Fifth Martha and Charles Darwin (cont.)

Meanwhile I visited the baby. For a short while, hours almost, she had looked like my daughter as an infant, and for a short while she had looked like me. But now she had begun to look ruddy and nervy like her father, and I decided that I would have to get used to that.

Then he reappeared, walking with my daughter in her robe. "Where was he?" I asked her when he went on down the hall to see the baby.

"Oh, he made a promise to himself a week ago that if I was all right and the baby was all right he would climb the Wrekin."

"And he did?"

"Yes, he set out before it was light, and climbed to the top."

This trip, I stick to my bed and breakfast until, as I thought might happen, one night they allow me to sit with Fifth Martha and they go out for a real dinner in a restaurant. I give them twenty pounds for a bottle of wine. They deserve a treat, those two.

I warm the bathroom and run the baby's bath and line up the rubber ducks and get the towels ready, bathe her, then wrap her in her warmest gown and tuck her in her crib. When I go back to clean up, the bathroom is still blissfully warm. The baby's bathwater, blue-gray and milky, is still warm. I strip my clothes away. Then I lower myself into the water.

In this medieval town, birthplace of Charles Darwin, who is dead, and Fifth Martha, who is very much alive, I, somewhere in between, anoint my shoulders with Darwin's words: Growth, Reproduction, Inheritance, Variability. I'm inventing a ritual grandmother's bath.


Image on Page 1: School photo of "Fifth Martha", Martha Lauren Baker

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