He moves in closer and trembling she takes his hand.

They both of them inhale the scent of that moment in its entirety and their minds rush with a fear untold. The stars are overhead and their faraway brightness seems to move closer as if they watch in silent judgement. They say nothing and they take that as their approval if not the approval of the one who put them there. Beside the nighttime tree rustles in the soft breeze and shakes tiny drops of dew onto the field and their skin. She bids him come closer still and he does. Their eyes lock in reverie at once existential yet also nihilistic as if their actions carry a sense of doom. They whisper worries and exchange secrets. Closer and closer still until they occupy the same place completely and they allow themselves a time of surrender. And beneath the eyes of the night beside the tree they surrender still. The stone they throw ripples across time in ways they care nothing for. The act is done. A silent and knowing reenactment of that first sin. *** She stretched out her short legs and struggled to stand. The river that flowed beside her had rippled with raindrops for almost an hour. The bridge overhead and the space beneath had been her home for these long months but in the rain when she could not leave it felt so much more like a prison. There was a pain in her middle and she bit her lip and bore the sharpness with fading endurance. She leaned against the stone wall and almost collapsed. When she was a child she had no name. Her mother and her father could not decide and left her with the simple name of baby. When her father returned home one night with a single rose her his wife she decided that it should stand as designation for the issue of their love. Her name was Rose. The flower of beauty with the power to draw in eyes from all directions but rarely did it show its true nature. Modesty is what they prized being the people they were. They raised their daughter to follow the ways of the Lord and any deviation thereof was an affront. When she wore colors not suitable for their taste she was punished. The basement was cold and damp but whenever it was she was sent there she knew it was the will of her father and of the Father Himself as well. The night in the field those months passed by had been the only time she’d left without permission. To keep the secret had been exciting. At night when her family sat down to eat she knew something they did not. When they spoke of domestic issues and told their daughter to return to her room she knew that out in the world beyond their whitewashed house there walked a man who saw more in her. When the sickness began she assumed it had been mother’s cooking. When her bleeding stopped and her middle swelled her father had hit her hard. You are no daughter of mine. Don’t say that, please!

You are not mine. You are a sinner masquerading as my daughter! I’ll not have you in my home! Her mother had cried but father remained firm and she pack a small bag and walked into the night. She had stayed close to the house in the forest that first night and in the morning she tried to go back inside. He father burst open the doors bearing his pistol and fired once. He had missed on purpose he told her. He would not do so twice. And so she walked the length of the street and stepped into the world. She had nowhere she had nothing. She searched for the boy but the search was fruitless. When world of her disgrace had spread he had jumped of the bridge and broke his neck and that was the end of that story. She went beneath the bridge days after she learned and had not left. For food she searched the trashcans of the city when night fell and for water she used the river. Her home was the negative space of a town which did not want her and in her grew a life unwanted. Her petals had closed to the world and she eschewed the sun for want of isolation. The rain stopped and she gathered her tattered blanket and walked into the residual mist. The bakers would be discarding items about now. *** It was well passed sunset and the streetlamps’ soft glow reflected off the wet streets and made the whole town glow a soft orange. The smell of wet stone wafted and brought with it a nostalgic euphoria as smells that ilk often do. Given the hour their were no other pedestrians except the occasional nighttime patrolman who would look down an alley but did not expect to see anything out of the ordinary. The scant autos on the street were tiny large abandoned animals waiting for their masters to return. She hid behind one them waiting for one patrolman to pass and when he did she moved as fast as her newly swelled frame would allow. An electric bulb hung in the alleyway behind the bakery but flickered off an on. Her shadow was only occasionally cast. She lifted the lid of the metal garbage can and made an accidental clang which echoed on the narrow walls. She froze with terror waiting for the patrolman to return and catch her. Nothing happened and after a few moments she resumed her task. She carefully placed the lid on the ground and peered in. Inside she found that the discarded loaves of bread had been mercifully spared from the rain and she grabbed three of them. She placed them on top of her blanket and took a piece off one of them. She had not eaten since the day before yesterday and that partly stale bread was like a king’s feast which she chewed slowly and appreciatively. She swallowed and looked back inside the can but found there were no more loaves. All that remained were scattered pastries whose exposed filling had mixed with the grime that lay at the bottom of the barrel. She counted her blessings and

placed the lid back on the can. She carefully folded the blanket around her grainy loot and picking it up walked back into the street. When she got back to the bridge she started on the loaf she had tasted before. This time there was no savoring and only large gaping bites in quick succession until most of the loaf was gone. When she was finished she knew it had been a mistake. She had promised herself the last time that she would better conserved what she found but she had given into gluttony once more. She packed the rest of the bread in the blanket and huddled in the corner beneath her old coat. For a while she sang to herself the words to one of her childhood lullabyes to which she had forgotten most of the words but remembered the tune. She listened to the river flowing and the sound filled her whole head with clamoring and interchanging tones and thoughts. Maybe it was time she jumped in and let it carry her away, or when she let herself sink with no thought of returning to the surface. She decided against both and her heavy eyelids drooped down and she went to sleep. In her dream there was the tree. As she walked closer and found she was naked and that her frame was of a time before. She cared not. She walked forward to the tree and the limbs seemed to shake and then they moved by locomotion she could not surmise. They encased her in a wooden cage and shielded her from the outside world out of concern. Her body grew and grew and she changed. Her white skin darkened and took on an unnatural hardness and when the limbs all retreated she had changed into a tree all her own. She stood with unbreakable stillness there in that spot for the rest of time and she felt no more emotion but serenity. She inhaled the sun and exhaled the lifegiving air of the world. There was no sin. There was nothing but stasis. When she woke up it was daytime. In her grogginess she scanned around. The blanket in which she kept the bread was spread open. What little remained of her bread had bite marks all throughout and was coated in a layer of foreign saliva. She threw it in the river and began to cry. There was a kick in her middle and it made her jump. She was wrapped in the blanket attempting to sleep but when she felt the small movement it was enough to rouse her. She had been unable to sleep after the food had been stolen and that made for two days with no rest. Around her little flashing lights danced about, and noises clicked in and out like echoes inside her mind. She knew not if the hallucinations would become worse and she did not want to find out. Hunger pains gripped her and the one within. It kicked again as if in protest. She whispered in an attempt at calming its nascent temper. Perhaps it could hear. A small distance away she saw two people on the shore of the river with a metal box and two fishing poles. They were an older and a younger man both wearing caps. The younger one had his face frozen in a grin. He took his pole and cast it into the water and said something that made the older man laugh and stroke his black beard. She watched as they both sat and waited

there by the shore for any kind of action. She hid behind her blanket in the shadow of the bridge. She sank beneath the rotted cloth and became a part of the stone, a sixteen year old mass in the middle of the seventy year old bridge. Part of the whole and without a feeling other than the want of concealment. A growl in her swollen gut brought her back to reality and she felt a sudden pang of sadness well up in her. The two men laughed and she realized she could not remember when last she did that. The younger man reached for the metal box. He opened it up and pulled out a sandwich and looked it over like a hunter over a fresh kill. His eyes lit up and he took a bite. Her mouth watered and she moved against thought and reason toward the two men. She smacked her lips and wiped a string of drool off her chin. She patted her stomach as another kick assaulted her. She whispered to her passenger. It’ll be fine, she said. It’ll be fine. Hush up, now. Hush and I’ll make it all right. I’ll make it alright just stop your moving. She began to cry softly and as she wiped her tears the younger man noticed her approach. What the hell? he said. He jumped like he had a spasm, and falling backward into the dirt then sprang to his feet in stark terror. Hm? The older one looked and recoiled at the sight. He stood tall and moved toward the younger one like a sentinel on a wall defends a noble. Please. She moved forward, shambling steps dragging clumps of still wet earth. Her bare feet covered in blisters and every step with a little more pain but she kept at it. Please help. Just a little food justGet the hell away! The younger one said. Lemme take care a’this. No, just- just get back! He picked up a small stone from the nearby water and threw it at her. It hit her hard on the arm and there was a blast of pain and she went to her knees. A sting remained but the worst was over and yet she burst into tears nonetheless. Wetness on her face. He splashed her with the muddy water and ran away in disgust. The older man stood for a moment more just watching and looking her over. Eyes like a keen observer of nature probing her inner depths. Then he left to follow the younger man. She lay in the mud sobbing until the sun dipped and the world went red.

She lay there motionless save for the up and down of her breath. Given the darkness of the night, and clothed as she was in drab gray a passerby might have mistaken her for a natural if queer looking fixture of the riverbank. A kick here and there and then calm. Stars swarmed and moon was the pale winking eye of a determined watcher. Not God but perhaps one of His angels taking stock of His justice. There were footsteps behind her but she did not look. She watched instead as the waves and ripples got closer and closer, and decided she would wait there and breathe in the river. Hey, said a voice. It was familiar to her and finally she turned and found the older man from earlier on was standing behind her. He carried a cloth bag. She looked away. Hey. Girl. Go away. Haven’t moved since last I left ya. Please go away. I can’t do that. He squatted down. Can’t do that, can’t just leave ya here, not as you are. As I am? Y’know what I mean. In the way and all. With child. I’m not with child. What? I’m cursed by God. He sat down and was about to respond but he swallowed it. She still would not look, waiting still for the water to inch close enough. He reached into his bag and bulled out a small loaf of bread and it hit her nostrils like a song of temptation but she ignored it. He left it next to her. Name’s Rick, he said. She said nothing. She looked at the bread but would not eat. You don’t have a name? The damned don’t have names. What’re you talkin about? What’re you doin here? You oughtta be with the doctor. Bein’ out here, that’llPlease just go.

No. I can’t leave you here, I told ya that. They said nothing for a long time. The moon disappeared beyond the black horizon and the sparse and judgmental stars turned around themselves a half step. A breeze blew and she shivered, the rotted blanket having lost its effectiveness. He removed his coat and draped it over her. Thank you. Gonna let me help you now? You can’t. Damn it, girl what’s happened to you? I broke my promise to the Lord. What? I laid with a man. I could’ve said no but I didn’t. And it happened outside like the animals do it. It’s like I was spitting right in His face. My father he sent me away. Told me I wasn’t his daughter anymore, that I’m a sinner. I am a sinner. And sinner’s aren’t welcome in His house or the houses of his flock. So you been what, livin here? Under that bridge? Yes. What about the boy? He jumped and broke his neck on those rocks over there. Jumped? What, girl you mean Jesse Evans? Was heDon’t say his name! She screamed into the night and there was a barking somewhere from a stray dog. Someone close by peaked their head out their window and told her to keep quiet. She felt tears welling but she held back. It doesn’t matter, she said. He’s dead now and that’s my fault. I’ve brought down His anger. I’ve damned myself! I’ve damned… Rick could not speak. He had no words, no response for this girl that he thought would assuage the fear and disgust that bubbled searingly inside her pale and malnourished self. He put and hand on her cheek and she grabbed it and then his whole arm in a painfully tight embrace. She rocked back and forth on the bank and he thought he heard her whisper something that sounded like daddy and Jesse and the rest her could not hear.

She picked up her head and her face was puffy and wet. Thank you, she said. Of course. My naA sudden pain. It shot through her and she bit down and clenched her jaw to stop her scream. Rick was frightened awfully and he helped her try to stand but she fell again to her knees. She felt like she might vomit and when she regained herself a small bit she felt something. There was a slickness between her legs, and it was thicker than water but around the same color. There was a gush of red and an overpowering metal smell then all went blurry then black. After struggling to grab hold of her Rick took her in his car. She was half in the world and the other half was somewhere far beyond the reaches of man’s sight or senses otherwise. She muttered to herself but she may as well have spoke in tongues for all he could understand of her. Her blanket he left on the bank and in her half nakedness she shivered and quaked unconsciously and sometimes the tremors were violent. She moaned in great noises like an injured animal left on the open plain. It was just after ten o’clock when they reached the doctor’s house. It was small but made larger by the addition of his connecting office. Rick opened the passenger side door and scooped the girl up and went to the door and knocked in a fury. C’mon. C’mon, Doc. Open up! Open the door! The door finally opened and the aged and drooping figure that was Doctor Eckles stood half asleep and quite surprised. Rick Oleman. My word, who’s this? She needs help, Doc. Who is this girl, and- Good heavens is she pregnant? Rick, howNo time, she’s bleedin bad! The old man nodded and they both entered into the office and Rick set the girl on the examination table. What’s happened? Rick asked. What’s her, I mean how’s she gonna be?

This girl is thin as bones. And the blood…how long has she been in the way? Hell if I know! I only found her like this earlier in the day. Found her? Rick set about explaining and Rose looked up, trying to make sense of the words floating nebulously in the air around her. It was about her and that was the extent of her certain knowledge. The old man was a new feature and she did not know this place. The walls were covered in pictures altogether foreign to her. Some were of this same old man and other she took to be his family. In her delirium they moved like living beings stuck in wooden framed prisons yet they smiled all and laughed jovial and wanting for nothing. She saw the head of another girl transfigure into her own head and another man’s head became her father’s. He looked blankly then smiled and embraced he and called her his little girl then they both said their I love yous. But the image faded soon thereafter and her father disappeared as did the others and she was alone in the picture in land she did not know. Then she snapped back entirely and she was in the office. She looked up at Rick and said: Where… Shhhh. Hush now, Rick said. Just relax yourself. This’s the Doctor’s place. Doc is gonna fix you up alright. Right, Doc? Yer gonna make it all alright? I’m not sure what you want me to say here, Rick. What’s that? I’ll have to examine her first. The Doctor went about his examination for a time. He listened to the insides and looked awhile at her nether regions and the fluid and blood that had appeared there on the bank. All the time his face was grim and he spoke very little and when he did it was to himself. She lay there and dared not ask any questions. Rick reentered and went to the doctor’s side. Doc? I’m afraid not, Rick. Rick’s face was a stone wall of sudden dread. What’s to be done?

They whispered. Rose would have listened if she wanted but she knew in some way to what the exchange pertained. The doctor looked back at her with a mournful eye and went to one of the cabinets along the white walls. He gathered a few items, one of which was a long needle with which he filled an eerie looking liquid. He walked back to Rose. I’m, well I’m going to give you a shot now. It’ll take away the pain. She looked at the needle and trembled. Is there…nothing? Nothing, my dear. We can only pray and hope for it now. Now it’s time. Rick I’ll ask you to leave. Yes. He left and the doctor went about the task. All we can do is pray. Pray. He tapped the needle and stuck it in and at first there was nothing and the doctor backed away waiting. She stared at the pictures and they did not move and she looked at the ceiling and it was plain old white. She watched the dots wordlessly and after a time they all began to sway. And sway and sway and sway and then the ceiling opened up and she stared at a clear blue sky in which she began to float. Up and up and then she heard the voices and they all called her upward still. She saw the bridge and she saw her home and when she looked up she saw Jesse and she flew toward him and embraced him and told him she loved him. I was so worried. I was so worried you’d gone to Hell for what we did. No, girl. No the Lord is merciful. I want to believe I want to believe that but I’m afraid. And what about our little one? She is jerked back into the real world for a moment and when she looks up there is no pain but she does see the doctor. He is wearing a mask and hold an edged tool that was beautiful in its cutting capacity. He middle was open wide and she beheld her insides as if she looked at a great work of art. Black again and she was looking at a little boy. Who are you? she asked. It doesn’t matter, it said. Its body warps and vanishes and when she tries to chase after it and follow it into the void she walks through a cloud of damp mist that disappears before her eyes. She walks the route through nothing into more nothing until she looks and sees that she sees herself and asks what to do. It’ll be alright. It’ll be alright. It’ll be alright. It’s over, dear. It’s over. Her head is completely numb and she looks up and sees there is something in his arms. It is pale and shriveled and it moves not.

Is he? He never had a chance. He moves away but she calls panicked. Please. Please just let me have him. I don’tGive him to me! Her face erupts and she heaves and the doctor finally nods and he hands over the little thing and she takes it in her arms. Her head is numb and her mind is clouded but all moments, all time other that this cease when she looks at him. His eyes are without a spark and his little hands grasp not for her face or her bosom but rather hang limp and pale and slick with blood but she does not let him go. She holds him there and rocks him and tells him what is in her to say. I’m sorry, she tells him. I’m sorry. It should’ve been me. She gives him a kiss and his skin gives no response and his head rolls back and looks at nothing. She takes it in her arms and closes his eyes. Take him. Please, just… The doctors wraps the body in a blanket and walks out of the room. She hears him tell Rick that he has to make a telephone call and Rick reenters. He crosses to Rose and takes her hand and he feels a tear roll down his face and fall into his gray beard. He goes to wipe it but Rose does it for him. He looks at her and her mouth curves ever so slightly into a crude smile before she closes her eyes as well. *** Beyond town and out in the field the bark of the tree is grays and cracks. Though it is summer the last leaf falls from its mangled branches and its gnarled roots creep no more into the earth. No birds roost in its bulk and no wanderers in love or not come to shade themselves beneath it. The skies above give it no sustenance and its soul, if indeed trees are possessed of such energies is but a scant memory in the overarching schema of nature. It is located and torn down and the wood is divided among the nearby homes for kindling