A Star Is Born
DAPHNE FLIPPED DESPAIRINGLY THROUGH the medical book, which had been published in 1770, before people had learned to spell properly. It was stained and falling apart like a very crumbly pack of cards. It had crude woodcut diagrams like “How to Saw a Leg Off” – aargh aargh aargh – and “How to Set Bones” – yuck – and cutaway diagrams of – oh, no – aargh aargh aargh!
The book’s title was The Mariners’ Medical Companion, and it was for people whose medicine cabinet was a bottle of castor oil, whose operating table was a bench sliding up and down a heaving deck, and whose tools were a saw, a hammer, and a bucket of hot tar and a piece of string. There wasn’t much in there about childbirth, and what there was – she turned the page – aargh! An illustration that she really did not want to see; it was for those times when things were so bad that not even a surgeon
could make them worse.
The mother-to-be was lying on a woven bed in one of the huts, groaning, and Daphne wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. But she was absolutely certain that Mau shouldn’t be watching her, boy or not. This was called the Women’s Place, and it didn’t get more womanly than it was about to be.
She pointed at the door. Mau looked astonished.
“Shoo, out! I mean it! I don’t care if you’re human or a ghost or a demon or whatever you are, but you aren’t a female one! There’s got to be some rules! That’s it, out! And no listening at the keyh – piece of string,” she added, pulling the grass curtains that did, very badly, the job of a door.
She felt better for all that. A good shouting at somebody always makes you feel better and in control, especially if you aren’t. Then she sat down by the mat again.
The woman grabbed her arm and rattled out a question.
“Er… I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Daphne said, and the woman spoke again, gripping her arm so tightly that the skin went white.
“… I don’t know what to do…. Oh, no, don’t let it go wrong….”
The little coffin, so small on top of the big one. She’d never forget it. She’d wanted to look inside, but they wouldn’t let her, and they wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t let her explain. Men came around to sit with her father, so the house was full of people all night, and there wasn’t a new baby brother or sister, and that wasn’t all that had gone from her world. So she’d sat there on the top landing all night, next to the coffins, wanting to do something and not daring to do it, and feeling so sorry for the poor little dead boy crying, all alone.
The woman arched her body and yelled something. Hold on, there had to be a song, yes? That’s what they said. A song to welcome the baby. What song? How would she know?
Maybe it wouldn’t matter what song it was, so long as it was a welcoming song, a good song for the child’s spirit to hear, so that it would hurry up to be born. Yes, that sounded like a good idea, but why did she have, just for the moment, the certainty that it was supposed to be a good one? And here came a song, so old in her mind that she could not remember not knowing it, a song her mother sang to her, in the days when she still had a mother.
She leaned down, cleared her throat carefully, and sang: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are – “
The woman stared at her, seemed puzzled for a moment, and then relaxed.