I don’t know how long I’ve been at the spinning wheel. I’m in my body less and less these days; it feels like a place I visit rather than live. She only lets me back when major physical needs hinder her work. The equivalent of check engine light for a human body.

Last I remember, I had just finished dinner. Now morning light peeks in under the shed door. How many days have passed since that dinner, I can’t yet guess.

I stop treadling and flex my hands. Raw, red lines have etched themselves between the fingers. Even silk threads will wear down skin, given enough time.

As I rub salve into my hands, I realize something’s different this time. Normally my hands and my body would already be shaking from exhaustion and low blood sugar. A glance at the spinning wheel only makes my suspicion stronger. Silk filaments have been spun and plied into yarn—perfect yarn. Marie-Louise would only let go of me if the shakes were spoiling her handiwork.

I’m not sure if the thought comes from my gut or from Marie-Louise or if there’s even a difference anymore, but suddenly I’m certain: someone’s coming.


Gran built the shed on the furthest corner of the property. It’s a long walk back to the house. You can’t see the shed from the house, and some mornings when I wake up, there’s a brief, blissful moment where I forget about its existence entirely.

Most of the shed is taken up by the menagerie. Before I go, I look in on the few remaining silk moths. They’re laying eggs, beginning the cycle anew. Their part in this has always haunted me; I’m grateful not to remember the harvesting stage. The first time I watched Gran toss handfuls of cocoons into boiling water, I ran screaming from the shed. When Gran came to, she found me at the foot of a mulberry tree hugging my knees to my chest and sobbing.

Outside, it’s morning. The fog hasn’t completely burned off, and even though I’ve walked this footpath a thousand times since I was a girl, for a moment it feels magical.

The hill crests and I can see the house. There’s a strange car parked in front of it. My instincts were right: the cycle’s begun again. It’s already in motion.

The car is well-maintained but not a newer model, nothing fancy. A figure sits in the front seat, backlit by morning sun. When I’m fifty feet away the driver emerges from the car and slams the door hard. Something in their stance feels aggressive—not something I’m used to seeing from visitors. They’re usually supplicants, come to throw themselves at my feet as a last resort.

I shield my eyes as I approach. And then I recognize the face: Gina.

Last I saw Gina, she was forcing the doors of her overstuffed hatchback shut, refusing to look at me so I wouldn’t see the tears running down her face. “I’ll be back for the rest of it later,” she said. She drove off and never came back. Her winter clothes and knickknacks are still boxed up in my attic; I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw them away.

“I thought to myself, ‘It couldn’t be,’” Gina says. No hello or nice to see you. She’s the kind of person who always says those things, even to someone she hates; her anger doubles the shock of seeing her again. “They told me I was going to see someone named Marie-Louise. So imagine my surprise when I got this address.”

There’s so much I want to say to her. It’s good to see you. I’ve missed you. I wish I hadn’t pushed you away. But that’s not how this works. There are rules. Or maybe ‘rules’ isn’t quite right—there are rituals. There’s a way these things are done, and it’s the same for a pauper as for a president. There’s no exception for when the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with shows up on your doorstep.

“Sorry,” I say quietly. “I can’t help you.”

(“I can’t keep living like this if you won’t even admit something’s wrong,” she’d said as she crammed toiletries and books into her bags. I’d emerged from a frenzied haze to find her packing, and was still too weak to do anything but watch, shakily eating sliced bread straight from the bag, only half-comprehending her words. “And I can’t help you if you won’t let me in.”)

I turn away and start up the porch steps. The same steps she used to climb as she called out half-jokingly, half-sincerely, Honey, I’m home!

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she shouts. “Natalie, are you seriously walking away from me right now?”

She tells me to come back, to talk about this like adults—don’t I owe her at least that much? But I’m already turning away, reaching for the door, trying to keep my face from crumpling.


I was eight when I found out I had a grandmother.

“Does she live far away?” I asked, figuring this must be the reason I was just now hearing about her.

“About a day’s drive,” Mom said. She told me we’d be visiting her that weekend.

On the drive up, I bombarded Mom with questions. Why hadn’t I met my grandmother before? (I had, once, as a baby.) Why didn’t we visit her sooner? (We were busy.) Did she bake cookies? (Could bake, but only begrudgingly.)

“Do you talk to her a lot?” I asked.

“Not really.”


“We don’t have much to say to each other.” Her tone told me to stop asking.

I couldn’t fathom Mom’s disinterest in the joyful woman who threw her arms around me the moment I emerged from the car. Her home had everything the movies taught me a grandmother should have: freshly-baked cookies, needlepoint samplers mounted on the walls. A refrigerator covered in pictures, including of me, the only daughter of her only child. Gran, as she told me to call her, dug out old picture albums and told me stories about anyone I pointed to.

Mom never said a word more than she needed to. She watched every interaction with appraising eyes.

The next morning, before my mother awoke, Gran showed me around her small farm. She had a few sheep and goats, a modest flock of chickens. And then she led me to the barn.

The interior had been turned into a workshop. Walls were mounted with spools of yarn and thread; the place was full of gizmos whose purpose I couldn’t even begin to guess. At the center of the barn stood a contraption that looked like it had weathered centuries. A wooden frame that extended up, taller than me. Atop it, a boxy machine, down from which emanated thousands of fine threads. The threads fed down into the wooden frame, through harnesses fitted with strings, and somehow, what emerged from the machine was lustrous red cloth.

I could feel my grandmother’s eyes on me.

“What is it?” I asked.

She patted a low wooden bench in front of the machine. I sat down, transfixed. I ran a hand over the smooth cloth before realizing I should ask first. I jerked my hand back and started to apologize, but she only smiled, eyes alive with light.

“Go ahead,” she said, and I touched the cloth again, traced my fingers over its stylized pattern.

“This is a Jacquard loom,” she said. “For many generations, my ancestors—your ancestors—were master weavers. They made silk cloth like this. Here,”—she gestured to an object hanging near my face—“pull this.”

I had to stand on my toes to reach it. When I pulled it, something shot from the left side of the machine to the right. I moved back instinctively, nearly tumbling over the bench.

Gran chuckled. “That was the shuttle. It delivers the yarn.” She put my hand on a bar attached to the machine. “The beater,” she said, and swung my hand forward. When she swung the beater back, the thread from the shuttle had become a part of the cloth. I gasped in delight.

She pointed to a chain of punched cards sewn together and showed me how the pedal at my feet made the Jacquard machine advance to a new card. The cards looked like someone had gone wild with a hole punch, but in fact, there was more order than first met the eye. She showed me how they engaged a series of hooks that lifted certain threads and not others, allowing the pattern to bloom. I found the rhythm of it quickly—pull, beat, step, pull, beat, step—and before long I’d woven an inch of silk cloth.

Gran examined my work. “A natural,” she whispered. Then she glanced at her watch. “We should get back to the house.”

The quickness of her movements, the way she looked around as she locked the barn door—all of it told a story. When we got to the house and found Mom reading the paper, she looked from Gran to me.

“What have you two been up to?” The question kept so casual, as if it were nothing.

“Gran introduced me to the animals,” I said. “Did you know that goats have four stomachs?”

The tension dissipated. There had been some test, some tinder that hadn’t sparked.

We passed the rest of the weekend pleasantly; we didn’t return to the barn. But for weeks I dreamed of the clack of the shuttle as it found home, the sound of thread on thread, the gradual emergence of a pattern, the whole of which I couldn’t see.


Normally I’d crawl into bed to recover from the things my body did without me, but Gina’s visit leaves me too wired.

I head to the barn to get some work done. Not only have I taken over my grandmother’s workshop, I’ve added a computer-controlled loom, a big Swedish rug loom, and a table loom for sampling. The Jacquard loom is there, too, but I don’t consider it mine; it belongs only to Marie-Louise. Normally it’s hidden under sheets, but they’ve been pulled off, the whole thing dusted and oiled and readied for use.

In my everyday work I don’t use punch cards. A production weaver doesn’t have time for that. I plug designs into my laptop, and the laptop tells the machine which threads to raise. I weave yards and yards of fabric for designers and retailers. If you’ve seen my work, you’ve probably seen it as upholstery on loveseats and chairs in boutique furniture shops, or perhaps as the dishtowels on your more persnickety friends’ wedding registries. Occasionally more glamorous assignments come in: historical fabrics for expensive Hollywood period pieces. But hardly anyone stops to think about the chaise lounge an Oscar-winning actress sits on when she says, Let them eat cake. My work is part of the background of something grander. You wouldn’t know my name.

That used to bother me, the anonymity of the work. I made a good enough living calibrating my weaving to seasonal trends, anticipating what colors and structures would be in demand. But I hungered to be seen, to have my technical and design skills recognized.

It was a hunger Marie-Louise shared.

I could give you that, she whispered each night as I drifted off to sleep.

Never, I thought.

But over time, never eroded into maybe, became what if.

These days I try to focus on the work itself. The flow state of movement that bonds body and machine. The everydayness of cloth. Watching threads become something substantial, something durable, something that might become part of a stranger’s daily life. I’ve loved these things since Gran first showed them to me, and I wish I’d never felt the need for more.


Gina returns the next day, and I refuse to leave the house. She hurls invectives at me, calls me vindictive and cold and mendacious.

“I always knew you were hiding something from me,” she shouts.

She bangs on doors and windows, stands on the porch screaming. Not even words: just primal sound.

The person who gave her my address must have coached her to keep coming back. They tell each other things, I’ve learned, though not always accurately. And often enough, they withhold the most important information. The cost of these services.

After an hour or two of this, I hear her at the front door. But she doesn’t knock, doesn’t ask to be let in. She walks to her car and sits cross-legged on the hood for another two hours, waiting, daring me to come out, to face what she might have to say to me.

I can’t.

When she finally leaves, it’s somehow worse. Even when she screamed, I realize, there was comfort in the fact her presence. Without her, I feel how empty this house is, how alone I am out here, just as Gran must have felt before I came to live with her.

I open the front door, ready to sprint after her car, and something flutters to the ground. An old brochure, stuck in the door handle.

Silkwork, it reads, Textile Art from Ancient Times to Now. It’s been opened and closed so many times that the paper’s creases threaten to become tears. We were young and in love when we went to that show.

The night it opened, I practically sprinted through the museum, looking for the object I’d come to see. I found it, spotlit in a glass case. A silk-woven prayer book.

Gina caught up to me a few minutes later. “There you are!”

“I can’t believe it.” The words came out half-whispered.

She slipped a hand into mine. “Tell me.”

“That’s Joseph Marie Jacquard on the cover,” I said. “Jacquard, like my grandmother’s loom. He invented the machine with the punch cards. And it took maybe half a million of those same punch cards to weave this book. And do you even know how many warp ends this took?”

“Um,” she said. A caterer came by with a tray of wineglasses, and she took one. “Obviously, yeah. But let’s say for argument’s sake, maybe I forgot.”

“Four hundred—per inch!” I was nearly shouting now.

“That sounds like…many threads.”

So many,” I said.

She smiled and bumped a hip against mine. “I like it when you talk nerdy to me.”

“And it was woven in Lyon,” I said. “Where my people are from.”

I had told Gina the story my grandmother had handed down, about being descended from a master-weaver who took part in a silk-weavers’ uprising. The Canut Revolt. He and his family—a family which doubled as his workshop staff—were killed when French soldiers retook the city.

What I hadn’t told Gina: the dreams I had about that bloody week in April 1843. The chaos, the black flags, the dreams of a new republic. Over and over, Marie-Louise bending over the corpse of her father, shot dead in the street. His blood staining her hands.

Gina squeezed my hand. “Would you ever make something like this?”

Marie-Louise’s words burst from my mouth: “I could do it better.”


Mom died within a year of our visit to the little farm. I packed a bag and went north to live with Gran. We cried together over lost mother and child. I began a new school; we began the work of becoming a family.

She was a kind, doting guardian, until one day she wasn’t. She woke up early and went to the shed; I didn’t see her until hours after school, my stomach rumbling with hunger.

“Here,” she muttered, pulling a can from the larder. She thudded it down in front of me without looking at the label. “Can opener’s in the drawer.”

“Coconut milk?”

But she had already wandered out the door.

Days passed. I tried my best not to bother her, cobbling together meals from shelf-stable goods after finishing the perishables. I laid awake at night listening for her boots trudging up the stairs, the box spring creaking as she collapsed into bed.

Just as abruptly as she’d become a stranger, the grandmother I knew returned to me. She straightened the house and filled the kitchen with groceries. She made breakfast and dinner and packed my lunch. She spoke to me.

I had no explanation for any of it. I was probably being too sensitive, I told myself. She came from a different generation; she must have simply expected a child of ten to be more self-sufficient. Practically a grown-up.

Things went back to the way they had been, and I tried not to question my good fortune.

And then a man turned up asking for Gran. He was nearly her age. He wore a hat and doffed it when she emerged from the house. “Ma’am?”

Gran’s mouth hardened.

“Ma’am, I have a problem, and I hope you’ll do me the kindness of hearing me out.”

Gran turned on a heel and slammed the door in his face. When he didn’t leave, she called him names that shocked me. He returned the next day and she charged at him with a broom, screaming “aiyeeeeeeeee!” as she ran. On his third visit, she invited him in.

From my room I could hear only the muffled cadences of the conversation. After a few minutes, he was gone.

Gran disappeared again, replaced with a furious automaton, scribbling impenetrable code, graphing shapes I couldn’t understand. Then she moved into the barn. I listened at the door, hearing the thwump of the beater and the click of the machine rotating its cards. If she slept at all, she must have slept in the barn.

After many feverish days, she emerged. Crawled into bed and slept. Her exhaustion was so total that when the stranger returned, she couldn’t get out of bed to greet him. She sent me to the barn to fetch a package wrapped in brown butcher paper. I handed it off and never saw him again. I didn’t see what was inside, but it felt like cloth.


My heart doesn’t know whether to sink or soar when I hear the car coming up the road. Her third visit. I’m supposed to help her.

This time, when she gets out of her car, I open the front door. She seems to know this is the procedure—she must have been coached. By someone who loves her or hates her or a little of both.

Usually I’d guide a visitor to the living room, offer a cup of tea. It seems like a witchy thing to do. But Gina walks straight into the kitchen and sits in a chair by the window, the same spot where she used to eat breakfast every morning.

“How does it work?” she says.

“Nice to see you, too.” I immediately regret my words.

“Did I forget the pleasantries? Oh, excuse me, I was busy driving three fucking hours to get here when I should be with my wife in the hospital.”

“Sorry,” I mutter. It feels like the last months of our relationship. Me shutting down, her exploding. I clear my throat and try to channel Marie-Louise and her indifference to everything but her loom. “Here’s how it works. You tell me what you want. You bring me something valuable. And a, uh, donation. Whatever amount is significant for you.” My face flushes; that last part is always uncomfortable, but the fact that it’s Gina makes this worse.

“Anything else?” Her voice is hard.

“Yeah.” I swallow hard and then look into her eyes. I’ve never needed anyone to understand as badly as I need her to understand this now. I open my mouth to tell her to leave, but Marie-Louise takes over: “There is another cost. One that will be dear to you. Maybe not today; maybe not soon. But there will be another price to pay.”

“What does that mean?” she asks, but Marie-Louise holds my mouth shut.

She sighs, reaches into her bag. She’s come prepared. There’s cash, lots of cash—she’s done well for herself, evidently, or maybe her wife has. On top of the cash, she places a ring. A family heirloom. She put it on my finger once, and I wore it proudly until the day she left, and I handed it back to her.

She gets up to leave, and I grab her arm to stop her. There’s so much to say. I wanted to protect you. I thought I was making the right choice. I’ve never stopped missing you.

What comes out: “You need to tell me what you want.”

She looks at me for a long time before saying, “Keep my family safe.”


Strangers came to my grandmother a few times a year. They never announced themselves, but somehow Marie-Louise knew. My grandmother frenzied; I did my best to stay out of her way, to keep the groceries stocked and the house clean. And I tended the silkworms.

In dreams I’ve seen the small menagerie where Marie-Louise’s father kept silkworms. He hoped to create raw silk right there in Lyons, and so not have to rely on farmers in Cévennes or Ardèche, or on foreign imports. But he died before he could realize that he’d underestimated the time and resources farming on that scale would take.

Our silkworms spin red cocoons. Under my grandmother’s care, and mine, they’ve never made the white or yellow encasings they’re supposed to. Their red silk won’t take any dye. I once tried to ply their silk with wool. The brake band on my spinning wheel snapped; the fibers pushed apart like two magnets of the same polarity.

Gran’s mother smuggled the moth eggs from the family menagerie when she immigrated to America. She called it divine intervention that they were not discovered.

They must be magical, she believed, to spin only red silk.

She was wrong.

Bombyx mori—that’s what an enterprising young biology grad student determined they are. He delivered the news to Gran with disappointment, having hoped that her moths might be a major discovery. In his lab, generation after generation of caterpillars spun only white cocoons. DNA sequencing confirmed that they were nothing but ordinary silk moths.

“The red must be a trick of the light,” he said glumly.

My grandmother nodded with sympathy. He was not the first enterprising young man to study her moths, she told me later.

Over and over I dream of Marie-Louise’s hands reaching into the menagerie. The same dream my grandmother had: a moth landing on the back of Marie-Louise’s palm, her skin still sticky with her father’s blood.


After we’d seen the silk prayer book, an itch emerged. To create something wondrous. More than that: the gnawing desire for people to truly know my work. And my name.

There was a national competition for textile artists. I spent fruitless hours at the loom or hunched over graph paper, trying to design something that would dazzle the judges. I hated every single attempt I made.

Let me help you, Marie-Louise whispered. Together, we’ll be unstoppable.

The deadline crept ever-closer. No matter how much Gina tried to calm me down, the competition felt like a point of no return. Success would mean I was an artist; failure would confirm I was a nobody. And I was tired of being nobody.

Alright, I told her. Just this once.

Almost immediately, I felt myself unblock. I sat at my desk for hours, sketching, calculating, planning. I spent weeks in the most beautiful flow of creativity and creation. Everything came easily; there were no bad ideas or failed samples or existential crises.

At the end of it, I had a cloth nine feet long, something approximating a classical frieze. As soon as I sent it in, I collapsed and couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Life slowly returned to normal; it was easy to feel like none of it had ever happened, until the email appeared. My piece had won.

The first time I really looked at it was to collect my award. It was a historical scene, depicting the whole weaving process, from spinning to warping to weaving. The same woman worked every step of the process. There are no extant representations of her but I knew immediately who she was.

The title: La canuse.

The judges praised my attention to detail and the structure of my cloth. But what they really loved was how I highlighted a forgotten figure from history.

The cost was this: there’d be no more shirking my duties. I’d have to continue her work.


Even though she’s paid, even though I told her there’d be a cost, I know Gina can’t possibly understand that Marie-Louise doesn’t strike fair bargains. And so I try to fight her.

Years ago, I did anything I could think of to keep her at bay: spritzing my house with holy water, chanting, meditation, caffeine pills by the handful. The only thing that worked was keeping myself in a constant state of privation. If I was exhausted and hungry, I was of no use to her.

As a solution it was unsustainable. I needed to sleep, eat, work. And so it meant I had to cede my body to her sometimes. We seemed to have a truce in those early days. She respected that I could take away her power. But after Gina left, it was just me, alone, on a farm miles from anything. What did I need those lonely, empty hours for, anyway? I opened the door for her and she walked in.

But this is different: this is Gina.

I bury all the food in the kitchen in the backyard. I walk for hours around the property until my entire body aches. I keep myself awake.

I walk through the night, through the next day. If I keep myself awake, if I drop dead from exhaustion, it’ll be worth it to protect her.

Gina calls from somewhere noisy. I can barely make out the words. “Nothing’s happened yet. How long does this take?”

“You need to reconsider,” I say. “You could die. Everyone you love could die.” At least I think that’s what I’m saying—I’m so tired it’s hard to keep anything straight.

There’s a long enough pause that I start to wonder if she even called, or if I’m just dumbly holding a book to my ear and hallucinating. But then she speaks.

“If I lose her, I might as well be dead.”


“I understand the cost better than you think I do, Nat.”

I slump to the floor, let sleep take over. There’s a lot of work ahead.


By evening I’m working feverishly, or rather, my body is, and I’m watching it happen. Punching holes in cards as fast as my hands will allow, sewing them together into a chain. Individually I might be able to decipher which threads she plans to raise in a given row, but I can never conceptualize the whole.

The red silks are always a blur. Designs half-remembered, figures fuzzy in memory, even though I know they must have been sharp and crisp coming off the loom. That’s how Marie-Louise weaves.

Ada Lovelace once looked at the Jacquard loom and saw the future. “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns,” she wrote to Charles Babbage, seeing more potential in the proto-computer than the inventor himself, “just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.” A future of encoding information, using hole-punched cards.

Marie-Louise encodes more than figures in her cloth, but I don’t have a mind like Lovelace. I can’t look at it and see beyond the pattern.


One morning, I brought in the paper and saw the old man who’d visited Gran on the front page. Double homicide in Davis, the headline read.

I showed Gran. No emotion registered on her face. “They always underestimate the cost,” she said.


I’ve dreamed many scenes from Marie-Louise’s life. It’s hard to know which are memories, and which are merely dreams. In some, she begs her father to let her follow in his footsteps as master weaver; he rebukes her, telling her to be practical. She knows she won’t be granted that title.

In other dreams, she wanders the streets of Lyon in the final days of the uprising. The smell of cordite, the sounds of screams. She sees the Emperor’s soldiers, searching for the last of the rebels. In a moment of impulse, she makes eye contact with one of them, gestures towards a side street. After the gunshots die out and the soldiers move on, she forces herself to walk down that side street and look at her father and his compatriots and the blood congealing in the street. To see what she’d become.


I weave Gina’s cloth. It’s a blur; it always is. But I feel Marie-Louise’s energy, her bliss, the way she becomes one with her instruments. I think I see hands, naked female forms. I think I see a loom.


Gina comes to collect the parcel. “Should I open it now?” she asks.

“It’s yours,” I say. “Do with it what you wish.”

She tears open a corner of the package, sees the red silk, then thinks better of it. She hugs the package to her chest; the way the paper crinkles in her arms makes me want to cry.

“I haven’t seen one of these since your show,” she says quietly.

The last moment we were happy. Engaged and looking forward to a life together. Finally feeling like I could be an artist people took seriously. Before I realized that Marie-Louise could take Gina away from me.

Over the years I’ve gone to the library, sorted through local newspapers. I found some of Gran’s visitors there: murderers, arsonists, suicides, accidents. They could have all been coincidences, I suppose, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. When Gina left for work, I had visions of her car totaled in a ditch; I panicked every time she left my sight but refused to tell her why when she begged me to help her understand. I couldn’t bear the thought of her knowing that I was the kind of person who put others at risk for her art. For some cloth.

And then I began to lose time.

Gina grew angry with me for the surly, single-minded person I became in those fugue states, but how could I explain that I wasn’t myself in those moments, that I was somehow my own ancestor, and no amount of talk therapy could fix it?

She gave me an ultimatum; I gave her back her ring.

I exacted my own price. I pried people out of my life until I was completely alone. At least, I thought, it would end with me. I’d give Marie-Louise no successor.


In Gran’s last days, I asked her if she had ever woven anything for herself in red silk.

“Only once,” she said.

“What did you ask for?”

She doubled over in a coughing fit. I repeated my question when she finished.

“Someone to take this burden,” she said.

After she died, I found a paper-wrapped parcel in her closet. I opened it. A long, long roll of red fabric. An image of a body. And all over it, splotches of waffle weave, a textured structure that disrupted the otherwise smooth fabric.

Something about the image looked familiar. It reminded me of the x-rays my mother’s oncologist showed her, how he pointed out the tumors and explained her chances.

There was something about the pattern. I couldn’t look away. And then I spotted it. There, in the lungs. It was the inch I’d woven when Mom first brought me to visit Gran.


Sometimes, when I sink into an armchair with a book of pattern drafts or a textile history, I feel completely at peace. And then that peace is shattered by the question: is this who I would have become without Gran? Without her silk, without the wish she’d asked to be granted?


Months pass. I try to focus on everyday life. Tending the garden, feeding goats and chickens. Weaving ordinary cloth.

And then Gina calls. “Thank you,” she whispers into the phone. “I can’t ever thank you enough.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” I say, and I mean it.

“I don’t want us to be cut off from each other anymore,” she says, and already I’m sobbing. I don’t have the strength or the will to push her away. She says she’s coming to visit and I let her.


All morning I fret, checking for news of car crashes, earthquakes, anything out of the ordinary. But her car comes up the road, safe.

She emerges from the car, eyes ringed with dark circles. She’s exhausted, but she’s beaming. She waves before opening the back door of her car, rummaging. As I walk toward her it becomes clear she’s not rummaging; she’s taking something from the car.

And then I freeze. There’s a baby in her arms, bundled in red silk. Already I know the child is a girl.

“Natalie,” she says, coming toward me. “I want you to meet my daughter. I almost lost her and my wife. I don’t know what you did, but they’re both alive, and I’m grateful to you.”

“Oh,” I say. My voice is weak.

“Do you want to hold her?”

I mean to say no but Marie-Louise says, “Of course!” and reaches out my arms.

Gina hands me the baby, still cocooned in silk. The baby looks up into my eyes—into Marie-Louise’s eyes—and smiles wide.

Marie-Louise nestles the baby against our shoulder and murmurs, “Ma fille.”