NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W
Even though Ellen would never know her children’s birthmothers, even though there was no address for the envelopes, Ellen wrote them letters anyway. This was the first letter she wrote to Georgie’s mother. Dear You, This is what I believe: He was born and you could not see any other way. You swaddled your baby and tucked in a note: Tell this baby he was loved from the beginning. You put him in a basket and set the basket in the corner of the market and lit a little firecracker that popped and drew attention so that when you looked back someone was holding your baby and a crowd was gathering. I pray you were comforted by this. This is what I know: Your baby is safe and healthy and happy and beautiful and loved. He’s trying to take steps now; he wants to keep up with his sisters and the neighbors’ dog. He smiles big enjoying the sun. I hope you feel its warm in the moments you think of him. This is what I will tell him about you: Your life was hard, that you wanted him but couldn’t see a way. He will understand that there was desperation, but I will not let you live desperate in his mind forever. I promise to teach him about life’s complexity so he will be able to think of you beyond one moment, so he will have space to believe your life full. I will tell him you are using everything in life you have been given. I hope this is true and I hope that it pleases you, wherever you are. Did you know that in Africa there is a lily pad that can bear the weight of an elephant? After the christening, Ellen decided to speak to Father Duncan. She was holding Georgie, still in his gown. “I know he looks small and fragile, but Georgie is really very tough. You have no idea what all he’s made of. It wouldn’t have hurt him, being tossed like the others,” she said.
The priest stared at Ellen for a moment. “I was afraid to toss him,” he said. They stood for a moment in awkward silence. Then Father Duncan said, “How ’bout it Georgie? You want to fly?” He took Georgie in his arms. Ellen followed them back into the empty nave, up the aisle of pews to the font. Standing over the pool of water, Father Duncan tossed Georgie, first only slightly. When Georgie smiled and squealed delight he tossed him higher, over and again, until they were both winded. There were twenty adults and a posse of children afterwards for the christening brunch. The children were impatient, nagging Billy because he had promised a game of tag in the front yard. Harriet had a gift for Ellen. “This is for you, not the baby,” she said. Billy held Ellen’s champagne so she could open the box. It was a charm for Ellen’s bracelet. A Chinese character. “It means Number One Mother,” Harriet said. She lifted her index finger. “You can’t believe how hard it was to find that charm.” “Number One.” Billy finished Ellen’s champagne and winked at her. “All rights, kids,” he called. “It’s me against all of you pipsqueaks. Catch me if you can.” This set off a series of squeals that lingered even as the tribe of children left through the front door. Ellen and the friends and family and Georgie sat quiet for a moment, listening to the herd of children in the distance, screaming, wild, moving across the lawn, trying to catch and hold on to something bigger than themselves. n
THAT IS WHEN ELLEN KNEW THAT EVEN IF EVERYTHING WOULD NOT BE ALL RIGHT, IT WOULD SOMEHOW BE GOOD.