New release, available June 8, 2022
Margret looked down at her mother’s slim hand and grasped it within her tiny palms. The morning rays scattered beautifully into the room, highlighting the yellowish hues of the walls and the brownish tones of the blanket that covered her mom’s body. Momma was barely awake, and Margret was worried.
Mother had been sick for the past few weeks. It had all happened so suddenly. Just a month ago, her momma was labouring with the animals in the fields with Pappa. Then the cold weather descended, and influenza snuck into their home like a devil in the night. First Margret was sick, then Pappa and then Momma.
But Momma wasn’t improving as Margret and Pappa had. Momma always had a wheezy breath, and this terrible influenza just made it so much worse.
Mother coughed hard, and Margret could feel her convulsions rock the bed. The coughing fit shook her Momma’s body, and Margret could do nothing but watch helplessly. She whispered a silent prayer and held her mother’s hand tighter.
“Get her some water,” Pappa said from the corner of the room, his eyes red from lack of sleep.
Margret rushed to the kitchen and poured a glass of water. She returned quickly to the bedroom, sitting down lightly and carefully tilted the glass to her mother’s lips. Momma drank it sloppily, some water spilling onto her nightgown.
Margret adjusted the glass to a trickle so her mom could swallow better, but the cool liquid still spilled over. It was almost as if her mother couldn’t swallow.
Mother coughed hard, and water spurted into the air as another coughing fit racked her body.
Margret looked at her father in alarm. “Pappa!”
He stood and tilted his head in distraught. “Let me take that water, Margret,” he said. “I wish you’d call me pabbi like every other child in Iceland. Go in the kitchen and warm up some soup for dinner.” Pappa laid his hand on his wife’s forehead and was alarmed at the heat emanating from his wife’s head.
Margret looked worriedly from her mother to her father but didn’t budge. She had always called her pabbi and mamma by the English versions, much to the dismay of her parents. “You are Pappa to me,” she said lightly for the millionth time. Margret curled over her momma and hugged her fiercely, trying to crawl into the bed with her.
Pappa squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to quell the tears threatening to escape. His daughter was a defiant child, but she was just as scared as he was. He could see it in her eyes.
After a few moments, Pappa laid his hand on Margret’s small head. “Sweetheart,” he said. “Go heat up the soup.”
Her small 12-year-old body uncurled from the bed and stood as strongly as she could muster. “Alright,” Margret said simply, then walked away into the hallway.
Pappa watched her retreating form and then laid another hand on his wife’s forehead. He leaned over and hugged her warm body as another coughing fit shook her chest. Pappa fisted the sheets together and tightly grabbed his wife, rocking her back and forth. He knew it was serious, but he was hoping she would make it.
The doctor was going to be here tomorrow morning to save her, he hoped.
Margret stirred the soup slowly on the iron stove, worrying about her mother. She had always had a wheezy breath, and sometimes in the fields, she would start coughing hoarsely. In the middle of a harvest, she would take many breaks to catch her breath.
When influenza came into their home, Momma had nursed both her and her Pappa better with soups, hot drinks, blankets and loving care.
Now Momma was sick.
Some people had died from this nasty influenza. A few adults succumbed, and many babies died. Margret wrapped her momma’s red shawl around her shoulders and shivered. She couldn’t imagine a life without her momma. It was unfathomable. Momma would just simply have to survive. She must be here with them.
Margret would have to think positively. Such thoughts were like the devil trying to enter her brain. She had heard the pastor at the church say such things. That must be what it is, she thought.
She gazed through the kitchen window across the bleak frozen landscape. Iceland had some bad winters, but mostly it was bearable. Drift ice along the shores in the north brought cold weather along the eastern side of the island, and this past year was colder than usual. They lived on a sheep ranch near Horn. It was an expansive hilly countryside with beautiful views of the ocean to the east, and the mountainous regions rose to the west.
It was quite sunny today, and the weather was pleasant enough to lift her hopes. It was the start of spring and a new beginning. They had harvested all the weak animals before the last harsh winter, the neighbourhood community chipping in to help. Even Margret had been out in the fields tending to the vegetable crops and helping to build shelters for the remaining animals. The winter was typical, cool but pleasant with the ocean air, until January when the winter struck hard, with freezing temperatures and blowing winds. Sometimes the door would stick, the wooden frame swelling in the humidity, imprisoning them all in their home.
Margret sometimes wished she could fly away on a bird’s wings to a different country, somewhere more pleasant, somewhere easier. Her eyes glazed over as the sun shone brightly into the kitchen, warming her hands.
She was only a child, but she had her share of life’s tribulations. Her younger brother had died at birth, and her mother could not conceive again. The doctor said the blood in her uterus was no longer any good. Margret wondered if such talk was true or just a simple explanation for a complex problem.
The soup began to boil, and she grabbed the oven mittens. Margret lifted the pot to the side table, placing it on a large ceramic cooling pad. She ladled hot soup into three bowls. Hopefully, Momma would eat. She sat down and waited patiently for the bowls to cool enough to take one to Momma. Margret laid her chin in her hands and daydreamed across the bleak landscape. One day, she would grow up, fall in love with a handsome man and have many children of her own. She looked forward to that day. Margret always wanted a big family.
The longcase clock chimed at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The sound awakened her out of the daydreaming.
She tested the soup with a small spoon and blew on it. It was cooled enough. She would feed her mother, and Momma would get better.
The sun slowly lost its shine when nobody was looking. Margret and her father tried everything to help Momma, but she wasn’t getting any better. It was frustrating and heartbreaking. Margret cooked all the food and cleaned the house, trying to become the woman of the homestead while her mother was sick. Margret thought if she worked harder, then God might smile upon them, and good things would happen. Her father took care of Momma in bed, cleaning her delicate pale skin with a wet cloth. Margret fed her and made sure Momma always had water. But Momma wasn’t getting any better.
The clouds had turned grey today, and the skies were bleak. Spring was not bringing the new beginning she had hoped for.
Margret tried to stop the shaking in her hands, but it was futile. She was too upset. Her father stood beside her smoothing her hair slowly, almost absentmindedly. The old blankets were laid straight over the bed, covering her Momma’s body and face.
“She’s gone, my dear,” Father said, his voice shaking and cracking with emotion.
“No!” Margret shouted, looking at her Pappa like he somehow had lied, and this was all a dream.
“Your Momma has died, sweetheart,” Father replied sadly. “The doctor tried what he could, we all tried what we could, but it didn’t work. She was too sick.”
Margret opened her mouth to speak and closed it. She tried again and lost her words. There were no words she could speak that would make anything better. The worst had happened. The very thing she had prayed for never to happen had just destroyed her life. She suddenly felt faint, like the floor was light beneath her feet.
Her mother had died.
She fell towards the floor as her father caught her falling body from hitting the hardwood.
Pappa picked up her petite body, cradling Margret in his arms and wept for himself and their future.
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