The Policy – short story

The Policy

by abbe

Lu Wong nursed her baby, staring into round, shining eyes, the color of water at midnight. A tiny smile caused the infant to stop suckling as she gazed into a face of warm familiarity. Lu Wong smiled back smoothing her hand over the newborn’s silken strands of fine, black hair. As the baby became sated with milk, her small lids grew heavy, with the burden of sleep.

The infant was laid upon the bed, the diaper changed along with warmer clothes for the journey. Lu Wong hummed a melancholy tune, something she remembered hearing her grandmother sing. It was a song about a swan who lost its mate and swam round and round until the fowl grew exhausted and drowned. Somehow Lu Wong felt the same, her own thoughts exhausting and drowning in her head like rocks tossed into  water.

She worked her tired fingers around the small buttons before gently positioning the baby inside the blanket. So pale the infant looked as compared with the red fabric that surrendered her shape. The baby squirmed for a moment, then returned to the blissful slumber reserved for the truly innocent.

Lu Wong peered through the window, the day was encumbered by gray, woolen clouds. Birds had long lifted their wings to the southern winds. The carp in the murky pond were driven to the bottom becoming random muted patterns with sunken autumn leaves. The heavy rains would come soon, cold and penetrating, the rain of a burgeoning, hostile season. Ice too would then form like poised crystal dagger. Everything in nature seemed to be coming apart, disconnected as with each leaf blown loose from its mother tree.

Lu Wong looked at her watch, her son would be back from school in four hours, her husband in five. She must leave now if she were to be back before her boy arrived. The young mother put on her down jacket, positioning the baby cradled close to her heart. She straddled the bicycle, wobbling at first until she found her balance. Would the baby wake? She did not, for the infant was secured, much like a confined butterfly within its cocoon. Even the random bumping into the many ruts along the frayed road did not disengage this genuine slumber.

The temperature had fallen, the cold slapped pink into her cheeks as Lu Wong rode. There were few people about the village, no one she recognized or who recognized her. She peddled hard – finding with the extra weight of the baby, she must walk the bicycle up the larger inclines. There were a few stray dogs on the outskirts of the forest who barked and charged at her, but she out-maneuvered them.

Rain began to spill from the clouds and Lu Wong rounded her shoulders shielding her daughter from this wet intrusion. The path she followed thickened with skeletal trees, cedar and plum. Wind postured the branches to reach forward like empty hands offering nothing.  The rain then whipped into sheets and the mother found a thick cluster of bushes for shelter. The baby began to cry and so did Lu Wong, both wailed in an effort to be comforted. The mother drew her daughter to her bosom to nurse. The rain would bead off a branch and drop onto the mother’s chest in small rivulets, wetting the blanket and clothes, but it did not keep the baby from drinking. Lu Wong wondered if the infant noticed how loud and fast her mother’s heart was beating, if the foreign rhythm would distract and disturb the little one. This was not so, it was only when a few droplets of water came to play upon the newborn’s forehead that it startled her, she stopped to share a joyous smile with her mother before continuing to feed.

Finally, with her tiny one asleep, Lu Wong buttoned up her damp shirt and zipped her coat high on her neck, the cold metal zipper might as well have been a knife cutting her throat. Lu Wong breathed rapidly as if all the oxygen were escaping from her lungs. She looked at the sleeping infant then looked at her watch and knew she must get home. Lu Wong reached down and kissed the tiny cheek, a cheek as delicate as the blossoms of the lotus floating in simple splendor on a summers day along the pond. She reached for a loose end of the blanket and held it tightly against the newborn’s face. Using both hands, Lu Wong pressed down firmly upon the fabric aware of her own rush for breath as she looked away. She counted out loud as a  distraction. When the muffled infant sounds stopped and the tiny waving hands surrender their flight, relinquishing their hold upon this earth, the mother sobbed wildly. Lu Wong reached for the dainty hands – still warm. She stroked the miniature,  lifeless fingers between her own. The job was done, ‘The Policy’ carried through.

Her daughter’s spirit was now free while Lu Wong’s heart was shackled: imprisoned by the iron bondage of guilt and shame, torment and time. She lifted the blanket and looked one last time into the empty face, so small and helpless, like that of a broken necked sparrow she once found. Lu Wong covered the baby once again, her tears as chilled as the rain. Her eyes blurred from the combination of weeping and water heaving itself upon her. She tenderly pushed the red bundle under the thickest part of the bushes. Lu Wong grabbed her bicycle and rode erratically – frightened to look back.  She pushed away the thoughts of feral animals and wondered if she could have done as her neighbor, Winnie who dropped her live daughter from the city bridge in the dark.
Lu Wong bumped the sides of tree trunks and lost her balance several times on slippery rocks and mud. Her face scraped against a sharp branch, cutting her cheek. Blood trickled from the gash, she accepted this as punishment, letting this fluid of life run down her face and jacket as a symbol cursed upon her.

Lu Wong suddenly felt no urgency of time as she walked the bicycle along the nearby path ahead that would take her home, back to her village, back to her first born, the only child she was permitted by law to have, back to her husband who would hold her and cry with her, long into the mornings of many tomorrow’s…

*The Policy in China is one child only. Most couples keep the son for he is the one who takes care of the parents in old age. Many women do not opt for adoption and instead, take the lives of their newborns.

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