The following short story, “Child of Sorrow,” first appeared on Short Fiction Break in December 2016.
By Teresa Edmond-Sargeant
I stroked my swollen belly when I felt a thump against my hand. Such a gentle thump, but done with such great force that my hand rose up on my stomach.
This is my first child. After nine months of carrying her in my womb, I now get what many women rave about when they select little booties in department stores, throw baby showers, and fret and fuss over whether their baby might come out with an illness.
To some extent, guilt had ebbed and flowed within me ever since I learned at the end of my first trimester I was with child. At that time, I learned why some women would rather not say anything about being pregnant until after the first three months passed. Losing a child is hard for many women. I should know; every one of those scenarios was my fault. Before carrying my own child to term, I didn’t think twice about how the end of a life would affect me. Wherever I’m told to go, I go: car accidents, wars, hospitals. That was my job. That was my life.
When your job is snatching away humans’ last breath, their last heartbeat, their last conscious dignity, terminating the living and ferrying away their souls to the other side are all you are consumed with.
I jutted my hip upward as I pushed myself out of the rocking chair in my daughter’s nursery – yes, it’s a girl. Her name will be Zoe.
I noticed the crib to my left and imagined Zoe in there. The crib was next to the window, across the way from the nursery door. As nighttime spread across the sky outside, I pondered what my child would encounter out there. As a young one, naiveté and pride would convince her she is invincible and immortal. Then, she’d be convinced that can’t get old, can’t get sick, and would not think about leaving this earth if she ever experienced anything related to it. She’d blossom into a young woman, with the world at her command.
Do I dare tell her what I do for a living? To the living? When should I tell her? How would she understand? I will witness her grow up and grow old, but I won’t age. How would she handle that? How would I handle that?
I spun the mobile suspended over the crib. The alternating images of stars, hearts and clouds rotated. I fantasized Zoe’s pretty face and smiling gums as she watched. I turned to my right, at the nightstand where a lamp stood. Underneath the lampshade was a baby monitor, so I could communicate with her.
It was a miracle in itself how I was able to conceive a child when I myself, upon touching anything living, made flowers wither, the skin on people’s hands shrivel, and grief strike the hearts of men and women who witness the cruelty I bring them. I am the one who brings mankind nightmares. I am the one responsible for countless psychological traumas. It was a miracle that my daughter was able to grow to full term, but how will I cradle her in my arms?
Any minute now, I will be due, and then I will meet Zoe.
Something inside me broke, and in an instant, I found my bottom side and my legs soaked.
I clutched my belly and bent over. My muscles writhed with pain. “Colette!” I shouted.
After half a minute, I heard feet thumping up the stairs.
“I’m in here,” I called out.
“Dolores?” Colette walked through the doorway, panic on her face. “Dolores? Are you having contractions?”
Her eyes trailed from my face downward, and noticed the puddle underneath me.
“I’ll call the doctor,” she said.
Colette is like me: she, too, has had her good share of determining the end of people. However, for years now – I think at least a century – she retired from that field of work to work for me, keeping my house and taking care of me while I worked long hours.
Doing what I could to fight through the contractions, my mind forced my right leg to move. I pushed my upper body upward, then my left leg up. Using the crib for support, I straightened myself up.
Through the struggle of my contractions, I turned to Colette. Taking my hand, she escorted me out of the nursery through the hallway and into the bathroom. I groaned along the way. I can’t go to the hospital to give birth; temptation might ensnare me to do my job there despite my consumption with giving birth. So Colette and I decided I should have a water birth in my bathtub.
Stacks of clean towels were near the bathtub. The tub itself was filled with water. I stripped off my clothes – save for my bra – and held onto Colette as I got into the tub and immersed myself into the warm water. As soon as I did, my body jerked forward, signaling me to push. Colette held my hand, and I squeezed it as I began to push. While doing so, the concern of reconciling my career with motherhood subsided. The next thing I knew, Colette collected the baby from the blood-dyed water and wrapped her in a towel. Colette handled a pair of scissors, and with one snip, the baby was free of me. An entity separate from me.
As much as I was impatient of this day, I also dreaded it. What if my child stopped breathing once she was in my arms, considering who her father is? That was the main reason I decided on a water birth. Water is the source of life, and my powers are negated whenever I’m in it. The loss of life at sea, from shipwrecks and such? I touch the victims on the dock or on land before they embark on the waters. Colette handed the baby to me, this shivering, tiny bundle of light and life within my arms.
I saw my baby’s face now. The matted hair that resulted from the placenta mess she was wrapped up in while she was inside me. Zoe opened her mouth and a cry burst forth. This was not a cry of pain, but a cry of hunger, or tiredness or confusion. But this cry of cognitive innocence was a refreshing turnaround from the cries of soldiers as they cradled their dying comrades on the battlefield, or of adult children that wept at the bedside of their dying elderly parent. From now on, when Zoe cries, it’ll be because she will rely on me to meet her needs, not because she’s cursing me out in anger or trembling with fear because I’m taking someone away.
Tears rolled down my face. I turned to Colette. “Take the baby. I have to dry off and clean up.”
Colette put the towels down and took the baby.
“If my baby is going to meet her end, though, then at least have the proper conditions ready,” I said. “I have to be out of the water, and not wet.”
An hour passed. While I suffered from my aching underside, Colette clothed the baby and checked her vitals. I mumbled prayers that the baby would survive my touch. I prayed I would survive the heartache, the tears and despair if she, well, if she …
Odd that, considering what I do, I can’t say the one word I was created to do and to represent.
I hobbled into the nursery in my bathrobe, enduring the difficult walk. Colette placed the baby in the crib which by this time, she had cleaned up. I hobbled past Colette to the crib, reached into it and scooped Zoe up. Plump, rosy cheeks. The gentleness that settled upon her eyes as she cooed.
“Please leave us,” I said to Colette, and she did. I lowered myself into the rocking chair. Colette already placed a soft cushion there because due to my soreness, I would need the comfort.
Fifteen minutes passed by, then 30, then 45. Then an hour, then two, then three hours. I breast fed her, burped her, watched her fall asleep, watched her wake up, all the while never leaving the nursery.
Zoe continued to breathe. I listened to the oxygen go through her nose and watched her chest rise and fall. As a matter of fact, she seemed more alive now than when she first came out of me.
© 2016 Teresa Edmond-Sargeant
All Rights Reserved.