“Please, come quickly,” the man whispered. “There’s something wrong.”
“I’m going to need you to give me more information, so I know who to send. What specifically is happening?”
“When I woke up this morning, she wasn’t in bed. I thought she was probably out on the porch, drinking her tea. But she wasn’t there either. I called through the house, but there was no answer.”
“Is she just gone?” asked the voice on the phone.
“No, I found her… but it’s not her.”
“What do you mean it’s not her? Where was she?”
The man’s voice became softer, “I found her, hidden in the corner of the closet.”
There was silence for a moment on the other end. The man waited.
Finally, the voice returned.
“I’m sending out the midwives. Before they arrive, I need you to pull all the curtains so that the house is dark. No TV, no music, no light, until they arrive and they will advise. I can stay on the phone with you until they arrive, if you want.”
“No, she hasn’t moved from the spot. I just don’t,… I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Perhaps, while you wait, you could talk to her?” asked the voice.
“I tried, but she growled at me.”
Again the voice was silent. Finally, it said, “The midwives will be there soon.”
The man went to the closet door and cracked it open. It was a large closet, a walk-in, with clothes hanging on three of the four walls. Above the clothes were shelves stacked with boxes, all labeled for different seasons and sizes. The lights were out and the man could just make out her shape, crouched in the corner. Her breathing was heavy and he could see the roundness of her pregnant belly.
“Honey?” he asked quietly.
Her breathing became a bit more labored, but she did not respond.
He started to take a step in when a low growl rumbled from her.
He froze and then stepped back to the door.
“The midwives are coming, they’ll be here soon.”
Her breathing paused and a low growl started again, deep from inside the woman.
“nnnnNNNOOOO, not here.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do,” he whispered.
She moved forward a bit so that the ambient light from the open door caught her features. Her hair was tangled and warlike about her face. Her face was tight and when she looked up at him, he caught a feral gleam in her eyes.
“On.” Breath. “My.” Breath. “Own.” Breath, … Breath. “Out.”
The man stepped quietly out.
The man sat on the quiet blue sofa. The curtains had been drawn and only a low lamp glowed in the corner. Every once in a while he heard a groan coming from the back part of the house. It frightened him, the rawness of it. He wanted to be with her, but she scared him more than the sounds did. The way she had growled at him. It made him feel cold and fragile.
He heard the sounds of wheels in front of the house and peeked out. A white van with the logo on the side, three orange circles stacked inside each other; the child, the mother, and the Community. The midwives, three of them, stepped from the van in their crisp white uniforms. He could see the three orange circles on their shoulders.
He opened the door before they could knock, ushering them into the quiet of their small home.
“Where is she?” asked the oldest, a woman deeply lined with white hair that braided and twisted about her head.
He led her to the closet, but he refused to go in.
“She’s there, back in the farthest corner.”
The old woman slowly opened the door and saw the woman’s form, now on all fours, stretching her back up and around in circles.
“Aeron, I’m here to help,” said the old woman.
The woman on her hands and knees ignored her until the oldest took a single step into the closet.
The pregnant woman screamed in indignation, guttural and wild.
The midwife stumbled back against the closet door and then out. The man stood just beyond the door, his face pale and worried.
“Let’s go to the other room,” the old woman whispered. Her hands trembled.
The two younger midwives were in the kitchen. The youngest looked barely out of her teen years with her clear freckled skin and red braids arranged in a crown about her head. The other was older, her skin and hair dark, also braided in the style of the midwives.
They had water boiling on the stove, pulled glass bottles filled with teas and honey, and lined them up on the counter. There were tubes and vials, lubricants, and syringes; oxygen sat in the corner.
“What’s all this for?” asked the man.
“Just precaution,” said the youngest.
“But she’s supposed to have a C-section. Tomorrow. You don’t think…”
“That she’s in labor?” asked the dark-haired woman. “Possibly, although statistics would say no. Women haven’t gone into labor on their own for hundreds of years.”
“In all my years, I have seen only three,” said the oldest. “And only one of the mothers lived.”
“And the children?” asked the man.
“The children all survived,” said the old woman. “Raised in the Community, as we all were.”
Suddenly the red-haired girl gave out a squawk, dropping a glass bottle full of amber liquid. It shattered on the tile floor.
“Vesta! You must be more careful!” admonished the old one. But the girl stood frozen, looking into the corner of the kitchen.
“What is it then?” asked the dark-haired woman.
“I thought… something moved… it looked like a…”
At that moment, a cry of agony rose through the house, filling every corner with its anguished sobs.
The old woman turned and ran to the back of the house, to the closet. The man was close behind. When they arrived at the closet, tearing the door open, they were met by the woman, squatting in the center of the closet, bearing down.
In front of her, a white rat, staring at the door. It was the size of a small cat, its teeth bared at the intruders.
“Shoo! Get out of here beast” cried the old woman, waving her hands.
The rat, however, had no intention of moving. It stood its ground. Behind the rat was the woman, wailing in the agony of transition, her powerful legs keeping her in the squat position, her hands reaching between her legs.
“You have to help her!” cried the man, and tried to step past the old woman. He immediately stepped back as another great rat emerged from the darkness; its eyes glimmering as it paced in front of the woman.
“I don’t understand,” said a shaking voice behind them. The dark-haired woman watched over their shoulders as yet another white rat came around from behind the birthing woman. In the dark of the clothes of the closet, tiny eyes began to open and reflect back.
More rats moved into the closet, circling the woman like impenetrable walls of a castle.
The woman howled again as she bore down, the head of the infant moving into her hands.
“You are almost there,” whispered the old woman.
With a final cry, the baby slipped into its mother’s hands and she raised it up to her chest, pressing it against her naked breast, the umbilical cord still tying them together. Cries of exhaustion echoed through the room, and turned to tears as the mother looked upon her child.
“No one will take you from me,” she said to her infant as the midwives stood at the door in silence. She pushed back into the corner of the closet, into a nest of clothes she had made.
The rats continued to pace between her and the others. She held the baby in her arms. Her child. She rocked it back and forth, all the while keeping the midwives in her stare. The rats twisted around her ankles, and she reached out to pet them with delicacy and love.
“We’ll need to take you to the hospital, to be sure you and the child are all right,” said the old woman.
“When did women first lie to each other,” the woman growled low in her chest. “When did we lose our honesty? You will take her from me. She will be raised by the Community and I will never know my daughter.”
“This is not a democracy, child,” said the dark-haired woman. “You have birthed in the old ways and you need to be checked.”
“You will not take me like a criminal and the child is mine.”
“Stop this nonsense!” came a high voice from behind them all, surprising them. Vesta with her red braids spoke brazenly. “All children belong to the Community and you are being selfish and cruel!”
At this, the woman, now a mother, once again began to growl. In response, the rats began to growl with her. They stopped pacing and turned to face the small crowd at the door.
“Keep your comment to yourself, Vesta,” said the old woman, but it was too late. The rats dove at them, moving much faster than anyone thought possible.
The old woman helped the mother and the child to the van with the three orange circles. She didn’t know why the rats had chosen to spare her, but they had. The creatures road with them, nesting in a pile of clothes thrown into the back. The child was secured in a basket and the mother went to sleep.
“I wish you could tell me where you want to go,” said the old woman. A rat, this one a bit round, climbed onto her shoulder and curled into her neck.
“Hello my friend,” she said. “Will you guide me?”
The rat let out a squeak.
She started the engine and began to drive.
“I’ve heard, long ago, when I was a child, about the wild lands far beyond the Community. Do you think they are real?”
Again the rat squeaked and she felt its whiskers tickle her cheek.
“Well then, we should start driving, before they know we are gone.”
8. A wild animal loose in the house
Include: pregnant, community, logo, statistics, democracy, honesty, criminal, ankle, orange, comment
Many years ago, when my daughter was still little, I had a terrible dream. I dreamt that I was in my grandmother’s home and I was pregnant with my daughter. I was all alone and in labor. I went through the full labor, birthing my daughter, and feeling so full of love for her. As I held her in my arms and brought her to my breast, she turned into a rat and ran away.
I was terrified.
Not that she became a rat, but because I had lost her and I had no idea on how to find her again. Beyond that, I was terrified that someone would set out rat poison or traps and my sweet baby would be killed; confused with the other rodents in the walls.
Upon waking, I felt horrible that my brain had turned my child into a rat. I was embarrassed to even say it, it was too terrible. The reality of my dream was less about her being a rodent, and more about my fear of losing this child who was so precious to me; of her leaving in a way that was completely out of my control and that she was now in danger. It was a dream of anxiety and fear and confusion.
But, still, the idea that I had turned her into a rat bothered me. Rats are often considered dirty. They are the plague bringers. However, in many cultures, rats are also creatures of intuition. They are brilliantly smart, and wild, and are known to warn sailors of a sinking ship. They can be considered the spirits of our ancestors, wise judgment, and total destruction.
For clarification, I have absolutely nothing against midwives. I believe they are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met; they provide a service that is so vital to women at one of the hardest moments in their lives. It is a true calling.
One of the greatest honors of my life was attending the home birth of my friend. I did not know that people birthed at home when I had my daughter (you can read her birth story part 1 and part 2 here), but planned to birth our second child at home. Our second baby, a boy, didn’t make it to his birth. The day that I knew his heart had stopped beating was the day my friend’s child was born. Watching her son be born into this world, in the quiet of their home, with the midwives looking on, took a huge step in healing my own loss.
I wanted to use the term “midwife” here, in this story, despite the idea that the women here don’t have natural births anymore. What is a midwife to do in this world? I saw her as one who helped a woman in “The Community”, most likely in preparing a woman before induction and after. Probably caring for the newborns before they are taken to be cared for in a communal setting; one who would care for the mother after their children are taken from them.
If you liked this story, I hope you will share it with someone who will appreciate it. If you are curious about my other stories, you can sign up for my newsletter here. I sent out one email a week with links to any new posts. Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me to the end.
My 52 Weeks
Next Week’s Prompt
9. A midlife career change
Include: chef, upgrade, monkey, turkey, fashion, team, harden, noon, elevator, baste