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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  • First Published:
    Mar 2002, 352 pages
    Mar 2003, 352 pages

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Clare shakes her head. "No. I can hear her. She's fine. Give her to me.”

No one moves. The child is held away from them. Elijah adds his voice, it is firm.

"Give us the child, doctor. She's ours.”

The doctor stands his ground in silence, staring into Clare's eyes. He shifts his gaze to Elijah, then nods. The doctor says to them, "Prepare yourselves.”

The nurse presents the wrapped infant to Clare's eager hands. With no hesitation, Clare lifts the blanket from her daughter's head. She hears the doctor say, "I'm sorry.”

Above the baby's brows, there is nothing. The cap of her head, the bowl of skull where the brain should be, is not there. Instead the skull is flat, covered in warm, pink skin; the child is horribly incomplete. The wall inside Clare cannot take this, not this, she draws a breath as if bashed; Elijah's grip has moved to her shoulder, his hand tightens there. She cannot let out her breath. She closes her eyes; the child in her arms feels so right, so perfect, it is the right weight and it is breathing and needing her. Clare's breast aches with the desire to give to it. Inside her, under this assault, the worst of her life, somehow the wall holds. Clare releases a cry. She opens her eyes and knows she loves this child, just as she loves the pain which brought her daughter into the world, pain which did not stop and will not stop now that she is here. It is the softness of the top of her child's head, smooth and flat to Clare's lips, which breaks her heart and cements the wall forever. Clare sees that her daughter's hair, when dry, will be white and wispy as corn silk.

Elijah's hand comes to the baby's cheek. Clare hears him whisper, "Oh my Jesus." The baby gurgles, seeking the tip of Elijah's finger with her lips. Clare laughs with a gasp. Her tears splash over the baby's face.

The nurse says, "She'll feed. Go ahead, she'll suckle.”

Clare looks to the doctor for confirmation. He gives it with a strained, tight mouth. Clare turns a smile up to Elijah. He nods to her. She sees him swallow. He stands so straight, she thinks, the glint of tears in his eyes. Turning her gown down, she gives the baby her nipple.

One nurse shuts off the hot lamps beside the bed, leaving only the soft glow of dimmed ceiling lights. The child sucks. There is no milk yet, not for another day or two. Elijah laughs quickly, almost a weep, and Clare's sense of loss flies up into him, like birds to his branches. He will hold the grief, she thinks. I must hold our child.

The doctor, standing back, speaks.

"It's called anencephaly. It's a failure of the neural tube to close soon after conception. The brain, it . . . never develops beyond the stem. Your baby can suckle, swallow, respond to stimuli, but that's going to be all. Don't misinterpret those reactions. You should know . . .”

Elijah leaves Clare's side for the first time in thirteen hours.

"Doctor, can we go in the hall?”

Outside the delivery room, away from Clare, Elijah asks him to continue the explanation. The doctor speaks carefully, reaching to take Elijah's arm while he speaks.

Anencephaly, Dr. James explains, is the most common major central-nervous-system malformation in the United States, striking one in every twelve hundred births. Anencephalic babies, if born alive at all, do not survive.

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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