Sunshine in the Bayou

Saturday, May 22, 2094
Before dawn
Somewhere in the Bayous of Louisiana District

Patient: Lillianna Fontaine, age 21. G1, P0 (well, P1 now), 38W 4D gestation. Delivered a healthy baby girl at 03:32. No complications, despite being a little early. She weighed approximately seven pounds. Approximate, because my hanging scale is probably near New Orleans right now on the Adeline, instead of being used in a mosquito-infested swamp in the middle of nowhere Louisiana. Lillianna promptly named the squalling baby Sunshine Jane. Ironic, because for the last day and a half, we had not seen the sun; only the heavy, steel sky and its sheets of rain.

An hour after the rain ceased, one of the wagon's wheels bogged down in the soup. Coincidentally, Lillianna's labor began in earnest around the same time. Both events halted the five-wagon train for the day, and I expect it will be another day before we are able to travel once more. Cody Fontaine, Lillianna's husband, claimed we were nearly to Big Brushy Creek. The other four wagons formed a circle with the hobbled fifth, and prepared to settle in for as long as it took to bring a new life into the world. Two hours after we stopped, the tethered horses neighed, welcoming visitors. They were from a nearby ferry village, and had seen smoke from our fires. Thanks to them, we feasted on alligator and crawfish.

I have grown to adore my traveling band. I think of them as pioneers forging through unexplored country, rather than weary travelers seeking refuge in the Republic of Texas. In these rural areas, I've seen strength - a fortitude unseen in the large cities. These people, the ones deep behind the pines and cypress trees, live as though The Collapse were only a handful of years in the past. I found myself wondering if they know the ease the cities have to offer, and asked Robert, one of the ferrymen living in nearby Otter Crossing. His furry brows burrowed down the bridge of his nose, and he scraped thoughtful fingers across the sandpapery growth on his chin. He said, "Well, Miss. I suppose we live here because we are more free. We have it harder than most, but the gub'ment mostly just leaves us be." Then he aimed brown spittle behind him, tipped his crooked hat, and rejoined the men gathering around the wheel.

Now, in the deep black before the sun awakes the bayou, I sit crosslegged near the stuttering fire, exhausted, I find myself in awe. A dozen paces away, in her beige canvas tent, I can see the barest silhouette of Lillianna's features, lying on her side and nursing the newborn. Over the crackling of wood, soothing sounds float through the pre-dawn darkness. My hands are shaky still. The adrenaline is on its way out of my body, leaving behind the strange and wonderful sensation that every nerve is alive and on the alert, but soft and fuzzy at the same time.

I wonder if I will ever feel the tug of a newborn's mouth on my own breast.

My eyes are heavy. I know we'll be here for another day at least. With the broken wheel, and Lillianna's recovery, it may be more. I'm okay with that. The bayou is gorgeous and fierce simultaneously. One more check on the new mother, and then I will crawl into my own tent before the mosquitoes make me their morning buffet.


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