Outlawed by Anna North

CHAPTER 1

In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw. Like a lot of things, it didn’t happen all at once.

First I had to get married. I felt lucky on the day of my wedding dance. At seventeen I wasn’t the first girl in my class to marry, but I was one of them, and my husband was a handsome boy from a good family—he had three siblings, like me, and his mama was one of seven. Did I love him? We used to say we loved our beaus, my girlfriends and I—I remember spending hours talking about his broad shoulders, his awkward but charming dancing, the bashful way he always said my name.

The first few months of my marriage were sweet ones. My husband and I were hungry for each other all the time. In ninth form, when the girls and boys were separated to prepare us for married life, Mrs. Spencer had explained to us that it would be our duty to lie with our husbands regularly so that we could have children for baby Jesus. We already knew about the children part. We had read Burton’s Lessons of the Infant Jesus Christ every year since third form, so we had heard about how God sent the Great Flu to cleanse the world of evil, just like he’d sent the flood so many centuries before. We knew that baby Jesus had appeared to Mary of Texarkana after the sickness had killed nine of every ten men, women, and children from Boston to California, and struck a covenant with her: If those who remained were fruitful and peopled the world in His image, He would spare them further sickness, and they and their descendants forever after would be precious to Him.

But in ninth form, we learned about lying with our husbands, how we should wash beforehand, and put perfume behind our ears, how we should breathe slowly to relax our muscles, and try to look our husbands in the eyes. How we’d bleed.

“Don’t worry,” Mrs. Spencer said, then, smiling at us. “It only hurts in the beginning. After a while you’ll start to like it. There’s nothing more joyful than two people joining together to make a child.”

My husband did not know what to do at first, but he took his responsibility seriously, and what he lacked in experience he made up for in ardor. We lived with his parents while he saved for a house; in the mornings his mother made little jokes about how soon I’d be eating for two.

During the day I still attended births with my mama. I was the eldest and the only one who actually wanted to learn about breech births and morning sickness and childbed fever, so I was the one who would take over for Mama when she got too old. When I came on rounds with my new wedding ring, the mothers-to-be winked and teased me.

“It’s good you’re learning about all this now,” said Alma Bunting, forty years old, pregnant with her sixth child and suffering from hemorrhoids. “Then you won’t be surprised when it’s your turn.”

I just laughed. I was not like my friend Ulla, who had eight baby names picked out, four boys and four girls. When I was ten and my sister Bee was two months old, my mama had gone to bed and stayed there for a year. So I had already been a mama—I had changed a baby, fed her from a bottle when Mama couldn’t nurse, soothed her at night when I was still young enough to be afraid of the dark. I was not in a rush to do it again. I knew from working with Mama that sometimes it could take months, even for a young girl like me, and I was happy to sleep with my new husband and still sneak off sometimes to drink juneberry wine behind the Petersens’ barn with Ulla and Susie and Mary Alice, and not have to worry about anyone except for me.

But then it was six months since our wedding day, and my husband’s mama was lingering in the kitchen while I put the breakfast dishes away.

“You know,” she said, “after you do it, you can’t just get right up and go about your day. You have to lie still for at least fifteen minutes to give everything time to work.”

She had a way of talking to me like we were girls the same age gossiping after school, but this wasn’t gossip and we weren’t friends. I kept my voice light and happy.

“Mama says that doesn’t matter so much,” I said. “She says the most important thing is the time of month. That’s why I always mark my calendar.”

“Your mama’s a very smart woman,” she said. She had never liked my mama. “But sometimes every little bit helps.”

She took the teacups from my hands.

“I’ll finish this,” she said. “You get ready for your work.”

I didn’t take my mother-in-law’s advice—I’d never liked lazing around in bed. But I started taking my temperature every day so I’d know exactly when my fertile time was coming. Still I didn’t worry—Mama had said it took her eight months to get pregnant with me, and my daddy almost left her, but after that Janie and Jessamine and Bee were easy. My husband made fun of his mother when we were alone—he said she meddled so much in his older brother’s marriage that his sister-in-law banned her from their house. Six more months we were happy and then it was a year.