I leave the car running when I swing my legs out, fasten up the brace, and get out. The Doc wanted to put the cast up over my knee, but I convinced him I needed to be able to drive, so he figured out a brace I unfasten when I get in so I can bend my knee to run the clutch. On the condition I remember to fasten it again when I get out.
I can't go up the stairs too fast, so it takes me a few minutes.
"OK, I got the car waiting, where's the suitcase?" I don't see it. They don't look like they're ready. Lynn's still laying on the bed. Arbutus is fussing over on the dresser, I can't see what she's doing. "What're you doing? Let's go."
Lynn makes a funny noise.
Arbutus looks back over her shoulder at me. "We ain't going nowhere at the moment. Not unless you wanna deliver this baby in the car on the way."
Lynn makes another funny noise, kinda like a growl. I don't think I've ever heard her make a noise like that.
Arbutus stops what she's doing and goes over to Lynn and takes her hand. "Hold off as long as you can, honey. I've birthed some babies, but I'd rather let the Doc do it if we can."
Lynn lets off with a string of swear-words like you wouldn't believe. Ok, I guess it isn't that bad, but she doesn't usually do that. It surprises me.
Arbutus just nods. She looks at me and says, "Why don't you take off your jacket so you can help if we need you?"
This isn't the way it's supposed to go.
Lynn's sweating, she's real messy looking, and she doesn't look like she cares.
"Hey." Arbutus is still talking to me. "Take off your jacket and come over here."
"The baby's coming right now?" I do what I'm told.
Arbutus smiles. "Pretty soon."
Damn. "Is that gonna be OK?"
"Well, my mama birthed all of her 7 children in her bed." She's still smiling at me. "I called the Doc anyway, he should be here pretty soon. Now you hold Lynn's hand, and if she hurts you, just keep quiet."
If she hurts me?
I'm holding her hand with one of mine, and wiping her face with a wet cloth with the other, and suddenly she looks at me like she wants to rip my throat out, says, "Get that thing away from me," and starts struggling to sit up. In the meantime she's got a grip on my hand that'd strangle a horse.
"Help her sit up," Arbutus says.
"Are you sure she's alright?"
Lynn starts making noises that I didn't even think could come outta her mouth.
"Can you do what you're told?" That's Arbutus. She's talking to me.
OK. I get my arm around Lynn's back, and help her sit up. She leans her head back on my shoulder, starts pushing against me, I gotta get my knee up on the bed to keep her from pushing me backward.
"The other way, honey, push the baby, not your husband. Come on now, pay attention."
I woulda bet Lynn wasn't listening, but then I can feel the difference in what she's doing. She's panting and growling, and then she's silent for a few seconds. Then she's panting again.
"Hold her up so she can rest for a second."
I guess one of my hands goes somewhere Lynn doesn't want it---I didn't do it on purpose, honest---and she elbows me in the ribs while she's pushing it away. Hard. She says something to me, too, but I can't make it out, and I guess it's just as well, 'cause Arbutus's eyebrows go up and she clamps her mouth shut like she's afraid she might laugh.
"When she asks you later what she said….. if I were you, Bud, I wouldn't remember anything."
A repeat of the panting and growling and silence.
"Not long now." Arbutus says. "You're doing fine, honey."
A while later, when she's resting, Lynn looks up at me. Her eyes are shadowed, she looks real tired. "Help me," she says. It's the first normal thing I've heard her say since I came in the room.
"If I can, sweetheart, I will." I look at Arbutus, 'cause I don't know what I can do.
Arbutus is watching us. "Get right up there on the bed with her, and put your arms right around her. Hold her up. Give her some a' your strength."
It seems to help her after that.
I can tell when the baby's head comes out without looking at Arbutus. I can feel it in Lynn's body, inside my arms.
"Hang on a second, honey. Rest a minute."
When Lynn starts pushing again, I'm ready. But it doesn't take too long. And then Lynn goes totally limp in my arms.
"Sweetheart, you OK? Lynn….."
She smiles for a moment, then opens her eyes. "I did it." She closes her eyes again, and I hold her for a few seconds, then she says, "I don't hear the baby. Shouldn't the baby be crying? Bud?"
I didn't even think about that. She's right, there's no crying.
Arbutus isn't saying anything. She's busy, she's working over the baby. Lynn opens her eyes and watches with me. Arbutus is rubbing the baby's back, then she turns it over, opens its mouth and sticks her fingers inside. She pulls out a coupla really nasty looking bits a' slime. Still no sound. Finally she puts her mouth over the baby's face. I guess she's trying to make it breathe………...
I don't ask God for things. I stopped doing that when I was a kid. Not when I'm in trouble, not when I'm in the hospital, not when I thought I was dying. I figure if he wants to help me out, he will, and if he doesn't, I ain't gonna beg. He probably ain't listening anyway, who knows?
But I'm asking him now. Let the child live. I know it's a lot to ask. I know I don't have any credit built up..
Maybe he wants me to beg. I guess I could do that.
Please. Let the baby take a breath. Just let it live, I'll take care of the rest..
………..there's a little noise, sorta like a tiny sneeze, then some gurgling and coughing, and a thin little cry.
Arbutus puts the baby on Lynn's tummy, stands back, sniffs, and wipes her nose with the skirt of her dress before she goes to work doing whatever she's supposed to do next. Lynn's crying, too. It's all messy, but she's got her hands on it, on it's little head, it's fingers. It's starting to cry more, turning kinda purple. Starting to sound mad.
"Is it OK?" I say. "Arbutus? Is it gonna be OK?"
She comes around to the side of the bed. She's still sniffing a little, but smiling. "Sure. We'll let the Doc look at her when he gets here, but---"
She loses her smile when she looks at my face. "Bud, oh, honey, I think she's gonna be fine, don't worry. Here, you can touch her, it's all right."
But I don't think I oughta do that. It's so little.
She. It's a girl. She's a girl. A girl.
"Bud." Arbutus is talking to me again. "Why don't you let Lynn lay down now? I think I hear the Doc's car, and we're gonna let him look at everybody and then get them all cleaned up. Come on now, why don't you go out and maybe make some-"
"……..OK…….Maybe I'll go and call Patty. I'm pretty sure she'll want to come over before you all go to the hospital." And she goes out.
The baby's still crying. "Do you think she's cold? Should we cover her up?"
Lynn looks real tired. But happy. "She might be. Do you want to get something to cover her with?"
I let Lynn lay down on the bed and pull the blanket over her legs. I can't find anything to cover the baby up with except a towel. She just keeps crying.
"Maybe she's scared. Do you think maybe the baby's scared? Shouldn't we pick her up or something?"
"Well," Lynn says, "I guess that might be. I think I'm too tired to hold her though. Why don't you wrap her in that towel and pick her up?"
Lynn smiles. "It was your idea."
OK. Lynn explains to me about holding the baby's head. That makes sense. I wrap the towel around her as good as I can. I feel like I'm all thumbs. Her arms go out, and she cries harder when I pick her up off Lynn's tummy.
It takes me a minute to get her in the crook of my arm the way you see people holding babies. Kinda tucked inside my elbow and against my shirt.
Lynn says, "You could sit down with her if you wanted to."
She's still crying. "Hey. Hey, little baby, it's OK. Shhh."
Her eyes are so tiny and dark. She kinda stops crying for a minute; it's like she's looking for somebody. I touch my finger to her cheek and she looks toward me. "Don't cry so much. It's not so bad."
She isn't crying; she's looking right at me. Right in my eyes. She blinks and squints, kinda like the light's hurting her eyes, but she's looking at me.
Right then, all of a sudden, I know she's mine. That's stupid, of course she's mine, I don't mean it that way. It's like……she belongs to me. And she's not crying; it's almost like maybe she thinks I belong to her too. Like this is where we're supposed to be, her and me.
I don't think there's gonna be any blonde curls like I had in my mind. Her hair is really dark. Her eyes are dark. It doesn't matter. She looks just like she's supposed to look.After a while, she gives a little yawn and closes her eyes.
Her fingers are so little. And her nose. And her ears. She's the littlest person I think I've ever seen.
I don't know how long we sit there before somebody touches me on the shoulder. I look up. Arbutus is standing there.
"Bud, honey, we're gonna get Lynn and the baby ready to take them to the hospital."
Doctor Graham is there. He steps up. "We can take better care of them there, son. It'll just be for a few days."
"No." I look over at Lynn. "I don't want you to go away." I look back at the Doc. He's frowning. "The hard part's over, right? They can stay here."
The Doc says, ""No, I'm sorry, Lynn and the baby both need to be in a place where they can get 24-hour a day care, better care than they can get here."
"I can stay home from work."
Patty says, "I could help." I didn't even know she was here.
Lynn says, "Is it necessary? Do you think there's going to be complications?"
Arbutus stands up with her arms folded across her chest and says in a hard voice, "My mama never went to the hospital with any of us and we all turned out just fine."
The Doc mutters, "That's a matter of opinion," under his breath. I don't think anybody but me hears him.
She says, "I know more about taking care of babies than most of them so-called nurses."
He still doesn't look like he's gonna agree.
"I suppose I could hire a nurse to come here and look after them, if I have to," I say.
Arbutus looks like she wants to hit somebody-probably the Doc. "I think," she says, "that I can do what needs to be done without help from some milk-toast college girl."
"Doctor," Lynn says, "can I talk to you a minute?"
She talks to him in a low voice; I'm not listening to what she's saying, I'm watching my daughter sleep. After a few minutes, he throws his hands up in the air---he really does---and says, "Fine. Do whatever you want."
The Doc takes the baby away from me for a few minutes, I guess to make sure she's OK. I musta been holding her for a while, 'cause Lynn's got on a clean nightgown, and she doesn't look so sweaty, and the sheets look fresh. I stand by the Doc's shoulder until he's done looking at the baby. Then Arbutus says she's gonna give the baby a bath and if I stand and look over her shoulder like I did with the Doc, she's gonna give me one, too. I grin at her for a minute, and then she laughs. "I expect you'd like that, wouldn't you? Go along with ya now. I'll give her back to you when she's clean."
I go and sit with Lynn until Arbutus is done cleaning the baby off. Lynn says she's hungry and Patty volunteers to go get something from the Dairy Dreme. It doesn't take too long till she's back with hot fudge sundaes. I'm not hungry. I sit in the rocking chair with my daughter while everybody else eats. She makes a funny little noise and wrinkles up her nose..
Nobody told me it was gonna be like this. I didn't know I was gonna feel like this right away. I was hoping, I guess, that I'd feel like a father at some point---whatever that means---but this…….this is something more, something bigger than that. It's like a big mass of feelings I didn't even know I had, pushing up from wherever they were, getting bigger by the minute.
She's so little……I didn't expect to feel so protective right away; so responsible for what happens to her. I mean, taking care of the baby's supposed to be Lynn's job. You know? It's not a dad's job, but…….maybe I wanna do stuff with her. Maybe I wanna help take care of her. Maybe I wanna be around to make sure she's OK.
'Cause I'm afraid for her. She's so little. She can't help herself. It'd be so easy for something to happen to her. For her to get sick. For somebody to hurt her. Her tiny hand is fastened on one of the buttons on my shirt. She doesn't have any choice but to trust me to take care of her. To love her.
I don't dare screw up. I can't let her down..
Lynn didn't get her strength back as fast as the Doc thought she should. She's so tired all the time. I worried at first that it was because I didn't let them take her to the hospital, but the Doc said it's not because of that.
Arbutus stayed with us for a while until she felt like we knew what we were doing. Patty's been coming over and cooking supper every night. Who woulda thought she'd be such a good cook?
We got lotsa baby presents. Lots. I was surprised. Some of 'em from people I don't think I'd ever met before. And even more cards. Lynn said the people in the town were all really worried about me when I was gone, even the ones that didn't really know me. And now they're really happy I'm back and we're all OK, so they're just letting us know.
Arbutus said, "You see?".
It's the middle of the night, little Becky's done eating, but she's awake, and we're sitting in her room rocking so Lynn can go back to sleep.
Sometimes when we're rocking in the middle of the night, I remember my mother singing, the songs she used to sing to me and Norma when we couldn't go to sleep. I can't sing worth a shit. 'Course, little Becky probably wouldn't be too much of a critic. Maybe I could just hum a little, and it wouldn't sound too bad. Those songs my mother sang always made us feel good. Safe. Sleepy.
Did God hear me asking for my daughter's life? Did He do this for me so I'd owe Him? Did He decide to let her live in spite of me?
I don't know. I don't know why God would wanna do me any favors.
But just in case, I figure I better tell God thanks anyway. Just in case I need to ask Him something again sometime..
Maybe it was just chance. Just luck. Just the way things work out.
I guess it could be I'm just one helluva lucky guy.
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