Midwife in the Tire Swing
Chapter 30—A Near-birth Experience
The hues of youth upon a
brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
—John Burgon, Petra
Faith Philomena Hobart hopes to be inconspicuous, “I never meant to be a bother...” She is in the way; a downstairs maid never called―never wanted, but always there. Philomena is a peeper-in at keyholes, a listener at half-open doors. She seeks solace in the lives of others and is regarded as a sneak. She is a close-talker, that is to say close physically―she speaks softly and is generally ignored. Philomena carries a dwindled regret for the death of her husband, that if she had only been leaning out a second story window when Elliot passed by on his way to the ground, they might have exchanged some final farewell.
“Elliot has been dead fifty years, Cat. Fifty fucking years. And she’s still here.” Philomena is still here in the Hobart house because she makes people feel guilty.
“That sort of language makes you so common, Lucy,” says Cat.
“And now Sarah Drye.” Lucy checks for a reaction, rolling his eyes hard right rather than turning his head.
“She is your daughter.”
“You’re not supposed to know that.”
Lucy gets a new knee to escape Philomena. “They were pounding the damned thing on like a piece of plumbing,” Lucy will say to Sarah. “It woke me up, pulled me right out of the spinal block. There was an anesthesiologist standing by. I made a joke. And another joke; we shared a laugh. I must have been telling the same joke over and over; he adjusted the flow of Demerol in the IV tube and slapped the mask on to shut me up. Had a windy, high plains accent. From Texas. I asked where he received his training. Texas A&M, an agricultural college. A large animal veterinarian was helping to saw off my leg; I drew some comfort from this—I might yet run in a stakes race.”
The anesthesiologist wrapped a rubber tube around Lucy’s arm. “Let’s see. Hmm, small veins. We’ll have to poke around.” Lucy made a fist and squeezed his fingers into his palm. “You can relax; let the tourniquet do its work.” The man looked on from an elevation—lifts, Cuban heels?—out of the way but near enough to cause trouble should trouble be required, the surgeon’s sidekick, upside down and behind, reassuring.
“What’s your name? I like to know who’s digging around inside me. I was a navigator. Those two comments are unrelated. Ever see Moonstruck?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Cher and Danny Aiello, the boyfriend, are headed to the airport, La Guardia. They take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.”
“La Guardia is in Queens; the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel goes to Manhattan. I was in New York. After the war. I fathered a child there.” The anesthesiologist was not interested, probably used to the ramblings of geriatric patients as they browsed his grab-bag of sedations together. “Here, lemme give you some profile on that.” Lucy guardedly pulled at a hair on his arm. Skin rose, a follicle dimpled and the anesthesiologist’s needle was thrust in at a 65 degree angle. Andy nodded and grunted, “Got it, vein wall.”
“Happyland?” Lucy asked.
“There’s no problem that can’t be fixed with a good solution,” the anesthesiologist joked.
“What’re you giving me?”
“A spinal block. You will be awake but detached, sort of in a parallel universe. The IV we just installed will deliver tranquillizers to keep you fat and happy during the procedure. Or at the least not raise a ruckus while we’re sawing your leg off.”
Fat and happy—Lucy liked the man. “Believe me; amputation would be preferable to the pain. What’s your name again?”
“I didn’t tell you. You read my name tag. I was busy going for a hit on a vein. Amberson Nichols, call me Andy. You?”
“Lucy. Lucy Hobart—short for Lucian, Andy.”
“Nice meeting you, Lucy. If you see me again it will mean something went wrong and we had to revive you to save your life. Hardly ever happens.” Andy inserted a syringe into the IV port and smiled. “Dream time. Have a nice vacation; go someplace tropical. You’re ninety-two—you’ve earned it.”
Lucy felt his feet warm, then numb. His eyes became thick and opaque, like the windshield of the old Chevy 6 in the fog, where Cat and he had exultant sex as the gods looked on. This was joy. The periphery of his being misted with a rush of fluid euphoria. “If I see God, I’ll put in a word for you.”
“Oh and Andy...”
“Moonstruck? They cut that scene from the DVD release. You can see it on the tapes. My wife told me this. My wife watches a lot of television.”
“Nighty-night, Lucy.” Andy’s voice came from a roseate dawn far through the billows of gathering rapture at a far off horizon.
“Ninety-nine,” said Lucy as he counted backward from one hundred. “A rose-red city half as old as time...” Lucy mumbled as he drifted off. “Match me such a marvel...”
“Demerol will do it,” said Amberson Nichols, anesthetist. “Let me know what the gods are saying.”
Honk, honk. Two beeps from down by the road—Roberta Stubbins, the postal route driver. Then two more quickly, followed by a longer blast. A package that wouldn’t fit inside the mailbox and she refused to hoof it up the hill past the Lucy scarecrow, the maple trees, the brush-hogged canes and the apple orchard. Sarah Drye had mail and Roberta was impatient. With a new woman in the house would come the expected onslaught of junk mail—catalogs and past-due bills, the baggage that followed people from habitation to habitation, followed them in life and continued long past their deaths, all on the bent backs of letter carriers. That she loved to aggravate Lucy was a tradition hallowed by repetition; they had played this game together for thirty years or more. By the time Lucy would have gathered up his walker and his pants and got both arms in the sleeves of his jacket and started down the path to the road, Roberta could be seen departing in a yellow-white cloud of lime dust. There was no dust today. The rain had been falling since before dawn.
“I separated the rhubarb yesterday,” Lucy said. He looked toward the near side of the cane-and-orchard devastation. A row of what appeared to be freshly-dug graves lay neatly mulched. “Hope it doesn’t drown.”
“I didn’t realize that rhubarb could drown.”
“Neither did I,” said Lucy. “It does?” The wolf smile.
“We are standing in the rain.” They did not move but stood watching Roberta’s sports utility vehicle fishtail and slide away on a fluid potter’s slip of lime-streaked clay. “God bless America,” Sarah said.
God Bless America. Two stick-on vinyl ribbons in the Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Old Oak Tree style straddled a chrome license plate holder—Dutton and Dutton Bangor, the Ford dealership. Support Our Troops the ribbons said. “You gotta turn yourself upside down to read the damn things,” said Lucy. “The Army and Navy forever... three cheers for the red white and blue.”
“What?” Sarah pulled her head further inside the hood of her borrowed yellow rain slicker.
“Patriotic song once. You could whistle it through your teeth, wonderments and portents of awe. All unbelieving, I rained fire from the sky on the innocent and the guilty alike; they never knew what hit them or so we told ourselves. Meanwhile, our near and dear saved string at home. String and tinfoil. What are these folk doing for their troops?” Lucy made a sweeping gesture that reached to the horizon line. He bent to pick up the package Roberta had laid on the ground. It was soaked through. As he straightened, pulling himself up hand over hand on the walker’s fire engine red frame, he disengaged the lock on the brake lever. The walker started to roll away on its eight-inch ball-bearing wheels. “Get that, would you.”
Lucian Hobart, age ninety-two, began to cough. Sarah looked encouraged and chased after the walker as Lucy fished some loose aspirin and a bottle of nitroglycerin pills from his pocket. He swallowed the nitro and the aspirin dry. Across the road a freshet that was called a brook on the topographical maps gushed with brown sediment to the salt meadows that extended three miles through rain-tattered fog to the sea.
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