They slept in the cave of meeting at first until the young men of the tribe chased them out. She found a small cave further down the cliff, a little distance from the village, and set up her house there. Mother-of-the-idiot grew thin and Knows-nothing grew thin. She made her own garden and worked it with her own hands. At first her son would dig up the seeds as she planted them and ruin all her work, but over time she taught him to help instead of hinder. She suffered hunger and thirst, and for a time no one in the village would speak to her.
One morning she found the leg of a deer at the mouth of her cave. She could not imagine who had left it, but she was so hungry she didn’t wonder. She roasted it and she and her son ate it.
Winter came and they were cold and hungry. She foraged for roots, learned to trap squirrels and rabbits, and gnawed on bark when the stomach pains became too much. Knows-nothing became harder to manage as he became hungry, so even when she could find food she had to give most of it to him. But every so often throughout that winter she would find the leg of a deer lying at the mouth of the cave in the morning. Whoever left it was a clever hunter and woodsman because he left no tracks, no sign, and never woke her up though her sleep was always light and fitful because of the cold. She sometimes dreamed that Shoots-three-birds-with-one-arrow was still trying to provide for her in this way.
Spring came and she finally returned to the village for the first time since the winter had started. Most of the tribe were surprised to see her and Knows-nothing alive. She learned that much had changed in the winter. Looks-at-flowers had died, and Shoots-three-birds-with-one-arrow had married a new wife. All the girls her age were either married or promised to be married. The elder’s son was also married. He had been given the man name Shoots-three-legged-deer.
Many years passed. In time, Knows-nothing died. Mother-of-the-idiot found him one morning, lying in his bed with a smile on his beautiful face, squinting with pleasure like a child staring at the sun. His mother buried him alone and stared at the emptiness around her. She was too old now to be married. She had never been beautiful, but now she was so burned and worn and twisted by the years of hard work that she was downright ugly. She was also the village crazy woman, now. No one bothered her, but they all thought her an idiotic eccentric. She had a few fertile years left, but no man would want her. She would never have children of her own, so she began making clothes for the other children. She spoke with the midwife and learned which women were with child and made blankets for them and for their new infants. The midwife was now so old she could hardly walk from her hut to the caves so she took Mother-of-the-idiot as her apprentice. And now, every few weeks, the leg of the deer would turn up at the door of the midwife’s drafty bark hut.
In time Mother-of-the-idiot lost her name. She became known simply as The Midwife. She came when she was wanted, and left as soon as she was no longer needed. She grew old and gray and bent and frail. Her father died, his wives died, some of her siblings died. She had not been allowed to meet her nephews or nieces, but they allowed her to deliver their children. But still, every so often, the leg of a deer would be left on her doorstep.
“Little daughter,” a Voice called to her.
She murmured, and left her eyes closed in the delicious warmth that surrounded her.
“Little daughter,” the Voice repeated. She could hear the Voice in her soul, almost as she could hear her mother’s voice when she was little, not simply with her ears but feeling the words vibrating through her mother’s chest into her little girl’s heart.
“Little daughter, arise. Wake up.” The Voice caressed her with terrifying strength and heartbreaking gentleness. She opened her eyes.
Instantly she wished she could shut them again, but was unable to. She had seen Him. He was too beautiful, too terrifying, too holy. He was completely strange to her, but at the same time there was something familiar about him. She felt as if He was killing her just by being who He was, but she no longer wanted to live.
“Welcome, my beloved daughter. Welcome. Welcome. I have been waiting for you for so long.”
Mother-of-the-idiot could not find a word to say in reply. The Voice continued. “You cared for me for so long and so well. I have been waiting all this time for you to be ready so that I could thank you for everything you did for me.”
Finally she cleared her throat and found her voice. “But Sir,” she said, humbly. “You must be mistaken. I do not know you. I have never served you. I am only a poor, wasted, dried out old woman. I have seen you and now I can die happy. But I swear I never saw you before now.”
“No?” the Voice answered with a gentle laugh. “Little Mother, don’t you recognize your own son?” And as she looked into the glory that was Him she saw another person. It was her son, Knows-nothing, smiling at her with his beautiful wise eyes. Knows-nothing was embracing Him, holding onto Him so tightly that she could not tell where one ended and the other began.
“Little Mother,” the Voice said, “My Mother, thank-you.”