Excerpt from “The Joys of Birth”

The doorman raised an eyebrow as he opened the door for her. She knew his name was Martin, he saw her every time she came to the to babysit. He was a round man, big cheeks and squinty eyes that all but disappeared when he smiled. His collar, buttoned to the top squeezed his neck causing a layer of pizza dough skin spill over. He wore a pin on his the lapel of his uniform, gold-outlined Italy that was filled in with the color of the flag.

“A little early for a visit, eh?” Weak smile. The back of her teeth still tasted of sleep.

“Where are you going to?”

“21 C.”

“Ah, Stephanie, yes. Has she popped yet?” He let out a chuckle as a pudgy finger hit the buttons on the phone. She wondered if he was the type of man who could never use a touch screen, his quarter sized finger tips too large for a single icon.

“They didn’t answer, but go ahead. I trust you.” A wink, or perhaps a twitch. It was lost somewhere in the folds of his face.

Amy had received an email at 5 am, her phone alarm buzzing incessantly. The subject had read We Need You This Morning! It was from Stephanie, the mother for whom she had starting babysitting for a few months before, when Stephanie’s pregnancy had pained her so much as to force her to stay in bed. The email asked her to come at 7 that morning, saying they would double her rate and it would not be for very long, it had promised. It will hopefully be a very happy day for us all. Perhaps she would get to see a the new baby come home from the hospital.

She didn’t want to go, not at all, but the promise of quick cash made her push off the covers while it was still dark outside and cursing at the cold and the broken radiator, get ready to head to Stephanie’s large apartment on the Upper East Side from her. She could make up for the what she didn’t remember spending the night before, and maybe get to raid the fridge.

She counted the seconds as she rode from the lobby to the 21st floor. Thirty-six. Each floor silently passed. She thought about all the sleeping people she was so close to but would never meet, never know. At about the 11th floor she decided she didn’t really care.

The doors gave their annoyingly pleasant chime as they opened. As she stepped in the hallway she was hit with an odor so strong and sour she felt her tongue tingling. She coughed and pinched her nostrils. Something had surely died somewhere close by, perhaps a very long time ago. Rotten but sharp, she took to a light jog down the long hallway to 21C.

Nearing the door she stopped short. Coming from underneath the frame of the door, leaking onto the hallway carpet was a dark blue liquid, not much unlike the laundry detergent she used. She bent lower to examine it and as she did her eyes began to water by the growing strength of the stench. She backed herself against the wall as the to avoid the putrid puddle.

She was just about to turn around and leave, tell the chubby front door man to call 911, and then wait to read about the dead family in the Post the next morning.

But then from inside she thought she heard a woman screech, a banshee cry. Someone was being murdered.

“She’s here! Noah please stop with that screaming, think of your son.”

The door opened and out popped a frizzy frame of dark black curls around bloodshot eyes. Amy had never seen her before, though she looked like an older version of Stephanie, the mother of the house. The screaming from inside grew louder, and was joined by the sound of a something falling hard on a lacquered floor.

“You must be Amy, please come in. I’m so happy you got my email request in time. Hi I’m Stephanie’s sister Hannah.” She extended a rubber-gloved hand. “Oh, goodness it got out into the hallway. Noah, will you stop screaming and please come help clean this up?”

Amy walked into the middle of it. But she was not sure what it was. There in front of her was a large inflatable tub, not unlike the kiddie-pools that use to decorate the summer lawns of her hometown. Bright purple, about five feet high. And it was moving. Rocking and shaking back and forth, emitting a deep guttural grunting. There were tables set up on either side with candles lit. Hanna closed and locked the door and turned to Amy with wide eyes, a serial-killer smile pasted on her face.

“Pardon the smell, dear, you’ll soon get use to it. It means the baby’s almost here, should be any moment now! Please put your stuff down, maybe somewhere high, just in case.”

Noah, the father, was pacing in the kitchen, his hands moving from his head to his hips. He peered into the tub every few moments, at which time he would let out another high pitch squeal and turn away. He was naked except for a pair of plaid boxers, dress socks, the ones with his initials on them. Amy had seen his collection when she did their laundry and knew it to be colorfully extensive.

“Noah, please, you need to set a good example for David. He doesn’t know what is happening!”

There was another woman sitting in the living room, the biggest room in the three bedroom apartment. She was an older woman, wearing the same plastic apron and rubber gloves as Hanna, and she did not stir nor acknowledge Amy when she walked into the room. She was rapidly flipping through large binder.

“Where has David gone? Marcy-Ann have you checked if he’s come down? And the window best be locked. Amy’s here. Marcy-Ann do you hear? What are you doing now?”

“It-it says nothing in here about blue or this smell or anything. I never seen this before, either, Lord have mercy.” She blessed herself, and the frizzy haired woman huffed and rolled her eyes.

“You’ll have to excuse Marcy-Ann, this is her first of this sort of home-birth. She normally assists with more common deliveries, but she’s all we could get to come at this hour. And you! Thank you for showing up, we need an extra set of hands.” She pulled out another pair of gloves from her apron and gave them to Amy.

“You mean the baby is coming, now?”

“Oh yes dear quite soon! The leakage is almost complete. We had to drain the tub once already and someone”, blinking twice towards Marcy-Ann, “was unable to properly connect the hose. Please watch your step, it can be difficult to get off.”

Amy walked towards the purple tub, and peering inside saw what was making Noah scream like a pinched school-girl. At the bottom, in a pool of dark blue, lay Stephanie.  Her legs were raised and bent open, out pressing against the sides of the tub.  She could see tufts of pubic hair poking through to the surface of the blue liquid, clumps of black lilipads in the sludge. Her arms were spread to either side of her chest as her hands held onto the handles positioned on the side of the tub and their were straps securing down her wrists. Her eyes were closed and she was biting down on the rag tied around her mouth.

Amy couldn’t help staring at her breasts. She normally found breasts, her own and those of other women she saw, quick glances at women in the locker room or curious peeks at undressing friends, intriguing and attractive due to each pair’s unique shape. There were times, when she had wanted to badly to accidentally bump up against a woman’s bare chest, accidentally cupping and squeezing, softer than her own. Breasts made her giggle and blush.

But these breasts, these fat things that sagged heavy to either sides of her body, nipples adorned with crowns of black hair, these breasts she found to be the opposite. In fact she knew at that moment the romanticism of womanhood had been flipped over and pissed on.

Stephanie opened her eyes to see Amy staring into the inflatable birth pit and let out an indiscernible cry. She was sweating and breathing fast.

“First things first, Amy, we don’t want David getting into the tub with his father for the birth, do you think you might tend to him, keep him still and get him to come down?”

But, where is he?” She led her from the living room into the media room. David’s books and toys and remnants of snack time were strewn about, but he was no where to be seen.

Hanna pointed to the window. Sitting atop of the window frame, feet resting on the curtain rod, was little David. David was three years old and deemed a “special baby” by his parents. He refused to speak to anyone upon first meeting, and for the second year of his life refused all food except m&ms and salmon. He was known to break out into random fits of crying, vomiting, and interpretive body movement. One thing Amy had learned from her few months as his babysitter was that he loved music, particularly that which he could sing. He had become particularly fond of the Little Orphan Annie soundtrack and it had helped her pull him out of countless fits. But she had never, however, seen him on the ceiling.

“What, what, what is he doing up there? How did he get up there? David, are you okay? Why the hell is he on the ceiling!”



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