The Souring Seas
Friday, February 5, 2021
As Tony struggled with the minefields of departmental policies and climate change politics, Beth breezed through several months of career resurgence. By Christmas, her contributions to five episodes for Smugglers Cove’s second season were complete. She also appeared in a single episode of a cable TV cop show that would broadcast in the coming year.
Photo shoots with fashion photographer Justin Kilburn, her onetime lover, had filled the brief hiatuses between days on the film stage.
With a minimal workload in January, Beth had ample opportunity to rest up for the rapidly approaching birth of her first child. The big day started at 6 a.m. on February fifth, ten days before the official due date.
She blinked rapidly and took several deep breaths. “It’s starting,” she said before Tony was completely awake. “You needn’t panic, the contractions are ten minutes apart.”
Tony hesitated, struggling to properly wake up. They had a carefully prepared list of things they needed, and everything except his phone charging on the kitchen table was ready to go. He had to remember it. “It’s okay. We could rest here or get up if you’d prefer.”
“I woke you up too soon, didn’t I?”
He took a deep breath. “Awake long?”
“Two hours, but it seems like ages. I need a hug.”
Tony put his arm around her. “Something wrong?”
“Sorry, dreaming of things we won’t have.”
Tony snuggled closer. “We’ll be okay.”
“I couldn’t manage without you.”
She tensed as another contraction hit her. It seemed mild.
“Would you have felt that if you’d, you know, been inside me?”
“I imagine,” Tony responded. “You ask some of the silliest questions.”
“That’s not a silly question, it’s just scientific curiosity. You could try. It would be an experiment.”
“Don’t think so. This can’t be the right time.”
She sighed. “I suppose you’re right, but it might have been fun.”
They lay quietly waiting for her next contraction. Tony wondered about her attitude. For the last few days she’d been withdrawn, and now, her latest antics were simply weird. Was she really thinking about sex at this point? Was she overreacting to an unconscious fear she wouldn’t express?
Tony counted until Beth sighed with relief after the next contraction. “They’re getting closer together. Should we get up?”
“I want to stay here.”
“You seem unhappy?”
“Frightened. Frightened of the pain, and that I’ll be a hopeless mother, and you won’t like having a baby, and you’ll leave me. I’ll never get my figure back, and I don’t know what else?”
“Those things won’t happen except for the pain. We can’t stop the pain, but the hospital staff will help. Everyone knows you’re great with kids. Remember the fun stories you’ve told me about your niece and nephew. It’ll be better with your own son.”
Tony leaned back gazing down at her tear-stained face and tortured expression. How could he convince her?
“I won’t leave, and you’ll get your movie actress figure back. I can’t wait to see the youthful Beth Manville again, so we’ll do the exercises together. Come on, I’ll make you breakfast. Everything will be fine.”
They rose, showered, and had breakfast. Beth drank tea but ate nothing. After breakfast, Tony tidied the kitchen while Beth checked the hospital bag one more time before she phoned her mother. By the time Margaret arrived to drive them to the hospital, they’d tidied the bathroom, the living room, and their bedroom.
Beth contributed to the clean-up activities simply pausing during each contraction, but her attitude was strangely fatalistic. She appeared resigned to an unpalatable but unavoidable fate rather than looking forward with joyous anticipation to her baby’s birth.
By 11:30, Beth’s contractions were a minute long and five minutes apart. They headed for the maternity hospital. They signed in, feigning composure they didn’t feel, and were immediately ushered into a room where expectant mothers prepared for the big event.
When Tony returned from a cafeteria visit, he found Beth and her mother in a birthing room that would be their home for many hours. Beth appeared frightened lying on a narrow hospital bed wearing a pale blue gown with pink flowers. Margaret was trying to reassure her. Beth asked Tony to sit beside her, and Margaret moved to the opposite side of the bed. They tried without success to generate some enthusiasm as Beth’s contractions became more intense.
An hour and a half later, a nurse suggested it would be a good opportunity if anyone wanted a bathroom or cafeteria break. She had monitors to attach and measurements to make. Margaret took her first break, and Tony relinquished his post to get Beth something to drink and retrieve his camera.
The nurse left saying Beth was dilating nicely and that the next time she returned it should be time for action.
Shortly after she returned, Beth’s water broke and contractions became increasingly intense. Civility was abandoned, and it became a race against pain to get the baby into the big bad world. Nothing that Margaret or Tony said or did helped as Beth moaned and groaned and writhed in pain at every contraction. Despite her earlier protestations about pain, she steadfastly refused to have an epidural. Three hours later, it was all over, and Michael was lying at Beth’s breast and she was beaming. Tears remained in her eyes, but the pain was forgotten.
Willard, a pensioner who lived in a ground-floor apartment stood in his doorway when Tony returned home after seeing Beth and Michael settled for the night. “Everything good?”
“Everyone’s exhausted, but Beth and her son are doing fine.”
“She’s lucky to have you at her side. That fool Jeremy was a useless, self-centred, pretentious jerk. She’s much better off without him.” He looked back into his apartment when someone called out ‘Willard!’. He shook his head and turned back to Tony. “Abusive bastard. You could hear him hurling abuse at her everywhere in the building.”
“You suggesting he beat her?”
“Can’t rightly say. Never saw any evidence, but no question he was verbally abusive.”
Willard’s wife appeared in the doorway and dragged Willard inside.
“It’s okay Mrs. Baxter, Beth and Michael are doing fine—seven pounds four ounces, born at 6:34 p.m.”
Tony climbed the stairs and made the calls he’d promised Beth before settling back with a beer. Willard comments cleared up something that had been bothering Tony for months. Jeremy frightened Beth, and that fear was responsible for the melancholy that frequently overwhelmed her. And in the early going, she subconsciously thought Tony would also abuse her.
He dumped a can of beans on the stove and downloaded the pictures and video from his camera. Her fear of Jeremy had been buried for several months. He must ensure it stayed that way.
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