The room was washed in the palest of light. Perhaps if the mullioned windows were cleaner the light might be brighter, but they were not; and so the light was very much like a chick struggling free from the last of its egg shell.
The metal bed was pushed head-first against one graying wall, and it and the woman on it were shaking, ever so slightly. Also in the room was a veneered cabinet, chipped around the edges, and a chair that had seen far too many years. There was more spring left on the chair than padding and so the man chose to stand next to the bed.
There should have been another woman in the room, one who would know what to do. But they didn’t know where she was, or even when she might arrive. The man hoped it would be soon.
He lifted a wet cloth from the bowl on the veneer cabinet and stroked it against the woman’s face.
She grimaced and pushed his hand away. “It’s too warm.”
He nodded, yes the water was warm — the whole room felt hot. He wasn’t sure though if that was because of the temperature or because of his helplessness.
“What can I do?” Desperation tinged his voice.
“Nothing. You can’t do anything.”
He frowned and she smiled slightly in response, perhaps to take away the sting of her words.
He looked down and winced at the pool of fluid beneath her, was there too much? How would he even know?
She was right. He could only wait.
Minutes passed and she cried and moaned and shifted and he felt himself matching her movements, as if that would somehow help. She grasped his hand and squeezed, he smiled manfully and pretended that it did not hurt. He racked his brain for something to distract her.
“Shall I sing to you?” he asked.
She laughed softly, “You can’t sing.”
He smiled; no, he couldn’t sing — or at least not well. “I know, I just thought it might take your mind off it.”
She groaned and shifted again, the bed scratched against the wall and he noticed then all the other scratches on it. He thought about all the other women who had lay where the woman now was and all the other men who had avoided the springy chair to stand helpless next to the bed.
“What shall I sing?”
She winced and he reached to trace the tears away from her eyes. One hung on the curve of her jaw before falling onto his waiting hand.
He wished there was someone to sing them both something soothing — a selfish thought. His hand closed around the single tear and he knew there was only him.
He took a shaky breath and began a song they had both loved for many years. His voice did not do it justice, not even close. The woman closed her eyes and leaned back on the bed, her breathing becoming easier. He lifted the cloth again and wiped her brow — she inhaled deeply and he thought she was comforted slightly. He felt a sense of satisfaction, as though he had done his part somehow. He was not just standing around useless. He racked his mind for another song he might sing.
“She’ll be here soon,” the woman said when he was finished.
The man looked at the door. “Do you think so?”
“Not her,” the woman said, rolling her eyes.
The man gazed at the woman, questioning.
She grasped his hand and placed it against her rounded stomach. He could feel its quiet movement. No, her quiet movement, his baby girl. He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and smiled.