There are many strange occurrences in this world.
On June 6, 1966, a woman named Margaretta Maria gave birth to a baby boy in prison. The prison spanned the entirety of a remote island, where all the residents were female, including the guards. Two years into her sentence of ten for bank robbery and assault, her stomach swelled to an immense size, and she began to scream in pain as nine months of pregnancy occurred within nine minutes. The guards rushed her to the infirmary, attempting in vain to pry answers out of her as she lapsed in and out of consciousness due to the pain of childbirth.
“Who’s the father?” The guards demanded to know as the baby came to crown. Margaretta Maria did not answer. All she said was, “he’s dead... he’s been dead for two years…”
She offered no further explanation. While the guards did not believe her story, that she had been pregnant for two years without showing a single symptom, by all accounts it was true. Even if she had been impregnated during her sentence, it would never explain the sudden growth.
When the baby was finally born, and his umbilical cord cut, he didn’t cry, nor did he blink. The guards settled on bringing in a metal vat of water, the prison infirmary not even close to matching the standards of an infant ward, but the menial preparations would have to suffice. They washed the boy as he took in the world with wide, unblinking eyes, not knowing that his father was dead and his mother was imprisoned. Hopefully, they could keep it that way.
“This goes without saying,” the brown-haired guard began, washing her hands of amniotic fluid and various other excretions in the vat she knelt beside. Her thoughts strayed far from the unsanitary situation, too hyper-focused on the more important aspects of the situation. “But we can’t raise a baby here. We need to start thinking of the wellbeing of this child.”
The senior guard, an aged, grizzled, and clearly bitter woman barked unforgivingly at Margaretta.
“Oi! Where are you from, Maria?”
Margaretta took heavy, labored breaths, eyes unfocusing and refocusing on the fluorescent lights above her.
“Sar… de… gna…” She exhaled, feeling the new emptiness in her body. Silence lingered in the room, empty of the screams of the mother, empty of the screams of her child. Exhausted, she finally closed her eyes, hoping to fall asleep and wake up outside these walls.
“What’s the child’s name?” The third, black haired guard asked softly, swaddling the boy in a towel. There was a certain guilt in her actions, remorse for wrapping such a pure and precious soul in rough, worn tarry. He shouldn’t have had to be born in a prison, to be subjected to those conditions. The guard held him close to her chest, deeply shaken by the whole bizarre situation. Margaretta did not hear her question.
“What’s the boy’s name?!” The senior guard yelled at Margaretta belligerently, kicking the leg of the bed she laid upon. The black haired guard turned the newborn away from the situation, shielding his unblinking eyes with her body as if he would remember this when he grew up.
“Calm down!” The brown haired guard grabbed her superior’s shoulder, seizing her attention, and likely her ire. “Treat the woman with some respect. She just delivered a baby. I get that you don’t want to have to report this, but that’s no reason to take it out on her. We need to worry about what we’re going to do before we worry about how it looks on paper.”
Slowly, awkwardly, Margaretta placed one hand behind her, the other on her stomach. She sat up, feeling dizzy and sick, wondering how she’d made it through that alive. Had she been a little luckier in life, she could’ve bragged about delivering a child without any anesthesia, but an environment like this wasn’t the best place to flaunt things of this nature.
"Diavolo," she answered in a pained and hoarse voice, thoroughly broken from screaming. "His name is Diavolo. That's… what his father told me to name him." She attempted to clear her throat, only forcing her to acknowledge how scratchy and raw it was.
"His father?" The senior guard straightened up, scoffing. She brushed the grip of the other guard off callously. "The guy who knocked you up two years ago, then up and died? Yeah, I'm so fucking sure he knew you were pregnant two years before we did."
"It’s the truth," Margaretta replied quietly in a sigh, legs twitching in an attempt to rejoin. "He told me that one day, I would bear his child… and that I was to name him Diavolo. Shit," she giggled exhaustedly, still unable to fully process the situation. “I thought he was fucking with me too, but…”
Margaretta slowly laid back down, unable to expend any more energy to sit upright. She continued her attempts to steady her breathing, just like the two young guards had told her. Most of their knowledge of childbirth came from the Spanish soap operas that would play occasionally on the television in the guard’s quarters, but the superficial knowledge helped nonetheless. Breathe. Push.
"Well, we'll need to find Diavolo a good home, won't we?" The brown haired guard shot a steely glare at her superior, who rolled her eyes.
"I understand… it's fine…" Margaretta groaned, trying to turn on the infirmary bed. She looked over to her son, feeling a deep sense of love that only worsened her deep sense of sadness. "I don't deserve to have a child," she finished, tears finally welling up in her eyes. She gestured weakly at the black haired guard holding her son, eyes affixed to the glimmer of pink hair hidden behind her breast. Hesitantly, the guard turned to her, offering her a chance to see the child in full.
Margaretta reached out to stroke her son's round, pale face with the back of her finger. His wide, golden eyes wandered to meet his mother's, sending a chill down her spine. She felt great love for him, but in a way, she also felt a primal fear. She was a mother. This was her child. Should she be scared of this new responsibility, or scared that she wouldn’t have the privilege of raising him? Diavolo grabbed her finger, gripping it steadfastly without breaking eye contact.
"He's strong," Margaretta sang happily, the residual pain beginning to dull in the immense wave of oxytocin. Her pupils dilated heavily, nearly muting the slight terror locked away forever in her heart. Even if he had to grow up without her, which he certainly would, she was convinced that he would be just fine.
"Well, he'd better be if he took two years to grow," the brown haired guard chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. She bent over to observe the two, feeling a tragic smile form on her face. She didn't want to be the one responsible for splitting them up, but nothing could be done. "Do you have any family? Besides little Diavolo, of course."
"No," Margaretta shook her head, slowly regaining strength in her voice. "If I had any family, I wouldn't have ended up here, would I?" She chuckled wistfully, regretting it as the pain bit once more.
"We'll… find someone to adopt him. He'll grow up healthy and happy. I promise." The brown haired guard couldn't truly uphold that, but her saying that made them both feel a bit better.
"I… I don't want to leave him…" Margaretta reached out with both her hands, silently pleading for the dark haired woman to let her hold her baby boy just once. The guard nodded, sympathizing with her desperation, and moved ever so slightly forward to allow Margaretta to wrap her hands around the child. Weakly, and with great assistance, she lifted Diavolo up and sat him on her stomach, slowly laying him down to rest on her chest. For the first time, he closed his eyes. Almost mechanically, his eyelids descended, and he began to drift to sleep.
"You only have eight more years to your sentence." The brown haired guard knelt next to Margaretta, speaking softly so as not to disturb her or the baby. "You can see him when you get out, okay? And maybe, you could be part of his life again, if that's what he wants."
"Miss…? What's your name?" Margaretta stroked Diavolo's hair as he spoke, the sharp pink hue a perfect match to his father's.
"My name is Martha. Martha Cuore." The guard pressed a hand to her heart, feeling genuinely honorable. It seemed investing herself in this prisoner’s plight may have been her greatest act of service since she graduated. She wanted to help, truly. In any way she could.
"Martha… I don't want you to tell him about me…" Margaretta stared straight into Martha's eyes, chest heaving. She appeared to be heavily drugged, with frazzled hair and sluggish movements. Her smile twitched on and off, making it unclear as to what she was feeling. Her heart burned, but felt so cold nonetheless. Margaretta had passed the point of any normal emotion, and was running on nothing but chemical signals at this point in time. It was mildly disturbing.
Martha blinked once, twice, before hesitantly asking "are you sure?" It was understandable that a woman would want to sever ties with an unwanted child, but this eluded her.
"He doesn't need to know about what I've done… Not yet. And if he has to hear it from anybody, it's going to be me. When I get out… I'm going to visit him, whoever he's living with. And I'm going to tell him all I can. Promise me you won't let whoever adopts him tell him about me."
"...I promise," Martha replied emptily. That was a promise she couldn’t keep.
Two days later, a ship departed from the remote island. On board were six occupants: Diavolo Maria, Magdalena Dolce, Martha Cuore, the captain, another prisoner seeking medical attention, and the guard assigned to her. A priest from Margaretta’s hometown in Sardegna offered to adopt Diavolo, having no children of his own due to his occupation. Knowing this man personally, Margaretta authorized the adoption. It was her legal right to determine who had custody of her child, but the terms of her imprisonment muddied the waters. Her approval was noted, but held no weight. Magdalena had taken a special liking to the child, but knew adopting him wasn’t an option. Instead of adopting the child herself, she offered to accompany him to his new home. In the course of a few hours, the ship had come to dock on the Emerald Coast, a place neither Martha nor Magdalena had ever been to. After getting lost twice, they asked a local shop owner for directions to the church. By direction, they soon found the church, and were silently assured that a small town like this was an ideal place for a child to live. Finally meeting the priest face to face, they passed Diavolo to him, welcomed with open arms and open heart. As they boarded the ship back, they wondered, would this truly be the last time they saw that little boy? Would they never meet the man he would become? Their questions festered as the ship departed, sailing back to the dull, depressing prison. The only thing they left in Sardegna was their best wishes for Diavolo’s future, that he’d experience a happy childhood until he grew up to live a successful adulthood.
“Grow up big and strong,” Magdalena prayed on the thinly carpeted floor, pressing clasped hands close to her chest. She projected her emotions as if God would truly listen. “Never feel alone. A lot more people love you than you know.”
“You’re so superstitious, Magdalena,” Martha giggled, crossing her legs. Her smile faded, eyes slowly drifting towards the wooden ceiling of the cabin. She tried to peer straight through it, to see the clear blue sky and the man who supposedly resided there. “But, if there is a God… and he’s listening… I second that,” she waved subtly to the man upstairs.