,” and she strained to find comfort in the old cadences. But her melancholy was incurable and the paranoiac fits bulged in time with her growing belly. She had believed herself fruitless. The new roundness of her stomach could barely convince her that this
, as she calledit, was maternal and not demonic. For the next seven months mother quavered, soothed only by readings from the New Testament. Her torment would not fully subside till I was delivered from her womb.Under the shadow of Mount Diablo, with a terrible warble which filledthe little company house, Abicca Witherow squeezed me into the world.The labor began one indigo morning when she spasmed awake in tears.Then she struggled an entire day and night, clear to the followingafternoon. The midwife, Sarah Norton, darkened my parents’ door as abulk of shadow. She had the stout hands and mannish arms of one whopried at wombs for hours on end, and wore a string slung crosswise onher breast, dangling with pouches of fresh and dried herbs. Tisanes,roborants, analeptics, caustics, tonics, and salves—all of old-world or Indian concoction. She put her mouth to mother’s twitching ear.“First thing is to calm those nerves, dearie.” She gave four pouches tofather. “Each in a separate pot. Boiled.” And as he dashed out, shestood smiling down upon her tremulous patient. “We’re bursting, aren’twe, dearie? The little thing’s eager for air. Here’s a comfort for you.”Her black hair stranded downward as she bent and slipped hooksfrom eyes, spread open the belly of her own blouse, bunched theundershirt clear. She moved into the light and showed mother the longblue scar running from her navel to the dark pubic swatch.“And still the child was lost,” she said. “But yours won’t be anything asbad as that. Yours wants to come, so don’t shudder, sweet.”Mother’s head thrashed on the damp pillow. Years later she told me:“I just had to give myself up to her, shadowy though she was. And shedelivered me well, but I was happy to have her gone.”Finally at dusk I was born. Father—who knelt by the bed with his lefthand cracking in mother’s grasp till the knuckles nearly broke, and withhis right hand wiping her nose, which bled as eagerly as her womb—hesaid the room seemed to tremble at my coming. But both my parentsassured me that once I kicked free of the belly I glowed with a healthyinfant-light which healed the nine-month malaise.They named me Asher. I never learned why, but now I think it a goodname for someone born in the night amid culm banks and black-water drainage bogs.