In truth my charge has become quite handsome. He stands tall and straight, has good teeth, and though his hair is receding, it’s dark and curly. He has a strong jaw and beautiful eyes, or they used to be, before the light went out in them.
“Yes, I’m in here, honey, lying down.”
We enter a cool, dark interior, furnished with a leather settee and matching chairs, a fringed blue lamp, the kind David and I had in our little house in Brattleboro, and a flowered blue carpet.
Mr. Maddock indicates the closed door of a downstairs bedroom. “That way,” he instructs me. “Can the doctor drink sarsaparilla? I have some in the fridge.”
“Sure, just set the bottle in front of him to give him the idea. And can you take off his boots?” I lay my hat and wool coat on the sofa and tap on the door. “Sarah? It’s Nurse Becky. How are you doing?”
“Oh, come on in. I’m fine. Just a little tired. Tired of doing nothing. You know how Mr. Maddock is! He’d have me confined for the whole pregnancy, if he could.” Sarah laughs and I can’t help myself, I laugh too. She’s a pale, soft, thin woman with gold and silver hair pinned back on the sides, and she wears a hand-knit blue cardigan with darker blue flowers embroidered on the front.
“So, are you okay? Your husband seems awfully worried.”
“Kiddo, I’m ecstatic. When I became paralyzed and lost my first baby, we never tried to have another one, but we weren’t trying not too, either. I assumed the high fevers during my illness had just made me sterile.”
“Another baby? You’ve given birth before?”
“Yes, years ago. We don’t talk about it.”
“Was it stillborn or a miscarriage?”
“No, the baby was fine, but I was terribly ill. I had polio and the paralysis was moving up toward my chest. If it got to my diaphragm I would stop breathing. The doctors thought I was certain to die, so they talked Mr. Maddock into letting them do an emergency cesarean section and he gave our little girl to my cousin who’d never been able to get pregnant.”
She recites all this without emotion, but when she ends I see the side of her mouth twitch one time, an expression that tells me she still feels the pain.
“No one thought I would live, and then when I slowly recovered over the next twelve months, I couldn’t ask for the baby back, could I? What’s even sadder is that both my cousin and the little girl passed a few years later during the Spanish flu epidemic.”
I lay my medical bag on the carpeted floor. “May I?” I say, indicating the bed.
“Sure.” Mrs. Maddock smoothes the covers so I can sit down next to her. “So here we are with another chance,” she goes on. “My husband’s terrified, won’t let me lift a finger, but I think it’s good for women to be active during their pregnancies, don’t you?” We both look down at her skinny withered legs, white against the white coverlet. She shrugs and covers them with a lap robe.
“Well, as active as I can be anyway. It’s not like I can go out and throw hay to the cows.” Here she gives me a pleasant smile, showing that she has a sly sense of humor. She is a sensitive, intelligent woman, someone I would like for a friend, if I had time for friendship.
“No, I agree. Unless you’re bleeding or having pain, you should be up moving about, doing your normal activities. How far along are you?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t had a monthly since July. I was always regular before and I thought I was having hot flashes, though, looking back, it was a horrible summer, maybe I was just hot.”
“Let me examine you. If you really are four or five months’ pregnant you should be showing by now. You think you felt the baby move yesterday?”
The pale woman smiles. “Yes. Yes. We both felt it.” She pulls up her housedress and shows me her belly, which is rounded, but not the way it should be. I press down gently around her belly button. No hard, round ball of uterine muscle. I palpate lower. Still no firm ball.
“What are you feeling for?”
“It’s called the fundus, the top of the uterus. Where did you feel the baby move?”
She points to an area just above the umbilicus and to the left. Too high.
“Sarah, I don’t think you conceived this summer. I don’t know how to say this but Mr. Maddock wanted my honest opinion. I don’t think you felt movement way up there. Your uterus is still very small. You’re either not pregnant or you’re very early.” I stop to let my words sink in and am surprised to see tears well up in the woman’s green eyes. The room darkens, though there’s no change in the light, and the smile that had illuminated Sarah’s face fades.
“So I’m not with child?” She says it like this, in the old-fashioned way.
“Well, I’m not positive, but I’d say no, unless you just very recently conceived. Any morning sickness or breast tenderness?”
Mrs. Maddock shakes her head no.
“You can go to Torrington and get the A-to-Z test where they inject a baby mouse with your urine if you really want to be sure.”
“I don’t think so. . . . Will you tell Mr. Maddock? He will be relieved. He was so worried that having a baby would hurt me.” I stare at the woman, who wipes her moist eyes and turns toward the window.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur and then leave the room.
At the kitchen table I find the two men silently drinking sarsaparilla. “Mr. Maddock,” I begin abruptly, wanting to get it over with. “I can’t be sure, but I don’t think your wife is pregnant. At least, if she is, she’s not far along. She hasn’t been sick or had any breast soreness, and her womb is still small.” The men look up, Blum paying special attention and Mr. Maddock looking confused.
“But we both felt it move!”
“I know. I know. You felt something, maybe a gas bubble, but the baby couldn’t have been as high as where Sarah showed me.”
The man twists his lips, trying to keep from crying, then clears his throat. “Is Sarah okay? She would be a good mother. I was just so worried about the pregnancy being dangerous for her.”
“She’s disappointed. You’d better go to her. We’ll find our way home. It’s only a mile.”
It’s a silent walk down Wild Rose Road and around Salt Lick, but then with Blum it always is. Tiny hard raindrops pelt our faces, and at the Hope River the smoke of three campfires rises in the mist. I blow on my hands because I forgot my mittens and Dr. Blum gallantly gives me his.
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