Even in sleep, the child isn’t at rest, not completely. The tiny fingers of Lilly’s left hand move as her grandmother cradles her, rocking gently, as if in time to some invisible music Lilly’s fidgeting hand conducts. “It’s not fair,” Bea whispers to her sister as Father Dale reaches beneath his robes to switch on his microphone.
“What’s not fair?” Betty frowns at her twin. Of the two sisters, she’s the proper one; the one given to matching gloves and clean refrigerators; the one who writes gracious thank you notes moments after she receives a gift.
“Setting down so many problems on the shoulders of an infant.”
Father Dale stands and shuffles his robes, preparing himself to deliver the word of God.
The congregation mirrors him, rising noisily and shuffling, taking advantage of the momentary commotion to clear throats and adjust pants whose parts sometimes wander where they aren’t wanted. Betty fishes a handkerchief from her pocketbook and shakes it out before dabbing her nose.
Only Bea remains in her seat, staring at the sea of behinds suddenly before her. She concentrates on rocking the child so she won’t start to giggle: Once she begins, Bea won’t be able to stop. At her grandmother’s funeral, Bea laughed so hard she nearly wet her pants, much to the chagrin of Betty.
Bea brings Lilly close. This grandchild of hers, who has suddenly become her child. Her daughter’s daughter, now her own.
“It’s not my fault, ” Trixie had said, cradling her swollen belly. Lord the child was thin.
“You’ve been missing for six months, Trix, and now…” Bea shook her head. “You come home pregnant. You’re just fifteen.”
“I told you it’s not my fault.”
“Course it’s your fault,” Betty said, when she came over that evening, bringing a platter of her fried chicken and a plate of biscuits, still hot. “That’s what comes of lying down with a man. Eat, child. That babe needs some nourishment. And you do, too. It’s not easy, birthing a child, just ask my June.” Betty’s daughter June, properly married, of course, and of a more appropriate age, had given birth to a beautiful boy three weeks back. Betty was still going on about it, as if June was the only girl in the world to have brought a baby into this world.
“Who’s the father?”
“She’s not saying,” Bea replied.
“Father Dale,” Trixie said.
Betty dropped the platter of fried chicken on the floor, the look on her face horrified yet disbelieving. Watching a leg roll beneath the kitchen table, Bea had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
“I don’t believe you,” Betty said, fists clenched.
Trixie bent to retrieve a thigh from the floor, tore her teeth into its flesh. “Ask him, if you don’t believe me.”
Betty looked at her sister. “You’d better instruct your child on the ins and outs of false accusations.”
Bea nodded. She knew Trixie was lying.
“Lord, Bea,” Betty said then, “you’ve got cat hair all over your linoleum. Trixie, don’t you eat that chicken, you’ll be coughing up hairballs.”
Now, the congregation sits, leaning forward expectantly, waiting for Father Dale to begin his homily. Bea studies the colors of the stained glass windows, mentally tearing apart the glass and making new images from the shards in her mind.
Betty had been right: Trixie’d had no strength for birthing a child and no amount of fried chicken would give her the fortitude she needed. They took the child while she lay gasping. As the babe took her first breath, Trixie took her last.
Bea blinks at the candles, two fat pillars that bleed into four through her tears.
After she’d tucked poor Trixie into the ground beside her father, after she’d ordered a pretty little tombstone, Betty came over with her scrub buckets and gloves. “You’ve got to get this room cleaned out, Bea.” Betty began to strip the bed, piling sheets and blankets into a blue laundry bucket. “I know it’s full of memories, but you need a room for the child.”
“Lilly is sleeping in my room.”
“And how long is that going to last? That baby’s going to grow. She’ll need space in which to do it.”
They glared at each other then, righteous, proper Betty, staring into the mirror of her sister’s sad and tragic eyes. “I can do it for you, Bea,” Betty softened her voice. “I can fold everything up nice and neat, put it all into labeled boxes.”
And so it was that it was Betty and not Bea who stumbled upon the notes from Father Dale, taped underneath the second drawer of Trixie’s dresser. Betty, proper Betty, read the first three sentences of one before setting it down and calling to her sister.
Father Dale finally finishes in a flourish. Preparations are made for Communion. The rest of the Mass is a blur.
“Lovely service, Father,” Bea says after, offering her hand.
“Are we ready to baptize this child?” Father Dale reaches for Lilly.
“No,” Betty steps in front of her sister. She holds the letter between her finger and thumb.
Father Dale put up his hands, backs away. “I didn’t…I mean. It wasn’t my fault.”
Bea looks at her sister. Smirks.
“Look, it takes two to make an accident, Bea.”
Bea sets her teeth the way she does when she’s good and angry. “This child is no accident.” She takes her sister’s arm and turns away. “Oh, Father Dale?” She turns back one last time. “Only takes one to make a crime.”
She smiles as the police surround the priest and lead him away. As the church doors close behind him, the flame of the candles bow towards the exit before straightening up again, chasing their heat up to heaven.
She thinks of her daughter and how she swore the child was the priest’s.
Now that the truth is out, perhaps the soul of her daughter can finally rest.
This was written for the new Write on Edge contest and was based on this prompt by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “It takes two to make an accident.”