Stories of change, love and redemption in hard times
“The Resurrection of Leo and Other Stories”
“It’s been hard, Leo,” she whispered as she took my hand and tried to smile, each action taking such a toll; each was incomplete. I reached for the glass of water near her side, and finding it warm and filled with phlegm, I took it to her sink for something cool and clean. I returned and she drank thankfully. I took a towel and wiped her face and neck.
“How long has it been?” I asked.
She shook her head as she tried to focus on the question. “Since last night,” she croaked. “Any time now.” Her voice trailed off.
She protested weakly when I asked her if she had eaten, but I was able to get her to take some soup. It was nearly all she had in the shopping bag near the stove. In another bag, this one holding trash, I found several more empty cans, evidence of the soup she had been living on, it was, obvious, for some time. I opened a cabinet door and there found part of what she had spent her money on: formula, a stock pile of baby formula, and on another shelf, diapers and small jars of baby food.
I found a small tub in the tiny bathroom and filled it with warm soapy water and returned to the bed. After I had bathed her, Helena seemed to relax, although her rest was broken often by the stunning arrival of pain and her face at those times would narrow to a hard line.
When darkness came, the pains were just minutes apart.
I arranged clean towels on the bed and for a while busied myself with cleaning up the disorder of the room. But after one pain in which Helena screamed out wordlessly, she reached for my wrist and pulled me to the bed, where it was clear I was to remain. I had to switch hands, for my fingers were going white and numb from her grip. Together we waited. What would I remember? What would I forget? Pots of water were being warmed on the stove, and the tub on the floor near the bed held refreshed, clean water as well. You know I have never done this kind of thing. I relaxed myself thinking: Let the events dictate.
In the half-light, her weary face seemed ghostly, but more beautiful than I had ever seen it, and I told her so. I asked again if there was anything I could do. She just touched my hand and said wait.
I could hear my heart pounding over Helena’s grunts and screams and harsh breathing. (Oh my heart! Thump, thump, thump!) I wished for all the skills I never had. I wished I could sing, so I could carry her through her labors with a song. I wished I was a poet or knew more than rudimentary snatches of common verse. I wished I could tell jokes or stories, anything to make the passing of time light and cheerful.
But in the end, I was again Leo. I could only offer myself.
Then it began in earnest. All was a blur. She would strain and push and cry and I found myself breathing and leaning and pushing right along with her. I kneeled and held her hand tightly; the marks from her nails would fade in a few days. Oh, the confusion. I would reach to her and she would slap my hands away. Then at times when I would be willing to stand by and watch, she would scream out my name: “Leo! Help me!”
Then she rose to her knees, legs wide-spread in the middle of the bed. I reached to support her, my arms wrapped around her heaving, sweaty chest. “Now,” she hissed.
What might have taken hours, seemed like it took only a second: Darkness to light, pain to exhilaration, from the void, birth and life. Forever it seemed I remained stunned amid the wreckage of creation.
Then I saw Helena, now resting on the bed. She was enraptured with the baby John, lost in his miracle and their survival amid the blood-soaked towels and sheets and the mess of his birth. She was both crying and laughing at once.
“He’s here,” she whispered; discovery begins.
I moved closer and like an ancient touched John’s small astounded face with a warm cloth and watched as he in confusion experienced water for the first time and learned of it.
“Say nothing,” she commanded.
But after a minute Helena gave up the baby John to me and I held him.
For that moment and evermore, I am.