‘A little harder, darling,’ Dr Frederick Gottschalk encouraged. ‘One more thrust and I should start to see the cranium.’ He was trying his hardest to remain composed, but he could hardly contain his excitement. ‘Oh, Margaret: our bundle of joy has black curls!’ Like the eye of a voyeur peeping through a key-hole, a tuft of slick fuzz peered at him from inside her.
‘Like his … father.’ His wife’s voice was soft, far-away, uneasy; her words punctuated by a sharp moan; then a fit of silly laughter; then childlike whimpering.
The laughing gas he’d borrowed from the clinic was starting to wear off. He had to be careful: not enough gas and she’d scream the walls down; too much and she’d be totally incapable of feeling the contractions. The former could be quelled with a stern word or two and—if necessary—a firm hand (not that it really mattered: their closest neighbours lived on the far side of the lake). The latter, however, would necessitate a caesarian section—something he desperately wished to avoid. Although a qualified surgeon, Gottschalk’s expertise was in nip ’n’ tucks, not obstetrics; he couldn’t risk botching it up. Plus, their summer home was old, unhygienic, contaminated with creepy-crawlies and festering with household bacteria.
‘Uuuuunggghhh!’ A slow, agonising groan. Somewhere by the lake a loon answered her distress call with a concerned fluting.
‘You’re doing exceptionally well, darling.’ Gottschalk made a slight adjustment to the gas feed, and placing his hands on the inside of her thighs, applied gentle, outward pressure. ‘Open wide; make as much room for junior as you can.’
They’d been trying for years: shortly after they were married Margaret had undergone an operation to remove several ovarian tumors, and while the procedure had saved her life, it had left her practically sterile. They tried to adopt, but were promptly turned down because of Margaret’s indiscretion during her adolescence (she had been young and stupid and very drunk, but some things are never swept away by the tide of time – least of all a conviction for dangerous driving). IVF had also been a colossal waste of time and money. At least Margaret had gotten something positive out of the experience: she’d struck up a friendship of sorts with another patient. Jodi was a gritty, single white female who’d had enough of waiting for Mr Right, and was sick of being kept up all night by the ticking of her maternal clock; Jodi was someone Margaret could relate to, someone with whom she could share and lament the anguish of being childless.
Gottschalk had abandoned all hope of becoming a father. Then nine months ago, he was given the good news: he would finally have his bundle of joy!
It was Margaret’s idea to have a home-birth; Gottschalk’s to deliver the baby at the lake. He had to take a crash course in obstetrics and neo-natal care of course, but that was the easy part. The hard part was sneaking the equipment out of the clinic without being noticed. Gone were the days of hot water and steamed towels.
A knife-like scream tore through the stuffy room and she parted, giving the baby up to the swirling dust motes and slats of sepia-toned light. Gottschalk clamped the umbilical cord above the newborn’s naval—just as the midwives had done in the birthing DVD he’d watched a few hundred times—then hacked it off with surgical scissors. Ignoring the quivering placental sack between his feet, he held up his prize—still bloody and glistening wet—in the cradle of both palms.
Thank God, he thought. No, thank Gott! For in the old tongue Gottschalk’s family name meant Servant of God. But in this day and age, he thought of himself more as a silent partner than a mere attendant. After all, he did heal the sick—or at least re-arranged their faces and enlarged their breasts. Now, after years of doubt and despair, the Big Guy upstairs had finally recognised his worth with this reward. Nor did Gottschalk fail to notice the significance of the gift: like God, he had been given a son.
He slapped the infant’s rosy cheeks once on each side, and the echo of a shrieking baby filled the musty corridors of the lake house. This was not in the DVD, but he did it for effect anyway.
‘Look Margaret.’ Gottschalk swaddled the infant in a pastel-coloured towel and cradled it in the nook of his elbow. ‘Say hello to little Archie.’ Had it been a girl, they’d agreed to name her Isabella, after Gottschalk’s great-grandmother (a pleasant lady by most accounts, who’d served as a nurse during World War I, and had spent her final days eating roaches in a Dusseldorf lunatic asylum).
Margaret gently took the baby from Gottschalk’s arms and tickled it under the chin. She smiled wanly at her husband. ‘He might have your hair,’ she boasted, ‘but his eyes are blue like mine.’
‘Oh stop it, Marge.’ Gottschalk waved a hand dismissively. ‘All babies have blue eyes when they’re born. They’ll change, you’ll see.'
A sorrowful moan drifted up from the double-bed behind them, which trailed off into a delirious giggle. A woman who looked like she could be in her mid-thirties lay spread-eagled on the bed, naked except for the blood-soaked sheets bunched about her waist. Her hands and feet were cuffed to the bedposts and a gas inhaler covered her face. In her drug-induced stupor, she mumbled something incoherent from behind the mask, her words sounding both amplified and muffled: ‘Wheeere aaam I?’
‘There, there, darling,’ Gottschalk soothed. ‘Don’t talk; you’ll only make yourself upset.’ He turned to Margaret and gestured with his thumb at Jodi. ‘What do we do with her?’
Margaret peered over at the woman on the bed, a distasteful snarl thinning her collagen-filled lips. ‘Dump her in the lake,’ she said, and resumed making exaggerated faces at Archie.
Copyright: © 2010 Eugene Gramelis
-------------------------------------Eugene Gramelis is a widely-published, award-winning author of suspense and dark fiction. When not writing he practises law as a barrister in Sydney, Australia, where he resides with his beautiful wife and three gorgeous children. He invites you to walk with him at http://gramelis.blogspot.com