The Upstairs Nursery

by Terrie Leigh Relf

"Congratulations! A son!" The doctors and nurses cry in unison. Through her exultant tears, Selene says, "Oh, he has the most beautiful little rosebud mouth."

When she brings Gabriel home from the hospital, Selene gives thanks that she has finally given birth to a healthy baby, whose eyes sparkle with a hint of sea-green in their new-born blue. Sometimes he suckles lazily while studying his mother’s face, smiling crookedly, his little tongue curled around her nipple. Around one of his black curls, Selene winds a finger, twirling, then releasing it. She doesn’t believe that life could get any better. She is completely content.

Once while she is rocking him in the upstairs nursery, Selene falls asleep and into a dream where a doctor holds a fig gently against his palm. He reaches for a scalpel, slices the fig deftly in two. Seeds spill forth, which Selene frantically tries to rescue before they touch the ground. But the seeds flow past her outstretched hands, a few sticking to her finger tips as they spill, wriggling away from her, burrowing themselves into the earth's damp womb.

* * *

"Just tissue," the doctor says, "not a viable fetus."

Selene is silent, wondering why he didn't stop this miscarriage. She was certain that he could have.

"Try again in a few months," Dr. Kaiser says.

Try again. Try again. Try again. Selene had grown weary of those words. She was afraid to hope, afraid to believe, that next time it would be okay.

* * *

"Is that what you really want, Selene, to forget?"

Dr. Alexander, her new therapist, leans forward too far in his chair, then restores his balance before falling.

"What do you feel?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? You must feel something—surely!" He takes off his glasses, wipes the lenses on a piece of tissue, first clock-wise, then counter-clockwise. Lifting them towards the light, he squints, examining the lenses for smudges, specks of dust, or oil from his unusually moist palm. Satisfied, he replaces them slowly over his eyes.

"My husband has filed for divorce. I want to forget him—forget everything."

"Don't you think we should talk about this? It might make you feel better—help you in your new life."

Selene answers him with silence. I am beyond pain, she thinks. The worst has already happened. I have lost another child. Another baby whose soft breath I will never feel against my breast. Another baby whose little fists and arms will never beat the air while learning how to fly.

Selene looks down and touches her empty womb, massaging it gently, remembering when it was full.

Arielle, my little bird, who flies from one end of my womb's sky to the other, reveling in the sensation of the wind through your hair, spread out like wings behind you. Arielle, who flew too close to the sun, which exploded, melting you into darkness, into death.

And sweet little Gabriel who so loved the ocean's waves. And—the others, what were their names?

* * *

"The pains have started. Can you page my husband—I mean Dr. Kaiser—no, it's too soon! I'm eight months. Only eight months! No! It's not Braxton-Hicks contractions—it's the real thing! Please—Page—Dr. Kaiser!"

"Take a nice hot bubble bath. Relax!" the nurse calmly replies with her best hospital-smile-tone-of-voice. "Relax. Stress is not good for you—and especially not for the baby. Take a bath, Mrs. Kaiser. A nice, hot bubble bath."

Selene hangs up the phone, wondering whether she should call 911 or listen to the nurse's advice. She closes her eyes, trying to rest before the next contraction, imagining that she is sitting by a pond, listening to rain as it falls, striking an occasional leaf which has fallen from the overhanging branches.

The pains subside, but Selene aches all over from the contractions. She pours her favorite scent into the bath; bubbles begin to rise and froth over the tub's edge. Perhaps the nurse is right, it feels wondrous, her body weightless despite its pregnant bulk, her belly rising from the milky foam, a barren island.

* * *

Selene walks through a long hallway and into a room in the hospital's back wing. The glass doors part, and she enters another room so vast that its domed ceiling pierces through the clouds. In the center of the room, draped in white, is a table upon which lies a newborn baby. Gently lifting the child, she sighs.

* * *

Selene closes her eyes, savoring the sweet exotic steam, trailing her hands back-and-forth in the water, the fins of a graceful fish.

* * *

Another glass door parts, and Selene sees a woman lying on a couch watching the morning news. A man lies on the bed, his chin resting in his hands, trying to keep his eyes open after a sleepless night. An older woman leans against the wall, staring into space, a steaming cup of herbal tea cradled in her hands.

"Is this your baby?" Selene asks. No one answers.

The woman sits up abruptly, groaning, grabbing handfuls of her robe, then doubles over with an agonizing moan, sweat pouring down her face. The man climbs across the bed to her side.

"Is this your baby?" Selene asks again. Still no response.

No one notices as Selene leaves the hospital, dressed in a gown and robe, her wild red hair trailing behind her. The faint amber light of early morning dawn under the weight of a storm's dull grey. When the first drops of rain begin to fall, Selene holds the baby closer, covering him with her robe, savoring the softness of his breath against her neck for a moment before stepping cautiously into the rain.

The infant stirs in his sleep, nuzzling closer with a growing awareness of the storm that threatens his dreams. One eye and then the other opens, curiously examining Selene, wondering if he has at last been born.

* * *

At first, Selene doesn't notice when the water begins to turn pink, then red, or when clots resembling jellyfish rise to float along the water's surface.

* * *

Submerged voices. Hands pulling, tugging her. She is the stream. It flows through her and she tries to stop it, squeezing her thighs together to redirect its course.

Selene flows down corridors and into a room with bright lights.

"I think she's lost a lot of blood. What's her type? Hook up an IV. Someone call Dr. Kaiser—hurry!"

Antiseptic odors. A pain in her wrist. A chill wind. Brighter lights.

* * *

Selene holds little Arielle during the ambulance ride. She is so tiny, so fragile, a sweet little bird fallen from the nest. Red curls and eyelashes, soft pink nails with little moons which reach just beyond her finger tips, and mauve petals curling into lips.

* * *

A stethoscope's reflective surface created a glare, distorting the face that leans over Selene's chest, then her abdomen.

"Selene, we're going to have to pour water into your bladder for a sonogram. We need to have a look, OK?"

Selene nodded, knowing that "no" was out of the question, as the physician slid a tube into her, then poured water through this tube from a jug. Cold water spilled over her. Strange sensations assaulted her as the water filled her bladder to bursting. A nurse dabbed at the spilled water with a towel while a technician lathered her belly with slimy green gel, then rolled a cold metal device over her distended abdomen.

* * *

Selene tries to move her arms, to reach out to hold her newborn baby, but the surgical staff has bound her firmly to the table. She tries to speak, but she cannot find her voice, cannot even breathe within this alien atmosphere.

A nurse notices her gasping for air, like some sea creature caught in a fisherman's net, and from somewhere in the violet fog a hand descends towards Selene, bearing an oxygen mask and a tank of air so she will not drown.

She gulps the air, then takes several long, heaving breaths.

"Selene, can you hear me? Selene, try to watch this light."

* * *

Now the moon is full and luminous, her light cascading through the window, forming a pool at Selene's feet. Little Arielle arches her back, then reaches out a small hand to grasp a ray as it passes through her flesh. Startled, she whimpers, then closes her eyes, which flutter for a moment before settling into sleep, crescent moons forming upon her face.

* * *

The emergency room staff can't get the baby away from Selene, so they sedate her, then leave the room while the medication takes effect. She sleeps for hours, and when she wakes, her son is gone.

"Nurse! Nurse! I want my baby back!"

The young nurse walks briskly back into the room, and without uttering a single word, injects another dose of the sedative into Selene's IV.

* * *

"Why are you crying?" Dr. Alexander asks, not unkindly, while contorting himself into a relaxed position.

"I don't know," Selene responds, wadding, then unwadding the kleenex in her hands.

The answer appears inside her forehead, but she wipes it off. First, as a whisper, then, as a shout, Selene hears, then speaks.

“I cry for my dead children. I cry for all my dead children!” then scrunches down into the chair, covering her ears against their futile cries.

"How many were there?" he asks, clicking his ballpoint pen in and out while wondering why he ever agreed to see this woman. “Not my specialty, just not my specialty,” he repeats to calm himself.

"I don't know. I just don't know. There were so many—are so many dead—and my husband—"

"What about your husband?" the therapist asks, finally remembering that he was seeing Selene as a favor to this man.

"My husband wants a divorce. He can't take it any more."

"Can't take what?"

"The dead—"

"Children?"

"Yes."

"Does he blame you, Selene, or do you blame yourself?"

* * *

Dr. Kaiser enters the room. Selene looks at her husband, then turns away. She doesn't need to ask the question. She already knows the answer. Their baby is dead.

"Selene—I—never mind," and leaves the room.

* * *

Selene hears her babies crying in the upstairs nursery. Slowly ascending the softly carpeted stairs, she savors the thought of reaching into the crib and lifting the twins, Serena and Lilia.

Waves of moonlight flow into the nursery. Serena snuggles against her mother while Lilia puckers her mouth, searching for food, which she suckles greedily for a few minutes, then releases her grip with a sigh, a thin rivulet of milk flowing from the corner of her mouth.

Gabriel is sitting in his crib watching them through the wooded slats, grinning. Arielle is asleep in the corner crib, her little bottom sticking up in the air.

* * *

"Stop your blubbering," the duty nurse frowns. "It's just post-partum depression. You'll get over it in a few days."

Selene turns towards the nurse, glaring at her for a moment. The nurse crosses her arms against her chest and glares back.

"But my baby is dead," Selene whispers as she turns away and pulls the covers over her head.

* * *

Blood covers the beige linoleum emergency room floor. Selene has been waiting for what seems like hours, blood dripping steadily from her womb.

The odd thing is that no one notices. Not really. Every few minutes, when she grabs the chair for support against the pains, the couple sitting across from her looks away rather than meeting her eyes. When the next contraction ends, Selene notices that the woman who sits next to her with a toddler in her lap, clutches her child tightly whenever Selene's breathing becomes labored. When the woman finally looks down and sees the pool of blood on the floor, she crosses herself, then shielding the child's eyes with a hand, rushes to the other side of the room.

* * *

The wind begins to blow and Gabriel laughs, his dimpled cheeks and black curly hair flowing backward with the wind. He sticks his tongue out, feeling the wind, tasting the ocean's salty spray. He pats the wet sand, poking his little fingers into it, staring intently as the holes refill with water.

Selene smiles, watching as Gabriel totters to the water's edge, greeting a wave rising in the distance.

* * *

"Selene Kaiser! Selene Kaiser!' An energetic nurse calls, shaking Selene's arm. "Why didn't you tell us you were here? Come this way. Your husband will be horrified that you're out here in this condition. Come on, there's a girl. You can stand up, can't you? Oh heavens! You're bleeding! Orderly—get that gurney over here, now!"

Selene is floating down a stream, watching the patterns of light through the overhanging branches, reaching out her hands to grasp at the brightly-colored leaves.

* * *

Selene and her children are having an early picnic at the beach. The girls have fallen asleep under a blanket, soothed by the rising and falling of the tides, the call of seagulls, and stomachs filled with warm milk and fruit. Gabriel tries to bury his mother in the sand with the aid of a small red shovel. The noon light catches, then throws its brilliance from one faceted grain of sand to another. Bored with shoveling sand, Gabriel runs to the water's edge, foam rising up to his ankles. He dances, splashing water, laughing as it tickles the soles of his feet while the water rushes and the wet sand shifts beneath him.

* * *

"Stop this nonsense!" Dr. Kaiser replies in response to her tears. "Women lose babies all the time. You're certainly not the first," and then injects Selene with another sedative, his eyes measuring the fluid as it enters her arm.

Still groggy from her last injection, Selene watches as a group of men form a circle around a bonfire. The moon is full, casting her light on the usurpers who wear wombs, dried like figs, hanging from umbilical cords around their necks. The men prostrate, basking naked in the moonlight, inhaling her cool brilliance, praying for her luminous powers.

* * *

"A tubal," Dr. Kaiser informs his wife.

"Another tubal," Selene whispers, not wanting to believe that her baby still lives but will be severed from life by its own father.

"You're lucky you got here when you did. She looks ready to blow!"

"Ready to blow," Selene repeats to herself, like a whale whose immense body lumbers too close to shore.

* * *

When Selene wakes up in recovery, she hears chanting. A group of men are swaying rhythmically, intoxicated by the presence of the being who descends from the sky. The Goddess raises her hands upwards, anger distorting her visage. They bow low, begging her forgiveness, hope and fear intermingled within their eyes. She allows one man to touch the hem of her gown, and then another to cleanse her feet with his tears. Then, the Goddess's laughter reverberates throughout the room, as one-by-one, she calls them to her with the promise of a kiss, igniting their flesh, burning them slowly to death.

* * *

Dr. GQ walks into the examining room wearing a raw, russet-silk suit. A colleague of her husband, Dr. GQ animatedly discusses the apparatus which he is going to insert into her body in technical terms, and then shifts to an adolescent fervor.

"I love doing these," he says while Selene shifts uncomfortably on the examination table. "It's like playing video games!"

Without argument, Selene signs away her rights, giving Dr. GQ permission to fill her body with so-called harmless gasses, then to wage war with real or imagined enemies in the battleground of her femaleness.

"It's all in your mind," Dr. GQ informs her after the surgery.

"But—"

"But nothing! I tell you—it's all in your mind. There's nothing wrong with you physically. Nothing at all. There's no reason why you shouldn't be getting pregnant."

"But it's not normal to keep losing babies, to—"

"Now, Selene, you remember what I told you. I have the number of a great psychiatrist—"

When Selene begins to protest, he interrupts her and says, "Call him! Doctor's orders!"

* * *

"My doctors say that there's nothing wrong with me." Selene looks away from Gloria's intense, but compassionate eyes, weary of retelling her story to yet another shrink.

"But what do you think, Mrs. Kaiser?"

"Call me Selene—please!"

"All right, Selene. What do you think?"

"It's dead in here—" Selene places her hand over her heart, "and in here," resting her hand on her lower abdomen. "It's as if—"

"As if what?"

"As if—no—that's ridiculous—never mind."

"Selene, your thoughts, your feelings, are not ridiculous. You have to stop putting yourself down—OK?"

"It's just that, I don't—this is so frustrating!"

"Take your time."

Selene moistens her lips with her tongue, then shifts her gaze away from the woman sitting opposite her, smiles, and asks, "Is it possible not to feel anything?"

The psychiatrist pauses, studies Selene for a moment, then hesitates before reluctantly nodding. "Yes."

A multi-genre, multi-venue writer, Terrie Relf's short stories, articles, and poetry have appeared in both online and print media.  Highlights include:  The Espresso, ComputorEdge, The La Jolla Light, Vision Magazine, Nightingale, Buddha's Temple, About.com, ZRomance.com, sandiegoromance.com, Star Leaper, The Martian Wave, Fifth Dimension, The World Haiku Review, and Sol Magazine. Upcoming publications include Personal Journaling Magazine. She is also a member of Promart Labs' Creator's Club.

(c) Terrie Leigh Relf


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