Anna tucked the blanket around her baby, careful to leave the newborn’s left leg out as instructed. She heard the tambourines from outside the camper grow louder, shriller, like a thousand rattlesnakes hissing in disgust at what she was about to let happen. The community had been celebrating since midday, a jubilee the size normally sanctioned for weddings and baptisms. Drunken voices shouted over mandolins and enthusiastic offerings of percussion with jugs and spoons.
In that moment, amidst the raucous banter, Anna hated her husband. She was all too familiar with his over-inflated ego, how it fed on pomp and circumstance, how it caused him to embellish traditions or add new ones. Many times she had seen him turn time-honored customs into regimented absurdities or create new, inane rituals that served no other purpose but to flex an authoritative muscle. It wasn’t enough that his role as leader came by birthright, which afforded him an indisputable, ardent following. He wanted absolute control of all things—even death. The new ceremony he had commissioned for today proved it. He was going too far this time.
Anna kissed the top of her daughter’s head, the crown of black hair so soft against her lips she could hardly feel it. She threw a cautious glance about the confines of the trailer, then whispered into the infant’s ear the name only she would use for her. Not even her husband would be privy to it, as was custom. The baby’s community name, the one to be used by every member of the tribe, she called out softly in the claustrophobic space. “Thalia. You are my greatest love.”
The baby’s eyelids fluttered as though in approval, and Anna clutched her tighter to her breast. She reached for a silver music box that sat on her nightstand and opened the lid. A miniature ballerina, poised in the center of the box, began to pirouette to a lullaby.
“I’m so sorry,” Anna murmured. “I would burn the flesh from my own body if that would stop him.” She snuggled her face against her child’s neck. “I will do what I can to make sure it goes quickly.”
She placed Thalia in her bassinet and turned reluctantly to the bed where the skirt her mother-in-law had made for the occasion lay in multicolored folds. Sighing deeply, Anna put it on, feeling the hem scratch against her ankles. She chose a white peasant blouse to go with it, not caring whether it matched or not. Bracelets and necklaces, thick with ornate gold and onyx, had already been chosen for her and laid out on top of the bureau. Their beauty and value meant nothing to her tonight. They felt cold and heavy like her body when she clasped them into place. She placed the droshy that had belonged to her mother on top of her head for good luck. Her fingers trembled and fumbled with the silk knot as she secured it to the back of her head.
After closing the music box, Anna lifted Thalia from the bassinet and carried her to the front room near the kitchenette. She stood there, clutching her child, waiting, watching the door, and not for the first time in her life, wishing she had been born white or black or Russian, anything but Roma….
Copyright 2005-2008 Deborah LeBlanc