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A Child is Born

Liberty's Short Story

by Howard Fast

ALMA didn't let me forget that I was a fool to drive. When all the planes were grounded because of the storm, I said I'd drive and be home for Christmas morning anyway, and Alma said a lot of other things.
We had been driving all day, east from Hollywood, and now it was night, and Alma wanted to know where Las Vegas was. It was snowing, and I had an idea I was off the main road, but I didn't want to tell Alma that.
"I'm good and disgusted," Alma said. I said: "Maybe I am too."
Right there I could see how things were going with Alma and me, and I could see that it wouldn't be many weeks now before it all broke up. I was sorry; I loved Alma better than anything else in the world. I thought that being a high-paid gag writer in Hollywood was all that I wanted from the world, and then when I got Alma too, I lived in a sort of dream. Which was over.
By another name, Alma was a star. That's what made it seem impossible to believe that she had married me. I guess all over America people were in love with Alma.
I had a diamond bracelet in my pocket, a gift for Alma. I was holding it for Christmas morning at home. Mom had never seen Alma, but was all excited about her.
I had been driving slowly, feeling the road. It dipped into a ravine, and I found myself in a two-foot drift.
I cut the motor. I told Alma we were off the main road.
"All right," she said.
I turned on the light in the car. It was cold without a heater. As soon as I saw Alma's face, I knew what I was in for. Her blue eyes had that glint in them.
"This is the time for a swell gag," she said evenly.
You wouldn't know, to look at her, how much steel there could be in her voice.
"I'm not going to gag," I said.
"We're in a fix. Maybe we're a hundred miles from nowhere."
"How nice," Alma murmured.
There wasn't much to see in the dark, only snow and straggling woods. Away down the road was something that might have been a light. I got out of the car and began to push through the snow. I heard Alma coming behind me. She came up to me.
"Merry Christmas," she said coolly.
Maybe you know how it is when a man is all at the snapping point. Right there I blamed it all on Alma.
"Look," I told her, taking the bracelet out of my pocket. I held it up for her to see, and then I threw it into the snow. "Merry Christmas," I said.
I went to the door of the shack where the light was and knocked. No answer but a noise like a groan. Then, in the stillness, I could hear Alma breathing. I walked to the window and looked in.
In the shack was a little table and an old bed. A hand lantern burned on the table. A woman lay on the bed. I stood there, staring in, Alma next to me. I turned and looked at Alma, and I realized that she understood.
There were white patches on the woman's skin, broken spots. Alma and I had been to the Islands; we had seen lepers. Otherwise, why was she alone?
"My God! " Alma whispered. "My God!"
I nodded. I looked up at the sky. The storm had passed, there was a flood of stars, close to the earth it seemed.
"Let's get out of here," I muttered.
Alma was staring at the house. I wondered if she was trying to remember, like me, a book I had read a long time ago. A Man had made the unclean clean.
"I'm going in there," Alma said her voice toneless. "That woman's in pain."
"You know what's in there ? "
"I guess I know."
Then she went in. Maybe I could have stopped her, but I didn't, I could think of only one thing - of Alma who was my wife.
I went into the house. I was afraid but I went in because Alma had; that's all. I followed her to the bed, saw her bend over the woman and touch her face. And then, standing there, trembling. I saw something else.
The white spots were frostbite, a terrible case of frostbite, but only that. And Alma didn't know.
The woman groaned, twisted a little, and groaned again.
Alma said softly: "She's going to have a child. You'll have to help me. I don't know much. I'll try-"
Then I saw how it was. The woman alone - somewhere. Her time, and she tries to drive a car - to the village perhaps - to a doctor. No phone. The car stalls and she makes her way on foot to this shack, half frozen.
Then - I don't know how long after it was - hours, I guess. The night had gone and it was gray outside. Alma stood by the bed, and I bent over the woman and covered her face.
Alma was holding the child, wrapped in her own coat. We had not spoken for a long time now.
I opened the door and Alma went out. She was trembling with the cold and I wrapped my coat about her. We stood a moment in front of the house.
A single star still burned in the sky.
Alma said: "You'll have to get us to town, Benny. You'll have to turn the car around and get us to town."
I knew that things were different with us - new. We were starting again. A child had been born.