"What is it?"
The old man grizzled, sneering at the bundle in Sheela's arms. But Sheela feigned disinterest, as much as she could without dropping the baby. "It's a baby," Sheela skirted, stalling for a few precious moments.
She'd brought the infant in, swaddled in a roughened potato sack that she'd found laying outside. It was an ample covering, and served to hide the infant from her father's prying eyes. She couldn't let anyone know the true sex of the baby in her arms.
"I know that you fool!" He shuffled closer and coughed, his ragged lungs rattled and wheezed with old age. "What kind of baby is it; a boy, or a girl?" He gruffed loudly, and pointed his bony finger at the baby.
"It's a boy," Sheela said, trying her best to sound like nothing was amiss.
"Here, give it to me. I want to see for myself," he said sharply, and then mumbled loudly in a cross voice, "you cant trust women as far as you can throw them, everyone knows that."
Sheela gripped the baby tighter and sidestepped the old man " It hasn't been washed properly," she said, with too much exuberance. "You'll mess your shirt, father." Sheela forced her voice to soften.
"What's its name, then?"
"Willow," Sheela said quickly. "Will, for short," she followed, when she saw the old man leering at her through his one good eye as if he still didn‘t quite believe her.
"What has your husband to say about all this? I can't imagine he's happy about it."
"I doubt he'll even notice what with the reelection at hand," Sheela said, busying herself under the cupboard.
"The reelection won't last all year, mind you." Father cackled, then coughed something up out of his lungs, but swallowed it promptly and went on. "I'm sure he'll notice before then; it's hard to miss another mouth to feed."
Now that the sex of the baby seemed to be accepted by her father, Sheela felt bolder both in her words and actions. "I can't see how that's any of your business anyway, you old goat. You're lucky Ihram doesn't put you out to starve in the fields."
"He couldn't do such a thing...imagine the scandal."
It was a well known fact that Ihram Rosenblatt was running for Mayor in Tarn and any undue scandal would result in a decline at the polls. Sheela thought about the girl baby in her arms...if anyone were to find out about it she knew it would surely spell doom for Ihram, father and herself. She was mostly worried about herself though; beheading was a common practice, and she surmised; a painful practice, at that. Sheela's free hand came of it's own accord to the pearliness of her neck caressing it as if it was already bound for the chopping block.
Father spit into the handkerchief he had palmed in his hand. Sheela almost gagged; she hated when he did that, and suspected he only did it to annoy her.
With her former venom restored she shot a look at the bedraggled old man "Oh he could, and he would. You'd just better mind yourself if you want my opinion," Sheela said. The babe in her arms squirmed and began small squeaking noises at the front of her dress.
"I suppose you'll have to feed it," father stated.
If he had his way Sheela would let the thing starve. "I know that!" Sheela snapped. She wished her father would go back to bed and leave her alone.
They both stopped bickering, and turned, wide-eyed, toward the sound of the wooden door as it creaked open. It was Ihram back from Tarn.
Sheela was pleased to note that Ihram took about as much note in the new baby as he did in housework-- none at all.
Sheela took the baby, basket and all into the bathroom. She hadn't been alone with the infant since this morning and was curious to see it unclothed again.
She laid it down on the splintered floor and unwrapped it from the sack. It was pinker than before and dryer...but had grown no more attractive since the last viewing. "We sure fooled them didn't we?" she said, cradling the infant to her breast for the first time.
The first signs of motherly instinct toward the baby flowered in her stomach as she watched her daughter nurse enthusiastically. Sheela ran her finger across the baby's fine, red hair; it was matted and could've done with a washing. "Willow..." Sheela said for only the fourth time that day.