Night time. Small room, almost pitch black. A little light streaming in from a bathroom door, ajar. The square edges of a mirror, silver framed, a portion of the bathroom sink.
I am hobbling in the dark towards the bathroom wearing a paper gown. There’s nothing left of my hips. I take small steps. In a plastic box, my newborn son lies asleep, wrapped in a pink-and-blue trimmed hospital blanket, matching pink-and-blue hat. He has a little smile on his face. My sister, fully clothed, sleeps on a hospital fold-out bed, a rumpled sheet thrown across her back. My hair tickles my shoulders and neck. I am still fat as a cow, probably just over two hundred pounds.
As I walk and get closer to the bathroom, I think about a man who rejected me. I wonder if he would like me now, respect me now that I made it through labor. I wonder if he would see me with new eyes — loving, respectful new eyes. I think about writing this man a letter. I would start the letter off with the sentence Childbirth is mythical terrain, steep hills and valleys, gravel under your feet, rocks that crumble and fall. . . . I wonder if, in this letter, I should tell him that after thirty-four hours of labor, when I was running out of strength, I kind of hallucinated and saw him, quite clearly, standing at the foot of my hospital bed. I wonder if, in the letter, I should tell him that he looked fierce, that he didn’t blink, that he kept his eyes only on me, that his shoulder-length wiry hair looked frazzled, like it always does, that he wore a pale blue work shirt, that he said to me: Come on girl, in the same tone he uses with his four-year-old daughter when he tells her to tie her own shoe or to set up the toothbrushes at night. The same tone I heard him use once at dawn when he told his half-brother, Thomas, who was sleeping on the couch, to Git up because the two of them were supposed to build a picket fence for their grandmother’s yard. The tone is not mean, but it’s pitiless. Which is a good thing, a good tone, to have. To use.
I am standing at the bathroom sink, filling a pink plastic toilet-seat sized bowl with warm water. People — nurses, midwives, the doctor who stitched me up down there — told me that I am to sit in the bowl, sit in clean, warm water in this bowl, on the toilet, two or three times a day. For twenty minutes, they said. So I am filling up the pink plastic bowl.
I look up for a moment, see my face reflected back in the mirror. I wonder if the man had thought of me at the same time that I’d been thinking of him, during that last hour of labor when I’d envisioned him, standing at the foot of my hospital bed. I wonder if something psychic, paranormal, then had taken place. In my letter to him, I would write How did you know where to find me? How did you know what hospital, what building, what floor, what room? I imagine the man’s reaction to this letter that I am writing in my head; in this scenario, he would love me. He would want me back.
I turn off the hot water, test the temperature of the water in the pink plastic bowl. It’s a little hot. I pour out some hot and add cold, swish the water around, place the pink bowl on the open toilet seat. It’s a long way down, without hips. Creak. Breathe. Hang on to the metal bar. Land. Soak. Stare at the textured glass shower door. Try to relax. Look around, then down. I will need more pads. The night nurse is a bitch, I stopped asking her for anything hours ago. Relax. Soak. Soak some more. Adjust hips. Poke at an old scar. Press the nurse Call button. Think of the letter. Head down in hands. Massage scalp.
Sound of footsteps dragging across linoleum, stopping just outside the halfway-open bathroom door.
What is it?
I need more pads.
The footsteps drag away, receding down the hallway.
I look back up at the white bathroom walls. Florescent light overhead. Think of the letter again. I think of the more likely scenario, the one that would really take place: he wouldn’t care. He might hold on to it, to my letter, for a day. He might read a sentence of it to his kids. It might even go into a drawer, or inside the box on his bureau with his rings and other keepsakes, such as the dog tags for his brother, Robert, who shot himself when he was out hunting, drunk. He had too much to drink was how he explained it to the kids on the bed that one day, sitting there in the middle of his room. And then, sometime during that conversation, he had pulled two nickels out of his daughter’s tiny ear — a magic trick for his little boy, who was learning to do the same.
The nurse is back; I know her step — those feet that never manage to fully leave the floor.
She hands over some pads, slams the door shut.
Washing hands at the sink. I decide that I cannot, should not, must not — will not — write this man a letter. I think of having sex with him just a few days before. I had called him and asked for a favor, a pathetic favor, considering I hadn’t seen him for months. The baby was late, one and a half weeks late and I was not going into labor. There was talk of an induction, of Pitocin, of scheduling a C. So I called him and said — you know — can I come over–because the midwife had told me there’s an enzyme in semen that jump-starts contractions sometimes.
It had been sweet, actually. When I walked in the door of his house, I had said to him, Keep the lights LOW. And he had said, You’re fine. He had said Come here — both of you. When I made the requisite I’m-so-fat pregnant lady comment, he had said to me, You’ve got a whole human being in there! I liked him so much, I did.
It had worked — contractions right away. That midwife had been right. Afterwards, with my legs up in the air, watching Leno’s monologue on TV, I could feel that he’d wanted me gone. He’d already taken a Darvil for his knee; his eyes were closing fast.
He never called to ask about the baby or the birth.
In the letter that I will not write, I will not tell him that my son looks like a little movie star in his plastic box. I will not write that that’s what my girlfriend Karen said when she saw him for the first time: He looks like a little movie star dude. I will not write that my son lies back, relaxed, that he has platinum blond hair, like a miniature surfer in an Annette Funicello movie, like one of the Hardy Boys. I will not write that he is mellow, that he seems not to have inherited any of my dark hysteria at all — proof, somehow, that I did something right.
Back at the side of the tall hospital bed. Lean against the edge. Look at my son, Mac.
Why is he in a plastic box?
I take him slowly out of the plastic box and put him into the bed next to me. Think: will I squish him if I fall asleep? He lies against my breast, a pillow for his head. He has this little smile on his face.
I look up at the clock on the wall above the bathroom door. Almost four a.m.
My sister’s asleep in her fold-out bed. No nurses, no midwives, no family (not awake at least), no friends.
For the first time.
Hold very still.
My son has this little smile on his face.
Outside our window, I see another tall hospital building. Mostly it’s all dark. A couple of its windows, though, are lit up from within.