The calm, pretty midwife wanted the absolute best for my baby and me. I could tell by the way she said, “I’ll be back in an hour to give you the first pessary”.
I was aware that I had been nodding and grinning at her too excitedly as she spoke but I had just finished a box of Black Magic chocolates which Loran had given me for my hospital bag and I was ready for anything. The other mothers-to-be on the ward were nervous, weary or in pain so I was consciously trying to tone it down a bit because my mood seemed so hopelessly out of synch with theirs. But I couldn’t resist taking out a small Babygro and stroking it. There will be a baby inside that by tomorrow.
The heartbeat couldn’t be found. The normal precursor, a musical introduction of rushing blood, was absent too. “There’s something wrong with the Doppler,” I thought, refusing to acknowledge the concerned expressions and solemn hush in the room. But the look registered on Loran’s face could not be ignored.
When Michael was born he had to be untangled, set free. His cord encircled his belly and coiled fully several times around his neck. It was as if he had been attacked and squeezed lifeless by the tentacle of a giant squid. In fact, his umbilical oxygen supply had been cut off as he dropped to be born. But I wasn’t listening to explanations at the time. I was cradling my perfect baby, who was still warm from being inside me, and contemplating why the awesome power of birth had cast out this tiny, suffocated corpse instead of the wailing, pink newborn of my imagination.
As the heat dissipated from Michael’s body into mine, I began to disappear, my molecules mingling with the surroundings. Lorcan’s expression changed from pity to fear as he shouted something at the midwives.
I was bleeding out a crimson river over a tundra of starched hospital sheets. Before long, I found myself swimming underwater, Michael in my arms, admiring green swathes of seaweed and darting fish. I tried so hard to hold him but he wriggled free and swam away into the watery darkness.
“The Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways,” I whispered at the kitchen window overlooking my David Austin Tranquillity rose bush, as I sometimes did when I thought of Michael.
Geraldine looked at me wide-eyed, clearly surprised that the subject of the Holy Spirit had made a reappearance in our conversation.
“I don’t know Mammy,” she said in a casual tone, as if controversial theological discussions were a common occurrence between us, “that belief has been used to cover up a multitude of sins for the Church. I’m not sure it should be employed in this instance to excuse the mysterious predilections of priests.”
She looked cautiously towards me, blushing right up to her hair line, but when she turned back to read the paper, a smile flickered on the corners of her mouth.
That’s it. She doesn’t deserve this lovely dinner, I’m going to throw it all in the bin!
After I placed the mashed potatoes and the steak steeped in oniony gravy in separate casserole dishes and covered them with foil to keep warm in the oven, I told Geraldine that I was off to work in the spare room.
I’ll say the Mysteries and start an Our Lady of Hope Novena for her tonight. I was sure I could convince her to continue with Medicine. History? What kind of future does that hold? Teaching? Untold years slaving for some bossy headmistress? I sat in an armchair running my eyes back and forth over the knitting machine’s needle bed for a long time. When I came to myself, I saw that I was wringing my hands.
I picked up the body of a baby cardigan and started to sew on a sleeve when I heard the familiar dripping noise, subtle but present. Predictably last night, Lorcan had said he couldn’t hear it, presumably just to annoy me.
In an effort to screen out the sound, I slipped wantonly into my customary knitting daydreams; Geraldine is a cardiologist renowned for her surgical ability; now she is a paediatrician reassuring a despairing couple that their beautiful boy is in safe hands; finally an oncologist speaking to the World Health Organisation about new, cutting edge therapies. Her confidence and poise astounds onlookers. Her hair is shiny and groomed.
As I finished the last stitch on the armhole, I had the despairing thought, “none of those dreams will come true now,” and the words spiked with every irritating drip sound from above. The infuriating pitter-patter was increasing in volume the more determined I was not to listen and it wasn’t confined to one location above the ceiling but moved around and overlapped like light rain fall. I jumped up and wandered around the room following the sounds.
Resolving to find the cause, I stormed into the kitchen and grabbed a torch from the drawer. Geraldine looked up from the paper and gave me a bored look. She was massaging the back of her head again.
I pulled apart the step ladder in the hall, wobbled up the steps slowly and lifted the attic hatch door. My head and shoulders were now above the entrance as I cast the torch light around.
In the corner of the roof space, seemingly floating just below the eave, was a huge, white oval-shaped object, as softly contoured as a Georgian wig. Imposing and stately.
A wasp’s nest.
I had a sudden recollection of my father tackling one on the farm by dousing it with petrol and setting it alight with a blowtorch, it didn’t seem to bother the wasps but he badly singed his eyebrows. It is was very funny, right enough. A little shudder of muted giggles washed over me. I tightened my grip on the horizontal door frame to anchor myself, my heart was fluttering like insect wings.
As I continued the investigation I noticed that the wasps in flight appeared to be astonishingly stupid and uncoordinated. They were banging off the roof and wall, emitting little tapping noises with every collision. That explains the dripping sound. Why are they incapable of flying in an efficient, straight line? I singled one out to track it with the torch light. It was facing the nest whilst flying in a series of ever-increasing arcs away from it. The movement looked like a hypnotic act of worship, every conceivable angle of the nest was being lovingly memorised as if the insect had just witnessed a miracle inside. “The wasps are trying to tell me something,” I thought, swiftly followed by, “I’m losing it. Mary, mother of God preserve me.”
Fiona’s short stories and poetry have been published in The Irish Literary Review, Spontaneity Magazine, Into The Void, Dodging The Rain and Skylight47 amongst others. She grew up in Ireland but has lived most of her life in England and Australia. She currently lives near a volcano in New Zealand. Follow her on Twitter @Fionaperry17.