The first flakes of snow had begun to fall in our sleepy little town. Flames crackled in the fireplace, the wind whispered through the pines, and my children slept soundly in the loft above my head. I looked up as my husband came in from the barn, the cloud of his breath surrounding his head like a halo.
“Is anything amiss?”
“No. The animals are bedded down, warm enough in the hay. As I plan to be, soon, with you in our bed.”
His hot gaze raked over me; my body swelled beneath it. The child beginning to burgeon beneath my belly had done nothing to quell his desire for me. Nothing ever did.
“Well then,” I said, setting my knitting aside, “what’s stopping you?”
“The stench of cow.” He gave an overdramatic sniff, then sneezed. I laughed.
“A bath for you, then?”
I handed him a bucket. “Get the water, then, and I’ll heat it for you.”
As he disappeared back into the night, sneezing again, I moved about, gathering towel and soap, images of our bed blossoming in my mind.
“Mama?” My son’s hesitant voice sounded behind me.
“Jonathon, you’re supposed to be asleep,” I said, turning. Laying eyes on him, I froze. The chunk of soap slipped from my fingers, the towel floating behind.
“Mama, I don’t feel so good.” He coughed once, twice. Above my head, his little sister echoed the sound.
No. God, no. Not this.
Jonathon pitched forward. I dove, catching, then sinking with him to the floor. His skin burned beneath my fingers. Pulling his nightshirt away, my heart shattered at the telltale rash. He coughed again, his breath coming in harsh pants. In the loft, my daughter was crying.
“Mama, it hurts! Make it stop, Mama.” My eyes prickled and burned at the faint call.
Raising my head, I inhaled, preparing to scream for my husband. He stood in the doorway, surrounded by a puddle of water, the bucket at his feet, forgotten. His stared, horrified, at Jonathon.
Tears pooling, I watched the color drain from his face, just as the life drained from my son. As the remnants of Jonathon’s final breath drifted away, the tickle skittered in my throat.