If only she could stay put. At this point, all she cared about was the safe delivery of her unborn child. And yet she knew they would all be in danger if they didn’t leave soon.
And so the next morning, she and her husband packed only what they needed for the journey and headed south on foot.
Given her condition, they walked slowly and rested often. At night, they either stayed with strangers who would take them in or slept under the stars.
After five days on the road, she could go no farther.
“We need to find a place where I can have this baby,” she said to her husband. “The time is near.”
He swung their bedrolls off his back and laid them on the grass under the shade of an oak tree. He helped her lie down, tucking his blanket under her head.
“I’ll try to find a place nearby,” he said, bending down and kissing her gently on the forehead. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
He ran to the first house he came upon and knocked on the door. He could hear someone inside. But no one answered.
About a mile down the road, he spotted another house. An old woman came to the door. She opened it, but only a crack. He could barely see her face. She looked afraid. He pled his case. But she said she couldn’t help and closed the door.
There were no other houses in sight, so he kept walking. Finally, he spied a farmhouse far from the road, set back near a woods. He ran to it and knocked on the door. No one answered. He pushed the door open and looked inside. A few pieces of broken furniture were strewn about. Otherwise, the place was empty. He guessed it had been ransacked.
He stepped back outside. In the breeze, he smelled manure. He walked around back and found a stable. The door was open. He looked inside. Except for a thick layer of straw and a small woodpile, it was empty.
He hurried back to his wife. Winded, he explained what he had found.
“I wish there were somewhere better,” he said. “But it’s tucked away. I think we’ll be safe there.”
He helped her to her feet. She clung to him as they made their way down the road to the stable.
That night, they slept there. The next morning, she gave birth to their son. Her husband wrapped the baby in his blanket and laid him in a manger which, being a carpenter, he had fashioned from pieces of wood.
The next day, he decided to go back to the old woman’s house, where he had been two days before. Once again, she opened her door only a crack.
This time, he told her about the birth of his son and begged her for food, as he and his wife were hungry.
“Wait here,” she said, closing the door.
A few minutes later, she pulled the door ajar and, through the opening, handed him something wrapped in paper.
“Thank you,” he said. “I can pay you.”
“No need,” she replied. “It is my gift.”
They were able to stay in the stable only a few more days. The thunder of violence was getting too close.
They gathered their things and, infant in tow, kept moving south. Finally, across the border, they found refuge among strangers.
He sat in a shelter next to his wife, watching her suckle their newborn son.
“I’m sorry it has to be this way,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I wish we were home.”
“Oh,” she said, reaching out for his hand and smiling faintly. “But we are.”
Don Tassone’s stories and essays have appeared in a range of literary magazines. His short story, “Street Ball and Joe’s Red Bike,” was selected by TWJ Magazine for its Best of 2016 Award. His essay, “Flashpoint,” was nominated for the 2107 Pushcart Prize. Don has just completed his first novel. He teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati.