Of Two Minds
Her body had been split in two. Right down the middle. From where she lay, on cotton sheets with a red circle beneath her, she felt as if she was floating above the hospital bed, hovering over herself, looking down at that pathetic girl bleeding all over those nice clean sheets. But she didn't care. Didn't press the button that would bring the nurse. Didn't want to see anybody, especially her mother, who she knew had already been down at the nursery, tapping on the window with her frosted nails, pointing to the clear plastic bassinet that held her granddaughter.
"Pink. I knew enough to buy pink," her mother said, rustling around the room, efficient as always, arranging a bunch of pink and white carnations she had brought up from the flower shop in the lobby. She was color coordinated as usual, with her celery-green cashmere sweater set and winter-white slacks. Her hair was freshly cut and blown to a short sporty look and she never left her house without powder and lipstick and the thick gold chain she wore around her neck. She bent down to kiss her daughter, leaving the scent of Joy perfume on Davy's cheek. She handed Davy a card. Love from Mom, Dad, and Francis. Only Francis was away studying theology at Holy Cross and Dad was home gearing up for the subway series between the Yankees and the Mets. And Davy knew he wouldn't come today. Not today.
"Charlene called. She said to tell you she'd be in to see you if she finished studying for her geometry exam. Such a nice girl, Charlene."
As opposed to me who's...? Davy turned on her side, putting her back to her mother's forced cheerfulness.
"You tired, honey? Because I can go downstairs and get a coffee if you want to rest. They're not supposed to be here for another six hours so you've got plenty of time."
Six hours. A quarter of a day. 360 minutes. She could lie here and watch the clock count down, or she could close her eyes and board a crowded subway hurtling down the track between the dream world and the real world, a pulsing reverberation within the confines of a tunnel, echoing up the vast chamber and back down again. Soon it would dominate the space it consumed and nothing she could say or do, not her tears, pleas, or cries, could stop its decrepit fingers from closing round her throat. She closed her eyes anyway. She thought about her baby. She couldn't help it. She'd only seen her once, right after the delivery, still covered in fluids and screaming with a purple face, but she was unmistakably her baby and something had lurched in Davy's stomach at that moment and she hadn't been able to forget it since. It had only been one day. One eternal day.
Last night in the middle of the night she had lifted her torn body off the bed and hobbled over to the doorway to peer down the hall. She'd held on to the wall bar for support and made it just to the start of the nursery window when one of the nurses had seen her and gently guided her back to her room.
"It'll all be over soon," she soothed. "You need to get your rest."
As if all the other mothers weren't up half the night nursing and cuddling their babies and their handsome husbands spending the night too--she'd seen them in the halls at all hours--one big happy family, and her little girl taking formula from whoever was on shift, with no one to hold her but a busy nurse and Davy's breasts still aching and leaking, even though the doctor had given her pills to stop the flow. It wouldn't be long now, he'd assured her.
She wanted to see her again. It wasn't like there was a law against it. Whoever heard of a law like that? No, this was just some dumb rule someone had written down, carefully worded so it seemed appropriate bureaucratic spell-speak and not like they were stopping mother nature or anything like that, because after all they were all women here, right? They all had these same instincts.
Her mother finally stopped her chatter and left the room. As soon as Davy heard her close the door, she sat up and slipped on the new fleece robe her mother had brought her, added two extra pads, and made for the hallway again. The nurses were busy during the day. Too busy to notice who was going where, with visitors all over the place, cooing and pointing and exclaiming--why he looks exactly like his father, his grandfather, anyone as long as it wasn't his mother, because after all what did she do but bring him forth in the world.
The corridor was packed with people just as she had hoped. No one gave her a second glance as she made her way gingerly down the hall. The viewing window ran the length of the nursery, but it was packed with anxious viewers, the nurses wheeling up a baby or two from the back row, so grandpa could get a better look at his first grandchild. She felt like an impostor, the carrier, but not the nurturer. What would those people think of her if they knew? The other new mothers?
Davy had a private room. At least she had that. She didn't have to watch her roommate nurse, watch her baby fall asleep on her stomach, or envy the bright-eyed husband sitting at her side. She knew she couldn't have handled that.
Someone stepped aside and she was able to take a spot right in front. Her eyes scanned the clear bassinets nervously, hurriedly--where was she? What name had they taped on her bassinet? Baby Jane? Baby Jane Doe? But all these babies had first and last names and most of them had middle names too, and the names of their mommies and daddies. So none of these were right. Had they taken her already? Had they stolen away early in the morning, tricked her so she wouldn't know her baby and wouldn't miss her?
She felt a wave of nausea wash over her and the window in front of her started to move. She grabbed onto the railing and the lady standing next to her turned to her worriedly and asked, "Are you all right?"
I don't think so," she whispered, clinging to her for support.
"I'll help you back to your room, poor thing. You must have gotten up too soon." She was a nice older woman, and Davy figured she had a grandchild somewhere or a niece or nephew. The woman helped her back to her bed and said, "You need anything? I have to go downstairs and buy my daughter a magazine. Would you like anything at the coffee shop?"
"No, thank you," she managed to get out, waiting until the lady had left before bursting into tears. She pushed the buzzer. "It'll be a few minutes," a voice came over the intercom, "the nurse is busy with her rounds." A half-hour later a nurse flew in, looking like she was ready to fly out again at the slightest provocation. "You wanted to ask me something?" she said, her eyes darting around the room impatiently.
"Where's my baby?" Davy asked. "She's not in the nursery; where is she?"
"She's getting an ultrasound. For her lungs. It's nothing to worry about. Most of the time a numothorax heals itself in a few days. The doctor is just being extra cautious."
"Are you sure? Because they weren't supposed to take her away until this afternoon. They told me--"
"Then I'm sure that's what they'll do. Would you like something to help you sleep?"
"It's ten o'clock in the morning. Why do I need to sleep?" Davy heard her voice rising out of control, but she was powerless to stop it.
"I'll check with the doctor and see what he wants to give you. In the meantime, you need to settle down. Ms. Givens will be here shortly to talk to you. She's the one you need to talk to." The nurse escaped out the door.
Davy sat on the edge of her bed, not sure what to do next. She wanted to see her baby. Of course they were going to say the baby was fine. Did they think she was stupid?
"Davy Richards?" An elegant black woman stood by the door. "I'm Jean Givens. The agency sent me. I'm here to see if there's anything you'd like to talk about before you sign the papers."
"Yes." Davy wiped her face with her robe. "Come in."
The woman wore a navy blue suit, the skirt cut just above the knees, the jacket tapered in at the waist, stylish, Davy thought, like one of those fall models in Vogue. The woman looked young. Middle twenties, Davy estimated, no more. She wore black high heels that clicked on the floor as she walked and she carried a small black bag that matched her shoes.
"Now, it's perfectly natural to feel depressed these first few weeks," she reassured Davy in a tone of voice that told Davy she'd said those exact same words a hundred times to a hundred different girls. "Part of it is hormonal. Your body reacting to the trauma of giving birth, your milk starting to flow, and the medicine taking few days to dry it up. Also you're sore and tired and worried. I can see that."
"I want to see her." Davy looked her square in the eye.
"We don't think that's a good idea. It will only prolong the separation anxiety and spur possible instantaneous decisions that may not be in the best interest of the child. And for you--particularly for you," she added when she saw the look on Davy's face, "I know how you're feeling. I've seen this so may times. That's why I'm here now, and why I'll be here in the future if you need me."
Davy saw right through her. Saw the big act coming from a profitable place where everybody made out but her. The adoption agency made out. The social worker made out. The adoptive parents made out. Maybe even the baby made out. She wasn't sure yet.
"I need to see her--just once." If you try to stop me I'll rescind the order. I know my rights. Seventy-two hours, I know the drill."
"I'll see what I can do." Jean looked upset. Like she'd just lost out on a commission selling the neighborhood showplace on the corner of Green and Vine. She clicked out the room. Jean listened to her click all the way down the hall.
A half-hour went by. Two. Then Davy heard the clicking sound again and her heart started to race and her breasts strained and she felt milk seeping out of her nipples onto her nightgown in anticipation. She reached out her arms for her and she couldn't help it: she held her to her breast and her daughter sucked hard, as if she'd been waiting for this, as if she knew she was her mother.
Nan Leslie is newsletter director at Moondance. Also on staff at coffeehouseforwriters.com, Nan writes a weekly newsletter for developing writers called The Daily Grind. Her fiction credits include: The Fairfield Review, CrossConnect, Able Muse, The Pittsburgh Review, Terrain: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments, The Circle Magazine, Southern Ocean Review, Ascent Magazine, and The Paumanok Review. Her short story "Bijou" has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.