“Willow”

Willow
by Miss Mouse

I came up around a bend in the trail to see her standing in a clearing by the path, a bundle of twigs in one arm. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing; this far up the mountain everyone you ran into was an experienced hiker, prepped and outfitted for the wilderness.

And here was a woman who looked better suited for a drum circle in the park.

She looked college-aged, her young face dotted with freckles and a little smudged with the dirt of the woods. Her clothes all looked homemade, her top being little more than a length of blue fabric wrapped around her chest and tucked into itself. In a similar fashion, her ankle-length skirt seemed to be a few layers of different-colored fabric on top of each other and fastened across her hips. Her sandals looked like the sort a college hippie would wear, being mostly woven hemp of the same fashion as her tasseled bracelets and necklaces were.

The woman was very pregnant, the great swell of her belly pushing her breasts to either side as they rested atop it and forcing her skirt down from her waist. As I watched, she awkwardly began to crouch, struggling to pick up a twig with her limited ability to bend.

“Good morning!” I called and waved from the trail.

“Oh,” she grunted as she stood up with her new twig, two falling from her pile along the way. “Good morning!” she was breathing heavily from the exertion of the activity. “Out for a hike, eh?”

“I am!” I said, still taking in the situation. “Are you…?”

“I’m gathering firewood; Rain’s coming tonight and I wanna have some dry stuff for tomorrow’s breakfast.” She began to crouch again to pick up the fallen twigs.

I watched for a moment, still unsure what was going on before stepping in.

“Would you like some help?”

“I’m Willow,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Wild, dark-blonde curls fell down her back.

“Lucy,” I said as I took off my pack and set it by a tree. “Are you sure it’s supposed to rain tonight?” I’d checked the weather in preparation for my hike and it was supposed to be clear and sunny for the rest of the week.

“Positive,” she said, turning to me. She had the biggest, prettiest, grey eyes I had ever seen. “I broke my arm as a kid and now my elbow gets to aching when weather’s coming.” She raised her arm to show me.

I stared for a second at her very normal-looking arm and she laughed pleasantly.

“Lucy,” she went on, returning to gathering wood. “I like that name.” There was a musical lilt to her voice, bright as the summer sun above our heads. “Lucy, what brings you up the mountain?”

“Just hiking for fun. I like getting out and seeing nature.” I already had a nice pile of sticks together, better than the spindly ones she was gathering. Due to the awkwardness of her bending and lifting, she couldn’t really get the heavier pieces. “What are you…uh…what brings you up the mountain?”

“I’m here to give birth,” she said, patting her large stomach lovingly. I noticed a little tattoo down near her hip bone: a design of Ursa Major that now stretched up her swollen belly.

“Give birth? Here?” I was more than a little surprised, although she looked ready to go into labor at any minute. “On the mountain?”

“That’s how we do it in my family.” Her hand now moved to stroke along the top-side of her belly, down to her protruding belly button, rubbing it between her fingers for a moment. “When it’s time, you go up on the mountain and stay there until you give birth.”

“Is that safe?”

She laughed and said “It worked for my mom, and her mom, and her mom before her; I’m just keeping up the tradition.”

The idea of giving birth alone on a mountain seemed terrifying to me at first, but the more I thought about it the less ridiculous it seemed. There weren’t many bears in the area and flat, open areas dotted the southern face, which made for good camping. A creek flowed through the area nearby and the nearest ranger station was less than a mile back down the trail…

“How long have you been up here?”

“Three days. My due date was a week ago, but I could tell this little one wanted to stay in a bit longer.” She patted her belly lovingly.

“Have you ever given birth before?”

“Nope, this’ll be my first!” She sounded excited. “But I’ve delivered babies before. I spent two years learning from a doula in New Mexico and feel pretty confident in my abilities.” She flexed her free arm, a cheesy grin on her face.

“Well, you’ll have firewood, at least.”

Willow led me about two hundred yards down through the woods, her broad hips swaying as she moved. Her pregnancy didn’t seem to slow her down much, doing about as well as I did with my arms full of firewood. She sang some song that I half-recognized from my dad’s old records as we went.

Every now and then she would stop, pressing her hands against the curve of her lower back and leaning back and sticking her big belly out, apparently to combat muscle soreness.

“Walking so much gets my back to aching,” she said as we entered her camp. “Being big is fun, but it can be really tiring.”

“Fun?”

Her camp consisted of a fire, a makeshift tent, a log to sit on and a home-made bag that didn’t look like it would hold much. She had a sleeping bag, a pot, and some silverware, but overall, I thought the place looked unsettlingly primitive for the purposes of giving birth.

“Yeah!” she went over to a log by the fire and lowered herself carefully, letting out a long, pleasant sigh. “Being pregnant is fun! You can just put the firewood wherever, thanks again for carrying it for me.”

“I always thought it would be…uncomfortable.” I put the firewood down next to the tent.

“It can be, but in a good way?” She sounded like she wasn’t really sure what she was trying to say. “It’s like…here, come sit with me.”

I went and sat on the log beside her.

“Like…Being pregnant is amazing, you know? It’s like…”

From my perspective, I could see her belly clearly, just beneath the swell of her breasts as they sat huddled in her top. Embarrassed, I noted a mole just on the inside of her cleavage.

“There’s life inside of me,” she said, holding her belly with both hands as it filled her lap. “And, ahh—”

She grabbed my hand, pressing it against the side of her belly.

I felt—and could see around where I touched—a number of kicks or punches or… it was movement! And it felt so strange, so alien, and yet…it felt natural somehow. I had that same feeling that I got when I stood atop a mountain at the end of a climb, staring out at the natural wildness of the world… It was something untouched by society, predating society; something that was a part of the base of the world.

I sat quiet and wide-eyed, my hand against the firm smoothness of her skin. The child was moving inside her, shifting beneath my touch.

Suddenly I realized that I had been sitting like this for at least a minute and I pulled back, embarrassed.

“Sorry, I—uh,” I stammered, my face burning red.

Willow just laughed.

“Don’t worry about it,” she leaned against me, her breast and belly pressing against my arm. “It feels nice when you touch it.” Her big, grey eyes stared up at me from behind her long lashes. I felt another little kick against my arm.

“Um, I…”

“Lucy, are you alright? You’re sweating…”

She touched my cheek with the back of her hand and I panicked, jerking backwards and tumbling off the log with a thud. My head bumped against something and I was hit with a horrible wave of dizziness, the sky swimming in my vision as I laid there, stunned.

By the time I regained my senses, I found the back of my head cushioned by something soft.

“Lucy, are you okay?” Willow was upside down. After a moment, I realized that my head was resting in what remained of her lap. Her navel was pressed against the crown of my head and I could just see her face as she bent over her belly.

“I’m, um, fine,” I said, trying to sound fine.

“You’re flushed!” she looked very worried, on the verge of tears even. “Maybe you’re coming down with something…it’s a good thing you weren’t alone up on the trail!”

“Yeah, ha ha…” I laughed, trying to hide the cause of my distraction, which was hard because she was stroking my face.

“Here, you sit tight and I’ll brew you some tea.”

Willow brought me a pillow to use while I waited, and I decided to go with it. She was a nice girl—if odd—and it would be rude to decline her hospitality. Head-bump aside, things were going pretty well, although my hike had hit a detour. I was safe and fairly comfortable, a cute girl was taking care of me (though, I didn’t want to take advantage of her hospitality)… at the very least, I had made a new friend.

She sang as she started the tea, and I couldn’t help but think about…it. She was pregnant. I hadn’t ever really been around pregnant women, not having any younger siblings or cousins. It was a new thing and it was… exciting. I kept finding myself revisiting those long moments as I felt the baby kicking inside of her, the smoothness of her stretched skin, the supple firmness of it beneath my fingers…

I could already feel myself flushing again.

The tea tasted really, really bad, but she assured me that it was because it was medicinal.

“I’ll make you a good cup sometime.”

“I’d like that,” I said as I sipped the bitter, noxious drink. But I felt better for it.

We sat in silence for a bit, enjoying the sounds of the forest around us. Clouds were beginning to gather, perhaps lending credence to her prediction of rain. I was recovered and needed to be moving on, as much as I enjoyed her company.

“Hey, do you have a radio?”

“Like, for music?”

“No,” I laughed. “Here,” I took my backup radio out of my pack and handed it to her. “I’m planning to stay on the mountain today. If anything…happens, call me on it. I’ll be coming back by here this evening. I’ll check on you.”

She clutched the radio to her breasts with an emotional look on her face.

“That’s so nice of you!” she started tearing up. “Sorry,” she wiped an eye. “It’s the hormones… I’m all over the place.”

“Hey, don’t apologize,” I leaned over and hugged her. Her hair smelled like the forest.

“You’re just a really sweet person…I—” she stopped herself and pulled back, her face red from embarrassment and crying. She grasped my hand. “You have to come back and see me tonight, okay? Promise me.”

“I will!”

“Promise!” she moved my hand to her stomach and I shivered at the touch.

“I—” I gulped, “I promise.”

Willow wanted to walk me back to the trail, but I insisted she stay at her camp and rest. The whole way back, and for the rest of my hike, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wanted her to be there with me, I wanted to show her the things I saw.

I knew she wasn’t in any condition to hike now, but maybe in the future…

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