Nurse Curtain was new to the maternity ward of the hospital. The morning of Mrs. Drudgers labor, she had seen a mouse in the nurses room. Although plump and not usually very agile, Nurse Curtain, as soon as she saw the mouse, had hoisted her rump half onto the counter, half into the sink. She bumped her head on the cabinet, and then the second half of her rump tumbled into the sink with the first half. The mouse scurried on. The nurse began to titter, embarrassed. She uncorked her bottom from the sink and flopped back onto the linoleum.
She said to herself, "Tsk, tsk. Youre a woman of science. You should know better." Her white nurses uniform was damp in the rear now from the sink. A small knot was growing on the back of her head from the bump. She looked down at the long run in her thick white stockings, and she began to cry. She didnt feel much like a nurse, or at least not a very good one. She thought of her mother, whod encouraged her to stay at home and settle down. "You dont have much going for you, Mary, but youre a good cook," her mother had said. "A man can appreciate a good cook."
Had the elder Mrs. Curtain been more supportive, had she encouraged her daughters medical dreams, would the rest of this story have happened? Like most things that go a bit awry in the world, we could blame much of the following mayhem on a mother. But, in all fairness, couldnt the janitor have done more to keep mice out of the hospital? Wasnt he feeling especially lazy and porkish that summer, doing almost nothing about the rodent population? And, honestly, as far as my research goes, his mother had been encouraging of his desire to sing opera, despite his lack of talent. But maybe she shouldnt have supported him; he sang so badly. So maybe this whole story is partly his mothers fault, too. Its impossible to say. In any case, we could go on blaming people and their mothers all day. We cant start second-guessing it all now. Its too complicated, and we have to get back to Fern, as this is about her and not about the janitors mother.
And so, once upon a time . . . (And I do know that you usually say this in the first line. I have written before, stories and such! Do I have to remind you of the literary genius with whom Ive studied? And I know, too, that "once upon a time" is usually reserved for fairy tales, but I like the phrase and youll just have to take my word that this is not a fairy taledespite the fact that a fairy or two might show up. I cant say that one wont. I refuse to make promises like that! This is a story, not a contract that Ive got to sign! But the undeniable truth is that this is a true story! Honest! And my prestigious writing teacher once said that true stories nearly write themselves, so you can pretend Im not even here writing this, because I may not be!)
AND SO, ONCE UPON A TIME, two women gave birth in the same room. And a flustered nurse with a run in her stocking and a wet bottom and the nagging feeling she wasnt really very good at this nursing business confused the two babies. A boy and a girl, no less.
After the doctor had said, "Its a boy! Its a girl!" Nurse Curtain found herself a little breathless from zipping around the room. She was holding one hefty baby under one arm and another under the other. She cleaned them up and got them dressed and then swapped themplopping one girl baby belonging to the Bone family into the hospital crib clearly marked DRUDGER and one boy baby Drudger into a hospital crib clearly marked BONE. It was a moment of panic. Regrettable. She had no idea shed even done it.
The only two who could have recalled for us which baby went to which mother were the mothers themselves. And neither of them would ever know. One was unconscious: Mrs. Drudger had opted for anesthesia.
From The Anybodies by N.E. Bode. Copyright © 2004 by Julianna Baggott. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of HarperCollins Publishers
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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