Authors: Constance Beresford-Howe
Faces came and went. An elderly man in thick spectacles stared down at me in consternation, and disappeared. It bothered me a lot that I couldn’t imagine who on earth he could be. Then with triumph I remembered the truss-maker who lived in the basement.
I asked for a glass of water, because panting dried my mouth. Young Jamie held it to my lips in a pair of deathly cold but steady hands. In a lucid interval I saw that Ross had returned.
“Be sure to call the Neilsons,” I said.
“You told me that before. I’ve just done it. Margaret’s with the kids now.”
I looked at him.
“Were you sick?”
“No, of course not.”
Abruptly he squatted beside me and wiped my forehead. “Miller is sending an ambulance for you. It should be here any minute. Can you hang on? Everything’s going to be all right.”
Other voices faded, eddied, loomed close. “Cheryl, get a blanket, her legs are cold.” … “Where’s Larine?” … “Here. I’m right here. Oh God, why does she make that awful noise?” … “It’s nothing; it’s just automatic.” (Ross, the veteran father) “Can’t somebody kill that dog or something?”… “Why isn’t that ambulance here?”
“I’ll make some tea,” said the little Chinese girl.
“Sorry – can’t wait –” I gasped.
A hot smell of blood. Ross’s voice sharp with fear and excitement. “We’re crowning. By God, we’re nearly there, love. Easy, now. Wait for it.”
“Christ, is that the baby’s head?” croaked Jamie.
“Larine, I want a big, clean towel, quick. Lar – what the hell’s the matter?”
A glimpse of Larine’s greenish face. A loud flop, like something wet falling. Their voices fading in and out.
“She’s passed out. Jesus, just what we need.” … “Mei, get a wet cloth and bring her round.” … “I’ll take her out to the kitchen.”… “Come on, Anne love, we’re nearly there. One more, now. Somebody run and get me that towel. Make sure it’s clean. And I’ll need those scissors, and a piece of string.”
Running feet. Tingling warmth, a distended bursting and tearing; my hoarse panting. Then Ross supported the just-born head as one shoulder, then the whole body, slid out into his hands. His face was lit with a wordless joy as he lifted up to show me the red, wet child, still tethered to me by the navel cord. Jamie bent nearer to look at the squirming, snuffling creature, its wrinkled body sheathed in yellowish vernix, its eyes screwed shut against the light. His face, too, was lit up with delight. “Wonderful,” he breathed. “Man, it’s wonderful.”
“Where’s that towel? Look everybody! We’ve got a girl. A beautiful girl.” She wasn’t crying, but the snuffling breath was loud and strong. After the cord stopped pulsing, Ross cut and tied it with trembling hands. Then he laid the towel-wrapped bundle by my head. I was too tired to hold her, but she looked at me quietly and steadily, her large, calm eyes now wide open, and I looked at her. She had made an incalculably long and lonely journey in the last hour, and she lay there as if pondering this, one small fist clenched under her chin.
“Poor little girl,” I thought. “And this is just the beginning for you. But maybe it’s just as well not to have a poetic Lamaze introduction to this tough and dotty world. Face up to it right from the start. Things are not easy for the sisterhood.”
As Ross and I looked at her, my sore body rested and my sore heart floated free in a brief half-sleep. Some time later Ross lifted my head and I drank hot, sweet tea that tasted like nectar. There was a muffled chatter of voices in the room.
“Ever a cute baby, eh?”
“Somebody’s got the hiccups.”
“Did you see those little, tiny
“I never knew it could be like this – so quick –”
“Where’s Larine? She all right now?”
There was a brief gap nobody seemed to know how to fill. Then a voice said in a whisper, “She’s split. Just took off out the back door.”
“Yeah, well …”
“Wait till I tell my boyfriend about this. He’s never even seen a kitten born.”
“But God, did you see her face when he held the kid up to show her?”
“I mean imagine being so new you have no name yet.”
“I think they ought to call her Bella. Or maybe Annabelle.”
“No,” I thought drowsily, “not Annabelle. Of course, nobody could possibly call a helpless child Edwina; but doesn’t she have a middle name? – yes, something quite possible, like Jane. Give the old girl a bit of a thrill, that would. I reckon she deserves it.”
The doorbell chimed. Two ambulance attendants, an intern, and a stretcher edged into the room. The baby was whisked away. The intern knelt down and checked me over swiftly. Cheryl and Mei hovered, fascinated, as he inspected the cord-tying job. The small red face in the towel opened in a great yawn, and everyone laughed. The attendants expertly trussed me in blankets and bound me on the stretcher. “Righto,” one of them said briskly. “Off we go, then.” Strapped down and helpless, I rose into the air
like a bird. What was wrong with being in chains? I was dizzy with happiness.
“I’ll take the baby,” said the intern. “Everything seems to be okay here. You can see your wife tomorrow.”
“No, I’m coming now,” said Ross. “And I’ll carry my own baby. Some damn man will take her away from me soon enough.” He walked beside the stretcher so I could see both of them.
Slowly the ragged little procession of us trailed out into the bright moonlight – the little Chinese girl carrying my boots, Jamie shambling with his long legs, the truss man, as if irresistibly compelled to join in, bringing up the rear. The huge dog, released from bondage, capered in uncouth gyrations from head to tail and back again of the parade. I kept my head turned not to lose sight of Ross, as I momentarily did while the ambulance doors were fastened back. The procession briefly halted. The moonlight formalized all its absurdities into something timeless, like the epilogue – or prologue – of something universally meaningful.
Headed by the newly born, the procession seemed to stretch back indefinitely far, and to possess a mute, mysterious dignity. For a second I had the illusion that my father’s tall figure lingered on the fringes of the group, aloof yet involved, as if he had a share in something happening here that was both more and less than simply happy, and certainly not an ending. To the incidental music of Ross’s hiccups as he climbed in to sit beside me, the huge dog, all paws and broad grin, barked hoarsely as it capered in the snow, and we moved away.