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'R' Like Me

by

Megan Roberts

 

 
     
   

 

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THE BABY IS TURNING BLUE AS SKY WHEN I CATCH A LOOK AT HER. The doctor and nurse are running around the room with those white sneakers making noise against a black and white squared floor.  The nurse is big and that doctor keeps jumping around her body like a quarterback.  Mama doesn’t see me peeking with one eye into the slit of the door. Her hair is wet and stuck down like after she gets out of the shower, usually she doesn’t go anywhere without her bangs puffy as cotton candy. Her mouth is an O.
            The doctor smacks my baby sister on the behind and the only sound is the beeping of machines. Baby’s face is smushed together. I wait for her to cry. Her ears are small as my thumb. The doctor holds her out, far away from his chest. The hospital smells like the diner after Mama cleans it good, grease and lemon mixed together. Mama said this was a podunk hospital, but we didn’t have time to drive to Greenville. Her contradictions were eight minutes apart. She-She gave birth to Mama at home, said a doctor wasn’t nothing but a cheerleader in a bad outfit. Now, that big nurse shakes her head at the doctor. Her chin jiggles while she shakes her head so hard and fast. This hospital doesn’t have the lights on bright enough.
            Last night Mama showed me how to hold a baby, and then she let me play “Wild Thing” over and over again on the stereo. She played checkers with me. I was red. She did a double jump at the beginning, but then I came back for the win. Mama played with the board up on her belly. It felt like we were playing on top of the Ms. Elmore’s round globe. She said the baby could hear us. That my baby sister was learning to play. I went ahead and let our baby know she wouldn’t be playing with red, but she could play. I might start her out on tic–tac–toe.
            After the game Mama let me put my ear against her belly, but I didn’t lean all the way down on her hard. I pictured baby floating in water. Mama’s belly sounded like the inside of a conch shell. When She-She’s sister died, my great-aunt, we went to the beach to scatter her ashes. I found a conch shell whole, and Mama acted like I’d found gold, but She-She didn’t notice. She-She was the saddest I’ve ever seen her, she just kept digging holes in the sand with her feet. She-She walks with a limp and she swayed like a seesaw that day, digging up sand with her heels. I’d fill them up behind her. She knew I was doing it, but didn’t say a word. She-She’s just like that.
            She’s kinds of like Lawrence in my class who is quiet and never gets a check by his name. I get a check everyday. Lawrence doesn’t get checks, so he can always go to recess, but sometimes he stays inside with me. Keeps me company, but not by talking. Lawrence is one of my best friends for that. I guess She-She just knows more than me and those things make her sad. Baby must be lonely. Mama said I will still be the man of the house, since it’s a girl. I’m glad our baby will be a girl.
            The doctor puts baby on a metal table. It looks cold, but it will wake her up.  It doesn’t. I wonder if I should run and get She-She. Tell her we need one of those blankets that heat up on the inside. The kind that might cause fires. If we wrap that around baby maybe it would work. The doctor’s got on blue pajamas. He sticks something into baby’s mouth and swirls it around like he’s trying find something. The stick is covered in slime. I can’t see baby’s face from here. She is silent, the machines keep beeping and beeping. I feel like yelling, like Mama does to me, to shut that ruckus up. The doctor goes to the nurse and for the first time baby is all alone. She’s laying there like a dog on the side of the highway, when I always beg Mama to pull over. She’s laying all alone like the last one to be picked on the playground. The nurse rolls the cart closer and I can see her face—the grey of thunderstorm days. But maybe baby was in the middle of a good dream before Mama went and decided to bring her out. Maybe that’s what being born is like, waking up from a dream.
            I rode the bus to school today, but She-She was waiting outside of Ms. Elmore’s classroom when I got there.  She said my mama was ready. I couldn’t believe it, after all this waiting; I started to believe Mama was just going to stay like that. I was thankful though ‘cause today was the letter Q in cursive. I can’t do it. When I walked over the cracks in the sidewalk I went tip toe and counted each one, until She-She told me to come on. If you step on a crack you break your mother’s back. I know it’s not true, but I can’t do different.
            Out in the car Mama was looking like a pumpkin ready to pop. Patti was there too. I’m supposed to call her Aunt Patti, but I never do. Patti isn’t real family like She-She. Everybody says I’ve got my Mama’s mouth and She-She’s nose. I don’t know where the rest comes from. Maybe baby will have mine and She-She’s circle nose. Mama said she hopes we skip the mouth part. Patti was in the backseat rubbing Mama’s shoulders in the front. I spend Saturdays at Patti and Ned’s house because Mama has to work a double at the diner. In the car Mama tried to act natural, but she’s scared out of her wits. Her forehead was sweating like She-She’s does when she starts shagging to an oldie. When I crawled into the backseat behind She-She I saw Mama’s thighs are red and shaking. Mama said the time has come, thank the lord.
            Patti is still holding Mama’s hand. They are both gripping tight.  It’s not over yet. Their fingertips are red and I can see where Mama has crushed Patti’s big ring into her skin. Patti keeps saying, “Just give her some time. Just give her a minute.” I believe her. Baby just needs to wake up. The doctor’s foot is smack in the middle of where two squares meet-- a line under his heel. The nurse is looking at some papers. Those papers have the answer. The nurse points to something and the doctor nods his head like Mama does to me when I know she is not really listening. The doctor doesn’t look at Mama or baby. He bites on the end of his pen. I wish he’d just touch her. Shake her.
            She-She wouldn’t go with Mama into the room this time. She said seeing me born made it a one time thing. When I was born it was Mama and She-She in the room. Mama says I came out hollering and haven’t stopped yet. I bet my doctor wore a white coat. She-She said she was done raising children, but she’d put a roof over our heads. And she has. She takes me to church, so Mama can find a piece of the mind. I don’t much care for church, but She-She is a good singer, and will tap my knee along with her favorite hymns. She makes pancakes on Sundays too, if I am good and quiet at church.  I’m not allowed to call her grandma, so I guess I always just said she. She-She makes a perfect Mickey Mouse pancake.
            Mama says I was the best mistake she ever made. One time Mama locked the keys in the car with me in it. She-She came and got us. Mama cried. I got Italian ice at the mall. She promised it would never happen again and it hasn’t. It was kind of worth it for the Italian ice. Mama says to savor things. When I was born it was just Mama and She-She, no other kids for me to play with. At school all the kids are better at four-square and dodge ball. I got whacked in the nose so hard that now they all throw soft at me, calling me little loblolly. I will play tic–tac–toe with our baby. I’ll even let her win sometimes. I’d teach her how to play checkers real young and take her to those tournaments. She could be better than me. I’d take turns being red. Our baby is going to be named Rebecca. An R, like me, but a girl name. I picked it out of a pink book. I thought I’d call her Becca. Only I’ll call her by that name, Becca.
            The nurse starts to push the table baby’s lying on. This is the first time Mama moves. She sits up and jerks her hand away from Patti. She is taking baby away. The nurse goes to Mama. All I hear is, “complications.” She’s taking baby away. Mama grabs the nurse’s wrists. Should I go get She-She? The nurse tries to get loose. I want Mama to hurt her. That nurse has left baby all alone. Mama’s got a hold of her good. Baby can’t be alone.
            I sneak in like an Indian would. Mama keeps going, Why?  Why? Why? I step center on in each square. White. Black. White. Black. Four more squares. The lines are real skinny and easy to miss. White. There are lines within the square, squiggly lines.  Black. Baby is still. Her legs are shriveled like after too long in the bathtub. White. I rub my hands together real fast like how we made a fire in Boy Scouts. I get my hands hot. Black. I can see her face. She looks like Mama, but grey with wrinkles like She-She. I rub my hands. I put my hands on her chest. I can cover all of her. This is good. I rub my hands. I touch her chest. She is cold. I grab her arms and they feel like twigs. Mama keeps screaming Why?  Why? Why? I shake baby. I put one foot up on the bottom shelf of the cart. I climb. I know I might fall, but right now I feel like an Indian, like the ones we talk about in school who didn’t even crunch leaves in the woods. I pick baby up and she can’t weigh more than my Christmas stocking. I walk to Mama and look at the nurse like I’ll bite her if she tries anything. The fat nurse runs off to be a tattletale, I’m sure, but that’s okay ‘cause this gives us time.
            I sit baby in Mama’s arms, and even though she’s cold and still Mama hums her a song. I look down and my feet have been all over the cracks. Mama hums baby a song that I’ve never heard, and then they take her away. She’s gone to heaven Mama says. Patti is gone and it’s just me and Mama again.
            I crawl up and lay in the bed with her. She looks too tired and sad for me to get in her lap. I tell her Rebecca was just the perfect name. She kisses my head. She whispers Rebecca, and holds me tighter. Rebecca, I say back.  The machines are off. It feels like bedtime at our house. When I’m sleepy and Mama says I’m fighting it. Then we’re quiet for a long time.  She-She comes in, dragging her feet. She sits down beside the bed and puts her little arms around both Mama and me. They smell like sweat and laundry. She-She has on her prayer face, and             I close my eyes.
            I listen to She-She cry and Mama cry, but baby must feel like me, because heaven must be this-- warm and safe and soft between your Mama and She-She holding you.

 

     

Megan Roberts

Megan Roberts

Megan Roberts is in her last few weeks of pursuing a Masters in English from East Carolina University. She calls North Carolina her home and her stories are usually inspired by the people and places of its coastal region. She spends her time writing, reading, and working with first-year composition students.Megan’s stories have shown up in The News & Observer, Encore, 971menu.com, and she has a poem forthcoming from Anabiosis Press. Her short story “Corners” won an honorable mention in the Brenda L. Smart fiction contest for North Carolina writers. She plans to attend NC State University’s MFA program in the fall to pursue fiction writing further.

 

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