Chapter 10—Goodbye, Daughter
When Nalin and Carter returned to their ranch after the convention, Nalin spent her days mostly in bed. The foreman’s wife Grace dropped in on her every other day to cook and do anything around the house that required exertion, since the doctor said Nalin wasn’t to lift anything heavier than a frying pan. Nalin’s stomach swelled, and her hope and excitement for motherhood swelled with it. The baby lived inside of her for twenty-one weeks, the longest her body had held life.
The contractions began in the morning after Carter left for his work on a day when Grace didn’t visit. Nalin doubled over and moaned on the bed. Her mouth became dry, and she stumbled to the pitcher of water for a drink. Upon returning to the bed and looking down, fear and dread washed over her. A pool of blood soaked the sheets. She had only a moment’s pause before pain pummeled her lower back and stomach at the same time. She knew then that the baby was coming out of her. She grabbed a rag and collapsed in the bloodied sheets. She held the rag between her legs until she no longer cared how much blood soaked the bedding. She allowed the cloth to fall to the floor and held her stomach in her hands. Piercing the lonely silence with her screams, she passed the stillborn baby after six long hours.
She wasn’t prepared to see what came out from between her legs. Before when she suffered losses, she had birthed the fetuses in pieces, unrecognizable as human and covered in blood. But that day she gave birth to what was clearly a baby girl. A very tiny baby, but one who was fully formed with all her fingers and toes. She fit into Nalin’s hands, and Nalin stared at her, weeping and hysterical. They were both still connected to the umbilical cord, a limp reminder that her body’s link to the baby hadn’t been enough to nourish her to life. With a trembling hand, she cut the cord using a kitchen knife.
Overcome with a desperate desire to clean her baby, she found a soft cloth, soaked it with water, and went about gently bathing her. Once she was clean, Nalin touched every part of her small body: her eyelids, each finger and toe, her ears, her tiny nipples. Nalin had never known such pain as this—to hold a baby, her baby, and know that she would never live. Sinking to the floor, she sat leaning against the wall and stared at her. The baby, which had come out warm, turned cold in her hands. Nalin’s tears fell onto the girl’s face. She didn’t take her eyes away from her daughter until she heard Carter’s footsteps.
He stood in the doorway to the bedroom, and his eyes flashed sheer terror. Nalin watched him eye the bloody rags and sheets, then look at her and the baby she held, all within the span of a few seconds. He rushed to them.
“She’s dead,” Nalin sobbed. “Our baby is dead.”
Carter crouched in front of her. He put a hand on Nalin’s forehead and examined her eyes, then took the baby in his hand. He stared at the girl, a pained expression on his face. Without saying a word, he stood and walked toward the door with the baby in his hand.
“Wait!” Nalin shrieked, struggling to her feet and staggering after him. She grabbed the shirt on his back and enclosed it in her fist, leaving a bloodstain. “Where are you going? Don’t take away my baby, Carter.” She didn’t recognize her own voice. It was hysterical, a panicked scream.
“Stay here, Nalin. I’ll be right back.”
“Oh, please no,” she wailed. “I haven’t said goodbye, Carter. I beg you to give her back to me. At least let me say goodbye.”
Carter stood still for a long moment, his back facing her. When he turned, Nalin looked into his eyes. They were wet, and his face was streaked with tears. She had never seen her husband cry, not once in all the years she’d known him.
“Kiss her goodbye then, Nalin,” Carter said, his voice faltering.
Nalin tried to settle her sobs. “I-I-I can’t d-do it, Carter. I don’t want her to leave.”
“She’s already gone, my love,” Carter choked out. He kissed the top of the baby’s head and said, “Goodbye, daughter.” He blinked, and another tear escaped from his eye. He looked at Nalin. “Now you, my love. Kiss our daughter goodbye.”
“Oh, Carter,” she cried, touched and devastated by his words and actions. Nalin kissed her. “Goodbye,” she whispered. Her eyes lingered on her face for a few precious seconds before she tore them away and looked up at her husband. He gave her a nod before leaving the room.
Nalin sank into the blood-soaked bed and curled into a ball, facing the wall. Carter returned in less than a minute without the baby. Nalin felt herself being carried and laid on the sofa, which had been draped with a clean quilt. Carter wrapped it around her and placed a pillow under her head.
“I’ll be right back. I’m going to town to fetch the doctor. There’s water right next to you on the table.”
Nalin tried to focus her eyes on him, but he looked blurry. His voice sounded far away and it took considerable effort for her to understand his words. She said something, she wasn’t sure what. Next she heard the hooves of a galloping horse. As the sound faded, she retreated into a state of unconsciousness.
When she awoke, it was dark. The doctor had come and gone. Carter was in a seated position on the bed, leaning against the headboard, and Nalin’s head was on a pillow in his lap. The bed had been stripped, scrubbed, and remade with clean bedding. Carter’s hand, which was settled on her arm, moved up as she stirred. He stroked her hair out of her face and ran his hand down her back, doing what he could to comfort her with his touch.
It was upon awakening that she entered her nightmare. She heard a long wail, and it took her a moment to realize it was coming from her own lips. She wept until she grew too weak to continue and then sank into a silent stupor.
Unlike before when she miscarried, the stupor didn’t leave. Carter grew more worried as the weeks passed without any sign of improvement in his wife’s state of mind. The doctor said nothing was wrong with her physically as far as he could tell. His official diagnosis was heartbreak, which broke Carter’s heart as well. The fire was gone from her eyes, and her springing step slowed to a drag.
The scene he entered the day of the stillborn delivery flashed in front of his eyes time and time again. Blood everywhere. His wife’s stricken, ghost-white face and desperate, darting eyes. The dead baby in her hands. The fear and grief he felt that day were immense. He wasn’t sure how long his wife had been suffering alone or whether she would recover, mentally or physically. The doctor’s assurance of her physical recovery provided him with some comfort, but her mental state seemed to suffer double whatever misery not visited on her body.
Carter called on her friends from the suffragette group and asked them to visit Nalin as much as they could. She barely spoke to them and appeared relieved when they left. Carter even fetched Billy. Her father gave her a bottle of whiskey and offered a few words of comfort.
“Don’t you worry, girl. Before you know it, you’ll be back to having a hog-killin’ time. This’ll pass, like everything else.”
Nalin thanked him in a whisper but couldn’t bring herself to joke with him or even smile. Before he left, Billy handed Carter thirty dollars.
“It’s not much, I know. I want no hard feelings atwixt us, and I’m fixin’ to pay you back the rest. I don’t claim I was a good father, or even a middlin’ one, but I always loved that little girl.”
For the first time, Billy and Carter shook hands. No two men were more different from each other, but they shared two powerful things in common: Love for Nalin and an understanding of what it meant to love a daughter.
Grace stayed with Nalin at the cabin every day, ensuring she was never alone when Carter forced himself to leave her side to attend to the ranch. Grace cooked the meals and kept the house clean. Nalin tried to help once in the kitchen but was in such a daze that she burned herself on the pan while scrambling an egg. She didn’t cry when it happened, just stared at the burned flesh on her arm until Grace rushed to pour cool water over it.
Nalin mostly stayed in bed and stared at the wall or ceiling. She didn’t express any kind of emotion after the day of the loss. She was uninterested in reading her books or baking her favorite honey bread. She didn’t bathe unless Carter helped her, and he and Grace had to coax her to eat. Every day, Carter gathered her into his lap and held her for a long while, uttering whatever comforting words he could think of while she hung limply in his arms.
A letter from Susan B. Anthony arrived in the post. It was in her hand and addressed to Nalin, informing her of upcoming conventions and requesting her participation at the next one in Texas. Susan asked Nalin to write and deliver a speech on the topic of married women’s right to vote. When Carter handed her the letter, Nalin’s eyes fixed on the first sentence and didn’t move.
Carter watched her carefully. “You’re not reading it, sweet girl.”
Nalin blinked and handed it back to him. “Will you read it to me, Carter? I feel so tired.”
Carter read the letter out loud and looked to see her reaction, hoping for some expression of pleasure or happiness to light her face. It was not to happen. Hearing the request to speak seemed to make her even more tired, and she closed her eyes.
“That’s nice of her to think of me,” she said with considerable effort, and went back to sleep.
One day Carter came home and noticed her long hair was horribly knotted from being tussled in the bed. It was the middle of the day and she slept. He shook her shoulder.
“Wake up, sweet girl, and come sit on the chair. I’m going to brush your hair. It’s knotted something fierce. I don’t even know if those tangles will come free.”
She dragged herself out of bed to the chair. She looked at him through the mirror in front of her with a blank expression as he worked the tangles out of her long, dark hair.
“It’s been more than a month, honey, and you haven’t been able to move on from the loss at all. What can I do to help you?”
“I don’t know. I feel numb, like I can’t feel anything.” Her speech was slow and heavy with effort.
Carter made progress with her hair. The tangles came free a little at a time. It felt symbolic to him. He felt hopeful that the rest of her would be freed too after some care and attention.
“I would give anything to make it better,” he said.
With her hair untangled and smooth down her back. Carter took her hand and led her to the bed, where he gathered her into his lap.
This time she clung to him instead of remaining limp. She grasped his shirt at his chest and spoke, which she hadn’t done for some time while he comforted her. “I know I’ve been a horrible wife, Carter.”
Carter gave her a look that bordered on stern, but his voice was gentle. “You must never say you’re a horrible wife. You’re no such thing, my love.”
She clung to him tighter. “Carter?”
“Will you always love me and hold me like this, even if I never return to the way I was?”
“Of course, honey, but I think you will return. Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”
“Do you wish you’d married someone who could have your baby? Do you wish you had a more biddable wife?”
Carter tensed at her words. Did she really not know how much he loved her? He closed his eyes in a moment of frustration. When he opened them, Nalin’s eyes were fixed on him.
“I’ve angered you,” she said.
“You’ve frustrated me. You’re doubting my love for you. I can’t understand why you would, when I try to show it to you every day.”
“How could I not doubt your love? What kind of woman has a body that rejects new life? What kind of wife becomes so depressed she can’t leave her bed?”
“Nalin, don’t say such things. You’re grieving. You’re my wife, the woman I love, and your worth to me isn’t connected to childbearing. I’ve tried so many times to convince you of this. What more should I say?”
“You don’t realize you deserve someone better. I hate myself, Carter. I hate that I am such a failure.”
“How dare you say that? Now I’m warning you. I won’t hear you doubt my love for you, and I won’t hear you speak ill of yourself. I’ll punish you, Nalin. Is that what you want right now? To be punished?”
“I want only to die.”
Upon hearing those words, Carter shoved her off his lap onto her feet, a move that startled her after months of nothing but caresses from him. She looked at him with shock, something much different from her dazed expression of late.
“Fetch me your hairbrush, young lady.”
“No, Carter!” she said.
“Go on. Rattle your hocks.”
Tears sprung to her eyes. “No,” she repeated. “I don’t want you to spank me. I want you to hold me.” She moved toward him, but he held her back, stood, and walked past her to the dresser.
“What you want is of little consequence right now.” He picked up the hairbrush. “You just said you want to die. I’m inclined to do the opposite of what you want, since I want you to live.”
He sat on the bed again and observed her sad eyes, which began to spill the tears that had formed. As much as he hated to see her cry, Carter believed her tears were a good sign. She hadn’t cried at all since the day of the loss. She had only stared at him blankly with a glassy expression, which frightened him, but crying before a spanking was a normal response from her.
“You’re getting five extra swats for not fetching this when I asked for it.” He cracked the flat surface of the hairbrush loudly against his palm to get a sense of what kind of wallop it packed. The noise caused her to jump and his palm to smart.
“Take off your nightdress.”
Nalin’s lower lip quivered. “All the way off? But why?”
“Now you’ve earned five more for questioning me instead of obeying. Don’t give me cause to add more, young lady. You’re already getting a sound spanking before the extras.”
Nalin looked at him with wide, blinking eyes. Another tear slid down her face. Carter knew he was being hard on her. He wanted to jolt her into the right state of mind for a punishment.
“I’m going to spank you, Nalin. My only expectation of you right now is submission, so forget about the other pressures you place on yourself as my wife. If you don’t submit to me, you’ll lose none of my love, but you’ll receive it in the form of harsher punishment. You don’t want that. Do you understand?”
Nalin nodded. She pulled the nightdress up over her head, leaving her naked except for her pantaloons.
“Take off your drawers too.”
She obeyed. She folded her hands in front of her and looked at him, her eyes still wide.
“Good girl. Now come lie over my lap. You need to be reminded of a few things, one of which is that nothing has changed between us. I still love you, and I’ll still punish you.”
She hesitated a moment too long.
“Nalin! That’s fifteen extra now.” He leaned forward, grabbed her arm, and hauled her over his lap before she gave him cause to make it twenty. “You know better than to delay punishment, young lady. When has that ever worked in your favor?”
She wailed and began pleading with him before the spanking even began. “Please, Carter. Don’t be harsh with me. I’m in a wretched way. If you must punish me, can’t you use your hand?”
In answer to her question, Carter smacked the flat oak of the hairbrush down on her right cheek. He used barely an ounce of his own force because he’d just learned that the hairbrush packed a sting like no other implement, having felt it on his own hand. Her shriek confirmed it.
While spanking her, he lectured. “I think I need to be harsh with you now, Nalin. Being gentle wasn’t working, was it? I warned you to mind the words coming out of your mouth, but you continued speaking ill of yourself. I won’t stand for it. I never have, and I never will.”
He continued to spank her with moderate swats that elicited more squirming and crying than his hand ever had. Carter punished every part of her backside with stinging spanks and watched her bottom turn crimson after a very short amount of time. He moved to the tender area where her cheeks met her thighs, which was when she began to kick her legs and struggle. After leaving her sit spots properly punished, he focused on her upper thighs, reddening them as much as her bottom. At that point, she wept and begged him to stop.
He paused. His voice was stern. “Are you going to question my love for you or speak ill of yourself after this spanking?”
“I hope not, Nalin, because I’d prefer not to spank you for that yet again.”
“I won’t, ohpitsa,” she said through her tears.
Her word of endearment for him gave him hope that a part of her was returning. “Am I ever going to hear you say something so awful as wishing for your own death again?”
“No, Carter. I’m sorry. I don’t want to die really. I don’t know why I said it.”
“I imagine it’s because you’re in a very dark place. You will eventually walk into the light again, and I’m going to be with you every step of the way, for as long as it takes. Okay?”
Nalin sniffled. “Okay, ohpitsa.”
“What are you going to do after this spanking? Do you wish to go back to sleep?”
She sniffled. “I’m a bit hungry. I might eat.” Her voice took on a bit of a whine. “But I’ll have to stand up while doing so.”
He felt another surge of hope. His wife’s fire was there. It was a tiny flame, but it could be ignited.
“I owe you fifteen more licks with the hairbrush for your disobedience, but then I’ll get you fed.”
The last fifteen swats made her squirm something fierce, but Carter held her in place. When she tried to use her hand to protect her seat after the fourth crack of the hairbrush, he took it in his and moved it out of the way without slowing the swats. He finished the spanking while she cried out and kicked her legs.
He set the hairbrush aside and rubbed her hot skin in circles, relieving some of the sting. She relaxed over his lap. “Good girl. I know I was hard on you, but now it’s over.”
He continued to rub as her cries died down. “What would you like to eat, Nalin?”
She responded quietly, but with resolution. “Apple pie.”
“We don’t have that. I wish we did because it sounds good to me too.”
“I know. I’m going to bake it. I want to bake my husband’s favorite dessert.”
“Do you? Hmm. I need to use the hairbrush more often.”
His small tease brought out a quiet laugh from her, which was music to his ears. He pulled her soft, naked body into his arms and caressed her. He rubbed her back and her arms, then kissed her tears away. She melted into him and buried her head into his chest as he wrapped his arms around her.
“I’ll help you make the pie,” he offered.
Carter thought he heard a very quiet scoff against his chest. She said, “That’s okay, I can manage. Thank you anyway.”
“What? You don’t want my help?” He pushed her away a bit and frowned at her, not sure if he’d been right about the scoff.
Nalin’s voice became indignant, which was even more pleasant to his ears than her quiet laugh. “I wouldn’t mind your help, Carter, if you were actually helpful. The problem is you’re not. You do everything wrong in the kitchen.” She left his lap and grabbed her drawers.
Carter stood. He grinned, thrilled to pieces at her sudden sass. “Is that a fact?”
“Yes, and don’t think you’re fooling me.” She pulled her nightdress over her head and glared up at him. “It’s curious. You do a bang-up job training horses. When it comes to something as simple as cooking, you give it nothing more than a lick and a promise. It’s so I won’t ask you to help again. We both know this.”
Carter laughed and headed for the door. He put his hand on the doorknob and then looked back at her. “Did you ever stop to think that maybe I’m no good at it because it’s meant to be women’s work?”
He stepped out quickly and closed the door behind him. A moment later he heard a thud on the door, most likely a shoe launched at him a second too late. Carter chuckled all the way to the apple tree, where he picked the fruit for the pie.
Upon returning to the cabin, he found Nalin standing in the kitchen, wearing an apron over her nightdress and mixing the dough for the crust. He set the bucket of apples at her feet and kissed her cheek. “See, little firecracker? I helped a little.”
She smiled at him and looked deeply into his eyes. “You helped a lot. Thank you, Carter.” He knew she wasn’t referring to the fruit.
That night they made love. Carter reminded her of the pleasures to be found in life as he nudged her to climax twice in his arms. When his own orgasm built, he pulled out and released on her stomach. He cleaned his seed off her skin with a soft cloth and laid down next to her, bringing her into his arms.
“I think that’s how we should make love now,” he said.
Nalin pulled the quilt over them and laid her head on his chest. “After all our trying and hoping for years, we’ve finally given up.” Her voice hitched. “We’ll never be parents, Carter.”
He didn’t respond, and they said nothing for some time. Nalin broke the silence.
“I understand if you don’t want to and will respect your wishes, but I would like to try one more time. Just one more pregnancy. If I lose the next baby, we’ll only make love as we just did.”
He didn’t want to try again. Not at all. He wanted only for his wife to be safe and happy, and he hated that her happiness depended on being a mother. He sighed deeply. “If that’s what you really want, sweetheart.”
“One more try,” she said, her voice faint and sad.
Carter felt sad too. Sad and scared, and not even slightly hopeful.
Chapter 11—Promise under the Apple Tree
Nalin resumed the habits of her daily life. She cooked and cleaned once more, freeing Grace from her obligatory visits. Grace still checked in on her, but she talked with Nalin instead of worked. Nalin read her books again and participated in the suffrage meetings in Porter with regularity. She attended a medium-sized convention in the next town over and delivered the speech Susan had requested for her to give. Preparing the speech and arguing her points to a crowd gave her a sense of purpose and accomplishment. She was a natural at it.
The memory of her stillborn daughter’s body in her hands passed through Nalin’s mind multiple times daily, but one day after several months, Nalin realized that she couldn’t picture the exact shape of her daughter’s face with clarity anymore. Her inability to see the features of her baby in her mind’s eye caused her to despair. Sitting alone under the apple tree, she allowed herself to cry. The tree with its ample shade and scent of fruit had become her new haven since the loss of her daughter. She sat beneath it whenever she needed to collect her thoughts and allow herself to grieve.
She mused to understand her pain over being unable to picture her stillborn child’s face any longer. The reason for her pain came to her in waves, a little at a time. Her daughter had not formed a personality, acquired likes or dislikes, or known what it meant to be loved. She hadn’t been given a name. Life had been robbed from her, and now even the appearance of her dead body had been robbed of a place in her mother’s memory. It was more proof of her daughter’s nothingness, more proof of her insignificance in the land of the living. Understanding the reason behind the pain made it no less difficult to bear, and Nalin suffered greatly and silently under this new grief.
Nalin and Carter made love almost every night, and he spilled his seed inside of her. She knew that if she became pregnant again, it would be for the last time. If the pregnancy failed and the baby died, they would stop trying. If the pregnancy succeeded, they would feel exceedingly blessed to have one child and would not desire another.
The upcoming election gave Nalin something to think about other than her sorrow. She studied the issues and debated with her friends. The two main presidential candidates were Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican James Blaine. Nalin read the campaign materials and decided that if she were allowed to vote, it would be for Grover Cleveland.
Then she read the following week’s paper and changed her mind in a jiffy. There was a woman suffragette candidate. Of course, the woman would never win, but Nalin would nevertheless give her a silent vote in support. The candidate was a lawyer by the name of Belva Lockwood. Lockwood agreed to be the Equal Rights Party’s presidential candidate in a symbolic gesture to point out the folly of the country’s laws. She observed, “I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.”
As Election Day approached, Nalin thought often of the first suffragette who spoke at the convention in Dallas. Victoria Smith had urged women to attend the ballots and cast their votes, despite it being illegal to do so. Nalin felt terror whenever she thought of it. She knew that if she voted, she could very well be arrested and sent to jail. She didn’t know for how long, but Nalin felt certain that even a day would be unbearable, if Carter’s tell of the jail’s conditions in Dallas provided any clue.
A few days before the election, Nalin decided to gauge Carter’s feelings about her casting an illegal vote. He sat in his armchair reading the newspaper. She interrupted his reading and mentioned it breezily, as though it were an offhand comment about what they might have for supper.
“Ohpitsa, I was thinking about the election on Tuesday. Maybe I ought to vote.”
Carter brought the paper down. A scowl altered every feature on his face, which told Nalin all she needed to know. His words only confirmed it. “You’d better not. Don’t even think about it, Nalin. I mean it.”
His eyes flashed with fury, and hers matched his after hearing his predictable, uncompromising words. She should have known. She strode toward the front door, not wishing to discuss it.
Carter had other plans. He stood and tossed the paper on the chair. “Come back here. We need to have a discussion.”
Nalin groaned and turned. “Why, Carter? You’ve made your opinion clear. You don’t want me to vote. I understand, and I don’t wish to be snotted.”
“I more than don’t want you to vote. I forbid it! And you’d be wise to listen to a snotting. A reprimand would be easier to endure than jail.” He walked to her and gave her shoulders a small shake. “You want to break the law? Get arrested?”
Nalin shrugged out of his grasp. “You should read about civil disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. Sometimes it’s a good measure to take when the laws are unjust.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I’m not letting you out of my sight on Tuesday.”
She rolled her eyes in response. “Pull in your horns. I didn’t say I was going to do it. I just wondered aloud about it. Remind me not to clue you in on my thoughts in the future. It seems they are unwelcome.”
“I’ll give you a clue about my thoughts in the present. How about that?”
“Oh, yes. Pray tell. I can hardly wait to hear how wrong I am.”
Carter shook his head at her sarcasm. He held a finger to her face. Nalin barely resisted the urge to slap it away. “It’s easy to talk big in the comfort of your home to a man who loves you. But I know you, and you’re not cut out for danger. I saw your fear when witnessing arrests in Dallas. Now just imagine how much scarier it would be to get ditched yourself.”
He was right, of course, which annoyed her. The thought of being on the wrong side of the law terrified Nalin. As headstrong as she was, she also possessed a healthy dosage of fear. She didn’t like the thought of danger, and she certainly didn’t want to place herself directly in its path. When she thought about whether she should vote, it was more out of loyalty to the cause and the desire to be a good suffragette than out of true interest in making such a bold move. The truth was, she didn’t want to. She wouldn’t admit it, but she was actually relieved Carter forbade it so she wouldn’t have to make the decision herself.
“You have my word I won’t vote, Carter. May I leave now?”
Carter crossed his arms. “I hope you mean that. A man’s only as good as his word. That applies to you too.”
Nalin’s temper flared. “You don’t say?” she snapped, placing her hands on her hips. “I reckon I know that by now. I’m held to the same high expectations as a man but given none of the benefits.” She spun on her heel. “It’s all to pieces bosh, you know,” she said before slamming the front door behind her.
Nalin stormed to the apple tree and sat in her favorite spot under it. She wasn’t really angry with Carter, and she was completely over their spat by the time she arrived at the tree. The injustice of not being allowed to vote bothered her, but it was a tickle compared to the pain she still felt over the loss of her daughter.
Carter joined her at the tree after a few minutes. He sat on the grass in front of her and took her hands in his. “You come here often for comfort now, don’t you, sweet girl?”
Nalin smiled at him. She liked that he noticed. “Yes, ohpitsa. I love this tree. Something about it—the shade, the aroma, I don’t know. It cleanses me. I come here almost every day.”
Carter looked at her hands and rubbed the top of them with his thumbs. He brought each hand to his lips and kissed it.
“I can’t picture the look of our daughter anymore,” she confessed to him suddenly. “Try as I might, I can’t bring the features of her face to mind. It makes me sad, Carter. I come here to try to think about her, and also to try not to think of her. I fail at both.”
Carter cupped her cheek with his palm. “I didn’t know that. You should tell me of your suffering, not endure it alone.”
Nalin gave him a sad smile. “You can protect me from a great many things, dear husband, but not from this pain. For that reason, I didn’t think I should tell you.”
He looked down and blinked a few times before looking back at her. “There’s something I didn’t think I should tell you too, but now I think perhaps I should.”
Time passed. It was Nalin’s turn to touch his cheek. “What is it, ohpitsa? You know you can tell me anything.”
Carter placed his hand over hers on his cheek, then moved her hand to his lips again, kissing her palm. Freeing it, he touched the spot next to him, where the grass grew a bit shorter and greener than the areas surrounding it.
“As you slept on the night of her death, I buried our daughter here under the tree. I named her when I buried her.”
“Oh,” Nalin said breathlessly. She felt the ground where their daughter rested, and her hand grazed his. She moved into his arms, and they held each other tight.
“Nalin, it seems you somehow knew she was here because this is where you’ve sought comfort.”
“It’s curious, isn’t it?” she said in a reverent tone. “What do you think that means?”
“I couldn’t say. What do you think?”
Nalin thought for a moment. “I think it means her spirit calls me. The sight of her has left my mind, but her spirit never will. That’s one thing that won’t die.” She fixed her eyes on the ground as they filled with tears. “Her spirit will soon bring me more comfort than pain.”
A solemn hush befell them. Nalin breathed in the scent of her husband and the fragrance of the apples. A breeze swayed the grass around them. Nalin felt at peace. Her body and the body of the man she loved touched the same earth that held their child, the place where their daughter’s bones would eventually become earth itself. She felt that their three spirits were one, connected for eternity, and nothing, including death, could separate them.
“What did you name her?” Nalin asked.
Carter rubbed his hand through his hair. “It might seem silly to you.”
“It won’t,” she said.
He gave her an embarrassed smile. “Promise.”
“Yes, I promise it won’t.”
“No,” he said, chuckling. “I meant I named her Promise.”
“Oh!” Nalin beamed at him. “It’s a lovely name. What made you think of it?”
“I made a promise to her. As I buried her, I realized I not only wished she were alive, I also wished her to have every freedom. For instance, I would have wanted her to vote when she came of age, and I would have wanted this ranch to go to her in the event of our passing, not to some husband I couldn’t even picture. I would have taught her about business, and you would have taught her about politics. Imagine what she could have done, if she were given both life and freedom.”
Carter kissed Nalin’s hand. “I promised her I’d give her mother something she’s wanted for some time: My understanding and support in her cause.”
Nalin looked at him, her eyes filling with tears once again. “Really?”
“Yes. I know I forbade you from voting, but that’s only because I want you safe. My vote will be whatever you want it to be, my love, until the day comes when you’re rightfully allowed to cast your own.”
Nalin didn’t say anything for some time before she confessed, “I’ve been confused by my belief in women’s equal rights because I want to be submissive to you as my husband.”
Carter chuckled. “I’ve been mighty confused about that too, honey. The way I see it, though, we got lucky you and me. I’m naturally dominant and you’re naturally submissive. It’s easy to think that’s how it should be for everyone when it works so well for us.”
Nalin’s eyes were shining. “What do you think now?”
Carter winked at her. “That given the choice with no laws to demand it, you would still choose to follow my lead like an obedient wife. You’d still wish to walk one step behind me, trusting me to lead you in the right direction.”
Nalin smiled. “That’s very true, ohpitsa.”
“However, you wish to be in step with all other men in public life. I like that, and I support it. I’ve come to believe that women should have the right to choose where they wish to step, both in marriage and public life. That’s what I would have wanted for our daughter.”
Nalin felt in awe of her husband’s wisdom. His words made her feel like all her efforts to fight for women’s equal rights had been worthwhile. Finally he understood and supported her. More amazing was that he also helped her to reconcile their own relationship with the world around them.
Carter read her mind, as he so often did. He gently fisted her hair above the nape of her neck and pulled her head back, allowing his lips access to her neck. She let out a whimper. He kissed along the groove above her collarbone up her neck. In her ear, he said, “Over the last couple years, you’ve often described yourself as a failure, haven’t you, young lady?”
“How do you feel now as a suffragette, when I say you’ve convinced your stubborn husband of your voting rights?”
“I feel good, Carter.”
“And how do you feel as my wife, when I tell you I love your submission to me and am very pleased with you?”
“Successful,” she whispered.
“Good girl,” he said, releasing her hair.
Nalin laid her head on his shoulder. “There’s one thing I still don’t feel successful at. I don’t feel I am right as a woman, when my body cannot hold life. I hope someday I won’t feel like a failure in that respect.”
Carter stood and helped her to her feet. “I hope someday is today,” he said.
He unbuttoned her dress and pulled it off over her head. Little by little, he undressed her until she stood naked in front of him. He laid her gently on the grass while she looked up at him, loving and trusting him as she always had. He kissed her, then moved down her body. He laid his palm flat against the bottom of her bare foot.
“This foot, shorter than the length of my hand, this is the foot of my woman.” He slid his hands up the outside of her legs and paused at her hips, grasping them. “These hips, they are my woman’s hips: soft and yielding in my hands. And these breasts,” he said, cupping one. “Feel how different my woman’s chest is from her man’s.” Carter moved one of her hands to the hard muscle of his chest and her other hand to feel her own supple breast. “These lips,” he said, kissing her, “They are my woman’s lips, sweet and naughty, like the strawberries and whiskey she consumes.”
“And your womanhood,” he said, kissing her from her bellybutton down to her cleft. “It has the arousing taste of my woman.” He danced his tongue around her opening and up to her clit. A moan escaped Nalin’s lips. He moved his body back over hers to look into her eyes.
“But the proof that you’re a woman is not in your body. Those are only signs of it. You could lose your breasts and your limbs, you could never become pregnant again, and you would still be a woman here.” He touched the place over her heart. “I’d be lost without the love of my woman, Nalin. You are all woman to me, inside and out, and you’re everything I need.”
Nalin believed him. She felt very much like a woman lying there, desired and loved by her man, and she finally allowed herself to believe it wouldn’t take the birth of a child to make her feel complete. They made love under the apple tree. It was on that day, the day Nalin felt successful as a suffragette, wife, and woman, that she conceived. Nine months later, she gave birth to a son.
Carter had never known such joy. Seeing his wife’s beaming face tilted down to view their newborn baby in her arms was the best thing he had ever laid eyes upon. Nalin named the child Patrick, Paddy for short. Carter’s and Nalin’s days were filled with the sounds of their baby’s mewls, interrupted often with visitors knocking on the door offering food and congratulations.
At Nalin’s request, Carter built a swing out of red cedar and hung it from the apple tree. Nalin often swung in it with Paddy in her arms. Her face shone with contentedness. She felt her son in her arms and her daughter’s spirit in the wind.
Lying in bed one night, Nalin sidled up to Carter and wrapped an arm around his chest. “Ohpitsa, I want to tell you something.”
“Go on, sweet girl.”
“I have everything in life I’ve ever wanted and more. I have purpose. I have a man who loves me and a son whose existence is evidence of our love. I feel at perfect harmony with this earth. I could die tomorrow in peace, having already been given so much happiness in this life, knowing I would see my daughter in the next.”
He would never forget those words. “Your happiness makes me happy, Nalin love.”
“I’m lucky to have you as my husband, Carter. Your love for me is so strong. It has seen me through my darkest days.”
Carter chuckled. “I admit I love you just a little, my submissive suffragette. Glad you’ve finally realized it.”
Nalin grinned. “’Submissive suffragette.’ I like that.”
Paddy’s fussing interrupted them. As Nalin left the bed, Carter closed this eyes. He heard the squeak of the chair where Nalin rocked the baby and their son’s cries turning to suckling as he nursed from her breast. Nalin hummed a lullaby, which put Carter to sleep. He dreamed of his family.
His mind imagined what Promise would have looked like in a few years if she’d lived. She had his dimpled smile and her mother’s sparkling eyes. She laughed and chased Paddy around the apple tree, while Nalin sat in the grass nearby, writing a speech to be delivered at the next suffrage event.
In another dream, Nalin held Promise in her lap, and he held Paddy in his own. His son’s chubby arms reached around his neck and his hands clasped together, linking him to Carter in an infinite circle. Nalin and Promise waved at them, and Carter and Paddy waved back. Standing, Nalin took their daughter’s hand in hers. She smiled and blew Carter a kiss before retreating with Promise to the other side of the tree—out of his view, but still a part of his dreams.
Thank you for reading The Submissive Suffragette! If you enjoyed this book, be sure to check out Books 2 and 3 of the series: The Unbraiding of Anna Brown and Missy Meets the Marshal. And make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter so you can get more deals and book announcements from me!