Rebecca turned her face to the wall as her husband Isaac entered her tent. “Send him away. I can’t forgive him,” she whispered to Deborah, the old nurse who had cared for Rebecca since she was a child. “He forced me to the threshold of death …” Rebecca’s voice faded from exhaustion.
Deborah waved Isaac outside. A look of annoyance crossed his handsome face but he retreated as the old woman picked up a large, ruddy infant nestled at the foot of Rebecca’s bed and joined Isaac at the entrance of his wife’s tent.
“This is your firstborn,” the old woman said as she held up the squalling child. The look of aggravation eased form Isaac’s face as he reached for his son. The boy grasped his fingers and clung to them fiercely.
The old nurse smiled. “You have a second son as well-a heel grabber. This big boy pulled his brother into the world.” Isaac laughed but sobered as he glanced through the tent opening. The old woman followed his gaze. Rebecca lay motionless on her bed, curled around a small, sleeping infant.
“It is dangerous to give birth to twins,” Deborah whispered. “The goat demons who prowl the night are eager to carry off mother and child.”
Isaac appeared uneasy. “That didn’t happen,” he said but also lowered his voice as if not wishing to call attention to his good fortune.
“The demons still gather, thirsting for blood.”
The child in Isaac’s arms began to squirm. His father handed him back to the nurse.
The old woman cradled the boy, rocking him gently. “Never have I seen such a huge baby. His head was almost too big to pass through the birth canal. Lucky for Rebecca, your second son came easily. This one drained all his mother’s strength.”
Isaac didn’t seem to hear. His attention was centered on the large, thrashing infant. “As soon as you can hold a bow, I will teach you how to hunt,” he promised the boy.
Deborah frowned and reminded him of the ancient tradition. “If twins are born, the mother decides if both will be kept or if one will be abandoned.” She glanced again at the small bundle sleeping beside his mother inside the tent. The younger, tiny infant was already Rebecca’s favorite although he had entered the world reluctantly. Deborah had to slap him twice before he cried to fill his lungs with breath. The older boy had howled lustily without being urged and refused to be quieted although Deborah did her best to coddle him. The little son nursed gently when Deborah placed him at Rebecca’s breast then fell docilely asleep. The bigger boy bit his mother’s nipple repeatedly.
“I will send a maid to the village to find a wet nurse,” Deborah said when Rebecca pushed him away.
“Do that-do it at once,” Rebecca snapped and refused to hold her older child.
Deborah sent a maid then returned to Rebecca’s bedside. “Motherhood is the greatest blessing that can befall a woman,” the old nurse said to comfort the young woman.
Rebecca sounded bitter. “How do you know? You’ve never been a mother.”
“I’ve been a mother to you,” Deborah quietly reminded her.
Rebecca ran her fingers through her thick, dark ringlets, still damp with perspiration. “Bring me my jewelry,” she ordered. Deborah did as she was told. Rebecca put on her nose ring and golden bracelets, gifts she had received when she accepted Isaac’s marriage proposal. “I’ve earned these, don’t you think?” she asked as she admired herself in a polished bronze mirror. Lifting her gown, she studied the heavy folds of skin that hung loosely over her emptied belly. “Will I ever be beautiful again?” Her face misted with regret.
Before Deborah could answer, the little son sleeping at the foot of her bed began to whimper. Rebecca held him as he nursed then slept again. To Deborah’s relief, the maid returned with a wet nurse willing to care for the larger child in exchange for gold. The big, red-faced boy drank his fill then quieted, but only for a few minutes.
Rebecca moaned and wrapped her pillow around her head. “Haven’t I suffered enough?” she moaned as Deborah lulled the child back to sleep.
“My poor girl,” the old nurse drew a blanket over Rebecca’s trembling shoulders. “Such a difficult birth …so many hours of labor.”
She sat in silence beside Rebecca’s bed. The children also slept but the large boy eventually awoke and cried fitfully.
“Can’t you keep it quiet?” Rebecca hissed.
The old woman drew a deep breath. “I could take it outside … leave it in the wilderness.”
“Yes … no,” Rebecca began to weep.
When Isaac returned the next day, Deborah met him at the entrance to Rebecca’s tent. “She’s not yet recovered from her ordeal. It is our custom to allow a woman time to recuperate from childbirth.”
“Yes, of course … I understand.” He lowered his head and began to retreat then turned back. “I only came because … I fear a shadow has fallen between us.”
I sense that too , Deborah thought even as she assured him that Rebecca’s mood would improve once she felt well and whole again. Isaac smiled as the old woman recalled that first day Rebecca had seen Isaac walking in the fields as her caravan approached from the east. Infatuated, she fell from her camel. Deborah had rushed forward and thrown a veil across the young girl’s face to observe decorum.
“We were so much in love,” Isaac said sadly as if he doubted they would ever be lovers again.
Deborah watched him walk back to his own tent. “Ah well,” she sighed, “At least the little son is a comfort to his mother. What does it matter, if she doesn’t love the other?” But the old woman’s heart was heavy. Rebecca had deferred her decision, but one day she would have to make a mother’s choice between the son she favored and the one who held his father’s favor.
Published in Stories