TITLE: THE BUTTON GIRL
GENRE: YA FANTASY
Sorrow crouches quietly
at the heart's door,
awaiting the perfect moment to spring.
~Lawful Atwood III, in the first year of the captivity
The lantern, dangling from Repentance Atwater's upstretched hand, cast a pool of yellow light around the village midwife, as she stooped beside Joy Springside's sleeping mat. The rest of the cave lay in darkness.
"Push, now, Joy!" the midwife commanded.
Joy, her face scrunched with the effort, pushed.
The baby came, finally giving up the fight and sliding out, all purple-skinned and slick with blood, and screaming his protest at the world.
Screaming his protest.
Lantern light splashed up and down the walls as Repentance's hand shook. A boy! It wasn't fair.
Repentance grimaced, as the babe's squalling bounced off hard stone walls and bruised her raw nerves. Why had she agreed to help the midwife? Beneficence Woodhouse usually held the lantern, but she had taken ill. Now half the village would whisper that Repentance had cursed the birthing and the other half would nod their fog-filled heads in agreement.
She risked a glance at the exhausted new mother.
Joy lay on her sweat-soaked mat, her eyes big and questioning, anxious to know what the hours of her long labor had produced.
Sorrow and regret. That's what.
"Bring the lantern over this way, child," the midwife said. "This one's as slippery as a catfish and twice as heavy."
Repentance obeyed, grateful to have a reason to turn away before Joy read the truth in her face.