. I DNA tested him yesterday. He may be enough to prove that this land is sacred, and may be a burial ground for the Maginawack tribe. We may be able to not only halt the development, but get the land returned back to it’s rightful owners; the Iriquois Tribe!” He said exuberantly.
I was speechless. For a moment I flashed on Thomas Cole’s house, which is now an historic site. Visitors can sit at his desk and read letters he wrote trying to stave off the development creeping up the Hudson. One of the letters was to Governor Hamilton Fish in 1850 demanding the return of tribal lands to the Maginawac tribe. I wonder if this was the same land? How ironic that more than two hundred years later, his legacy set in motion the events that will ultimately achieve his goal!
“Wow! That’s terriffic!” I said, trying to fathom the true importance of this event. A multimillion dollar development project halted, a homeless tribe-misplaced for two hundred years-gets its ancestral lands back.
“Its all because of you!” Thomas beams at me through the phone. “If you hadn’t been painting there, no one would have heard that tree limb crack and found the baby!”
I blushed. He was right. I did something that made a real difference. For once in my life, I followed my passion, picked up my paintbrushes after neglecting them for more than 5 years, and started painting again. Everything led me to this point, and now I know the reason.
“It was also you!” I said, not wanting to hog all the credit.
“Let’s celebrate!” He said, “I have to meet with the Governor this afternoon buy I should be back by 7pm. Join me for dinner?”
“Of course!” I responded before my fear could kick in and ruin it for me.
“Great! Let’s meet in Hudson, I’ll text you the address when I’m on my way back from Albany.”
And there it was.
My first date since the divorce. I hung up the phone, almost giddy with excitement. The birds were singing outside, I could feel the sun warming the tiny trailer. It was time to open the door and leave this tiny womb. I picked up my clean paint brushes from the sink, and grabbed a sweater. My new life was calling me, and I wasn’t about to not answer!
I posted this short story because I am a painter and not sure what else to do with this. If any of you have any suggestions for publication, please let me know. I have two more similar stories in process for a trilogy. Thank you for reading.