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. Philomena is a peeper-in at keyholes, a listener at half-open doors—never wanted, but always there, and generally ignored. She seeks solace in the lives of others and is regarded as a sneak. 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.”

“Yes.”

“La Guardia is in Queens; the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel goes to Manhattan, bad planning all around. I was in New York. After the war. I fathered a child there.” The anesthesiologist was not interested, 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.”

“Thanks, Lucy.”

“Oh and Andy...”

“Yes?”

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.”

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