The round face that belonged to the midwife peered through my bent knees as I held my breath and pushed until I thought the space between my legs was going to rip wide open.
“I can see your sweet baby’s head, Emma. Just one more push.”
“I can’t push anymore, Gladys, I think I’m going to explode!” My hair was matted down around my eyes from the perspiration.
“Here it comes, Emma, your sweet baby has arrived.”
Gladys reached down, busily cutting the cord and wiping the newborn with a wet cloth.
“She’s a girl, Emma, you have a baby daughter.”
Then she stopped what she was doing and paused, looking carefully at the small bundle that lay on the bed. A frown wrinkled between her eyebrows, and she glanced at me quickly to see if I was watching.
“What is it, Gladys? What’s wrong? Is the baby ok?”
Gladys wrapped the baby in a white muslin towel and placed her in my arms. I was shocked at first, and couldn’t take my eyes off the jagged red spot that blemished her right cheek. Just then, the child let out a piercing screech that sounded like a cat that had been caught by a fierce wild dog.
“Gladys, what is that red spot on her face? Will it come off?”
Gladys smiled and rubbed my arm. “She’s been kissed by an angel, Emma, that’s all. She’s a beautiful baby.”
There was a hesitation in her voice that made me want to cry. My beautiful baby was scarred, her perfect little face disfigured by an ugly red blemish.
“Kissed by an angel, that’s right.” I softly kissed my baby’s cheek. “Her name shall be Katherine Maggie O’Donnell.”
I gazed out the window and stared at the harvest moon rising over the mountain. The man in the moon appeared to be just dark ugly ink spots splattered on a round piece of yellowing paper.
As a child, Katy was a handful. I tried controlling her wild red hair with braids, but after running around the farm all day, sprouts of hair would break loose from the bands, making her look like a haystack that had caught fire.
When Katy was seven, she discovered an old barn on the neighbor’s land to the north and claimed it as her secret hideaway. She would be gone for hours, until one day I saw smoke in the distance. My heart was racing almost as fast as I was running towards the black clouds. The barn was engulfed in flames, and I feared Katy was inside. Instead, I spotted Katy off to the side, mesmerized with the burning building, smiling, her face glowing in the heat. She let out a blood-curdling scream as I snatched her up, pulling her away from the collapsing embers.
This was not her only fascination with destruction. Katy would taunt the small animals on the farm, often poking them with a fiery hot stick to see their hair sizzle and curl.
Through the years, I often felt that the ugly red birthmark on my daughter’s check was the kiss of the devil instead of an angel.
One crisp fall day, I wiped my hands on my apron and peered out the window. Red and orange leaves tumbled by as the cold autumn wind battered the small cabin. Katy should have been back from the country market by now. At that moment, I saw the flying, fiery red braids. What I had decided was the devil's mark on her right cheek, was clearly visible, even at dusk. Katy was breathless as she burst through the wooden door.
"Ma! Come quickly!!"
Once again, my heart raced with fear of finding a dismembered cat or charred body of a bird. I ran out the door, following Katy as she took off sprinting down the dirt path. She pointed under an old wooden bridge that spanned across the creek.
“Look, Ma, look what’s hanging under the bridge!”
I was afraid to look, thinking she had strung up a friend’s dog, and it was dangling to its death beneath the wooden slats. I slowly peered under the bridge and saw six bats hanging upside down, their feet grasping the edge of the metal bar holding up the planks.
“Aren’t they beautiful, Ma? Can I keep one as a pet?”
“No, Katy, they are dangerous and they might bite you.”
“No they won’t, Ma! They like me. I talk to them, and they talk to me too.”
I grabbed Katy’s hand and pulled her up the slope, away from the bridge. Katy shrieked her cat scream and jerked away from me, kicking and clawing her way back down the rocks to the creek. The six bats flew out from under the bridge and swarmed around her, landing on her face and neck. When I reached her, I saw the bite marks on her face. The devil’s mark on her right cheek was gone, and Katy’s lifeless body lay in the water.
My heart was heavy with sorrow, and I sobbed for my baby girl who had been kissed by the devil.
The harvest moon is hanging low in the sky, and Gladys is once again encouraging me to push.
“Here it comes, Emma, your sweet baby has arrived. It’s a boy! And look, he too has been kissed by an angel.”