portion of the artwork for Daphne Buter's story

Where Do You Think You’re Going?
Daphne Buter

“Are you still there?”

The voice sounded hollow, and echoed like the voice of a ghost in a movie. I opened my eyes. The nurse was a corpulent woman with soulless gray eyes. She had been introduced to me as Gerty. Gerty had brown hair, a dissatisfied mouth with a sadistic streak around her lips, and big hands, like a butcher. The hospital had entrusted me to her devoted care, but she seemed to hate me from the moment we met. She was unfriendly. Snappish. The woman looked at me like I was an object, not a pregnant woman.

The hospital bathroom was covered with salmon-colored tiles. I drifted in the balmy water of a big-size tub. The new hospital section had just opened and I was the first one to lie in the tub. I felt like a big fat baby surrounded by a womb of stone. My head felt clammy. Water had cooled down my skin. The sharp unpleasant head of a woman with a pointed chin was close to mine. Her face was built out of cherry-red shadows. I smelled the odor of peppermint. I noticed Nurse Gerty was chewing bubblegum, slowly, like horses chew.

In my abdomen a pointed pain rose up from my drowsy body, sharp as a knife.

“I am dying,” I whispered.

“Don’t talk rubbish.”

Her scarlet face disappeared and left a waft of peppermint behind. Her rubber shoes made flapping sounds on the tiles when she walked away. My belly lingered above the water. A spooky hill of flesh. A shelter of meat.

Another contraction. It was impossible to breathe the way I was taught to do at pregnancy yoga. The water moved, bulged, oozed. I tried to scream but my voice sounded like the shriek of an artificial bird.

Gerty came back in.

“Ah, you are still there,” she said.

Maybe it was the morphine that made me believe she kept repeating the same awkward words all the time. Did she expect me to walk naked out of the hospital to give birth in a nearby park?

“Of course I’m still here.”

Another contraction.

She looked at her watch. “Well, the specialist said the baby won’t arrive for the next five hours,” she said in bored voice.

“Let him give me a Caesarean,” I almost begged her. “Something is wrong, I can feel it.”

She giggled, patronizing. She put her hands on her thick hips. “Don’t make a fool of yourself,” she said with a condescending tune in her voice. “Every day 350,000 women deliver babies. To give birth is a common thing. It’s like an assembly line.” She giggled again. “Tonight you’ll poop out the thing.” She waved her hand at me. “Stop whining about it.”

I started to climb out of the tub. Another contraction made me almost fall on the floor.

“Hey, hey! Where do you think you’re going, missy?”

“To the goddamn toilet.”

The nurse sighed. “Are you sure?”

* * *

I sat on the toilet and the room grew bigger and bigger around me. Nurse Gerty sat beside me on a chair, reading a comic book. I noticed her ears were pointed. Although her nose had the shape of a potato, she looked like a shrinking fairy. She laughed about something in the comic.

My heart was beating like a maniac. I was cold. I was dizzy. I shivered. I felt like I had to throw up …

Another contraction. One that sucked all the blood from my head.

“I think I’m losing consciousness.”

“You aren’t.”

“I need to lie down with my feet in the air. I can feel my head isn’t getting enough oxygen.”

I kept my eyes closed. The humid air of the bathroom seem to glue my eyelids.

“You stay where you are.” Another sigh. I heard her turning a page of the magazine.

Another contraction. I couldn’t even moan anymore. My body just quaked like a volcano ready to erupt. The child inside me didn’t move a muscle.

“I don’t lie, something is wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Her voice sounded screeching and annoyed. “You are just going to have a baby!”

My body angled and my head landed in her lap. I felt her legs glowing. I smelled her sweat. The comic book fell from her hands. The pink bathroom changed into a black one.

* * *

“She has had a collapse!” someone shouted.

I was flying through the corridor of the hospital. Someone pushed the wheelchair I sat in. My body was still wet from the tub. Another contraction.

“Can I have an epidural?”

“An epidural?” The face of a vain angel smiled at me, running. “No need to,” the face said. “I am the new gynecologist. I’ve almost finished my studies. I will deliver your baby. It will be the first one I’ve delivered on my own. I’m just as excited as you are.”

“Are you going to have a baby?” I asked.

The student laughed, exposing his healthy teeth, framed by the tinted hills of his cheeks that were decorated with a 5 o’clock shadow. I felt hatred for this man. In a split second I saw his perfect life. A young successful gynecologist. He married a wife with a bobline, who cooked something special for him every day. Roasted lobster with ginger dipping sauce, green salads with strawberry balsamic, potatoes with olives and sardines, fresh-baked bread, and guacamole. Every evening they sat together in the garden, in the shade of a fig tree with round leaves. Shadows of the branches created dreamlike effects, like mermaids swimming in the pool. They drank pink champagne. Pink champagne with golden flecks. Their children (three children with thick hands and honey blond hair) played with wooden toys and a rocking horse at the foot of the fig tree …

I floated through the corridor. People ran aside to let the wheelchair pass. Another contraction. I yelled, “Hey, Robert Redford, I want to die. Why don’t you kill me with one of your shiny scalpels?”

“You are funny,” the gynecology student said. His face was euphoric, and his hair had the shine of pearls, and his lips were swollen and faultless. His green eyes gazed between my legs.

“I can see the head of the baby,” he said. “I can see the head,” he repeated.

“That’s impossible,” I yelled back. “Nurse Gerty said the baby won’t be born for a couple of hours. Cut my body open, man, I …”

Another contraction slashed off my voice.

“It will be born in two minutes. Don’t push.”

The wheelchair twisted to the right and floated into a room. Everything was blue in there. The walls, the sheets on the bed, the clothing of the people. A heaven of septic cobalt odors. I was the only pink thing that was brought in. A pink sluggish ogre.

“This is Missss …?” a skinny nurse with goggles said.

“My name is Jabba the Hut.”

“Ma’am?”

Another contraction.

I lay on a bed and someone tried to stick a needle into my hand. Contraction after contraction climbed from the center of my abdomen, a burning pain like a sweltering sphere expanded inside me, trying to crack my hips.

“Push, push,” the gynecology student said. His face rose between my knees like a glowing sun.

I pushed as hard as I could.

“For god’s sake, stop pushing,” he said.

I felt the baby spurt out of my body. I heard something made of metal jingle on the floor of the delivery room. An orchestra of voices and bouncing metals.

“Good lord. It is too late …” he added.

I heard a child cry.

“The color of the skin is satisfactory,” he said. “Rosy. A perfect child.” He laid the baby between my breasts. It was covered with shiny speckles. It felt so strong, a little sculpture of flesh. The child stopped crying. I started crying and trembling.

The student looked at me and asked for a towel. “Get the OR ready,” he said.

“Is it a girl or a boy?” I asked. I felt my hands losing grip on the baby.

“Take the child from her chest; her arms don’t have enough strength. Take it away. Get her to the OR. Hurry, hurry, hurry …”

Gerty was there. Gerty, the nurse with the sharp face, she stole my baby. She grinned politely at me.

“Is it a girl or a boy?” I asked her.

“It is,” she answered.

* * *

I was on a hospital bed on wheels. I heard the wheels cutting the tiles of the corridor like diamond razors. Someone pushed the bed and that person was running. I heard that person breathing loudly. I heard spongy shoes wiping the tiles. Above me I saw the ceiling; every few seconds a light blinded me. I felt the heat of blood gulping out of me every time my heart pounded.

“Where is my child?”

Two men who looked like muscled butchers from an abattoir, wearing green masks and green hats, took over the bed on wheels and drove me through two automatic doors that made a swallowing sound when they swapped and closed behind me, blocking out all the regular hospital noises.

The cold air of the operation room fell down on me.

“This is the lady of the sleep,” one of the men in green said to me.

Above me the face of an old woman appeared with silvery hair. She grinned at me. Her eyes were blue and translucent; two marbles lost in a dry landscape full cracks.

“Are you the lady of everlasting sleep?”

She smiled mysteriously. “I will give you something that will anesthetize you,” she said with a scraping voice. “I will stick a needle in your hand. It will hurt.”

I felt a stab in my hand.

“Can you count back from 10 to 1?”

I watched a circle on the ceiling of the operating room, bursting with light.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked, but my voice left the room before it became a sound.

“Are you still there?” the woman said.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 45 | Spring 2015