By Kenneth Weene
A subtle darkness, a darkness suffused with saffron. Not the patterned light and dark as when the nurse has pulled the blinds. Not the variant shades of gray and blinking monitor lights that are the hospital night. It is a peaceful dimness, but Frances is not at peace.
She pulls her knees up and back against her breasts. The pain whirls Frances in and out of consciousness. At this moment, this writhing moment, there is a foreign being filling her abdomen and demanding to push its way through the muscle and skin, through the viscera in an explosion of pain and then—Good God, could it come—relief.
Andrew had been an easy birth. Hardly half an hour and one or two screams, and then he had been in the doctor’s hands, squalling and perfect, her first born. Tom, his smile filling the delivery room, had videoed it all. He had even handed the camera to the nurse, Sheila Bursk, when it was his turn to hold their son in his own big hands. Not a moment unrecorded. They had watched that video over and over. Each time Tom had laughed at himself. It was true, the nurse had reminded to him to take the baby, to kiss his wife. He was always so enthralled by new gadgets.
When Bobbi, their second, had come, it had been harder. Pain, Frances had never felt worse. For an entire day, and Tom far away, installing transmission devices halfway around the world. Frances’s best friend, Sandy, had brought the camera. Tom had wanted a record. But when he heard those first screams of pain, when he had seen her writhe in agony, Tom had turned off the VCR, taken a bottle of beer from the fridge, and gone out back to mow the grass.
“I can’t. I should have—,” he had tried to say. There was no possible conversation.
The tape was put away. Once, only once, years later, Frances had taken it out, watched it, cried over it and over her husband’s leaving.
The children were grown by then. Andrew, always the easy one, was married. An engineer like his dad, he did something with computers and spent time with his own kids. Suzy played soccer. Hank was the intellectual, a book reader. “I want to be a writer,” he had announced this past Christmas. “I want to be like Dickens.” Hank loved “A Christmas Carol.” “It’s my favorite book,” he announced when Andrew agreed to read it aloud just one more time.
“Well, I don’t like goose,” Suzy had announced, and they had laughed.
“Arrr,” her tear-filled scream cuts through the hospital quiet.
Frances wants more medicine, but the doctor has said she can’t, that it would kill her. She wonders if that would be such a bad thing, but still, as always, the compliant one, Frances says nothing.
She pulls her knees up against the pain, a sixty-three year old fetus. This is not a child wanting to find life but a growth, a tumor. If it were alive, then its purpose would be to explode within her, to burst free in what she imagines would be a rancid blast of intestines that would paste the pale green walls with her decomposed body.
Bobbi had been a difficult child. Colic, projectile vomiting, and whining—the endlessness of her cries. Tom had taken to wearing earplugs. That should have told her the marriage was doomed. It had taken another ten years before he walked out, but she should have known.
Would it have mattered? She had often wrestled with that question. If they had called it quits, if she had told him to leave, if he had been honest enough to tell her about Sandy—about Sandy, her best friend and now his lover. If, if, if: life was filled with that word.
“OOoohh!” Another spasm. Will relief ever come? Frances needs more morphine. How much longer before she can have it? Before the nurse will come with a needle of forgiveness? Time has lost its measurement. She is lost in a sea of pain marked only by swells of even greater pain. Lost.
After Tom had left, after he had moved in with Sandy, Frances had felt lost, so lost. Only the children had given her any focus. Then Tom, in the ultimate act of betrayal, had suggested it would be better if they lived with him, with him and Sandy. As if treachery and infidelity were criteria for a loving home.
“You son of a bitch,” Frances had said.
Her lawyer Crick Pargent had told her to calm down, that Tom would never get the kids. That was what he’d said, but it wasn’t what happened. Sure, she had been depressed. Her marriage, her best friend: Who wouldn’t have cried? Who wouldn’t have had trouble sleeping? Who wouldn’t have used too many pills, drunk too many glasses of wine?
And Bobbi, her little girl, telling the judge that she wanted to live with Daddy, with Daddy and Mommy Sandy because her father’s new wife was so much better at helping her with school stuff and makeup and because her friends could visit.
The judge wasn’t going to separate the children, and Andrew said over and over that he loved them both and just wished they were still together. Wasn’t that what the good child was supposed to say?
Crick Pargent tried to tell her it wasn’t so bad, that she’d still see the kids. That was three months, one week, and two days before Tom announced that they were moving to Texas. Two thousand miles and of course he would pay for them to come see her twice a year, just as long as they wanted to come.
Andrew came, at least until he discovered Mattie and the joy of loving her. Bobbi had come twice the first year, then once, and then not at all. Where was she? Frances didn’t know.
“She’s disappeared,” Andrew had told her.
Frances knew his sister’s disappearance didn’t surprise Andrew, that it didn’t bother him. Maybe he was even relieved; he would never say it.
“Goddd!” Her shout pierces her own consciousness. It seems a cry from another world, a place beyond this vale.
It had been a lace veil, handed down great-grandmother, to grandmother, to mother, to her. Something from the Old World, the south of France. Her grandparents had come to the States after the First World War. “The Great War” they had called it not knowing how much horror the world was yet to face.
Her grandmother had never been kind to Frances. Firm, God-fearing, and demanding: Grandmother had made her expectations clear. Her grandfather was something else; Pépé had spoiled them. A baker, he brought sweetness and warmth into everybody’s life.
Frances has not been hungry, not for weeks, perhaps not for years. When Tom had left, so had her appetite. Then when the children were taken from her— Doc. Goldman insisted on the hospital. “Don’t worry, it isn’t a locked ward, just a place to get you back on your feet.”
Too unhappy to care, Frances had signed the papers.
She had signed the other papers, too—the ones that allowed them to shoot electricity through her brain until she could no longer remember, until her mind had become veiled. Truth was no less painful for the masking; but it seemed less real, and that was what would have to do.
Her breath comes in a gasp. One last desperate grasp for respite.
The caul drops its soft darkness over her soul. Pain at last gives way to peace.
Life itches and torments Kenneth Weene like pesky flies. Annoyed, he picks up a pile of paper to slap at the buzzing and often whacks himself on the head. Each whack is another story. At least having half-blinded himself, he has learned to not wave the pencil.
About Kenneth Weene:
Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk Memoirs From the Asylum, and Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, are published by All Things That Matter Press.
To learn more about Ken’s writing visit http://www.kennethweene.com
You can find Ken on Twitter: @Ken_Weene
And on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Kenneth.Weene