Margaret the Magnificent

MARGARET IS NESTLED BESIDE HER HUSBAND, her exhausted mind whirling with images. She envisions her huge-bellied body mounted, like a golden figurehead, on an ancient galleon. She is Margaret the Magnificent, skimming across the metallic lake – hair biting her neck, sails snapping against the mast.

Wallop. The heavy mast smashes her stomach, hurling her backwards into blackness. Falling, falling into the void, slammed like a doomed fish, on the bottom of the boat. Clutching her tender belly, Margaret suffers the sky’s dissolve into a pastel white; the room appears.

Early morning. The sound of her cry, her pain, fades to the other world. Here the virgin light lies gently across the covers. Safe in bed, her husband Peter snores comfortably beside her. Her huge belly swells the covers like a monster emerging from the deep.

Margaret sits up, awake now, slips from bed, pulls a worn grey cardigan around her shoulders, and lumbers to the door. Was it her imagination, or has it started?

Her sleep-puffy face stares at her from the bathroom mirror, the short blond curls tousled from the restless night, the fragile pink nightie stretched across her bloated belly. Is the being hidden inside her ready to emerge at last? What if, as the doctor warned, she is too old and something goes wrong? She wills to hold the golden morning, to hold time.

Movement, again. For the last few weeks the baby had been contorting inside her, restless to get free. Her daughter stared in wonder at her shaking shirt, put her hand on the swollen belly, and jumped when a foot moved. “It kicked,” the child cried in amazement. The mother attempted to explain; although she understood the theory, she too was skeptical.

Settled on the toilet, the woman glances over a tattered magazine her eyes resting on an illustration of éclairs that, even in the early morning, look appealing. Should she clip the recipe? She’d probably never make it, but clipping it showed resolve.

As she stands, the peculiar spasm crosses her stomach again, building to a crescendo. This might be it. Or perhaps not; perhaps it is only another false alarm. She leans on the counter, closes her eyes, and breathes, and then slowly struggles down the stairs grumbling at the cobwebs in the corners. Everything has gotten out of hand recently. Not enough energy in the old body; she feels lethargic, spent.

The sun across the kitchen floor revives her spirit as do the breakfast bowls and cereal boxes set out neatly on the tables. She settles into a wooden chair and basks in the morning peace. Not long now, not long until the quiet will be cut by impatient cries of baby demanding to be nursed and later, the laughter of baby’s discoveries. It is difficult to remember the time before Sarah, to think that the independent three- year-old was once inside her. In her wisdom, her daughter does not acknowledge a time before her birth.

Opening the refrigerator, Margaret smiles at the clutter of art taped to the door: brave suns, rainbows, round faces like the cavemen drew all those years ago while the cavewomen lay waiting to split open and divulge the ripe fruit.

A knife pierces her stomach; her shoulders sink forward. This is it. Another wave of pain, slowly growing, no mistaking it now, no other pain like it. Taking over. Relax, she cautions herself, leaning forward against the cold metallic door. A colored paper floats to the ground.

Hearing movement behind her, she turns and greets the young man—the babysitter in waiting—hesitating at the door, “I was just leaving. Shall I stay?”

“This may be it. Can you wait and see?”

“Sure, no hurry,” munching honey soaked bread. “Have you seen my sneakers?”

“They may be in the living room.”

She pours herself a generous glass of orange juice; the tangy flavor cools her throat. Another spasm swells her belly, moving across her body. She shudders, takes a deep breath, and nervously dials the doctor’s number, which her mother–self had wisely posted near the phone, then mounts the stairs and cracks open the bedroom door. Peter’s steady snore pours out of the somnolent room.

“Peter. This is it.”

The man leaps up, “What?”

“This is it. She’s coming.”

Peter gropes at the cluttered bedside table for his glasses. “Let’s get going,” he urges, fighting to escape the bed sheets.

Margaret pulls off her nightie and quickly dresses. Must have clean underwear her mother always warned, in case you go to hospital. No escaping hospital now. If only her mother were here.

The wave of pain returns, cutting across her body. She sinks against the bureau, breathing against the pain. Things are out of her hands now – the contractions will come, and will build. Will the baby be healthy? Will she herself survive the ordeal? Her mother often spoke of her birth, prolonged, difficult. How the doctors talked of the choice between the mother and child, and her father insisted her mother’s life prevail.

From the bathroom she hears the clatter of Peter hurriedly performing a shortened morning ritual, the mirror reflecting the comic movements of fast speed film.

“Are you shaving?” Margaret shouts incredulously.

“Just take a minute.”

A small worried face peers around the door. “Why is daddy so noisy?”

“We’re in a hurry to go to the hospital. The baby is coming.”

“Now?” the child cries in horror.

“Yes, don’t worry. Clay and you can do something special.”

“I want to come. I want to see it come out.”

“They don’t let children watch. It’s boring. Let me dress,” the voice hardening. “Go and ask Clay to make you breakfast.”

“Leave your mother alone,” Peter shouts.

Margaret leans awkwardly to tie her shoes, clutching a shawl from the bureau. “Come on Peter, or I’ll call a cab.” As she moves down the stairs the sharp spasm returns, more urgent now, insistently taking over her body, her mind no longer in charge. She’d been so quick last time; she might have it on the way.

“Peter,” she shouts urgently from the bottom of the stairs. He breaks out of the bathroom, grabbing his clothes, hopping along, pulling on his trousers, stuffing in his shirt. “Keys. Get the keys.”

The frightened child pushes to go with her mother already halfway out the door, overnight bag in hand. Margaret fiercely hugs her, wishing more energy, more time to reassure. Tumbling down the stairs, the man grabs his jacket, spinning the metal hanger to the ground. The boy assures the child her mother will be back soon. “Let’s make a present to take to her in the hospital.”

The couple hurries to the car, the man, unusually solicitous, pulls open the door, helping his wife settle in. She pushes against the seat. It’s too late. She feels the landslide, the lava, it’s coming. Hot liquid gushes out of her, burning her legs. She stifles a cry. “Hurry, hurry.”

Glancing anxiously between his wife and the road, her husband speeds towards the hospital, now suddenly distant. Every car in front an encumbrance, every light a challenge. In the background the news broadcaster’s alien comments.

“Turn that off,” Margaret snarls, as if the noise increases the urgency.

Her husband switches off the sound. He can do nothing else. He should have gotten ready quicker. Weaving and accelerating through the traffic, he glances helplessly at his wife’s glistening face, her mouth slightly open, her eyes darting. He is frantic to get her there on time.

Overcome by the process, Margaret’s body sways. In a quieter moment, she had explained that in birth the body took over, control ceased, the animal returned. In the end we are all animals to be born, to die. But not to die, not at her age, not in these days, not to die.

Finally the welcome hospital. Peter swings the car into the emergency entrance and helps Margaret hobble to the door. Once inside the building he is abandoned to fret in the hall as his wife is pulled behind a curtain and stripped. A bell clangs. “Get her upstairs,” a frantic voice cries. The metal bed is wheeled out; the institute has taken over.

The forgotten man, purse and coat dangling from his arm, scurries after his wife, and squeezes into the closing elevator. She is smiling, her jaw tight, but smiling. Terrified, Peter fights to control his panic, his heaving stomach. If only they could stop now, go home.

In the delivery room, the white forms move about quickly, mechanical orders are given, scribbles on clip board, bright lights, metal equipment lurking by the wall.

“It will be fine, Mrs. Cooper. Stand here, Mr. Cooper.”

“Brown,” he blurts irrelevantly.

The sacrificial victim is stretched open on the white altar; around her the acolytes perform their rituals. Horrified, Margaret suddenly remembers the pain from the last time. How had she forgotten? The baby would come, would burst from her by whatever means. The doctor appears: “You’re quick.” Between waves of agony she hears them confer in hushed whispers. What’s wrong?

Again. It is coming again. Breathing, level A, level B, level C, the ABBA song so carelessly chosen at the parenting class when pain was an abstract. Pain is now the only reality cutting across her, obliterating the silly faces. Stop. Stop. Like foreign creatures, robots, they jerk around her, colors swirl, Peter’s sweaty hand squeezing hers, his eyes troubled, his whispered song. Peter, no singer, now all the singer she has, squeezing, singing.

“Don’t push,” the white shape insists, but she must push. “Don’t push.”

Swelling inside her, the huge creature bursting to escape, her legs splitting, her body ripping. Her mind scrambles to escape the pain, the tornado inside her, death. Smashing her against the rocks, pulping, catching her breath, and again, smashing her bleeding body, her skin flayed. Expanding, the seed becomes universe, swelling inside her, she is splitting open. She will die.

A voice insists, “Push, slowly, good, good.”

No, she can’t, she weeps. The waves of pain, the confusion, the swirling colors. Peter leaning into her face, his eyes huge and anxious, his smile a grimace.

“Hold on, hold on.” So urgent, he terrified, like her. What was wrong? The push, the bursting, she was ripping open.

“Slowly, slowly.”

Explosion, Gushing from her, the shape, the pressure. An enormous eel bursts from her vagina. Magnificent relief.

“Beautiful,” Peter cries, “Beautiful.”

“Is she all right?” she listens, worried.

“A girl. A beautiful girl.”

Spinning, collapsing into herself—euphoria sweeps over her. The doctor, still preoccupied, fusses with the tender exit, but her mind now soars from the spent body, flying. Peter calls to her across the sky, “Beautiful,” then nesting the small bundle, places it on her stomach, her body warmed by the flannelette sheets.

Singing now, she is singing. The colors, skimming across the skies. The gods have smiled. Now they are four. A small cry against the wind. Joy.

~ Melodie Corrigall

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