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7th Annual Short Short Story Competition Winners - Fifth-place

Announcing the Fifth-place winner of the 7th Annual Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition

The Good Mother

By Scott Merrow

It was a blustery fall morning in Amish country. The early morning light was pale and gray, and the wind howled against the windows as Annie tiptoed softly into the small bedroom.

She adjusted the prayer kapp on her head as she leaned into the cradle to look at the baby. What an angel, she thought. She stroked the baby's cheek tenderly, then carefully picked it up. It was so light, like a feather.

She held the baby close and rocked it gently. "Shhh. There, there. It's still early. We don't want to wake no one, now, do we?"

Annie nuzzled the baby's neck, savoring the smell. She wrapped it up in its tiny blanket, then put the little bundle in the fold of her apron, cradling it all the while. "I'm going to take you for a walk, little one. It's cold outside, but don't you worry none. I know how to take good care of you."

She was careful not to make a sound as she carried the baby down the steep stairs and through the parlor.

The chill wind nipped at Annie's cheeks when she opened the front door. She adjusted her shawl and made sure the baby was completely covered, then she closed the door quietly and started down the path.

The barnyard was just coming to life. The sound of roosters greeted Annie as she followed the path across the meadow toward the woods. "Hear them roosters?" she asked the baby. "They're sayin' good mornin' to ya." She gave the baby a gentle hug and rocked it a little.

As she walked along, she reassured the baby. "You're going to like having me for a Mamm. I know how to take good care of a baby like you. You'll see."

The path led to a small footbridge over a stream at the edge of the meadow, and from there into the woods. As she crossed the bridge, a sudden gust of wind blew her prayer kapp off and into the water. Annie started to chase after it, but stopped short. She remembered the baby. No runnin', she thought. I have to be extra careful with this baby. So she watched the kapp float downstream. "Oh me," she said aloud. "I've gone and lost another prayer kapp. My Mamm won't be happy about this."

In the forest, the path narrowed, so Annie stepped carefully around the roots and rocks that got in her way. "See how careful I'm bein'?" she asked the baby. "I'm taking good care of you. Even though no one thinks I can."

She thought about yesterday and tears came to her eyes. All the elders had come to their house, even the bishop. And not for a social call, either -- it was a serious matter. Mamm and Datt made her leave the room while they talked, but she listened through the door. She heard when the bishop told Mamm and Datt that she was too simple-minded to care for a baby.

"I'm not simple-minded," she told the baby. "They'll see."

Then, when the elders left they took the baby. That other baby. Mamm was crying and Datt wasn't too happy either. "I was crying, too," she told the baby. She wiped a tear from her cheek. "And I guess I'm crying now, just thinkin' about it."

As the path wound its way into the woods, the terrain gradually sloped upward, and her walking slowed. "So now I'm going to be your Mamm. They'll see I can take good care of a baby." She gave the baby a hug. "And you'll see too."

Annie stepped into a small clearing. An icy gust whipped across her face. She turned away from it, shivering as her long skirt billowed. She was weary to the bone, and her legs ached from the long walk. "I think it's time we headed on home," she said. "I don't want you getting too cold. I'm a good Mamm."

She headed back down the path.

Her steps were becoming even slower and more difficult. Her breath was labored. "I think I need a bit of a rest," she told the baby.

She sat down and leaned against the huge trunk of an old oak tree. "This feels good, don't it?" She rocked the baby. "Maybe you'd like me to sing you a lullaby." She hummed a simple tune.

It was peaceful where she sat, but still quite windy. She watched the dry leaves racing past her. Some were already brown and crinkly, she noticed. That made her feel a little sad. "Look at the dark orange ones," she said to the baby. "They remind me of my Mamm's pumpkin cookies." She started to cry softly.

After a time, she began to feel warm all over, and she noticed a faint glow in the air. She looked up. A woman stood above her, a few feet away. It was her Mamm. Annie had never been so happy to see anyone in her life.

"Hello Mamm."

"Hello Annie."

"I lost my prayer kapp again. Are you angry with me?"

Her Mamm smiled. "No, Annie. We'll get you another one."

Annie breathed a sigh of relief.

"What are you doing here, Mamm?"

"I've come to fetch you, Annie." She sat down beside her. "What do you have there in your apron?"

"A baby, Mamm. I'm takin' care of it. No one thought I could, but I am. I'm takin' good care of it."

"I see that. I always knew you could."

"I'm a good Mamm."

"I knew you would be, Annie." She touched Annie's hand gently. Her touch felt so warm. "But it's time to go now."

"Go where?"

"Let's go see your Datt."

"What about the baby, Mamm?"

"Bring the baby, too. It needs you."

So Annie hugged the baby, leaned her head on her Mamm's shoulder, and closed her eyes.

Then they left to go find Datt.

Two days later, a search party found an old woman's body sitting against a tree. Amos Lapp, one of the local Amish leaders, identified her.

"That's Annie, all right," he told the sheriff. "She's been living with my family since before I was born. Since she was a teenager, I think."

"How old is she?"

"Reckon she's in her mid-eighties."

The sheriff asked, "What's that she's holding?"

Amos knelt next to Annie and unfolded her apron. He picked up the little bundle inside. "It's her rag doll." He showed the sheriff.

"A rag doll?"

"Yup. She took this doll for a walk every day. Rain or shine." He set the doll back in Annie's lap. "See, Sheriff, Annie was a beautiful person, but simple-minded. She didn't have much of a grasp on the world around her. My grandpa said there was some trouble when she was young. Something to do with a baby, and she never quite recovered. She was always forgetting where she was or how old she was, constantly reliving things that happened when she was a girl. Like it was yesterday."

He laid the blanket gently in Annie's lap, covering the doll.

"But she always loved that rag doll. She was a good mother."

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