Starting a new story is always the scariest part of the process. Kate DiCamillo compares it to stepping through the gate at the airport – the first big step in a journey. This week I finally began a story I’ve been thinking about for quite some time now. I’d taken a while to start it because I wasn’t sure how to frame it, where to begin. And so I began with, well, a beginning. Here’s what I have so far.
“Go home, James,” the doctor told me. Camille snored slightly in her hospital bed, her hair plastered in dark strings across her face and neck. I reached over to brush the strands out of her mouth, the starched sheets crackling as I moved. The baby -Emily- had already been whisked away to the nursery in her clear carriage bed, where the nurses said she was out-screaming all the others. Our daughter. Emily.
The doctor reached out and placed one huge, chapped hand on my shoulder, a hand that had been inside my wife’s vagina, that had cradled Emily’s head, smeared with blood and amniotic fluid. It was clean now, and smelled like latex, like condoms and high school.
“Go home and rest. Camille and Emily are fine, now.”
But I couldn’t rest. Back home, I laid on the mattress and stared at the ceiling. The sheets were stripped off and bunched on the floor, wet from when Camille’s water broke. The silence smothered me like the doctor’s huge hand. I paced from the bedroom to the kitchen to the morning-bright living room. Heat baked the asphalt outside. The neighbor’s son rode by on his bicycle, a red baseball cap turned backwards on his head.
He was nine, his father had told us last week, the same age I’d been on my first visit to a hospital, those few days I couldn’t push out of my mind. The smell of ammonia burning my nose, the wide, blinking white hallways, the hum of machines and whispered conversations. Last night, I’d gripped Camille’s hand harder than she’d gripped mine.
“Contractions,” the nurse had said. “She’s just fine, Mr. O’Connor. They’ll be coming along faster soon now- Mr. O’Connor? Are you okay, Mr. O’Connor?”
Outside, the neighbor’s boy rode by again, one hand gripping the handlebars and one hand stretched out into open air, his blue eyes half-closed against the sunlight, oblivious.