three minutes to three, december 6th

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The encroaching murmur of sleigh bells. The due date came and went as the ice fastened and snow drifted. On our trip to the bus stop for what was officially our last antenatal appointment, all that was missing was the donkey. Magi. Three wise men overtaking us by taxi. The wait was crippling. Or seemed so, as Scorpio fell under the centaur\’s arrow. And the great goat Pan up to his midriff in dirty slush; spotting by his elbow. Whittled by uncertainty, all semblance of resolution gone in a puff of smoke, I found myself slyly coveting a random assortment of 70cl bottles on supermarket shelves. Impervious to cajoling, not one absconded in my basket. Fairweather friends. Down to the grain. The scales stalled at tipping point. Worse, the scales sat empty. A pregnant pause. A timing of contractions. Well. Something had to give. The bump was having none of it, the hospital did not want to know. \”Keep an eye on those contractions, you\’ll know soon enough,\” the midwife on the line pronounced. She might easily have been an imposter. A mental patient stopping by the desk to pick up the phone. A falsetto brute with pharmaceutically doctored balls. Another Saturday came and went. Blanched under two feet of snow. And the madman downstairs, stamping his feet at one AM; belting out \”The Sash my Father Wore\”. I wanted to burst him good, the unenlightened orange balloon. I took to eavesdropping on Holy Warbles. I was too unnerved by then to even leave a comment. The Holly and the Ivy. Pascal Comelade is a Frenchman by birth. A Catalonian by calling. On Sunday afternoon, I was dipping into his Haikus. I pulled out \”Put a Straw Under Baby\” and cranked up the volume on the PC\’s wheezing internal speakers. So far as I was able. This apple is so elderly, it ought to have fermented into cider. Acid green and volatile. I have wanted to euthanize my disagreeable neighbour under King Tubby\’s dubby boom for some weeks now, but our living room echoes like the chilly wooden benches of a Siberian train station, and I have not had the heart to hard wire the woofers out of their box. The patience. We are in limbo. \”Oh, for fuck\’s sake,\” my wife cried out. \”My waters have broken! Get me up before I ruin the couch.\” On arrival at the hospital she was five centimetres dilated. By 8PM, she was fully dilated and the midwives were convinced she would breathe our baby out by suppertime. Debbie and Lauren. I warmed to them almost immediately. In my limited experience, midwives are a grounded lot. Where consultants – even nurses – routinely grate or inflame, midwives are the exception. Of course, we had time enough to establish a rapport. It was not an entirely easy birth, though. Let me attest to that. By 12:30 AM, as December 5th slipped into the 6th, it became alarmingly clear that my wife was not going to breathe our baby out without some kind of clinical intervention. I am ashamed to confess that after eight hours of attending her labour, I was beginning to tire. My wife kept pushing, and I kept pushing my wife.

Faintly tetchy. Craving the nicotine.

I wanted some of that diamorphine to myself. By 1:30 AM, the decision was made to move her into theatre. I made my way down through the warren of deserted corridors for a cigarette and a lungful of freezing air while she was prepped, then put on the mandatory ridiculous hat, overshoes and gown. The old hospital is an eerie place at the best of times. The Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The Maternity Unit is a recent addition, but late on Sunday night through Monday morning, most of its wings are locked off and only the most persistant of housebreakers can negotiate admission. Orderlies and porters are nowhere to be seen, if they retain earthly form at all. I have visited aged relatives on their deathbeds in there; deep in the bowels of the old building. I have had wounds treated in its accident and emergency unit. Like many people, I have an aversion to hospitals in general. I care for this one even less. It was a forceps delivery when it came right down to it. Our son was heaved into an alien world full of halogen lights, scrubs and strange voices at three minutes to three on Monday, the sixth of December. As cleanly as I could muster, I cut the umbilical cord and placed him on his mother\’s chest.

Skin to skin. He is a brave little thing, his cheeks a little marred from the steel of the instrument which was used to pry him from his mother\’s womb. I am told this will certainly fade. With time. His eyes were quick to seize on mine when I spoke to him and cradled him in my arms. The tiniest bit unfocused at first, awake and mildly curious. He has yet to grow into a name, my youngest son. Waiting on the whisper. PASCAL COMELADE: PUT A STRAW UNDER BABY from \”Haïkus de Piano\” LP & CD (Les Disques du Soleil et de L\’Acier / Eva Records) 1992 (France)


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