I watched the snow flutter down and drown in the stained ice and murky water puddles around blue and yellow tarps draped over sticks stabbed into the ground. There were sleeping bags rolled out, some inhabiting the scraggly faces of the homeless- some old and some young. My home was the one nested in the corner near the heavily needled branches of the biggest tree in the community of homes in the small woods bordering a suburban neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey. The wind was blowing, and my ginger hair and tarps were lifting and falling with the flow of the breeze. My nose was probably close to the shade of my hair, and my ears most likely blended into the side of my head.
“How is the lil’ un feelin’ today, Calla,” my neighbor Frankie asked while limping and,somehow, stomping at the same time. She was a robust older lady, with graying red hair, and though she looked quite mean (and could be if you got on her bad side), she had a heart of gold.
“She’s doin’ good. She sure is kickin’ it though, feels like my stomach is a drum.” I was seven months pregnant, and though I knew not what gender my baby was, I knew what I felt like it was. It felt like a girl; I don’t know what it was, if it was my motherly intuitions or just my gut feeling, but I knew it was a girl. I had already decided on her name, and though I couldn’t decorate her room, or give her the love of a big family, I could give her a beautiful name, a name that would always remind her to be watchful in life, but to have fun as well: Ira.
“That’s good. That means lil’ Ira is healthy. A strong baby,” Frankie vowed this with such vigor that she started leaning forward so much that I thought she might fall face first into the almost solid ice, but somehow she stayed standing.
“I s’pose so, that’s what I like to believe.”
“Well don’t stop. A’ight hun, I gotta run, but keep covered, even if ya go for a walk.”
“Okay, thanks Frankie, see ya tonight.”
The camp started humming with chitter and chatter of both passerby animals and my neighbors. Bottles started clinking, and I knew that it was time to start my daily walking. I was sixteen, and pregnant. I had been in love, though most doubt it. However, you can be in love at any age, and Elijah was my first. For everything. Elijah had been an eighteen year old street musician who could scrape by with his smile and husky singing voice, and though he didn’t have an apartment, or a job that made him wealthy, he was mine and I was his. Elijah would still be here if it wasn’t for bad luck; wrong place, wrong time. He went into the neighborhood Seven-Eleven to get a bottle of water, when a robber came in. Elijah tried to talk some sense into the robber, but failed and was shot. I was about two months pregnant, and since I hadn’t really begun to show, I hadn’t told Elijah yet; I was waiting for the perfect moment, and I kept getting more and more anxious— I should have told him as soon as I found out.
I got up off a cheap, plastic beach lounger that had become my bed, and hobbled up the slight hill that led to a street leading into the city. Taking a right, I walked into the beginning of town, and immediately noticed a crowd forming near a bent light-post; curious as to what was happening, I walked over and asked a person what was going on.
“The old lady was crossing the street when a speeder came racing down.” Old lady? Then it hit me, this was Frankie’s street, she would walk up and down picking up trash on the sidewalks.
“I’m afraid I can’t really see, can you tell me what she looks like? Is she okay?” I was trying not to be frantic and overbearing in the questioning but I had already started breathing heavily. Ira started kicking more, but it was more painful than ever, so I started rubbing my stomach in a soothing, circular manner while trying to calm my breathing.
“Okay, she has a rugged blue coat on, graying red hair...She’s probably a little shorter than five foot.” My hyperventilating sped up, it was Frankie. Frankie had helped me out on the streets since I was kicked out of my parents’ house two years ago. We had traveled from Baltimore to Trenton together, she had helped me survive this far in my pregnancy, had been so much more than my friend. Ira started beating harder, and then the overwhelming feeling of what can only be described as the ultimate bladder relief hit me.
“Oh my god,” I smacked the person next to me on the shoulder, “I think my water just broke.” I saw the panic rise quickly in the person’s eyes as the stranger looked down, gasped, fumbled for her phone, dialed 911, and helped me on to the curb. My breathing became heavier and I broke out into a intensifying sweat. A sharp, repetitive pain started pulsing in my lower back.
Too soon, I faded into the abyss.
His green eyes sparkled behind his long black eyelashes. He was playing a simple song on his untuned guitar and singing along in his deep, enchanting voice. I stood across the street, opposite of him, just hypnotised by the loud beating of my heart and the heat spreading up my neck to my face. He was beautiful. Suddenly, he looked up, and made eye contact with me. He put his index finger up into the air to tell me to wait. He stopped playing and slung his guitar over his shoulder, he checked both ways on the street, and jogged across. He stopped in front of me, and looked down.
“Hi, I’m Elijah.” Elijah, beautiful.
The loud rumble of an ambulance crashing over potholes made me slowly ascend out of the forced slumber. The affliction in my back had calmed down to echo, and the chrome cabinetry of the ambulance blinked into view. A loud, pain-filled scream filled my ears as it was released from my lungs from the realization of a blooming strain from my hips.
“Good! Tom, She’s up,” a petite brunette medic yelled over my screams. “Alright hon, you got this, just push.” I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. I pushed knowing I wouldn’t be able to raise this baby properly, and that I wouldn’t have the access to care for my two month premature child, but I wanted to try.
“We gotta lean her forward more, she’s not getting enough momentum by herself,” rushed someone from behind me, who I assumed must be Tom. Suddenly the gurney’s back was pushed forward, and I let out a louder scream and pushed as hard I possibly could.
A baby’s hello was screamed to the world, trapping us all in the noise as I bled onto the gurney.
I lost my touch with reality, and let my eyelids close as I fainted to sleep.
A soft and tender touch embraced my hand, and as I turned to face the right a beautiful smile met my eyes. I looked up and saw him. I could have stayed here forever, with Elijah. Here, in the nook of our favorite tree looking at the stars, dreaming of the lives we would have soon, painting pictures with our minds of the house we would share one day, imagining the family we would grow to have and love.
“Calla, Calla, my beautiful Calla,” he whispered into my ear, “I love you Calla. Ira will love you, you will be a wonderful mother. I will always be there with you, never forget. I will be there until you find love again.”
“How did you know? I didn’t tell you about Ira,” Elijah flashed his sparkling smile. “Oh my God, Ira! I was in labor! In an ambulance! Oh my God, Frankie! Elijah, Frankie she...she…” I was hiccuping in mad hysteria.
“Shh….It’s okay, she’s fine. Frankie is fine…She is in a safe place, but you have to go raise our baby. I’m sorry I have to leave you again, Calla.”
“It’s okay, you will be there every step of the way and protect me, I know. I know. I will love and raise Ira to be a wonderful, beautiful angel just like her daddy was. I’ll tell her about all about you: your quirks, your smile, your love, your faith that every human had a good side. All of it.”
“I have to go now, bye Calla. I love you, Calla.”
“I love you too. Bye, Elijah,” I said, choking on my words.
I climbed out of my mind and into a bright hospital light, with a whining baby in a fiberglass crib with wheels. She was swaddled in a pink blanket and a pink baby hat. I knew I had to raise her, work to live, and live for her. I had to live for Elijah.
There was a knock on the door, and an old nurse with black hair came in.
“How are you?” she asked, lonely.
“Can I hold my baby?” I asked back while stumbling through my words. She brought me my beautiful child, and I cradled her in my arms.
“What’s her name?”
“Ira, her name is Ira Mae.”
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