Mother Nature

by Deirdre Erin Lockhart

The trail was as shrouded as her heart. Amanda skirted a slug on its way to the sea and ducked beneath cedar boughs that stretched like green webbing over her head, but today she did not revel in the beauty. Tears seared her eyelids and quickened her pace. She could think better with waves lapping her feet.

How could a doctor throw this at a woman and ask her to decide? Her toe caught an exposed root, then her knee slammed into a mossy stone and dirt cut her palms as she sprawled across the path.

A baby was supposed to be a wondrous thing. There wasn't supposed to be any anguish.

Down's Syndrome.

How could that happen to her? She was relatively healthy. She didn't drink. Or do drugs.

There were options, her doctor said.

Bile rose in her mouth; not the bile she fought for sixty-three mornings. This was different. Sicker. Hateful.

She shoved from the moist earth and slapped dirty hands against her thighs. Already she glimpsed the bay. Silver light beckoned through young leaves.

She tromped down stone stairs onto pebbles tumbled with seaweed. They crunched beneath her runners, and the bay glistened before her. The waves were lulling; the sound as soothing as fine strings. Her riled thoughts crystallized within her. The nursery awaiting her baby obscured all else: Teddy-bear wallpaper. Flannel blankets. Yellow curtains which she had sewn herself...

She plunked onto a sea-kissed boulder and murdered tide pools with her feet. Then something in the ocean froth caught her eyes. She shaded them against the glare. It was a baby seal. Incoming tide played with it, bouncing it against rocky knees and tossing it back to sea. It had something--like a red and white Safeway bag--tied to it.

Now who would do that? Amanda dropped her purse and charged into the tidewater.

Soulful black eyes watched her approach.

"There, there. I'll get you free." She soothed as her skirts tangled her legs and waves slapped her backwards. She reached for that bag, then her fingers jumped back.

It was venous.

The seal bobbed in the rough. She saw a cord connecting the placenta. His silver spotted head cocked her way as the tide pulled him from her.

She scanned the shoreline for his mother. Tugboats and crab-traps. Even a kayak. But not another bobbing seal head. She waited. They stayed under a long time. She loved watching them.

A minute. Two. Three.

"She abandoned you, eh?"

The baby just watched her.

She pulled out her cell. Someone should know. It would die. What number? Ocean and Fisheries? The vet? The vet would know. She waited while the directory connected her.

"Dr. Boyd's. May I help you?"

"I hope so, I have an abandoned baby seal here. The placenta's still attached. I need to know who to contact for help."

"Lemme see." She sounded far too calm. The helpless creature floated further down shore.

"Ma'am? I have an animal control number here, shall I give it to you?"

What did she think? "Please."

Amanda re-dialed.

"Hello. You have reach--"

Finally. "Yes. I found a newborn seal here. Abandoned. Placenta still attached. I need someone to --"

"Ma'am, don't touch it."

"I won't."

The line crackled.

"OK. Listen: the baby's all right. Its mama will be back. We get so many calls. Don't worry. They do this. She leaves right after giving birth, hunting spree. Could be days. She won't return until the placenta dissolves. It feeds the pup in the meantime."

Amanda frowned. The floating bag and head scraped jagged rocks. She waded forward. "The cord's all tied around it. I think it might strangle...now if I could just unwind--"


Amanda paused.

"She won't go near it if she smells you. Just leave it alone, ma'am."

"She'd abandon it?"

"One whiff of you: yes."

"That's terrible."

"That's nature. Just leave it be, OK?"

Amanda nodded--though the woman couldn't see her--and flipped closed her cell. The seal bounced in the rough. That's nature. One thought that her baby was damaged and the mother would abandon it.

BIO: DEIRDRE ERIN LOCKHART is a Canadian author with stories regularly appearing in Joyful! Magazine.