Hand in the River

“I am crossing a river so deep and wide. Lord lead me on to the far side. . . .
“There’s a hand in the river that’s pulling me down. Reach out, oh Lord. Don’t let me drown.”
- Sarah Schlesinger

A few years ago I still prayed for hope, but what does it matter now? He died within days. Probably better that he not have had time to become like his father, but he was mine, and nothing could change that.

It was a year ago that he died. A year ago, I wrapped his limp little body in the rags that had to serve him as swaddling and blankets. I tied him to a paving stone. And in the middle of the night, I took him to the river, to the bridge where he had been conceived, and returned him to God.

I was fourteen. That was why he died, they told me. Little girls don’t have babies who live. But it wasn’t because I was fourteen. If I had a warm house and lots to eat, I would have had milk to feed him. He died because he was born in the Gorbeau house.

It was winter, and my father was angry. Even a dead baby is worth something in January, he said. But he was mine, not my father’s. I loved him, and you don’t sell people you love. My son was not going to become a decoy. If my father wanted a baby as a decoy so much, let my mother give him one. He had already sold two of my little brothers. It was for the best. They probably eat every day. The woman who bought them was dressed nice. I wish he had sold me to her, too. Then I never would have had to go to the river.

I stand on the bridge now. I wonder if the water is warmer than the wind. It would all be easier if it was. I could join my baby, and maybe I’d be lucky and God would understand I never did anything wrong. It was all my father. And we’d go to heaven, and maybe God would let him grow up a little, because surely he had a soul and he isn’t just going to be a baby for all eternity.

He was the only person who ever loved me. His father lusts after me, and takes me under the bridge when I don’t want him to. My father uses me to get money and help, and I think I’ve been sold to Parnasse in the hope that Parnasse will continue to help us. My mother used to love me, but I don’t think she cares anymore. Azelma doesn’t even know what love is. But Benoit, he loved me. He loved me the moment he saw me, and every minute until he died. He didn’t know how to hate me.

M. Marius came a few days later. But he barely even notices me. He would have been a good father to my Benoit. Better than Parnasse ever would have been. But he can never know I ever had a baby. His mademoiselle is pure, and I’m as far from it as you can get.

It’s probably warmer in the river. And maybe my Benoit is sitting there at the bottom, right under me, and I can lay down next to him and keep him warm. Is drowning painful? Is it any more painful than the things Parnasse and my father have done to me? It can’t be any worse than this.

I’m hungry. I must be very hungry because I’m seeing things. He’s reaching out of the river for me. A tiny hand on a tiny arm. I’m coming, my darling. I’m trying to reach you, I promise.

But there’s a shadow in the corner of my eye, and it’s a man in a tall hat, and I turn around and it’s M. Marius. He can’t see me like this.

He doesn’t see me like this. I want to call out to him, but I can’t form the words, and he walks by without seeing me. He’ll always walk by without seeing me.

He is gone. The hand in the river. I was seeing things, or else it is too late. I’m so sorry, my darling. Oh help me, Lord. Don’t let me drown.


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