Chapter 1 Summary
The baby boy wriggles in Henry Bright’s arms. He holds a knife over a candle to sterilize it before cutting the umbilical cord and then wipes the baby clean with a damp shirt before laying him in a basket near the fire. He stands at the foot of the bed and stares at his wife’s face before leaning over and listening for the slightest breath from her lips. He finally straightens and the child begins to cry; Bright looks at the boy in the glow of slowly dying fire.
Bright paces the floor and bites his knuckle, finally picking the baby up from the basket and lifting the heavy flap from the doorway to go outside. It is twilight and, though he has spent nearly his entire life in the shadow of the ridge, he now sees it as if for the first time. Again he bites down on his scarred knuckle and then sits on the ground with his crying son. The newborn’s eyes are squinted shut but his hand is outstretched and searching until Bright places his finger there. The baby grasps it tightly, and they both sit in silence.
Soon the angel speaks from the shadow of the chestnut tree and says, “She’s gone,” and that is “how it had to be.” Bright is angry and accusatory. He did not know she was going to die; the angel said that if he did what it told him to do, they would be safe. There is nothing but silence in response, and Bright knows he will get no answer. Near them, several hens are fussing at one another and the lone goat stands on top of the hutch to be milked. He sets his son in a basket, washes his hands, and milks the goat.
When there is some milk in the bucket, Bright dips a finger and holds it to his son’s mouth, feeding him until it is dark and the boy sleeps. Inside, he takes a delicate heirloom comb and untangles his wife’s hair. He speaks to her softly before folding her hands in an attitude of prayer. He creates a crude ink and writes in the old family Bible: "Rachel Bright, 1900–1920, Wife of Harry Bright, Mother to...
(The entire section is 803 words.)