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Drama Fiction

My swollen cheeks carry my smile like a sack of fifty-pound potatoes dropping it with relief the second the door latch clicks into place behind him. After three failed cycles of IVF, a pregnancy complicated with placenta previa, and a cesarean delivery in which I was told I was “lucky it went as well as it did.” I knew my grin shouldn’t be such a load. Inside of the body that I no longer recognize as my own there are two places where I am happy; my head, the place that I logically know that this baby is everything I want, and deep inside of my heart. In there, joy still thumps steadily, but out here years of worry, exhaustion, and guilt are muting it to a point that it is no longer audible. My hooded hazel eyes glance upwards at the two-handed clock hanging on the wall above the window that is a looking glass over the hospital atrium. Another three hours has passed like three minutes and it is time to pump my breasts again. I wrap the black strapless spandex tube that is reminiscent of a top that I would have worn in college with cut-off denim shorts around my chest and place a plastic cone through each one of its holes. Thin tubing connects each of the cones to a screaming-yellow electric suction pump whose color is shouting at me, reminding me to plug myself into the wall. Once my enlarged nipples are secure, I sit back into the crook of my hospital bed and stare back at the clock, counting each of the twenty minutes. At the eight-minute mark I start hearing murmurs outside of the door. Brandon hasn’t been gone long enough to make it down the street to Zen Sushi and back so it must be one of the nurses coming in to pull back my sheets like it is a game show so she can look between my legs and assess the bleeding behind curtain number one. The murmurs louden into clear discussion. 

“Dr. Villorreal, since you are here, can I help you with anything?” a peppy, male voice eagerly asks.

“No thank you, Will. I will just be a moment,” she responds while pushing the handle on my door and entering without knocking. “I see you are pumping again? Have you met with the lactation consultant?” she asks me in lieu of a formal greeting. 

“I have, but you know it is harder because she is in the NICU,” I answer.

Placenta previa, a condition where my placenta covered my cervix, led to bed rest during the pregnancy, multiple hospitalizations and culminated in a very bloody, abrupt delivery at thirty-two weeks gestation. Overall, the baby was doing well, just needing a “little assistance” from the specialists with breathing and eating, but every time I walk over to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where she is being housed I am met with the reality that my body failed, once again.

“Yes, but soon she will be able to swallow well and you want to keep practicing her latch. The more you practice the more familiar she will become with your breast,” she reiterates in a commanding tone. Standing at five- foot ten inches without heels she towers over me walking past my bed to the hospital computer situated on top of a bookshelf-like wooden tower. Her laser eyes focus on the screen and her long, thin fingers punch the keys with the precision of performing laparoscopy. Two loud thumps interrupt the staccato of her typing. “Yes?” she asks, raising her eyebrows over the rim of her tortoise glasses signaling that she doesn’t welcome the interruption.

“Sorry doctor, I was just coming in to do another set of vitals.” Will, a Filipino man in his forties with saucer-like eyes and an even rounder face, apologetically states. Will strolls over to my left side, lifts my arm like a lifeless appendage and velcroes the thick cloth around my bicep. They converse about my diagnosis, my vitals, and my blood count as the wrap clamps down on my arm, squeezing tighter and tighter. I close my eyes and stare into the blackness, distancing myself from the moment. Their voices seem to move further and further away, fading completely as I gaze into the dark. An image begins to appear behind my eyelids. It is my puffy purple headband, the one I wore every day when I was six-years old.  It is resting atop my innocent head, pushing back waves of fine brown hair matted in places that are hard to see. The tips curl, kissing my naïve shoulders that are covered in a mature, cardinal-red gown. My hairless, crossed legs peek out from underneath. My imagination fills in the space surrounding the vision of my younger self. I am sitting on the bottom step of our old staircase facing the door to the garage; my tangerine lace-less sneakers tapping in anticipation.

The blood pressure cuff pulsates on my arm searching for signs of life as I begin to recount the events leading up to this indelible scene that lives in my mind’s eye.

On most afternoons during my childhood my father picked me up from school. Inquisitive and insightful, he would ask me questions prodding me to further explain my complex relationship with Amber, the class favorite, or why I didn’t want to do the forward roll during gym class. As I grew older, I began to appreciate that as a Professor of Sociology with tenure at the nearby university he lived a life in pursuit of truth. Love stemmed from him theorizing and searching for answers in every corner. His curiosity without judgement made me feel interesting and I would delight in sharing my day with him.  The flip side of his investigative nature is that he would sometimes fixate in his quest for understanding. In those moments that sometimes stretched into weeks he would become isolated in observation, lost in contemplation, and on a day like the day I am remembering; without her, I too would be alone. Earlier that morning, I had perfected my version of Wheels on the Bus deepening my voice like my grandfather’s when I impersonated the driver commanding, “Move on back!” and I was yearning to perform it for one of my parents. During the ride home from school I stared out the window whispering the lyrics, awaiting an invitation, as my father silently drove us home. On arrival he retreated to his office and I patiently lingered, hoping to share my rendition with my second parent. I tapped my fingers on the hardwood step, singing the tune over and over, my empty stomach rumbling as accompaniment to the chorus. I was not sure if my mom was coming home at all. Some nights she didn’t, and often when she did come home I was already asleep, but I didn’t want to miss her this evening. I bent down and removed my beloved sneakers that had tightened around my toes. “Round and round, round and round,” I repeated slower and slower until the words trailed into a low hum. I curled my knees under my dress stretching the edges of the fabric into a cocoon. I shifted my body to the side, desperately resting on the step like I was a wounded soldier and it was my twin cot. Still humming I lulled myself into sleep never to sing my song again.

A shouting voice zooms into my orbit abruptly summoning me back to the adult version of myself. “Kellie, you must walk around the room, you do not want to get a blood clot in your legs. Are you even listening to me?”  inflecting her voice with question, but shaking her head in disapproval.  

I open my eyes, fully returning to the present, “Yes, mother. I am listening.”

“I am not your doctor, I came by because I am worried about you. Plus, I am the Chair of the Department. How would it look if you had a complication?” she rhetorically asks, pulling out a ringing miniature phone resembling a child’s toy that she uses for in-hospital communication. Before I can answer her fake question, she adds, “Anyways, I have to go. Hopefully this visit was helpful.”

“Well you know what they say, It’s the thought that counts.” I reply as she lifts her phone to her ear and begins speaking medical jargon to someone I assume to be another physician.

Will, frozen, stares at me as she forcefully moves past him as though he were an actual statue.

The awkwardness brings my awareness back to my breasts, the pump is finished suctioning. Carefully not to spill any of the milk, I finagle each cone out of the holes of the black brazier. I twist off the tops and pour the volume of one into the other like a mad scientist calibrating liquid nitrogen. Desire to feed my daughter fills my chest compressing my heart, pumping oxygen throughout my limbs. I announce to Will that I am leaving the room without assistance, reach for my iPhone buried within my stale bed sheets and text Brandon, ‘Going to the NICU, see you when you are back.’

Barefoot and in my black maternity gown that Brandon had brought from home for me that morning, I steadily put one foot in front of the other, balancing my cup of breast milk. I move down a narrow corridor passing people as though they are extra characters in a video game and I am on my way to the next level. Invigoration lifts my head and my eyes fixate on the locked electronic doors that my baby lies beyond. Reaching the security speaker, I push its button and hold up my right wrist elevating my hospital band to the camera lens. “Hello, last name is Kensington, my baby, Emily, is in bed five.” The automatic doors open like a drawbridge leading me into a castle. I move through them with confidence and over to the hand wash station, scrubbing meticulously to prepare for my visitation with my daughter.

A white hospital towel with blue and red stripes covers the top of the acrylic box that Emily is within, shielding her from the overhead fluorescent lights. Her eyes closed she rests with oxygen tubing in her nostrils. A Newborn size white button-down T-shirt swallows her body hiding the IV in her arm. Emily’s nurse of the day, Fati, a middle-aged Persian woman with raven eyes and hair stands on the other side of her incubator. “Hello mom, can I take the milk from you?” she questions, raising only her left, pristinely-arched eyebrow in a way that would be considered flirtatious if we were meeting in a bar.

I hand her my flask of hard-earned liquid gold and take a seat in the designated chair at Emily’s bedside, even though I am too enlivened to rest. My husband’s voice calls my name and I swiftly turn back to see Brandon delivering the same wide smile from when he left, but now it doesn’t seem like an obligation to return. The corners of my mouth turn upwards to greet him pulling invisible strings that are attached to my lungs; inflating them as I inhale relief. He has returned to my side, the place that he has steadily been throughout the pregnancy, the place that he always is.

“The sushi is back in the room.” He dutifully notifies me.

“Thank you, but I want to stay here.”

 Brandon pulls a turquoise artificial-leather chair with wooden details beside me. He reaches out his left hand towards me, palm facing upwards, offering his mercy like a statue of the Virgin Mary. I place my hand in his and wrap my fingers around the edges to create a seal. Together we sit in silence for our daughter.

Noticing that we are watching our fragile child with trepidation, Fati explains, “Mom and dad, you can talk with her. Even sing if you would like. The babies like that.” I turn towards Brandon and nod, acknowledging that I will be the one to complete this task. He nods back as I scoot towards the end of my chair and lean my chest over indenting my abdomen at the place of my healing incision. I unhook the latch on the incubator’s circular door and reach in. Emily’s pale arm covered in tiny purple patches from IV sticks, symbiotically moves towards my hand. Skin as soft as marshmallows tickles under the roughness of my lived-in finger pads. Like I am a link in an unbreakable metal chain I stroke her gently with my left hand, still holding Brandon’s strongly with my right. My fingers begin to rhythmically move back and forth in a wave-like motion and I begin to sing along, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…”

April 13, 2023 21:40

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6 comments

12:16 Apr 24, 2023

Wow nice story

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Mary Bendickson
14:49 Apr 19, 2023

You are gifted in painting real life situations in explicit details. Along with all the emotions involved. Nice way to come around and round, round and round:) Yes, please shorten some of the paragraphs. I diagnose another winner here.

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Pari Ghodsi
18:14 Apr 19, 2023

Diagnose ;) Thank you so much for the kind comment. I am new to writing fiction and reading a comment like yours saying I am 'gifted' is so meaningful and encouraging. Yes! I will improve the paragraph length in the future. :)

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Mary Bendickson
18:21 Apr 19, 2023

Oh, your writing is top-notch all the way. I make the mistake of too long of paragraphs all the time. Someone pointed that out so I am trying to do better. I wrote an entire manuscript last year so now need to revise it some. First part of first chapter is my entry for #194. (Also tend to make chapters too long:)

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Rebecca Miles
07:40 Apr 16, 2023

From the title to to the close, a thoughtful tale. Forward motion is often propelled by something in the past, here the desire not to repeat a lasting childhood experience, although not a traumatic one. The desire to be an engaged parent, in demanding circumstances, crafts a complex character; even more so with the flashback and of course that gives chance for the poignant final scene. The medical terminology gives a sense of how much that jargon can weigh in on a person when they're forced to live it. Anyone living with conditions or who h...

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Pari Ghodsi
18:13 Apr 19, 2023

Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback. I am glad that I was able to deliver the character's desire to not repeat the past in a meaningful way. Thank you for the feedback on the paragraph length! I will improve that moving forward.

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