"I don't do that anymore. Please stop asking." Morna set down her cup and stared at her daughter in-law. Women in the township had come to know that stare, one tempted fate to counter such a stare.
Innes persisted, nonetheless. "You've never shown it to me, but your son's stories speak the truth." She pressed non-wrinkles from her skirt, crimson nails flashing across cream-colored linen. "So, I know it's true. Why you won't help us is what I want to know."
Morna noticed that the biscuits had vanished. She hadn't even seen Innes eat them. She levered herself from her favorite chair, a sliding rocker that soothed her when visitors came whining, always asking too much. "Why don't you take the tin. I've saved a few for myself." She walked to the attached dining room and opened the door to one of many cubbyholes built into the wall. To the side, a set of shelves, once home to dozens of flowers and other ingredients, showed only a few framed photographs and a stack of the latest paperbacks. With the tin pulled from the cubby she fetched the top-most book. "Rather than pester me with fanciful wishes, why don't you take matters into your own hands." She handed Innes the tin, the book on top. "That's an excellent tale of calm determination. It would do you good to read it."
"Infertility can't be cured with self-help and homeopathy." Innes received the gifts and gave the tin a shake.
"And just what help do you think I might offer if not for home remedies."
"You have the Power. Jamie so much as admitted it."
"Oh, our Jamie has a vivid imagination," Morna said, hand to hip. "If ever I had such a thing, and I do mean if, it died with Faolan." Morna rarely spoke of her husband. His death, twenty years previous, remained shrouded in questions that even today served as grist for the town's rumor mill. She continued, "Regardless, Innes, you're not infertile. We've talked about this."
"Nothing, so far."
"What are you insinuating?"
"Not my place, but yours and Jamie's situation may be a sign of the times." Morna returned to the wall and closed the cubby door. "Your lifestyles, the anxious, go-go-go way your generation conducts themselves. Look at you, you're thin as a rail."
"I eat. But that has nothing to do..."
"That has everything to do with it."
Innes popped open the tin and started nibbling; crumbs began to sprinkle onto her skirt. "Will you help us or not?"
Morna returned to her rocker, its rhythmic motion the only sound in the room. She sipped her tea, now cold, and regarded the scene through her backyard's bay window: a temperate forest of flowers and herbs enshrouding a stone path that led to the woods that led to the river. Above, a gray sky looked on, indifferent. She turned back to her daughter in-law. "If I do this, here is what you will promise me..."
"Mom, Innes is pregnant," Jamie said from the driveway as Morna emerged from the side yard.
"Of course she is." Morna pulled off her dirt-covered gloves. "I'm so happy for you."
"Happy for us, all of us." He closed the car door and spread his arms.
"Us. Absolutely." Morna stepped forward and gave her son a warm hug. "Come in, let's have something cool to drink." She assembled glasses and a pitcher of iced-tea. "Let's sit back here, there's a breeze from the forest."
The odor of mint, lavender, and rosemary permeated the air as Jamie related his news. He noticed a fresh bed of unusual looking plants. "That's new, isn't it. Strange violet and orange leaves on those. And those look like onions, but how could they be black?"
"The darker the leaf the richer the taste."
"The stranger the magic," Jamie added.
Morna's sly grin belied their shared history. "Care to share the gender?"
"A girl. But then, you knew that."
"Innes feeling alright? No morning sickness?"
"Come on, Mom. You know she's fine. It's like there's a glorious light radiating from her. She's even started to sing. I never thought I'd hear her sweet voice again, after all that frustration."
Morna wiped the dew down the side of her glass. "Do you like the tea?" She flicked the water into her garden.
"Yeah, sure. It's fine."
"It's time you knew the truth." Morna plucked a black-eyed susan yearning skyward near the patio, its petals falling one by one as she pinched them off. She looked to the distant spruce trees. "Your father was sick. I had the cure. The spell went wrong. I..."
"I killed him."
"That's not true. He had cancer."
"Which I was treating. But..." She pulled the seed-head apart and rubbed away the fluff, concentrating the tiny black dots in her palm. "I was young and stupid. I evoked too much energy. I was too eager, too... desperate. The potion..." Morna tossed the seeds, reached out and grasped Jamie's hand. "But not this time, I promise."
Jamie enclosed her hand in his. "You're going to make a wonderful grandmother."
Before he left, Morna packaged up the first of multiple deliveries for Jamie to take to his wife. "She knows what to do with these," she said, handing him a basket containing small glass jars filled to the brim. "You'll come back in two months for the next batch."
He gave her a quizzical look.
"Just herbal infusions to help keep the nausea down, her strength up." She smiled. "Nothing to worry about. I promised, remember?"
Summer melded into autumn and Innes honored Morna's wishes. Her belly grew and although she ate and ate, she never seemed to gain weight. Fall stretched into an unusually warm holiday season, Innes' favorite time of the year. Cookies and pies, roasted meals and rich sides seemed to disappear off her plate, yet her skin lost its sheen, her eyes sunk into her skull. Still, the child swelled inside her, a python bulging with a swallowed deer. As January dawned, the cold swept in and Innes seemed to dissolve into the snowy background, barely able to move, yet still sipping the last of Morna's tinctures.
February is the perfect month for a funeral, Morna thought as she carefully ironed the black dress she hadn't worn for more than twenty years. It still fit and, although it draped more than clung, she found its silken texture just as soothing. Later, she drove alone to the cemetery.
Jamie arrived, bent into the backseat and retrieved his child. Despite the solemnity of the situation, he couldn't help but smile into the face of his daughter. He followed the snow packed trail to the site of the grave, a small square dug just deep enough to host the urn of Innes' ashes. As he made his way, all eyes turned to watch. As dismal as the day could be, each mourner gasped openly, their eyes reaching to take in the golden glow of the child.
Morna struggled to suppress her smile.
The pastor read while foolish birds, failing to heed winter's command, gathered in the branches of the spindly trees. Dozens in number, eerily silent they witnessed the ceremony.
Amen came as did the moment to inter the ashes. Jamie turned and, with apparent reluctance, passed his child to his mother.
Morna gave reverence and lowered her head. She stretched out her arms; an inaudible sigh escaped her lips as she cradled the swaddled bundle. She risked a reveal and pulled back the blanket. "There you are my darling. My Aisling, my love. You are a vision beyond compare."
Vivid blue eyes regarded Morna. Aisling gave a tiny giggle and all the birds took flight, circling overhead.
The ceremony ended and Jamie approached, stoic, expectant. "Was this the promise you made, Mother?"
"I tried everything I knew. The child was too strong for Innes."
"Strong? Or powerful?" Jamie reached for his child.
Morna snuggled her face up close to the child's. "You and I are going to be fast friends, my love."
Aisling's brows, faint as down, danced as she listened to her grandmother.
"Oh yes, my love. I have much to teach you." Morna touched her nose to the child's. "And you have much to learn."