Bridget drops the basket of wet clothes she is carrying toward the door to the yard. She feels as though her insides are erupting. Beneath her skirt, her legs suddenly feel wet and she hears a faint splash. She looks down to see a small puddle at her feet.
Oh, no, I’m losin’ me baby, she thinks in panic. Her Ma had lost three before their time came. Not me too.
“Your babe is ready to be born, Bridget. It’s time.” Margaret, one of the other girls in the laundry, has left her station at the sink, and come to Bridget’s side. “Come on with ye, lass. I’ll take you to the birthin’ room.”
With Margaret walking beside her, holding her arm and whispering reassurances, Bridget walks slowly into the hall. She has no sooner reached it than a pain sharp as a knife blade cuts her from the center of her back and around her belly to its far side. She gasps loudly and doubles over, wondering if she has been sliced in two.
“Oh, Margaret, it hurts so much. No one ever told me it would hurt so much.”
At that moment, Sister Nora turns the corner down hall and sees the two young women, one doubled over and falling to her knees, and the other struggling to hold her up. She rushes to their side to help support Bridget.
“You labor has begun, child,” she says. “You’ve no doubt plenty of time, bein’ as this is your first. But let’s get you up to the birthin’ room. Come along now. Everythin’s goin’ to be fine.”
After what seems like an interminable trip, Bridget is settled into one of the beds upstairs. She has never been in this room before. Two of the beds are occupied by other girls. As she looks on, a man she has never seen before comes in with Sister Agnes and Sister Clarice. They surround the bed of one of the other girls, who is now screaming in pain, and draw a curtain.
Bridget listens to the activity behind the curtain for awhile and realizes that the man is a doctor. She has been in the convent for five months and has never seen a doctor. She’d thought that the nuns delivered the babies.
The horrible screaming continues, but Bridget can no longer pay much attention to it. Her pains have become more frequent, and as they have, they have become unbearable. Soon enough, the only screaming she can hear is her own.
After hours of agony, she opens her eyes and sees Sister Nora at her side. The nun lays a cool cloth on Bridget’s sweaty brow and gently takes her hand. “It won’t be long now, Bridget Murphy. I’ve sent for your young man.”
Her voice hoarse from screaming, Bridget strains to whisper a reply. “Thank you, Sister. May God bless ye for the goodness you have shown me and my baby.”
“I lost my baby girl along with my future many years ago in the past, lass. But I have always carried my daughter in my heart, and I imagined her to be just as you are. You and your babe still have your futures ahead of you. I can do no less than offer you both a helpin’ hand into it.” As she speaks, Sister Nora gives Bridget’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Now get to work, girl. You’ve a job to do.”
As if a curtain were drawing slowly back, light seeps into Bridget’s world. The only things she is aware of besides the light are the sound of a baby’s lusty cry and the incredible pain she feels below her waist. She opens her mouth to scream, but finds no voice. She is too weak to make a sound.
The last thing she remembers is the squeeze of Sister Nora’s hand, and now she feels it again.
“You’ve had yourself a wee lass, Bridget Murphy,” the nun whispers into Bridget’s ear, “and a strong young girl she is, too.”
A faint smile stretches Bridget’s parched lips, and she murmurs something in response. Sister Nora leans down, putting her ear close to Bridget’s mouth, and says, “I didn’t hear you, darlin’. What was that you said?”
“Her name is Molly.”
Sean sits on the bank of the river, watching a boat pass He sees the fishermen aboard, milling around the deck readying their gear to fish once they’ve reached the open waters of the Irish Sea, but he doesn’t notice. All his senses are focused on the grate beside him. He smiles and thinks to himself, it won’t be long until I and my little family join Uncle Jimmy, who waits for us just down the road a bit. And then we can begin our new life together.
The boat sounds its horn as it passes, and as the sound fades, Sean hears a tapping coming from the grate. He jumps up and quickly pulls the grate aside. He climbs down the ladder, nearly falling in his haste.
At the bottom, he sees Sister Nora standing with a swaddled babe in her arms. He leans to peer into the darkness behind her, but there is no sign of Bridget.
“Sister?” he says, his voice raised in question.
The nun holds the little bundle out to him and he takes it into his arms.
“I’m so sorry, Sean.”
The meaning of what she is saying washes over him. He stares at the nun, his eyes filling with tears.
“You must go now, Sean. There will be time enough to grieve later.” Sister Nora puts a hand on his back and urges him toward the ladder.
“Go. Go. This wee lass is dependin’ on you. And oh, yes. Bridget has named her Molly.”