Hurry my children - Delarosa and Moses, 18th November, 1978
Hurry my children
Delarosa and Moses – 18th November, 1978
In the Pavilion, Delarosa is looking behind her towards the back of the line. She’s calculating her chances. Could she turn back and get the hell out? Does she even want to? Her baby is crying in earnest now. He’s a bunch of needs in a teeshirt and diaper. If she was a good mother, she’d attend to him – feed him, change him, let him settle in her arms. But there’s no space for any of these things. There’s only movement forward, so soon she’ll be next in line at the vat of purple liquid. Of that one thing she can be sure. In a matter of minutes, she’ll be next.
She kisses him, this baby she doesn’t even know will be called Moses, and holds him up in front of her - for a moment nearly above her head. It looks like the clichéd position of triumphant new birth, or the position of a baby being offered as a sacrifice to an ancient god.
Jim’s voice continues and it’s both soothing and insincere. “So my opinion is that you be kind to children and be kind to seniors and take the potion like they used to take in ancient Greece…” He’s coming and going on the edge of things. He’s making the world become so very small that there is no other choice. He’s taking the uncertainty out of it. “It’s not to be afeared. It is not to be feared. It is a friend. It’s a friend – sitting there. Show your love for one another. Let’s get gone. Let’s get gone. Let’s get gone.” All around the Pavilion are the sounds of crying children.
But Delarosa still believes there’s something good here, something that gave the people that were the outcasts and the misfits something. Yes, there was something here that the rest of the world had not offered her and would not be able to offer her baby. Delarosa stops looking behind her and faces forward to the vat at the front of the line.
She’s next after the little girl who reminded her of Gretchen. The little girl is standing with her mother, holding her hand. When her mother syringes the purple liquid into her waiting mouth, the little girl wrinkles her nose and sticks out her tongue. Even in the noise and chaos of crying, Delarosa hears her say to her mother, “It tastes horrible, Mommy. Just nasty.”
Delarosa watches as the woman takes the cup offered to her by the man at the vat and then she and her daughter move to the side of the room. The woman lies down on her back and the little girl lies next to her, her head on her mother’s shoulder. They’re holding hands again and Delarosa notices the white froth that begins to emanate from both their mouths. It’s beautiful, like spume on the waves at a winter, high tide.
An older woman behind Delarosa touches her on the back of her arm. “Hurry, sister”, she says. “I can’t wait any longer.” And Jim continues his lullaby. “Lay down your burden. I’m gonna lay down my burden. Down by the riverside.”
At the last minute, Delarosa decides she’s going to take off her sneakers. She doesn’t even really know why. She just knows she doesn’t want to die with them on. It seems somehow disrespectful, passing over to another place so encumbered. So she can untie them, she puts the baby down on the floor in front of her at the foot of the vat and he lays there, legs kicking. She can smell the sharp urine rising from his diaper and the smell to her is so real, so glorious. She’s crying and laughing, remembering the night he was born. Remembering hugging Sissy and thanking her as Sissy had put him in her arms.
And Jim had healed them all. Delarosa was sure of that. As sure as she was that her baby was hers to keep. And hers to give away. She takes the offered syringe before she goes to pick up the baby and drops of the purple liquid bleed on to his teeshirt.
The background is all white noise now and people are dying in the arms of others, in the arms of friends and strangers. They’re not alone, no not alone. This is a communal act; an act of worship. As she bends to pick up the baby, Delarosa wonders about the other lives here – the lives of cats, dogs and birds watching from the trees and the corners of the room. She wonders how they interpret what they’re seeing. She wonders too about pilgrimage and what anyone expects to find at the end of it - about ultimately, whether all pilgrimage ever finds is death.
But sometimes, a miracle happens. Or if not a miracle, at least an unlooked for, unpredictable series of events. When she looks down, her baby is gone. She stands up fast and straight to see a woman carrying a baby, pushing through the crowd back to the Pavilion’s exit. Delarosa can only see the back of the woman, but the crazy nap of her hair and the poise of her head tell her it’s Sissy.
No-one stops her. People are hassled she’s going against the tide, but no-one stops her. If anything, the crowd parts slightly before swallowing Sissy and the baby she’s carrying in her arms. And for Delarosa, she’s not sure if he’d ever really been there at all. She takes the syringe and opens her mouth and she hopes the taste of the purple liquid isn’t as bitter as the taste of betrayal.
Delarosa’s last thoughts are of her baby and the terrible loneliness of him going on into a future that’s not hers. Whatever she thinks, she accepts there’s nothing she can do about it. What she’s left with is Jim’s voice and the sound of it is sweet and bitter and so, so tired. She thinks of the sea and the spinning out of time. She thinks about how good everything has been here. She thinks they had a choice and they had no choice.
Her very last thought is of the kindness of her grandma’s eyes at bedtime when she was little. Out in the countryside in her faded floral bedroom, in the moments just before her grandma would begin telling her and Gretchen a story. Her parents downstairs or forever away - who knows?
They’re together, hunkered down in the quilt that smells of rosewater and damp, and the story’s not started yet; and that’s the best kind of story. When potential is everything. Her grandma puts out her hands and lays them flat on the quilt and her life is mapped out in the roads of her veins. Suddenly her grandma holds out her hand to Delarosa and with wonder and relief, Delarosa takes it.