He wouldn’t suckle. She pressed his hard, hairless head against her cloth blouse to no avail. She very slowly undid her blouse, revealing a cotton undershirt. She struggled with one hand to lift the undershirt and then pressed his head against her aged, drooping breast. He didn’t cry. He couldn’t, as he was just a life sized baby doll.
The care aide approached and gently removed the baby while covering the old woman up. She told Cora that lunch would soon be served, and baby needed a nap now. Cora did not have the strength to resist, but wondered why the hired girl was not attending to her main duty, which was preparing and cooking for the threshing crew. They should be coming in soon. Her husband, Jack, and son, Carl, would be among them. She tried to speak to the hired girl but all that came out were guttural sounds.
Many years ago, she herself had been a hired girl. She was 13 and it had been her first job. She worked as a housekeeper for a farming family in Saskatchewan. She married one of the farm hands at age nineteen, and produced her only child, a boy, at age twenty. Prairie life was hard work and hard times.
Daily there was bread to be made, twenty loaves at a time. Washing clothes and hanging them to dry, with sheets freezing hard in the winter. The hired girl had to help her get them back into the house. Trying to keep the house clean, with a constant parade of men in and out. Cooking three meals a day on a wood stove. The heat of summer coupled with black flies and mosquitoes. The years rolled on.
Her son grew up and became one of the working crew. Even then, she yearned to hold him and rock him in her arms like the days of old. Fragments of fickle memory.
The hired girl was finally serving lunch. It seemed to be a kind of soup. It certainly wouldn’t do for the threshing crew. She must speak sharply to that girl! A spoon was held to her lips. She opened her mouth and swallowed. Suddenly, she was very tired, and slumped sideways in her chair. The hired girl pushed the wheelchair to her room.
The door opened. The room was filled with light. She could see the wheat fields in all their golden glory. Her husband was stepping down from the tractor and, yes, there was her son climbing off the combine. He smiled at her. She ran toward him with outstretched arms, and in so doing pitched forward from the wheelchair.
The season of harvesting had come full circle.
The care aide pressed the alarm button.