She was the plain voice of a woman who lived blood and babies. A calling that was part of her love manifesto. Mid-wife, doula, accoucheuse, she answered to them all. When she wasn’t delivering newborns she rode night trains, anywhere, looking for skies pregnant and pending. She imagined families nested in their homes during such howling weather. Such penetrating rain. The slower the train moved through towns, the better her view through passing windows.
It wasn’t exactly voyerism. This preoccupation started on a particular stormy night when she was onboard the L11-6 headed down towards Nags Point and the train unexpectedly stalled in South Rockland. She looked up from her novel into the window of a young couple’s apartment. The rail car was 20 feet from tenement walls, which put the train window about 240 inches from their living room recliner, where a woman straddled her man, gyrating on top of him. They hadn’t taken the time to fully undress. Or to consider the world beyond under thunderous skies. For them it was this, only this, regardless of undraped windows. She leaned in close to watch the weave and bob, noted that the woman’s hips were wider than her own. They rolled in the ease of the well-lubricated. The curve of her buttocks mesmerizing as much as the intensity on his face. Their naked flesh became rhythm and she noticed a picture on the wall behind them, the two faces she could not quite make-out in their throes, smiling in front of a sunlit cafe. Greece? Honeymoon? A quick movement on the recliner caught her eye in a flash of lightning into the room. It was a cat on the back of the headrest, jostling in the rolling action, gripping the leatherette not to fall. The woman moved faster, the man thrust upward, his hands kneading her ample backside, his eyes closed. The feline looked crazed.
She did not notice she’d become a shallow panting. Her body external was stiff as rigor-mortus while her insides had turned to melt. Warm and moist as the evening surround. In shame she slid down in her seat, but did not look away. Then the train lurched forward and she was no longer there. She didn’t see the end but she was sure there was a baby made that night.
She began to study clouds looking for the telltale patterns in water-bearing mackerel sky. She watched for halos around the moon. She learned to conjure rainstorms. Break the boundaries of ebbing currents. When her birthing cottage co-worker found her hanging a sopping-wet broom to the front porch rafters she explained— with bristles to stir winds and to sprinkle the wet of it towards heavens, she was harnessing air’s secret language. To deliver the spirited rain. To couple in absentia.
Since Dawn showed an ability to divine sinking air masses in addition to the drop of a baby, Mary believed it was possible.
“A heavy storm is coming our way tonight.”
Mary looked at the thin excuse for clouds out the window and said, “really?”
“I see it in the clouds’ curl of hair.” Dawn answered, watching dark tendrils drag across the wide wild face of sky.
“Haven’t you become the harbinger?” Mary said. But the question was jest; she knew to let Dawn be, even without understanding why she was so preoccupied with ill weather. Mary assumed it was fear.
“Don’t worry, I can cover the birthing calls for the night.”
For a month the winds swept weather down from the north mountains, but she had detected a shift to an ocean breeze that day, so Dawn decided to take the L11-6 again. Dawn was in the café car sipping a chai latte and watching the storm clouds ahead when she suddenly felt unnerved. The train started to decelerate in a slammed urgency and the rail car began to shake. She gripped the table edge a little bit tighter but the force was overwhelming. She heard a bang, it sounded like an express train driving through a tunnel—an increasing roar as it came nearer. A deafening crash. The whole train veered far to its left and shook violently to the right, then flipped over. Dawn’s world became dark and dusty. It seemed as if she was alone in a huge passage with doors slamming all around. She looked up to see only bloody faces. A large cart had hit her on the chest and rolled on top of the person behind her. Though in a haze, she realized the train was actually sideways. She thought she might have a few bruised ribs after a stab of pain attempting to shout. It was mayhem, people stepping over others and debris. She pushed out an emergency window, now on the ceiling, and squeezed herself through, then called the next person up. She delivered eight or nine people that night. Outside the rail car she could see the L11-6 was burning, then she saw corpses, before collapsing.
Dawn looked out the hospital window. In the morning sky, a lazy moon lingered in half twilight while the sun burst yellow at the horizon. Was this the turning season? An edge of fierce and frailty, in its ribbons of heat and rivers of fluids. Dawn closed her eyes and she believed in the babies being born at this hour.
Catherine Moore is the winner of Rag Queen Periodical's 2017 Fiction Contest.
Catherine Moore is the author of three chapbooks and the forthcoming ULLA! ULLA! (Main Street Rag Publications). Her work appears in Tahoma Literary Review, Caesura, Southampton Review, Still: the Journal, Mid-American Review, Appalachian Heritage, and various anthologies. A Walker Percy and Hambidge fellow, her honors include the 2014 Gearhart Poetry Prize and Pushcart Prize nominations.