More recently, she had begun to put on flesh again. Her appetite seemed endless, and as her belly rounded out I teased her a bit. I stopped the day she looked at me and said, almost sadly, “I cannot be ageless as you seem to be, my love. I will grow older and fatter perhaps, and slower. My years of being a girl are long gone, as are my years of childbearing. I am become an old woman, Fitz. I only hope that my body gives out before my mind. I have no desire to linger on past a time when I don’t recall who you are or I am.”
So when she announced her “pregnancy” to me, I began to fear that her worst fears and mine were coming true.
When a few weeks had passed and she persisted in believing she was pregnant, I tried again to make her see reason. We had retired to our bed, and she was in my arms. She had spoken, again, of a child to come. “Molly. How can this be so? You told me yourself …”
And with a flash of her old temper, she lifted her hand and covered my mouth. “I know what I said. And now I know something different. Fitz, I’m carrying your child. I know how strange that must seem to you, for I myself find it more than passing odd. For months I’ve suspected it, and I kept silent, not wanting you to think me foolish. But it’s true. I felt the baby move inside me. For as many children as I’ve had, it’s not a thing I would mistake. I’m going to have a baby.”
“Molly,” I said. I still held her, but I wondered if she was truly with me. I could think of nothing more to say to her. Coward that I am, I did not challenge her. But she sensed my doubt. I felt her stiffen in my arms, and I thought she would thrust herself away from me.
Then I felt her anger die. She eased out the deep breath she had taken to rebuke me, leaned her head against my shoulder, and spoke. “You think I’m mad, and I suppose I can hardly blame you. For years, I thought I was a dried-up husk, never to bear again. I did my best to accept it. But I’m not. This is the baby we’ve hoped for, our baby, yours and mine, to rear together. And I don’t really care how it’s happened, or if you think I’m mad right now. Because, soon enough, when the child is born, you will know that I was right. And until then, you may think me as mad or as feebleminded as you please, but I intend to be happy.”
She relaxed in my arms, and in the darkness I saw her smile at me. I tried to smile back. She spoke gently as she settled into the bed beside me. “You’ve always been such a stubborn man, always sure that you know what is really happening far better than anyone else. And perhaps, a time or two, that has been true. But this is woman’s knowing that I’m talking about now, and in this I know better than you do.”
I tried a last time. “When you want a thing so badly for so long, and then it comes time to face that you cannot have it, sometimes—”
“Sometimes you can’t believe it when it comes to you. Sometimes you’re afraid to believe it. I understand your hesitation.” She smiled into the darkness, pleased at turning my own words against me.
“Sometimes wanting what you can’t have can turn your mind,” I said hoarsely, for I felt compelled to say the terrible words aloud.
She sighed a little sigh, but she smiled as she did so. “Loving you should have turned my mind long ago, then. But it didn’t. So you can be as stubborn as you want. You can even think me mad. But this is what is true. I’m going to have your baby, Fitz. Before winter ends, there’s going to be a baby in this house. So tomorrow you had best have the servants bring the cradle down out of the attic. I want to arrange his room before I get too heavy.”
And so Molly stayed in my home and my bed, and yet she left me, departing on a path where I could not follow.
The very next day she announced her condition to several of the maidservants. She ordered the Sparrow Chamber transformed into a nursery and parlor for herself and her imaginary child. I did not contradict her, but I saw the faces of the women as they left the room. Later I saw two of them, heads together and tongues clucking. But when they looked up and saw me, they stilled their talk and earnestly wished me good day, never meeting my eyes.
Molly pursued her illusion with energy I thought long lost to her. She made small gowns and little bonnets. She supervised the cleaning of the Sparrow Chamber from top to bottom. The chimney was freshly swept and new draperies ordered for the windows. She insisted that I Skill the news to Nettle, and ask her to come and spend the dark months of winter with us, to help us welcome our child.
And so Nettle came, even though in our Skill-discussions we had agreed that Molly was deceiving herself. She celebrated Winterfest with us, and stayed until the snow started to slump and the bare paths to show. No baby arrived. I thought Molly would be forced to admit her delusion then, but she steadfastly insisted that she had but been mistaken as to how pregnant she was.