Midwife in the Tire Swing

Intermezzo 17—The Miraculous Child

“Are you alright?”

“Gas,” said Francyann. “From all the macaroni and cheese. I must have passed out. You’re young and strong; your colon can handle a Kraft dinner without batting an eyelid.”

Intestines with eyelids. How can I get out of this? “I’m all booked up for tonight,” Heidi said.

“I have it on the stove right now. It will stand around and get all congealed and I will throw it away. Don’t fret, young woman. I do it all the time. Makes room on the shelves.”

Who do I call? Is she alone? No one this nuts could live alone. “We should call home for you. They, he... will pick you up... Mr. Kennealy?”

“I don’t recall any Mr. Kennealy. I have listened to Lucy carry on about the family genealogy, but in all the begats there was no Kennealy I can recall.”

”What was his first name? It might refresh your memory.”

“Oh there was no first name. I hadn’t made one up before he died. In the Indian wars. Very romantic. My maiden name was Drye. Archimedes Drye, a bosom friend of our dear Lucy. I always liked that name; we never met—he was just a man in a Lucy story. I never knew my father, either.”

“Because you made him up too.”

“Oh no, he was real enough. The miraculous child carries his bloodline. Do you have a spirit-guide? Yes, you do. Of course, I can see its shadow. How strange, it is a chicken. The Child has put his mark on you. Have you seen him? I have. You mentioned chamomile tea. I should love some chamomile tea. Then we will have a nice chat.”

As Francyann made what might be interpreted as the smallest motion towards the door, Heidi scooped up her tote and hurried to guide her into the street. “Here, let me help you,” she said. Her hand firmly at Francyann’s elbow; she pressed the handbag/tote into Francyann’s free hand. The white, white hand was withered and spotted with loose, leathery skin, an old hand. A cold hand.

“Oh, I am not leaving dear girl, just testing my sea legs,” said Francyann. The tone was cheery but a pair of watery hazel eyes looked imploringly into Heidi’s. “Please, please let me stay. I won’t be any bother. My knees is all. They give out.” She smiled a grim determined smile, displaying loosely fitting dentures. The woman’s eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, the whites a foggy yellow.

Jaundice, thought Heidi. Or kidney failure. Jesus, I’m stuck with her. How could I throw her out like yesterday’s laundry? “Of course you can stay. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea. Cocoa? Instant coffee? A hotplate is all we have, I’m afraid.”

“A cup of tea would be nice. Chamomile with a dash of milk? Have you seen him? I have.”

Heidi headed toward the cupboard over the copying machine. Talking over her shoulder she was about to expound on the array of flavored instant coffees that lined the larder at the Incredible Farm Service Agency, but the question brought her up short. “Seen him...” She turned to catch Francyann thumbing through a stack of papers on her desk.

“My, what interesting work you must do here. Where am I again? Please?”

“You are at the Incred... uh, the University Extension. I am Heidi Nichols. Ed Hobart’s secretary? I’m the office manager. You asked if I ‘had seen him.’ Seen who?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know who, young lady. Oh, dear me—there I go again. What I meant to say is that I don’t know his name. But I know that he’s here. Oh yes, indeedy-do. He has come.”

Francyann held the back of a hand against her forehead and with a balletic grace that belied her creaky knees and deathly pallor slowly descended to the floor. Heidi knelt to take her pulse. Weak but regular. She brought a Dixie cup of water from the cooler and, slipping an arm under Francyann’s neck, raised her slightly. “Here, drink this. Just a sip.”

“Where am I?”

Jesus Christ, thought Heidi. Here we go again. “You are here.”

“So I am. How nice of you to come. You are going to marry my grandnephew. I remember. This is the University Extension and I must have fainted. Did I say anything... anything improper while I was unconscious? How long was I gone?”

“Just for a minute, a couple of seconds.”

“Not long enough for an out-of-body experience. I have so hoped for one of those. And you are already married, I recall. Well, we shall just have to kill your husband. That is all there is to it. Yes,” Francyann brightened and sat up. “We shall do away with him just like on TV.”

The woman was a nutcase. “Are you sure you are OK?”

“The doctor tells me these little spells would go away if I got more exercise. Wanted to put me on a diet. Can you imagine? I flatter myself I still have my girlish figure. Exercise. A lady does not exercise. A stroll perhaps, nothing morbidly athletic. Your young man—he has substance, then. You have the good looks to attract a substantial young man. Then there is the dowry, naturally—always the dowry. It’s their parents that put them up to it. Money talks and nobody walks... a used car salesman said that on the television this morning. Have you ever heard a nickel speak? Oh, dear I have made a joke. I do hope that you won’t hold it against me. Nickel... that is your name. A lady should maintain her poise. Levity puts an end to equanimity. Poise, not pretense is what I say.”

“Nichols... my married name. Not for long, I am getting a divorce.”

“The man beats you.”

“No. He refuses to have sex with me. Or he can’t. There is a medical condition... He’s in denial about it and has ignored me for ten years.” Heidi became irritated with herself, with this old woman and her endless questions. “His name. The child. You asked if I had seen a child.”

Francyann Kennealy raised herself on an elbow and looked earnestly at Heidi. “Children are such a blessing. Yes, of course you want to have children. You are not in a family way, are you? I have never approved of intimate connections before marriage. But these are new times, TV and all. I am sure it is all right if you and little Edward are performing the sexual act together. Is it nice; you are prepared. I was raised to be in fear of the wedding night. Even substantial men become animals, this is common knowledge. The Hobarts have always had an eye for the ladies I understand. I am a relative only by marriage. My late husband, Mr. Kennealy...” Thereupon she passed dead away and Heidi dialed 911 for the paramedics. It would be their second trip to Francyann’s assistance.

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