Excerpt from Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Scorched Earth

By David L. Robbins

Scorched Earth

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Dr. James firmly says to Clare, "Push again. Push." Elijah's grip tightens over Clare's. The doctor continues to pull and support the emerging baby. His paper face mask puffs, he has said something but to himself.

Elijah asks, "Doctor?”

Dr. James glances up at Elijah with the look of a man at the bottom of a long and tedious hill, who must run up it and is certain he cannot. Then he looks down.

Clare cannot see around her belly and the spread of the hospital gown to her child. Elijah stays strong in Clare's hand.

She pushes her hardest. If something is wrong, she will cure it by dint of will and effort. She and Elijah will bring their child into the world even if the doctor is worried, even if he has quit looking up at them.

The infant does issue into Dr. James's waiting hands. He takes a small suction device like a turkey baster and uses it to remove the mucus blockage from the baby's nostrils; Clare hears him discharge the thing twice into a napkin. He takes a clamp from a nurse, throttles the umbilical cord, and snips it with scissors. He reaches to the nurse for the blanket and swaddles the child. He does not rise to lay the newborn on Clare's stomach to be loved in its first seconds but turns away from Clare and Elijah, carrying the child. Clare's back is on fire with the pain of birthing. The blanket is pink and the doctor has wrapped her baby in it from head to foot, she cannot see her child.

Keeping his back to Clare and Elijah, the doctor hands the newborn to a nurse. While the woman cradles it, the other nurse helps Clare take her legs down from the stirrups. Clare watches the rear of the doctor's arms and shoulders doing his final work, sees him wipe the little body with sterile cloths that he tosses into a bin with a heavy arm. She hears her baby cough in the nurse's arms behind the obstetrician's white back. Elijah says again, "Doctor?" Clare keeps herself on the table, though she wants to get up and wrest her infant away from the doctor. The child has been in the world a minute now. Clare yearns to begin.

She cannot hear what the doctor says to the nurse. But the nurse does not want to do what he asks. She hesitates. Clare hears the nurse say, "No, doctor. Please.”

Dr. James steps aside. The nurse comes closer to Clare and Elijah bearing the pink blanket. She hangs back from the bed. She does not lay the blanket across Clare's flattened and flabby waist. The nurse says, "It's a girl.”

At last Clare lets go of Elijah's hand. Her palm is soaked. She reaches both arms for her daughter. The nurse withholds the child.

From the foot of the bed Dr. James speaks. He pulls down his blue mask. Clare sees the defeat in his face. He has not, he never could, run up the long hill.

"Clare. Elijah. Wait a minute.”

Clare says, "Give me my baby.”

The doctor says their names again, "Clare. Elijah." Clare drops her arms. Elijah's hand returns into hers.

The doctor says, "I need to tell you something first.”

Clare waits for the man to continue. In those seconds she feels a wall erect itself inside her, stolid and fast, of love and loyalty for her baby. Dr. James batters the wall with his pauses and anguished eyes but the wall is holding.

He says, "There's a serious problem. With the baby's brain.”

The child in the nurse's arms, as though to refute this terrible statement, squeaks inside the pink blanket.

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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