It was strange, Evanor thought, that nobody came to visit to see whether she needed anything, not even her best friend Dorka. Not that she needed anything in particular, really. The delivery had not been so bad. There hadn’t been any complications where she was concerned. Lem seemed perfectly healthy. He took his fill of milk at her breasts, God bless him. He was quiet, she told herself. There was so much she wanted to say about him, to tell her friends. She was so proud of every coo and burble that escaped his lips but there was nobody to tell, no one with whom to share her first experiences of motherhood.
Lem seemed like a happy baby. He never ever cried. He slept most of the night. When Thort or Evanor would get up at night and check on Lem, sometimes they’d see him lying on his back, his little arms and legs flailing, looking towards them and smiling. Lem didn’t seem anything like Sangor, at least the way Dorka told it.
It was like Lem’s birth didn’t count, Evanor thought bitterly. The neighbour women pushed their babycarts around proudly, like there was a trophy inside instead of a baby, and shared their child-raising experiences as though they were the wisdom of the elders to anyone who hadn’t had their own baby yet. To tell the truth, Evanor was a bit envious of that. She wanted to share the wisdom she’d acquired from raising Lem. She had earned the right to be respected too. Instead, it was as though she were invisible.
Sometimes Evanor and her family were not invisible, and then it was worse for them. When Lem was three months old, Evanor said it was high time they attended church. Thort didn’t have much patience for church in general and preachers in particular. They were pretty useless, as far as his was concerned, and religion seemed to put people up to no good. The only thing church was good for was dying and getting yourself buried. Thort kept his opinions to himself since it was important to Evanor to stay on the good side of church society and she wanted little Lem to be raised properly. Thort refused to go to church every Godsday but once in a while was tolerable. He told Evanor, with his side-mouthed sense of humour, that if he’d go to church every Godsday, he might want to become a preacher and live off the alms of honest working people instead of working in the mine from first dawn to last dusk. She’d heard that so often that she didn’t laugh any more, but he got a good snort every time he said it.
Evanor dressed Lem in the finest clothes she’d made for him, knitting near the kettle fire in their kitchen. She wrapped him in a warm blanket. When they were all ready to leave for church, Thort bent down and picked his tiny son up ever so gently. Evanor never ceased to be amazed by her gentle brute of a husband whose heart had been so thoroughly conquered by such a frail wisp of a child. Thort carried the bundle of Lem in the crook of his thick arm through the door. Lem’s blue eyes seemed to widen in his blue face.
When they approached the church gate, Evanor and Thort heard the sounds of people who hadn’t seen each other since last Godsday talking to catch up with events that had transpired before the preacher began the service. Evanor straightened her hair as they walked up the steps and through the tall wide doors.
The sounds of friendly conversation seemed to dry up in the desiccated air. They were replaced by a thick unbreathable atmosphere of unfriendly silence. Thort and Evanor walked down the middle aisle looking for a place for them to sit. Lem also looked out of his swaddling clothes. There was room for them to sit in the middle of the pews, but nobody welcomed them to sit next them or made room for them to pass, not even Thort’s co-workers from the mine. Evanor saw Thort heading for the last pew near the door and knew that look of determination on his face that nothing or no one was going to stop him from clearing a path for his beloved family. She put her hand on his throbbing shoulder and said to him, “Come, let’s go home, please Thort, let’s just go home.”
They walked out of the church and Thort slammed the heavy doors shut with all his might. Evanor thought the doors would explode off their hinges. They went home. Evanor never asked Thort to go back.
When the fuss appeared to be over, the preacher walked into the large room where everybody sat expectantly. The preacher’s robes scuffed the wooden steps as he ascended to the platform where he would deliver his sermon to the congregation. “Blue is the color of abomination in the eyes of our Lord … He shall smite it down with His righteous arm!” the preacher worked himself up to a feverish pitch.
One night when Lem was six months old, Evanor heard him coughing hoarsely in his crib. She got up quickly and went to see what was wrong. Lem was breathing raspy breaths and coughing something frightful. She didn’t know what to do. Thort had jumped out of bed and was pacing back and forth uselessly. She sat with Lem on the chair rocking him back and forth, trying to soothe him against her warm breast. Evanor sang whatever lullabies she knew and eventually he stopped his coughing fit. He was still breathing with difficulty and looked into his mother’s eyes helplessly. Evanor sang lullabies all night.
In the morning, after Thort had left for work reluctantly, Evanor wrapped Lem up and put him in the babycart. He was still breathing raspy-like. She pushed him out the door and through the street all the way to the doctor’s house.
She carried Lem into the waiting room. There were two other mothers with sick children in their arms. They both looked at Evanor and Lem, as though she’d brought an animal into the doctor’s clinic, and then they went on talking, ignoring her. The door opened to the doctor’s office. A woman walked out carrying her baby in her arms. Evanor thought she recognized her, but she wasn’t sure because the woman didn’t seem to recognize Evanor. One of the two women got up with her baby to enter the doctor’s office and closed the door behind her. After she came out and left, the other woman and baby entered the office and closed the door. Evanor listened to Lem’s labored breathing. She was so anxious she felt like bursting through the door of the doctor’s office. Finally the door opened and the kind-eyed white-haired doctor came through it into the waiting room. He looked at Evanor and down at Lem, and back at Evanor.
“Doctor, he was coughing terribly all last night and he is breathing terribly …” she said to him.
“You should have let him die the day he was born,” the doctor said. “What kind of life do you expect for him? You’ll all be better off when he is dead. I know you don’t understand that now but you will sooner or later…”
Evanor could not believe her ears. She wanted to scream at the doctor. “Please Doctor,” she pleaded, “make my baby well again … just this time! Please God!”
“He’s already dead,” the doctor said, “you just don’t see it. Please leave my office. Go back home … There’s nothing I can do for you!”
“You mean there’s nothing you will do for my son, you monster!” Evanor rose from her seat with Lem in her arms and stormed out of the house, so angry with the doctor that she forgot the babycart.
After three nights, Lem’s breathing eased a little. His cough lessened and was less frequent. Evanor sensed Lem was getting better and she told Thort because he worried so and didn’t know what to do.
After a week, Lem was back to normal.
Lem never saw another human doctor.