There was a ring at the doorbell, and Eira struggled to get up from her cocoon of quilts on the couch. The heater in her Terror Mountain house had been out since yesterday, and for an aging woman of nearly 70, moving around in the cold of the harshest winter she could remember was no easy task. But the doorbell rang again, the mechanical chimes clanging angrily through the echoing halls, and she forced herself up, wrapped in her biggest, thickest quilt.
There at the door was the image of her, only thirty years younger – Paloma. With what seemed to be a full load protruding from her belly.
“Mumsy!” the younger woman chirped. Eira rolled her eyes. Her daughter had clearly inherited the late Mr. Simantro’s ability to act admirable only when he wanted something. Paloma, all purple curls tucked in fur lined hood and scarf, showed herself into her mother’s home, bumping into the door slightly with her swollen stomach.
“Long time, no see,” Eira sighed, closing the door. It had been five years since they last met, regardless of the fact that Paloma had lived in Happy Valley for the past two.
“Business as usual,” Paloma turned with a wide white smile.
Eira approached her daughter and patted her stomach thoughtfully. “It seems you’ve been very busy indeed. But I already knew. You politicians have no clue how to stay modest and keep your face out of gossip.” Paloma blushed fiercely and shivered under the imposing cold, but quickly perked up to save face.
“What can I say? I got ahead of myself,” she held the enthusiastic grin; “It’s going to be a little girl. I’m due in a month, Mom.”
Eira was unbelieving. “No kidding? That child looks as though she could shell out like a pea any moment now.” She sat down on the couch and patted the cushion next to her, as though Paloma should do the same.
“Maybe not a month. Maybe more like two weeks,” she admitted, breathing deeply.
“You should be in bed, not up and about like this.”
Paloma frowned and furrowed her brow as she slid the hood off her head. “Please, I have things I need to do. Courts down in the valley call for me every day, I’ve got paperwork to make up for from the days I’ve missed already, and I’ve even got some offers down in Maraqua!” She turned to her mother and held her hands. “Mumsy, I know you can’t afford it now, but imagine if I could buy you some property down on Mystery Island. It’s always warm there, and I know you’d feel better in all that sun.” Eira wheezed and coughed a little, not at the prospect of being able to move away from the cold, but because the secret tuberculosis made her lungs ache.
“Just worry about raising a baby right now, Paloma. You need to put your career on hold.”
This is not what Paloma wanted to hear.
“Well why can’t you help me?” She said angrily. “You could take care of her while I set up things in the south, then we can all move there!”
“That’s not how you raise a child,” Eira replied calmly, “the first months of her life is when you learn to take care of her yourself. I can help you, but I won’t be a surrogate when you’re perfectly able.”
Paloma’s mood was instantly soured, and she gave up the false front she displayed earlier, exchanging it for a pouting expression.
“You’re ruining your chances at getting out of here, you know,” she glowered.
“I don’t have enough time left, anyway. Bronchitis and every other disease in the book are out to get at my lungs,” Eira sighed, rubbing the cold away from her hands. The extreme environment and weak genetics had aged her body far beyond her years. Things in her past had worn her down too, but nothing she was about to admit to her daughter, who was now determined to leave as soon as possible.
“I’ll have a messenger get in touch with you, if you want to be there when she’s born,” Paloma offered with an obviously discontent tone. She stood up and pulled the hood back over her head of thick, frizzy curls.
“In two weeks? I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it,” Eira coughed severely and covered her mouth with a handkerchief from the end table. Paloma did not see the spot of blood on the fabric. She merely looked at her mother with vague curiosity, figuring that was the chronic bronchitis she often mentioned, but took little interest in trying to figure out what other engagements the grandmother-to-be would have. There was a pause before Eira crossed the room to a china cabinet in the corner.
“I have a gift for her, though.” She opened a door with a pane of fogged glass and parted the collection of inner trinkets with her hand. From the back of the shelf she extracted a corked, conical flask filled with a dark amber mist. She closed the cabinet and placed the bottle on the end table, then fetched a pastel blanket from the back of the house. “I made this blanket a few years ago out of boredom, and figured you’d need it one day. As for the bottle, it’s just a pretty thing for her to look at.” Eira deliberately lied about the latter.
Paloma received the blanket with all the necessary words of good will and thankfulness, and took the corked flask awkwardly. “What if it breaks?”
“It won’t,” Eira promised, “it’s very durable glass from the Ice Caves mines, and I’ve dropped it plenty of times without accident.” They shared a mutual bout of silence again as Paloma stared into the mist questioningly, but not really sure what to ask.
“I don’t know what to name her,” she finally blurted out. She began to fidget and hold her stomach defensively with the arm laden by the baby blanket. Eira’s eyes softened and the wrinkles in her face seemed deeper than ever. She coughed again into her handkerchief.
“Aviva,” she proposed, “for the spring.”
Paloma concurred, “For the new season. I like that.” At that she excused herself, found the door, and trekked down to the Happy Valley through knee high snow.
Eira, the snowfall, passed away before the baby was born.