Friday, February 25, 2011

Lost Souls, Chapter Two

Chapter Two

But Joshua had commanded the people, "Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!" Joshua 6:10

Anna lay on her side watching her son, Daniel, as he slept in the bedside bassinet. The monitoring tubes had been removed hours before leaving them both more comfortable. He had finally been allowed to join her in their semi-private hospital room.

The sounds of crying newborns drifted into the room, painting an image for Anna of content mothers nestling their new and, most importantly, normal bundles of joy. Anna squeezed her eyes shut to stop the flood of tears threatening to burst her silent vigil. “Oh God, what am I going to do,” she muttered in a fevered prayer, her lips moving silently as she prayed, “what am I going to do.”

She could feel the tears in her throat, pressing on her lungs like a snake constricting around her chest but still she struggled with it, terrified that the tears would never stop if she let them start.

It had been nearly seven hours since Daniel had graced the world with his presence and he still maintained his silent vigil. The doctors were waiting for his first wail but Anna was sure that they had given up hope of ever hearing it. All they would tell her was that Daniel was perfect in every way. His weight was seven pounds on the dot, his movement and appetite were on par with a healthy full term newborn. The only problem was that Daniel didn’t seem to have a voice; they needed more time and more tests to determine why.

Anna knew this wasn’t going to be easy if her son was born mute or if he had some other disorder. All of her training in college had led her to understand how much care and energy is needed for a child with special needs. Even during her residency, she had seen many parents sitting by their child’s bedside, praying to God to make it right.

Now she was sitting beside her son whispering those same prayers, that God would make it right. Praying that He would give him a voice. She was desperate to hear it instead of the concerned whispers of the doctors and nurses as they came to check on them Anna opened her eyes and took in her son’s sleeping form, his heart shaped lips, his swatch of dark brown hair covered by the silly blue cap, his long body swaddled in the white hospital blanket, his delicate fingers curled in a fist, his outside was perfect but she wondered if there was some flaw within.

“There she is with her wonderful new baby!”

The bright cheerful greeting startled Anna. Her gaze took in the tall graceful figure of Beth, her only real friend in the world. She was everything that Anna had wanted to be since meeting her in the first year of nursing college. She was full of life, her cheerfulness spread to those around her like the warmth of the sun. Patients couldn’t help but smile back, their worries wiped away by the dazzling blue-eyed charm of Beth.

Beth paused at the curtain, her blue eyes taking in the worried expression that cast dark shadows in her friend’s luminescent brown eyes. Anna knew she didn’t look good, her short brown hair lay limply across her forehead and down around her ears, her olive-toned complexion was unusually pale and sickly. Sicker then the regular fatigue associated with childbirth. Still, Beth’s smile didn’t falter with worry; her words were still cheerful and optimistic, but Anna suspected that it took all of Beth’s experience as a trauma nurse to keep the fa├žade going. “Well, let me see my nephew, Anna. I came all this way after working a twelve hour shift to see him and all you’re doing is staring at me like I sprouted wings.”

Anna’s gaze shifted to the sleeping infant, her smile felt rubbery and fake, as her friend crossed the two-foot space beside the bed to peak inside the bassinet. Beth’s eyes softened and her smile grew larger than any smile Anna had ever seen. “Oh Anna, he is absolutely perfect,” she whispered.

Her gaze shifted to Anna and the smile slipped slightly at the worried look on Anna’s face, “Why didn’t you call me? I would have been here for you. You shouldn’t have gone through this alone.”

“I know, Beth. I didn’t want to put you out. I…I felt like I had to do this on my own, like everything else,” Anna answered, her gaze shifted to the window beside her bed.

The busy streets of Vancouver seemed a million miles away, from up here in her glass tower. Life was going on, people lived, people died, people loved and people lost. Anna couldn’t help being disappointed by it all. Couldn’t help feeling strangled like her next breath was hanging in the air, waiting for something. “No not something,” she amended silently,” I’m waiting for Daniel to cry.” It seemed wrong that life didn’t wait with her.

“You won’t be doing this alone, Anna. You’ll have me and you’ll have your little boy,” her tone was light as she propped herself on the side of the bed, “What did you name him?”

“Daniel, his name is Daniel,” tears strained Anna’s voice and she felt the tide of emotion envelope her, “Oh Beth, there is something wrong with him. He hasn’t cried, not once, from the moment he was born. They have done all kinds of tests but they can’t find anything wrong. I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Anna looked at Daniel, sleeping peacefully, wrapped in the blue hospital blanket and white infant gown, his small head clothed in a knitted blue cap, It’s just you and me, Daniel.

Anna’s voiced trailed off, the overpowering swell of emotion draining away with her words. Beth was regarding Daniel as she spoke, her blue eyes shining with intensity, her fingers gently probing the small form as she looked him over. “Anna, I don’t know why Daniel hasn’t cried yet but I am positive he will. He just needs to decide when the time is right,” a mischievous smile lit her delicate face,” I imagine he’ll cry for the first time when he tastes my cooking.”

Anna gave a shaky tear filled laugh as Beth continued. “As for what you’re going to do, you’re going to take some time to bond with your son. Then we’re going to find a great babysitter for Daniel and after that you’re going to come back to the hospital to work.”

“If only it was that easy,” Anna thought to herself but she didn’t say it to her friend. Beth leaned towards the bassinet, her fingers gently rubbing Daniel’s small hand, while humming a song to him. “He really is perfect, Anna. A prince among men.”

“I wish his father was here to see him,” Anna sighed; the cheap snow globe had been moved from the birthing room to the nightstand beside her. The only thing he had left his son besides a mother that was filled with so many fears and doubts. The word, Love, was carved into a white plastic base between two cherubs. The globe itself was cool to the touch and filled with so much fake snow that the miniature town on the bottom was almost buried. Whenever she shook it, the sleepy little town would completely disappear under a blanket of floating snow but sometimes she could see the faintest speck of gold, perhaps a minute detail etched into the village church.

Anna wiped the tears from her face and sighed. Elizabeth smiled at Daniel and her silence about his father, comforted Anna more than any words could. She would make it. Daniel would make it and Beth would be there with them, helping them every way she could. For the first time in a very long time, Anna didn’t feel so alone.

Daniel stirred, his eyes opening slowly as he took in the world around him. Elizabeth dipped her blond head closer to him as she cooed,” Hello, Daniel. I’m your Aunty Beth. We are going to have so much fun together. I’m going to show you all the things you need to do to make your Mommy crazy.”

Daniel’s eyes widened and if Anna didn’t know better she would have been sure it was in amazement of the heavenly beauty of his newfound Aunt. His content movements were the only sign that he wanted something. “Well, your going to have talk if you want something from me you know,” Beth chided gently,” I don’t run for gestures.”

Beth’s light laughter filled the small curtain-draped room filling it with warmth. Anna smiled at her son and her cheerful friend, loving them both and feeling a bond with them that she had never experienced before. For a moment, she could forget about her worries and play at being the overjoyed new mother.

The curtain swayed to the right as a middle-aged nurse poked her head inside, “It’s time for Daniel’s next check up, Miss. Torrez,” she said in a strict tone as if she expected an argument. Daniel’s eyes darted from Beth’s face and looked around him at the sound of the nurse’s voice, his small hand tightened around Beth’s finger, and she glanced in concern towards Anna.

Anna paused at the nurse’s stern appearance. Her heavyset brow and dark eyes sent shivers down her spine and for a brief second she thought about telling her no. Beth’s reaction to the woman made her consider it for a second more. The woman moved further into the crowded space, the light and warmth that had filled it a moment before became stifling. The air hung thick and sluggish, making it hard to breath. “I’m Amy, and I’ll be looking after you and Daniel for the next little while,” she said in a pleasant tone but her voice didn’t match the expression of disgust that filled her heavy face.

Amy pushed past Beth, sending her a dark glance when Beth hesitated for a minute. The contrast between the dark and heavy nurse beside the light and ethereal Beth made Anna uneasy for some reason and she turned on the bed so her legs dangled above the floor. Her hands clenched the side of the mattress and her breath came in short gasps as a sense of foreboding filled her. The first fingers of panic started to grip at her heart and she could already feel bile racing up her throat. “What is wrong with you,” she silently berated herself, “Stop it, stop worrying before you drive yourself crazy.”

As the nurse leaned over Daniel, his gaze moved between Beth’s reassuring face to the dour face of the nurse. His small limbs started moving at an erratic rate, his breathing became laboured and his head turned away from her. Amy seemed unaware of his difficulty and sneered at Anna, “He has such unusual eyes for a newborn. Such a strange grey, almost like a storm cloud at dawn, don’t you think?"

Anna opened her mouth to reply but Amy was already continuing on,” And look, you can almost see a hint of gold. Such strange eyes on such a strange little baby, they must be his father’s eyes.”

Beth, almost forgotten in the exchange, moved back to the side of the bassinet and placed a comforting hand on Daniel’s small chest, smiling lovingly down at him, she cooed, “I think his eyes are beautiful.”

Beth reached down her other hand to lift the now shaking Daniel into her arms but Amy batted her hand away and reached for him. Anna cried out as she watched Amy’s hand slide behind his small form and tried to leap from her bed, landing half on it instead. Her cry echoed through the room and the air felt like it was charged with electricity. Something terrible was happening, Anna knew it, something big was about to happen and she didn’t know how to stop it. Beth glanced at her and then back at Daniel, unsure of whom she should go to when Daniel took a startling gasp and began to wail.

The nurse jerked back as if she had been bitten. Her sneer deepening as she stood there, holding the hand that had reached for him to her chest as if it stung. She paused for a moment, glared at all three of them and without another word; she slipped around the curtain and out into the hallway. Anna felt all her energy drain away and she slid the rest of the way to the floor. Her eyes filled with tears and the tension in the room seemed to snap into oblivion leaving the tattered remnants of silken webs trailing invisibly across her face.

“Anna, he’s crying! I told you there was nothing to worry about,” Beth’s excited voice quickly turned to confusion as she said,” Anna, what’s wrong with you?”

Beth reached for the distraught infant while Anna sat on the floor hearing nothing but the blissful sound of Daniel’s high-pitched scream. Her breasts were already growing heavy from the need to feed him and pain cut through her body over and over again as her muscles finally released their tension.

None of it distracted her from the object in front of her. Simon’s parting gift danced across the bedside table, shaking and bouncing, the fake snow blotting out the image of the village below, the gold of the steeple, shining brightly through the snow storm like a star leading wayward travelers home.

Anna sat there as the first cries of her son faded into shuddering sobs. She watched as the snow globe rocked across the nightstand, jerked as it fell off and shuddered when it finally came to rest in her cold lap.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Waiting to Hear

I think much of the time, writing is all about waiting. First you are waiting for this contract, or waiting to hear back about this article, or that article. It can become very frustrating at times and sometimes, that frustration can really hinder your writing.

At other times, the days of waiting can be extremely tiring. If someone would just give you some news, you would be happy, unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Right now, I am waiting to hear back about a writing grant from The Canada Council for the Arts - Canada Council for the Arts.

Hopefully it will be good news but I am not a strong believer that it will be. Only 23% of applicants are chosen and while that is significantly higher than other grants, it is still a long shot when it comes to odds. Tomorrow will mark the 20 weeks that the granting process takes so I should hear back soon. Wish me luck and maybe I will have good news sometime next week.

Then again, I may have to wait a bit longer than next week.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lost Souls: Chapter One

Chapter One

"Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother's womb!" Numbers 12:12

Vancouver, Canada


January 16, 2000, 6:58am


“Aaughh,” Anna screamed as she pushed herself towards the end of the bed, the chaos in the room as nurses and doctors waited for her child to be born, left her dizzy from a lack of air. Her legs began shaking as she pushed against the wave of pain that washed across her stomach threatening to pull her apart. She could feel beads of sweat dotting her brow before pooling at her hairline. Squeezing her eyes shut, Anna could hear little pants escaping from her tight mouth in a futile effort to try to control the contraction.


“That’s it, Anna, keep pushing, your baby is almost here,” The doctor rested back on his stool, his appearance of calm authority grated on Anna and although she knew he couldn’t help her at this point, she wanted him to reach out and drag the baby from her. She couldn’t take the pain anymore and this doctor with his tidy mask and gloved hands, staring at her intently as he waited for some work to do, was more then she could bear.


Anna couldn’t believe how much pain she was in, and she was sure that it wasn’t normal. Nothing had been normal about this pregnancy or how it came to be. Nothing was normal or right. There was no father sitting beside her holding her hand and weeping with joy at the birth of his child. Simon was gone, along with his laughter and warmth, leaving her with nothing but pain as their child came into the world.


Anna looked to the side where Simon should have been and stared into the silly souvenir that was all he had left her. She couldn’t stop the tears that glistened in her eyes as she looked at the snow globe sitting on the nightstand beside her. Simon had been so serious when he had given it to her. “Give this to my child, Anna,” he had said and then he had walked out of her life leaving only a whisper where he had stood.


God, how she wanted to feel Simon’s whispers against her skin but a bigger part of her wanted to smash the snow globe as he had smashed her heart. Something had stopped her though, that part of her that still longed for him, the part that didn’t want to forget him. Her gaze shifted to the nurse, standing at her left knee. Her cold blue eyes, stared back at her with disapproval, and tears spilled down Anna’s cheeks, This can’t be it, this can’t be how my baby comes into this world. He needs to be surrounded by love and laughter, not the disapproving eyes of strangers.


The words never reached her lips as another contraction gripped her stomach and thighs, forcing her legs closed in an attempt to stop the pain. Anna writhed on the bed, her head tossing back and forth as she fought the contraction. The disapproving nurse pulled Anna’s legs apart until she was splayed again, her whispers echoing in Anna’s ears, “Just a little push, Anna and your baby will be in your arms.”


“I can’t, I can’t do this,” Anna moaned. She could feel her rich mahogany hair hanging in short sweaty spikes across her forehead; she groaned in her effort to control the contractions that wracked her body. With a scream she pushed with everything in her, feeling a sharp rip and a sudden loss not only in her body but also in her heart.


Squeezing her eyes tight, Anna breathed in. Her heart pounding out the time: one…two… three… waiting for the first cry from her child. Waiting for the doctors to do something, say something about the little soul that had been ripped from her. Her ears filled with far off murmurs as though the room had been cleared of people. Her heart drummed a tempo in her ears, drowning out the sounds in the room.


Four…Five… The space between each tempo was engulfed by a silence that was warm and heavy. Six… the silence splashed against her body like warm waves, flooding her veins with liquid sweetness. Seven…Eight… opening her eyes, she found herself drifting in the deep blue waters of some endless sea.


Nine… Simon swam through the tranquil waters, gliding towards her with a smile on his lips, his grey eyes bursting with light. The storm that she had often seen in their depths had parted, leaving light-kissed clouds in their stead. Simon’s smile spread through her body making her cry in relief.

Ten… her tears mingled with the salt of the ocean. She felt refreshed; the tempo that had been drumming in her ears lay silent. Anna breathed in a healing sigh and reached for Simon, catching his shoulders in her grasp, his warmth ebbing through the palms of her hands and up her arms. A blond lock fell against his forehead and Anna reached up to catch the silky tendril in her fingers.


Gazing into his eyes she found the storm again. Gold lightening flashed across them. Blood ran down his nose between his turbulent eyes and Anna realized that gaping wounds circled his forehead. The blood poured out of them and dripped into the peaceful water staining it purple.


“God, no, no,” Anna thrust her hands against Simon’s forehead while her body shook in desperation. Anna gagged on her cries as the blood shot from between her fingers. “Simon,” she gasped in horrified confusion, “What’s happening?”


Simon shook his head, sadness pulling his wonderful lips into a frown as he did. He leaned towards her and Anna thought he meant to kiss her but she pulled back, afraid of what was happening. Her hands slipped from his face and Simon entwined her fingers with his. He began pushing her away from him, her body sliding easily away in the water. Pain shot up her arms as he pushed but it didn’t compare to the pain shooting towards her heart. The pain took root as he said, “No Anna, it’s time for you to wake up. It’s time for you to go and meet our son.”


Anna jerked forward, her eyes shooting open as she did. The room that had been a quiet and orderly chaos was now at full-scale war. The lights were glaring; the peaceful little birthing room of dull blues was now an unsettling mass of cloaked figures draped in blue. The harsh buzzing of alarm bells echoed through the room as hands pushed her back onto the bed. Her body felt cold and clammy, her hospital gown clung to her body, strangling her, and her arms fell limply to her sides. “Doctor, her pulse is stabilizing.”


A blinding light shone in first her left eye and then the right. A nurse fumbled with wires and tape above her. I’m so cold, Anna thought as she tried to relax her racing heart, and calm the tremors that wracked her body. Her hands quivered as she flexed them, trying to encourage warmth back into them.

The doctor murmured to her as he worked, “You gave us quite a scare, Anna. Where did you go?”


Anna stared at him, startled by the question. She licked her dry lips as she tried to focus on the thoughts flooding through her. Where had she gone? Smiling wistfully, she answered in a frail voice that didn’t sound like her own “I was with Simon.”


The doctor paused in his examination, focusing on her eyes as he weighed what she had said. His hands tightened painfully on her wrist in an involuntary spasm making Anna gasp in pain. “I’m sorry, Miss. Torrez,” he murmured breaking contact with her but Anna wasn’t sure if he was apologizing for her wrist or for the fact that she was obviously ill, “Let’s get you checked out.”


Backing away from her, he turned his attention to the nurse near the bed. “I want a full set of blood tests. Blood Sugar, CBC, and check her O2 stats. Get that mask back on her and get an EKG. Keep her monitored for 24 hours to see how she is doing and then we’ll decide if we need to do a CT scan. Notify me immediately if anything else happens with her.”


The nurse nodded at his instructions as the doctor gave Anna one last look before moving away to write his orders in her chart. Her mind reeled at his words, not able to close around the growing worry that she had been close to death.


My tranquil swim with Simon was nothing more than a dream turned nightmare. That’s all it was. The fatigue of labour had induced a partially sub-conscience hallucination, making me think that I had fallen asleep. My stress had changed the peacefulness I had been feeling into a nightmare. Anna comforted herself with those thoughts but another question drifted in the air before her, Are you sure it wasn’t more than a dream?


Anna left it hanging there like a thick black spider dangling on its silken thread, turning her attention instead to the line on the monitor that was happily displaying her heart rate instead. Whatever happened, I’m here now. I’m here for my son, she thought, My son!


Peering through the mass of bodies, Anna could see her son’s small face turned towards her. His eyes were wide open and blinking, and Anna was sure that when she got close enough she would see his father’s eyes staring back at her. For all his awareness, not one sound issued from his frail body. He lay there with a patient expression creasing his brow as the doctors prodded him with their instruments, taking their measurements.


The tone of their voices, gave a certainty that they were worried about the small infant on the table. Outside of his lack of crying, he seemed perfect, his skin was the red shade of all newborns, and his limbs were slowly starting to move as the cool air washed over him.


“Doctor, his heart rate is one fifty. His Apgar score is at a six."


The doctor’s terse reply was lost to the noise of the room but the tone made Anna’s heart skip a beat. She could hear Simon’s words echoing in her ears, “Meet our son, Anna, meet our son…our son.”


“Doctor, what’s wrong with my son? Why isn’t he crying? Let me see him, Oh God, please let me see him,” she cried as the nurse leaned over her to place the oxygen mask on her face. Her sobs went unanswered as the doctors worked on her son, leaving Anna to do nothing except pray.

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