The father and daughter knelt together on the damp ground, tenderly nestling the seedling in the warm, fragrant earth. Gently supporting the small tree, they braced it before and behind with nourishing soil, lovingly preparing it to grow. Finished, the father stood and stretched.
“This is a hazel tree, like my name, isn’t it?”
“Is it going to be my sister?”
“When will my sister get here then?”
The man’s face twisted. The raw pain of his wife’s death had not yet left him; his daughter was a fresh remider every day of what he had lost. Once again, she asked an innocent question that rubbed salt in the wounds.
She had always wanted a home filled with children. It had been what had drawn him in the first place; her quiet friendliness and willingness to listen had earned her an entourage of the village’s young ones. After they had fallen in love, she sat him down and informed him that she wanted no less than a dozen children, and he would have to work hard so that they could provide for every one.
She never planned to be sick.
The first three times she conceived, within a month she miscarried. The midwife told them that she might be able to have one child if she rested and was very careful, but it was too dangerous to have anymore after that. For nine months she bided her time, careful and cautious.
Then she gave birth to Hazel.
They were ecstatic. Their own small miracle they held in their hands, far more precious than any jewel. For three years they watched as she grew, each new day bringing marvels of its own. Slowly, though, his wife’s face had taken on a brooding mien. When she was not laughing or playing with their daughter, she would withdraw, becoming cold and pale.
He should have noticed sooner.