I think about being pregnant, enveloped in hormones and inordinate roundness, with swollen ankles and varicose veins. I am too old to have a child. In the mirror today, my hair caught the light. Closer, I found a short, white hair. Having a child could be dangerous. The dark cave of my womb finally releasing its promise. And what if it didn't? What if the cackling Crone of Time said simply, "No. You cannot. You have waited too long."
I am not pregnant, but still in my dreams the crone comes to me. Bent and leaning on her staff, her black clothes pool slightly at her feet. Her white hair is long and unkempt, and she mutters to herself. She looks at me out of her brown, creased face with the one eye that can see. "Always calculating, you," she says. I catch a whiff of damp earth and lemons. "Thinking you can have more than what has been allotted you."
Now I'm angry. "You've already taken my childhood. And my youth, wasted in depression."
"Your youth was your own fault," she says, those blue-white eyes fixed on me. "Your childhood was a gift. You know this. You wanted truth, don't you remember? I put you in circumstances where you could know it, recognize it. It is yours. And you have walked the edge of magic. Not even I can take this away from you." She leans on her staff. "You have waited too long. You want a child? What will you give me?" She peers up at me now from her hunched shoulders.
"This isn't right," I say. "I'm afraid."
She only stares.
"You're feeding off my fear," I say.
The crone grins. "What will you give me?"
"No!" I yell. "I'm human. Isn't certain death enough of a price? No more bargaining!"
"Who's bargaining?" she says.
"Who am I?"
"An old crone."
"Go away!" I yell.
"Fool," she says, quietly now, shuffling, turning away.
My friend, Nancy, who is psychic, closes her eyes after I ask my question. "E," she says.
I wait, holding my breath.
"Her name begins with E."
"Emily," I say. "If I had a little girl, she would be Emily." Waiters move around in the shadows of the dimly lit Mexican restaurant. The candle on our table flickers in the votive glass.
"No," she says. "Elizabeth. She says her name is Elizabeth."
"Oh," I'm taken aback. "When?"
"I don't know. She's waiting to come in." Nancy shakes her head. "There's a veil over it still."
She sips her water, looks at me. "You could do it if you wanted to. You could arrange it."
I look past her to the low-key bustle of the restaurant. I touch the bowl of my margarita glass. Cold and sweating.
Nancy laughs, "This one, she wouldn't let you get away with feeling sorry for yourself."
Maybe she will come to me some other way. Child with dark hair and my mother's blue eyes. Child of the pixies. She will remember the things I have forgotten. She will have the answer to the question I follow around each corner. Sometimes I stop in the middle of an avenue, the tree branches hanging low, moss growing on the edge of the pavement, vines spilling over the cement wall of a garden and the air is dense with something I can't name, but I want it. I want to find the small doorway, hear again the undercurrent of laughter. There is a place tucked into the sleeve of this world, stashed like a secret.
Child of mine who will probably not be, if I had let you come in would you have found the key for me?
I dream of the crone again. She is a mixture of my grandmother on my father's side and my mother on her worst angry days. Also my neighbor, Mitzi, whom I knew when I was nine.
"You're back," I say.
"Well?" she says.
"What do you want from me?"
"The question is, what will you give me?"
I don't answer.
"Let me put it another way. What are you willing to give up?"
"You are 40 years old. Are you going to let Time decide for you? Because Time will."
"I thought you were Time."
She pauses. "Don't you know yet who I am?"
"An old crone."
I wake up, the skin on my scalp crawling.
Daily I ponder the idea of having a child. Sometimes the possibility of it marches up to me like the goddess herself, Athena, in her helmet, arms akimbo, the owl perched on her shoulder. "I will help you," she says. "And the world will change."
Nostrils fill with flame, her gray eyes flashing like a winter ocean. The owl raises its wings, its talons scraping the armor she wears. For a brief, hot moment I am filled with some of that power. I can change my destiny. I can experience something entirely of my own making. I'll feel the power in my own body as it creates life. I am tuned to the turning of the earth and the seasons and I am hooked in in a way that I am not now. I am connected, to the earth, to my roots, my ancestors and yes, to the future. All will be healed by having a child. I stop. It is hubris, I think to place so much responsibility on some being who may or may not want to be here. Nancy says she's waiting to come in. The crone says I'll have to give something up. Athena says she'll empower me. But every month I bleed. I am a magnificent clock. My temperature rises as if fighting off an intruder. My body burns away what it does not need. And once again the nest is empty. And once again I begin to rebuild it, twig by twig.