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Emerald City

Authors note: This story was written 27 years ago and was my third professionally published short story. Even after all that time, I still like it (unlike some other early stories, which I just want to—and sometimes have—put in an old shoe box to hide in the attic). It’s different from my usual material; more quiet, introspective, a meditation on both old and new life. So without further ado, please read and enjoy!

 

The woman who went by the name of Patches was out on a late-morning hunt for cats when her water broke. During the last three days she had been having painful contractions, yet she continued on with her daily routines, still not fully admitting to herself that she would soon be a new mother. When the warm, salty fluid began to suddenly pour down her thighs, she knew she could no longer afford to deny the inevitable.

Sitting down on a rusted fallen girder, Patches winced as the liquid irritated open sores festering on her sinewy legs. Her two companions were at first unaware of what had happened as they continued searching through the waterfront ruins. It was only when she cried out to them did they come to her side. The two were the youngest members of the band: the boy, sixteen, the girl, seventeen. They had been with the Patches three years, and still she wondered at times how they survived from day to day without her constant supervision.

The couple stood silently for a few minutes, passing nervous glances at each other. It was finally the girl, Cherry, who spoke. "Do you think we should book to the crib, Patches?" she asked in a quiet, singsong voice, rocking slowly back and forth on her heels. "If you're down we can chill here for a while then book, right, Slammer?"

The young man blinked his eyes as if working out sleep. "Well, yeah, chillin' here is fine." He shuffled over to Patches and moved to place his hand on her back, then hesitated. "So what's the game?" he asked, his voice low and cracking.  

"It's getting time," Patches answered, feeling another contraction building up deep in her gut and pelvis. Grabbing her knees, she pulled up hard as pressure and pain pressed tight inside her, sending out more of the viscous fluid.  After she had caught her breath, Patches stood up slowly and peeled off her soaked pants. She methodically folded them into a small thick square, then wrapped it with a wide black plastic sheet from her backpack. She supposed she was being paranoid, having seen no sign of cats in the last two weeks, but it would do no harm.

As she tore some material from the tail of her long coat to form a crude sari, Patches could feel the sun's rays burning into her flesh. She mentally chided herself for being so cavalier with a child inside her, although she supposed by now it was to late to care about such mundane things as prenatal care.

Tying the front of her garment, Patches noticed Slammer staring at her. She turned quickly with the front of her garment still open, her dark mound of pubic hair conspicuous below her protruding abdomen. "What are you starin’ at?" she questioned. "Ain't never seen trim before?"

Through the multiple cracks of his dark orange sunblock she could see Slammer was blushing. He turned away and walked over to Cherry and began to whisper in her ear. Patches supposed he was bitching about her, not that she really cared. It was far too late in the game for such pointless breeches of civility to make any difference in her actions.

She finished tying up her makeshift skirt as shadows from fast-moving clouds washed over the rubble-strewn streets. Walking back over to the couple who were still whispering to each other, she cleared her throat and motioned with her hand and forefinger.

"We're heading back," she stated, feeling the baby kick and move about inside her.

"I thought we were checkin’ out all South sections today," Slammer remarked. "I mean, to cruise all mornin' then jus' turn round is trippin'."

Patches took a long deep breath as she looked up in the sky, then back to the boy. "We've seen no signs of cats. I'm down on the incomin' clouds and the wind has changed from south to east. All this means it's time to turn."

"Hey, I ain't dissin you, I jus' mean-"

"I know damn well what you mean," Patches interrupted, "but I know how fast these storms can move and with no signs at all of cats it's not worth pressin' the point."

The boy continued to stare at her for a few more seconds then shrugged in resignation. When Patches reached down to pick up her backpack that she had left next to the curb, a thick wave of nausea hit her on top of another contraction. This time she could not hold back and gagged loudly, a viscous column of vomit forcing its way out of her esophagus and splashing messily onto the dirty concrete. She was spitting the last sour remnants out of her mouth when Slammer and Cherry made it to her side.

"Shit, haven't puked on myself since I slammed a Q of vodka when I was fifteen," she tried to joke. Neither of the couple said anything as Patches wiped the dark green and brown fluid off her boots. Only when she reached over for to pick up her backpack was the silence broken.

"I got plenty space," Slammer said matter-of-factly as he gently pushed her arm away and picked up her pack. "Don't you be worryin' bout this."

"Thanks," Patches said as they all stood up and began the long walk to their camp down. Two blocks down the street, she stopped and pointed down an alley marked with a bright orange X. "This way. Might as well scope a mound."

They turned right, Cherry and Slammer in front, Patches a yard or so behind them. She started to walk slower as the contractions came more often, and for the first time she wondered if she could really make it back to their abode.

The sky had turned into an angry mosaic of black and green clouds as they reached their southern water supply, a semi-triangular pile of clay and dirt standing twelve feet high. It was surrounded for the first and last three feet by a thick tangle of rusting razor wire.

"The nozzle's in the bottom section of my pack," Patches said wearily to Slammer, who reached in and handed her two six-inch sections of copper tubing. She slowly and carefully screwed them together, then placed the knotted end of the pipe through the razor wire into a fitted hole on the side of the mound. Making sure the connection was secure, Patches took a canteen from her belt, placed it underneath the open end of the pipe and turned a small handle to the left.

"What the fuck is this jazz?" Slammer cursed as only a few, weak streams of water came out of the pipe. "It rained like hell last week. This hoe oughta be full up. "

"Must be a clog in the top funnel," Patches observed, wishing she had never suggested they stop, since now she felt obligated to take care of the problem. "Listen, just get the cutters out and we'll figure this."

"Ah, right." Slammer fingered his way nervously through his backpack, with Cherry doing the same. Patches watched them with exhausted indifference for a few seconds, then sat down and leaned up against a rusted skeleton of a cab. When yet another contraction forced pain throughout her body, she knew something was going on inside her, something wrong.

With a small sigh Cherry sat down next to Patches, and by the look in her dark eyes she already knew what Cherry was going to say.

"Neither of you have the cutters, right?"

Cherry nodded slowly. "I. . . I thought Slammer was gettin' em, but he said he thought that I was, an--"

"It's all right." Patches closed her eyes and rested her head back on the cool metal of the cab. “Just a real down day, girl, nobody's fault."

Slammer squatted nervously on the other side of her, absently playing with the straps on his pack. Saying nothing, Patches took a drink from the half-filled canteen and passed it to the boy. He took a small swallow, then passed it with both hands to Cherry, who took a drink then passed it to the Patches. She finished most of the last few precious drops then locked the canteen back in place on her belt.

"If my damn leg wasn't out I'd jus' jump the wire," Slammer announced, breaking the silence of the ritual as he gazed up at the mound. "I bet if Trickster was here he'd kick it live, I bet he would've jus climbed on top an--"

His sentence was cut short as Cherry elbowed him hard in the side. Patches smiled grimly at their squabble as she tried to breathe through another contraction. Yeah, Trickster probably would've tried to jump the razor wire, and in his better days would've probably made it. Of course, in  better days Patches never would have left without checking to see if someone had the cutters. Or gone out hunting in such bad shape.

Or let herself get pregnant.

"Man, it's really gettin' ta' be a nasty-ass hawk, ain't it?" the boy exclaimed nervously, pulling his clothes around him as a shield. The rapidly cooling wind was stronger now, blowing together small dust devils that danced like frenzied ballerinas through the broken streets.

Patches pulled herself out of her daydream and looked up at the sky. Large clusters of clouds rolled about, shit-brown in color, fat with poisonous liquids. They're gettin' ready to pop, she thought, gettin' ready to pop jus' like me. She sniffed deeply and shook her head. "Piss rain." There was no doubt in her mind now the decision she needed to make.

Patches stood up stiffly, then pulled the boy up by his skinny shoulders and held him hard as she stared into his cataract-glazed eyes. "I want you both to slide to camp and get Doc," she ordered, enunciating her words very clearly. "Tell him it's time an I'm to the curb. You got that?"

Slammer pushed out his chest as he stepped back. "I'll deal with it."  

Patches nearly laughed at his false bravado but held it in. Almost as an afterthought she remembered she had their only firearm, a Verdeen nine-millimeter handgun.

"You be straight with this, you hear?" she said while handing the gun to Slammer. In her heart Patches wanted to give the precious weapon to Cherry, but she was too weak and fragile. She hardly weighed more then seventy-five pounds, and if the gun had to be used she would never be able to handle its recoil.

Slammer proudly strapped on the semi-automatic and nodded at Cherry. "We're out," he announced in a commanding voice.   

Cherry hugged Patches and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "We'll be back with Doc in a fly," she promised, then took a hand-made crossbow from around her shoulder and placed it in Patches’ lap. "With the nine we don't need this."

"Stay up," Patches said to the couple, watching them fade quickly away into the twisting shadows of the streets. She walked back over to the water-mound and sat down, placing the crossbow by her side and the bundled-up remains of her soiled pants behind her neck. Closing her eyes, Patches let her head sink back into the relative softness of the clothes, while inside her abdomen she could feel the fetus kick and move. She hoped it was as much of a fighter on the outside as it had been on the inside.

"So are you gonna be as crazy as your daddy?"  Patches whispered, feeling the heaviness of fatigue and sleep settle upon her mind.

It seemed like only been yesterday that they had finished the building of the southern water-mound, their final link completing a city-wide water supply for their small tribe: Patches, along with Cherry, Slammer, Doc and his woman, and Trickster. They had all rested in the shade of the mound after its completion, only Doc knowing or caring how the mound, composed of alternating layers of dirt and clay, could magically filter the killing rains into water suitable for drinking and crops.

"You were one stupid bitch," Patches mumbled to herself. It had been a rare, clean early autumn day, and she remembered Trickster sitting next to her, his sweaty torso shimmering in the heat of the sun. Nineteen years old and a base-head from way back. He had shown amorous intentions toward her soon after he had joined the group, but a knee to the testicles or a well-placed blow to the head had cooled him off.

Until that one day.

They had all drifted off, Doc and his woman, Cherry and Slammer, leaving Patches alone with Trickster. "You had to let 'em in, didn't you," she chided herself, knowing that it was only a half-truth. For even though she knew she was in mid-cycle and knew he wasn't impotent, having watched him masturbate and ejaculate, she convinced herself one time wouldn't matter.

Three days later Trickster was housed and smoked by a gang of Rastas. Patches had found him, still alive, trying to pack his intestines back into his abdominal cavity as the screaming Rastas danced around him, the air thick with the smell of blood and cheeba. Unfortunately for the five Rastas, Patches had been carrying the groups last semi-workable AK machine-gun. She saved the final bullet for Trickster, who smiled at her with bloodied lips and busted teeth as she placed the last round cleanly through his forehead.

It was the wind pushing over the remnants of a corner gas station that brought Patches out of her sleepy memories. Her eyes snapped open at the sound and for a few seconds she was totally disoriented, but more movement in her abdomen brought her to her senses. She blinked hard and stood up, arching her back and feeling a half-dozen vertebrae crack back into place. It was then she finally heard the rain.

The sound of water falling to the earth was coming from the Northwest. Patches picked up her pants and crossbow and guessed that the storm was a quarter mile away. Adrenaline flooded her body as Patches began to scan her surroundings. The surrounding streets  held nothing but the charred, broken skeletons of cars and buildings, all worthless against angry winds and searing rain. Running as best she could, Patches felt her heart pound with fear as the sound of the rain moved closer.

"Jus' chill," she said to herself through clenched teeth. She knew blind fear would be the quickest way to death for her, and she wasn't ready for that.

Off to her left, about twenty-five yards down a cul-de-sac, Patches saw a shelter just as the first yellow drops of rain began to fall. She held her pants and bow over her head and face and ran with all her remaining strength to the building. In days long past it had been a seafood restaurant, the remains of a smiling fisherman sign still hanging on the exterior.

Five feet into the dark enclosure the roof was solid and the walls were tight. Patches sat down and forced herself to take deep, even breaths. The burning pain in her hands caused by the caustic rain felt like a dozen hornet stings. Outside the restaurant, the storm was in full fury, redolent odors of the acid downpour washing into the structure in sulfurous waves. Patches tried to breathe through her mouth as she struggled to pull herself up again.

"Gotta put up the flag," she muttered, felling nauseous and weak. "Gotta put up the flag."  Out of one of her pockets she pulled out a florescent orange flag; it had been Cherry's idea that all of the group members carry one for signal purposes in case of an emergency. Patches tied the flag around a broken table leg and made her way back to the entrance. Getting that close to the opening made her eyes sting and nose run, but she stayed until she securely fastened the table leg to the steel window frame.

Patches half-walked, half-crawled back to her resting-place. These storms never last. Just sit tight and doc will be here in a fly. She carefully loaded and placed the crossbow next to her, then drained the rest of the semi-warm water in the canteen with two  swallows.

"Fuck," Patches swore as the realization that the rest of her water was in her backpack, the one Slammer still had on his bony back. First my bag pops then we forget the cutters then I let the boy take my water. She doubled over in pain and anger and fear and felt tears well up in her eyes.

"You can't cry," she admonished herself, "it's a waste of water." Slowly and methodically she dabbed clean her face and closed her eyes. She was asleep in less than two minutes.

When Patches awoke, the rain had slowed to a light shower. She took two deep breaths to clear her head and tried to focus her vision. It was when she tried to stand up that the first attack of vertigo hit, bringing on more nausea. She sat back down, wiped her curly, unkempt hair out of her eyes and realized her entire head was slick with sweat. Patches could feel the fetus was moving down, and she was afraid, holding herself tight as another wave of contractions began.

"Where the hell are you, Doc?" she whispered hoarsely through cracked, bleeding lips to the wind as it blew wildly around the opening of her enclosure. In the distance, lightning danced wildly across the still-darkened skies, streaks of jagged light illuminating vestiges of what few skyscrapers remained standing. Through the masses of clouds the lights seemed green, giving an ethereal glow to the skeletal steel remains of a time long past. Patches moved under a sturdy-looking table and watched, almost in reverence, as the show continued. It was then, while she was staring at the sky, that the ghost appeared.

It seemed to coalesce out of the mist drifting lazily in on the winds. Patches reached out with shaking hands but the spectral figure darted quickly away, melting into the shadows of the building.

“It's you, ain't it, Elisha?" Patches said. As if to answer her, the shadow being floated closer to her, and Patches sighed in contentment.

"It's sure good to see you again," Patches said, smiling over her pain and thirst. "Wish you could talk to me Elisha," she mumbled, "wish you could talk and tell me a story like you used to."

Patches had still been a child then, maybe ten or eleven. Elisha was older by three or four years, but those years separated them into very different worlds. When they were together, Patches could still be a little girl, able to giggle and laugh and not face the unstoppable coming of adulthood which had already started imposing itself on her young body.

Sometimes, Elisha would read to Patches from ancient books she had found in some uptown garbage cans. Patches remembered few of the actual stories. But the books smelled very old and the colored pictures were faded. They all were about a magical place with wizards and witches and people with funny names like Woozys and Hoppers. It was from one of these books that Patches received her name, actually a nickname then but now it was the only one she ever remembered being called besides redbone.

"Why do they call me redbone?" Patches would ask Elisha.

"'Cause your momma's white and your daddy’s black," Elisha would answer.

"Is that what they gonna call me the rest of my life?"

Elisha would put a fat arm around Patches skinny shoulders and hug her tight. "No baby," she'd say, "they won't, not if you don't let them, and hey, maybe if we give you another name everyone will call you that instead."

"Like what?"

Patches remembered Elisha pulling some of the small books out of her purse. "Let's see," she said as she concentrated over the books, "which is your favorite?"

"I don't know. They all my favorites."

"Hmm" Elisha said, then a smile lit up her face. "Hey, here it is— a book jus bout you."

And so it was how the girl acquired the name of Patches. It was from a book about the Patchwork girl, because Elisha said that she had white and black and probably other colors in her that nobody even knew about.

Patches' eyes blinked open at the loud crack of thunder. Distant lightning silhouetted her ghost-friend who drifted lazily away toward the entrance. More memories forced their way into Patches’ mind, surfacing like tired, faded movies.

"Remember, Elisha," she said to the ghost which refused to come any closer to her, "remember how we'd watch from the roofs at night?"

In the summer they would climb up onto the large, flat roofs of their housing project. From there they could see all around the city, marvel at the thousands of twinkling lights which still poured forth from the uptown area despite the increasing incidence of energy rationing and brown-outs. It was in the middle of uptown that Emerald City would spring forth each Forth of July and last for two glorious weeks.

During that time, tall, incredibly tall spires of lights would rise into the humid night air. Surrounding them for what seemed like miles would be other shapes, other shining marvels of a newborn century. But it was the spires, their blazing lights of  green which caused Elisha to name the area Emerald City.

During that time Elisha would tell Patches more stories, tales of life in uptown and Emerald City, all in a mesmerizing, melodic voice. Patches remembered how she would sit back and close her eyes tight, and if she tried hard enough she could remember all that she heard in those hot summer nights. . .

In Emerald City they would all be princesses and queens, dressed in the finest cloth with shoes made of rubies and gold.
In Emerald City they would dine on seafood untouched by heavy metals and pesticides and drink pure, clean water from fresh mountain streams.
In Emerald City they would dance with quiet, handsome men, dance slowly to music played by an orchestra from a far-away land.

Although she tried for five summers, Patches was unable to gain entrance to the place of her dreams. The closest she came was a few feet from the wall, a fifteen-foot high fence of tightly spaced chromium steel bars topped off by three feet of electrified razor wire. It was only after the world got flipped in the summer of her sixteenth year that she finally got in.

Patches had few memories of those days. In the insanity of the times she had lost contact with Elisha, becoming a lone scrounger among the scattered groups staking out the pitiful remains of the once glorious city. She had been searching for a place to sleep, a place to rest,  away from all the darkness that had made her former life seem peaceful and serene. And in her search, she came upon what had been Emerald City.

Patches wasn't even aware of it at first, since it had the same look as all the rest of the city: ankle-deep dust and debris covering burned-out and blown-up buildings lying like mute giants on busted streets. It was only when she began to look more closely, noticing the many pieces of hard green plastic littering the ground that Patches realized she had finally made it to the place of her childhood dreams.

Walking slowly among the ruins, Patches had felt a growing disappointment take hold inside her soul. There were no streets of gold, no castles holding knights or princes. There was only block after block of shattered and blackened rubble, with only one or two buildings per block still semi-intact. It was in one of those buildings that she had found Elisha.

Later, when she had gotten over it, Patches thought perhaps her friend had been looking for food or shelter from the rains that were already turning yellow and hot. Patches herself had gone into the tottering structure in the hopes of finding something to eat. While digging among  the rubble she found her friend.

Elisha was curled up tight, her body shrunken from the heat. Wrapped around her right wrist was the same purse that used to hold the books of Patches' youth. Patches sat by the body of her dead friend for two days, alternately crying, swearing and screaming. On the third day she set fire to Elisha’s body and left Emerald City for the first and last time.

"Patches?" she heard the ghost say, its voice sounding distant and hollow. She opened her tired eyes and could see that Elisha had drifted outside, her form slowly dissipating in the early night's mist.

"Don't leave me. Elisha," Patches croaked, crawling towards the entrance. By the time she reached it the shadow-shape had disappeared.

Patches continued to look out into the streets for several minutes, trying to ignore the pain that tore through her abdomen, trying to forget her thirst. She was only dimly aware that her signal flag had been torn away in the winds of the storm, and she was too tired to try to put up another. Curling up in a fetal position, Patches closed her eyes tight. She didn't care if the rains came back and washed over her. She didn't care if the poisoned water burned her flesh down to the bones. She had fought all of her life, all twenty-nine years, and she was tired of it. Tired of it all.

"Patches!" the voice called again, but this time much louder. Patches tried to curl up even tighter, wishing the ghost of Elisha would leave her alone. It was when the hands started shaking her that she finally opened up her eyes. Doc and his woman staring down at her, concern lining both of their aged, dark brown faces.

"I thought you was Elisha," Patches said quietly as they helped her up  and back inside the building. "I thought you were, were--"

"Shhh," Doc hushed as he wiped her face with a cool damp rag. "It's all okay now, you jus' believe that and everything is gonna be fine."

They led her over to a long, low standing table. Doc's woman, Mary, was laying out a clean white sheet from her pack over it when Slammer and Cherry came in from the street.  

"How is she?" Slammer blurted, his left hand clutching Patches' torn signal flag.

Doc looked up at the boy then smiled. “You did good, Slammer, only a couple blocks off but since Patches put her flag out it worked out all okay."

"I put the flag right outside the building here,"  Patches said between sips from a canteen, "not two blocks down."

"Well, it don't matter," Doc said. "The wind probably blew it there."

"How could the wind stick it straight up in a pipe?" Slammer asked.

"It was Elisha," Patches said. "She was here and we were talking 'bout--"

"That's enough," Doc cut in. "It don't matter. I mean, it matters as much as the lives we was all falling into before the change. It just don't matter." He let the silence hang in the air for a moment longer, then continued on. "We got a job to do here and we're gonna do it, do it right and proper." He put his hands on Patches' protruding abdomen and smiled at her. "How are the contractions?"

Patches thought for a moment, feeling like she had been living with the pain for years.  "Still comin, maybe a little harder, I don't know."

She was still tired and weak and went to lie on the table. Doc and Mary immediately stopped her.

"No layin’ down yet, child." Mary was the quietest member of the group, but when she did speak all the rest knew her word held weight. "Me and you need to walk awhile to wake your child up and get it movin out."

And so they walked, the young and the old, in and around the building. Doc set up some candles for light and laid out his ancient medical equipment, while Slammer and Cherry stood nervously in the shadows, holding hands and whispering.

After a while, Doc joined Mary and Patches in their walk. "You scared, Patches?" he asked when they were away from the rest. Patches nodded slowly, always feeling like a girl around the much older man.

"It's okay to be scared,” he said in a calm, soothing voice, “but it's gonna be just fine. You just remember that when things went crazy after the world got flipped, it was me who was doc. Even though I never went to a fancy medical school, I watched them doctors at the hospital where I once worked, watched 'em close and learned."

The trio kept moving, but Patches made them stop more and more often when the contractions started coming steady and hard. During one, she squatted down to try and ease the pain and felt her bladder open, sending a long warm stream of urine spilling down her legs and skirt.

"Damnit," Patches muttered, feeling tears of fear and frustration well up again.

"It's all right," Mary comforted her. “You're gonna need to be takin them clothes off anyway.” She handed her a clean white wrap-around and motioned to the table. "Now you just slip dis on and we’ll help you get up on the table."

After Patches changed into the new clothes, Doc and Mary helped her up on the table. Lying quietly atop hard wood, Patches noticed that the faces surrounding her looked distant and cold in the dancing shadows of the candlelight.

"I gotta check you, Patches," Doc said apologetically as he washed his hands with rubbing alcohol, the smell of it strong and sharp.

"Okay, honey, you gonna feel me touching you down there," Doc told her again. Patches said nothing and tried to breathe through another contraction. Cherry and old woman stood at the bottom of the table, holding lightly onto Patches’ legs. Slammer stood near the head of the table, his eyes wide with awe and fear.

"We gonna have a baby real soon, Patches," Doc spoke, looking up at her. "The baby's head is comin down and once I get one little problem here fixed it'll be all okay."

"Doc, what do you mean?" Patches asked before another contraction took her voice away.

"It's okay, honey, it's just fine," Doc said, but Patches could hear the trepidation in his voice as he continued working inside her. “Just a little tangle in here, that's all.” His fingers felt like coils of hardened steel as she tried to keep from screaming.

"There we go," he finally pronounced, as if describing a minor mechanical problem. He looked up and Patches could see he was sweating almost as much as she was.

"Now listen here, Patches," Doc remarked, "we need to get this baby out, so the next time you start feeling a good contraction come on, Slammer is gonna help hold you up."

"What do you mean?" she asked anxiously.

"I mean that I want you to squat, then push like you're taking a big bowel movement, and I promise that your child will come out."

"I'll. . . I'll try, Doc."

"You'll do it, baby." He turned to look for the boy, who had moved five feet away from the table. "Slammer, I need you over here. Can you handle it?"

Slammer looked over at the scene, then took a deep breath and walked over. "No problem. I can hang with it."

"All right. You heard what I told Patches, so when she's ready, you help lift her up."

"No problem."

Patches could feel the tightness and pain building up in her lower gut and started to push herself up with her arms. Once again the pain built to a crescendo and she started to fall back, but Slammer caught her and lifted her back up.

"All right now, girl," Doc said, his voice loud and stern, "now push!"

"I can't, I can't I ohgodithurts-"

But Patches pushed anyway, against the pain and pressure, feeling like she was pushing against a heavy block of cement and then she felt something give, something tear and she screamed in pain and then relief as she heard the first cries of her new-born daughter. Quickly and professionally, Doc cut and clamped the umbilical cord then handed the baby to Mary.

"Our family has a new baby girl," Mary spoke proudly as she rubbed the baby dry with a clean white towel. "God and Patches have given us a new life to bring strength to us all."

"Can I hold my baby?" Patches asked Mary. The old woman bent down and handed Patches her new daughter, then kissed them both with dry, cracked lips. Patches held the infant silently for a few minutes, rocking it slowly back and forth in her arms. The tiny girl opened her eyes and looked up as she yawned.

"I know how you feel," Patches said to her baby as wood from the fire started by the rest of the group crackled and popped. "Now what are we gonna call you?" she asked softly, but her daughter seemed to be looking past her, out toward the others. Patches turned her head and looked over and just for an instant, she thought she saw an outline through the smoke, an outline formed out of memories and hope and love.

"I guess we jus got your name, didn't we, Elisha?" Patches said to her baby, who seemed to agree, curling up and quickly drifting off into a deep, peaceful sleep.

 

Emerald City was originally published in Mystic Fiction, Volume 3, #2, 1995. Emerald City copyright 1995 by Edward R. Rosick. All rights reserved.