The baby rolling over touches Clare with fingers and toes, with a heartbeat and a kick. The movement inside her is liquid, and she thinks she cannot express to Elijah what she feels, so powerful is it. She covers his hand on her stomach with both of hers and concentrates on the child.
Two hours later, near midnight, she rises to pee. In the bathroom, there is blood on the toilet paper and Clare knows her mucus plug has broken.
She does not wake Elijah. In the dark she sits in a chair beside their bed, listening to the labor of the air-conditioning window unit, thanking it. She is thankful for everything she senses around her. Elijah does not hear Clare's grunt with the first cramp. She glances at the red digits on the bedside clock, waiting for the next wave.
Near five in the morning Elijah stirs and knows she is not beside him. He sits upright to find her in the chair, sitting on a towel. He snaps on a light.
"How long you been up?
"Since almost midnight.
Elijah bites his lower lip.
"Girl," he says. He stands, naked and beautiful. He runs his hand over her brow. "You want to do this alone," he says, joking, "I'll head over to the mill and put in some overtime.
At seven o'clock Elijah calls the plant to say they will not be in for their shifts. Her contractions are six minutes apart. He calls Gran Epps, then drives Clare to the hospital.
Her obstetrician, Dr. James, knows she does not want an epidural but she tells him No again when he asks. Elijah's left hand stays clutched in her right and they do not let each other go. Anything Clare needs her right hand for Elijah does for her.
In the hospital room she stays in labor for five hours. Just after noon, she is wheeled into delivery. She squeezes Elijah's hand, gritting her teeth. She will not close her eyes. She watches everything and thinks of her mother, wishes she were alive, thinks of Gran Epps waiting at home by the phone to hear that she has a great-grandchild, and the thankfulness that began in Clare's bedroom last night is eclipsed by a love so anchored in her it is a harrowing pain as it moves through her. She cries, she knows her face is pink and crushed together like a soda can. Elijah's hand wipes a tissue over her cheeks.
Clare's bulging middle is the center of a whirl of hands and faces. The lights are so bright she feels them in a warm lace against the insides of her thighs hoisted in the stirrups. Elijah whispers to her, "Yeah, baby," and, "Good, baby," mopping her brow, kissing the top of her head. The two nurses nod agreement with Elijah. "You're doin' great, honey.
Dr. James is a handsome man in his early forties, graying just at the temples. He has the gaunt face and rueful eyes of the avid runner. Clare winces and watches his eyes.
The obstetrician tracks Clare's contractions. He says, "Now push. Soft at first. There you go." He fiddles with his hands out of sight between her legs. She barely feels his fingers, so engorged are her nerves and muscles there. For several minutes the doctor asks her for soft pushes. Finally he says, "Okay, now give me one good hard push. Come on. There you go. Almost . . ."Clare bears down, squeezing her abdomen as hard as her pain will let her. She fixes her stare on the doctor's face. He sees the baby coming into the world, she wants to witness the arrival but cannot so she will watch the man who does see it.
Suddenly the creases like wings beside the doctor's eyes flinch and fold. He pauses and all action in the room ceases, even Clare's push. She senses the instant change. The air in the room has cracks running through it, like hot glass plunged into ice. The doctor softly shifts his voice, he speaks not to Clare but to his nurses. "Bring me a blanket," he says.
Excerpted from Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins. Copyright 2002 by David L. Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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