Nevertheless, She Persisted: “Bearing Shadows”

I am a lucky man. I’m the father of my daughter. I’m the father of my son. Can’t get much luckier than that.

I remember that feeling, though, toward the end of the first pregnancy. Everything was going well, yet until the birth itself happened, I carried a kernel of angst inside me. What if something went wrong?

Something did go wrong. My daughter, who had been head down, ready to go for weeks, suddenly decided on the due date to flip herself around and try to come out ass first. In a different era, that might have been a fatal choice, both to her, and to her mother.

We live in the modern age, though, and one C section later, there was our healthy, robust, beautiful baby.

About a dozen years ago I was contemplating what I might write for the upcoming volume of Sword and Sorceress. I’d done quite a few stories for the series to that point. I wanted to come up with a change-of-pace. Somewhere in the midst of tickling my muse, a memory welled up. I recalled an interval about two months after my daughter’s birth. My wife had gone back to work. When she was out of the house putting in a shift, I was seldom able to get more than a couple of paragraphs done on the novel I was supposed to deliver to Ace Books by the end of the year. Instead, that part of each day was devoted almost entirely to the care of my daughter.

An incredible thing happened. When you are the sole person responsible for the care of a baby for an uninterrupted stretch of eight to ten hours, day after day, you bond with your infant in a way that doesn’t happen if you have the outlet of handing off responsibility when things get tough. By “tough,” I mean, the baby cries.

“Why is she crying? Here. You deal with her.” I’m afraid too many dads fall back on that escape. They shouldn’t. They’re cheating themselves.

Just a few days after my wife’s maternity leave had ended, when my daughter would cry, I would know in an instant what the issue was. She might be telling me she was hungry, or needed a diaper change, or was just tired, or needed to be held. I didn’t have to wonder which one of those things it was. I knew.

I had never communicated more profoundly with another human being, not even with my wife. It was like I could read my daughter’s mind. I was awed. I was oh, so aware of how fortunate I was. I found myself observing my circumstances and thinking almost out loud, “Wow, Dave. What an amazing point you’re at.”

After a couple of months, thanks to the support of family and the patronage of my dear friends Bob Fleming and Cherie Kushner, my wife was able to give up the day job. This was a strategy designed to get me more time to write. In the end, the help was a key reason I met that Ace Books deadline. It had the side effect of bringing to a close that period when I was my baby’s sole caregiver in that hour-after-hour-after-hour way. Before that, during those weeks when it was just me and the kid, this happened: I went to my mailbox and found an envelope containing Marion Zimmer Bradley’s acceptance of the story I’d submitted to Sword and Sorceress IV. My first sale to the series.

So there you have the elements of the memory that surfaced in 2005: S&S. Baby. The joy of being a new parent. The fear, just before the birth, that something might yet go wrong.

Right then I knew I was going to write a story about a new mother.

I wasn’t going to write about a swordswoman, nor about a sorceress. I was going to write about a mother. I was going to write about a baby.

The thing about fiction is, a plot is most reliably driven by a big heap of conflict. My protagonist couldn’t just have a baby and that’s that, all’s well. Something had to stand in her way.

What if, I wondered, one of the things standing in her way was someone who wanted precisely the same thing she did — a healthy, wondrous, thriving baby?

From that inspiration, “Bearing Shadows” emerged. I found so much to say that I couldn’t bring it in under the Sword and Sorceress word limit. Marion had always preferred short pieces and mine clocked in at nearly double her upper limit. But Marion had passed away. Her successor, Elisabeth Waters, was more flexible.

When Mindy Klasky asked for stories of persistence, I immediately thought of “Bearing Shadows.” Both my protagonist and her nemesis — if one wants to call him a nemesis — have been oppressed by conditions forced upon them. They are unfair conditions of the sort that can’t be altered by any available mechanism. They have to be endured. That however doesn’t mean either of them has to settle for less than they want and deserve. Others might want them to stay down, accept scraps, wallow in bitterness. Instead they persist.

Give up? Hell with that.

 

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