by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2015
Cassie’s seventeen-year-old son, Rob, left home with his dog Ozzie more than three weeks ago. The dog was picked up by the dog catcher and taken to the pound. Rob had not said a word about it. When Rob finally called the pound, he found that the dog had been terminated.
Cassie was very upset, blaming Mark at first for letting Rob take the dog away. Mark was not happy either. It made him very sad, especially as Cassie said, “That should not have happened. That situation should not have been allowed to exist.”
In principle, Mark agreed with her sentiments. Life was at stake, yet something more as well. Rob made no effort to talk with his parents about the dog. He had failed to make arrangements for a possible home for the dog. Rob had quit several jobs and had not worked more than a day since he’d been back. He spent his time dreaming of making it quickly in the world without preliminaries, hanging out with his friends and drinking.
It was his dog and it was his decision. It was not a decision his parents could control. In fact, they had very little, if any, influence on Rob since he had been back. The past few months had been filled with stress and worry about whether or not they were doing all they could to help straighten out Rob’s life. They truly wanted things to work out for the best, but the stress told heavily on both of them–showing up as bowel trouble in Mark, a lack of ability to sleep in Cassie, and trouble keeping their minds on their tasks. There was an unaccustomed tiredness in their steps and an inability to enjoy their time and work.
Mark felt very bad about the dog. He wished there had been another alternative. He wished he had interfered and found another home for the dog. Yet, wishing changes little, and he doubted that much would have changed had he been able to live the past month over again.
They arose that morning with Cassie feeling quite ill. She threw up before noon. They were to have left for the mountains by four o’clock yesterday but were delayed with the news Ozzie the dog’s death. Instead, they talked to Rob for a while and went to check the pound in case an error was made, but the pound was closed.
While getting supplies for the trip, Cassie picked up a pregnancy test. When they returned home, the results were positive. Both of them were flabbergasted. They had not used birth control for more than ten years. They talked about having a baby four or five years ago, but since they thought it was not possible, they never took it further. Suddenly, a new, life-changing reality knocked on the door.
The weekend was spent getting used to the shock that they were to have a new family member. They were invited to a hot springs resort by Roy Frank and his wife Nancy when they stopped over at their home in Coal Creek Canyon to give them some copies of the wedding videos that Adam had made early last month. Roy is a chiropractor, Nancy a nurse. Roy plays bass, harp, guitar, and drums. Mark had been getting together with Roy to play music for the parties that he has been throwing.
They finally rolled out of town about four P.M. and drove down to the mineral hot springs just north of Alamosa in the San Luis Valley.
The hot springs are only open to the general public during the week. They sell memberships, limited to around five hundred yearly. Members can have guests on the weekends. Roy had been a member for a number of years and was often raving about the place, so Mark and Cassie decided to check it out. Though their minds were not entirely on relaxing that weekend, they managed to do so anyway.
It was cold and snowing Friday when they left. A bit of the chill had filtered far south, but the temperature was moderate and quite a few people were at the resort despite the chill. Mark and Cassie soaked in the main pool that first night for several hours. It was the closest of the two hot pools, the other being a twenty-minute walk up a steep mountain trail to the spring headwaters. The upper pool is generally warmer than the lower pools. The resort had accommodations, some of them free with admittance fees, others available at a small charge of $10 per night. There were also camping facilities spread in secluded spots about the mountainside. There was a hostel with a common gathering room, an Olympic-size pool with hot spring water and a fine sauna that had a cool brook running through it pool for dipping when the heat got too hot to bear. Bathing suits are optional, as there were no changing rooms at the hillside pools. Most of the members opted for that privilege, though it was not a nudist colony. Most of the members were old hippies who had become successful or affluent enough to afford the dues. They gathered often and partied like the old days.
Mark and Cassie stayed Friday through Monday. Perhaps they were not quite the enjoyable company they might have been, but they still had a good time. Much of the time their thoughts centered on the pregnancy and what they should do differently. They were unprepared. They had no insurance, little savings, and a lot of doubts about their ability to begin another round of child raising after all this time.
By Christmas, Cassie was four months pregnant. Right after Christmas, they went to the hospital for an ultrasound. The baby could be seen swimming around, moving quite a bit. It looked rather alien in the video monitor, skeletal features, strange colors, and a visible heart. “We’ll call her Demi if she is a girl and Frank if he is a boy,” Cassie said, her eyes a-twinkle. “We’ll name it after your grandparents.”
Two weeks later, on a clear, cool day with Colorado blue hanging in the heavens, they felt productive and well. Cassie had a routine appointment for a prenatal exam. Mark was writing as Cassie came in the door. The sun was seating itself behind the mountains. Outside, the air grew chill.
“Well, how’d it go?” Mark asked.
“Not well,” she spoke. She had a cry in her voice. Her mascara was smeared around her eyes. “They can’t hear the baby’s heartbeat.”
“What!” Mark lunged forward. “Oh, nooooooo.”
Quickly, they dashed to the emergency room. Suddenly, the day turned cold, the night descended and hideous terrors lurked in the shadows. A nurse ran another heartbeat test, amplified for all to hear. Cassie lay awkwardly on the table, the stethoscope grinding out noises like an amateur disc jockey trying to find the groove. Between the grinds, Mark listened carefully for the pump-pump-pump thump of a living heart. He wanted to hear the sounds of life, but his ears were rewarded only with the cold sounds of silence.
Mark felt like a soldier in a foxhole. Part of him wanted to say, “Prime Mover, if you’ve got anything on the ball at all, you’ll let me hear something but this silence.” Like the soldier in the foxhole, he heard only the sounds of battle as the microphone head scraped against cloth.
A portable ultrasound was wheeled in the room. It soon confirmed the silence of the heartbeat. The only movement was Cassie’s. The baby was dead. It had been dead for a week. Mark could see it in the monitor. It was so strange––this moving, big-headed life form he had seen in negative just two weeks ago lay motionless. The heart that had pulsed so strong was stilled.
Suddenly, new ghouls appeared on the horizon. The baby had to come out. Cassie was carrying death within her. That bastard was much to close. Could more be lost to this hopeless battle? Could it be that Mark alone could return from this quick journey, return to a life changed, a self in pain and transition?
Shudder that thought and chill the moment.
But the moment recurs.
The mind–left to itself–thinks of itself, fantasizes the worst while hoping for the best, searches for expert opinion, and, in finding it, mistrusts it once again to hoe those fields of sorrow and despair. Like a bad dream, a nightmare waking, you need to shake it from you like dust from the rug. Rise up you blackened thoughts. Come quickly and rise to a positive acceptance, even while knowing the inevitable is always nigh.
Powerful drugs were administered to induce labor. Cassie began to shake like the leaves of an aspen, every muscle trembling without ceasing.
It went on.
The vomiting began. The pain in the stomach was not really tolerable, but tolerate she must. Her body heaved a sheet of pain––an electric, hurting spasm.
Adam’s throat hurt. His senses numbed.
In a close room, a woman screamed and moaned awfully. The remoteness of her pain, her unseen face, made tolerable the noise. Then the screaming ceased, she cried, “My God, he’s born.” And moments later, a baby’s wailing cry.
Somehow it seemed right–in this specter of death, new life announcing itself … and, yet, for Mark and Cassie, how strange and how sad.
An attendant shot Cassie with a painkiller. Her trembling slowly stopped as she fell into a restless sleep to fight the demons within her.
By three o’clock in the morning, her water broke.
Mark had slipped off into the night, lit the furnace in the camper and plopped fully clothed on the icy blankets, pulling a comfort over and succumbing to the exhaustion felt inside. Gwen, a close friend of Cassie’s, stood on bedside watch.
At 5:30 Mark was awakened by Gwen, out of breath, running, “Come quick! It’s over. The baby came out.”
It was quick. Feeling the need to urinate, Cassie had the nurse bring the bedpan and began the final contraction as Gwen ran for the truck.
A young, lithe woman doctor with long brown trusses who attended the delivery stated the facts:
1. It was a girl. 500 grams. Two pounds.
2. Said infant was well formed and pretty.
3. Said fetus had been dead a week.
4. Death occurred from the separation of the placenta from the uterus wall. (The umbilical cord, the lifeline to the mother’s womb, was loosed and scarred. Smooth on the end as a leather shoe).
5. That which caused this to happen is now and forever unknown.
Pictures were to be taken. Footprints were made. Certificates had to be filled. Arrangements were made.
And did they want to see her?
They brought her to Mark and Cassie in a pink blanket. She was very small, perhaps seven inches long. Her skin was brownish blue and dark from the moist entombment in the black and bloody fluids.
Her face seemed covered partially by a veil, a beautiful woman’s face, well shaped and delicate, closed eyes that never saw the light of day.
“Oh, my,” Cassie said, “Oh, my.”
Visions of that face in negative, alive and kicking on the monitor of the ultrasound haunted Mark, came back to him in vivid color. This was the shape he had seen before, the colors reversed and not as brilliant.
Mark’s thoughts ran back to his grandmother, Demores, who was born smothered in a veil and went on to live a life of eighty years and bring much joy and creativity into this world. This Demi, her own namesake, was born only to the waters of the womb.
Be that as it is … was … perhaps will be again.
No pain upon this infant, no troubled thoughts nor learning. A mass of flesh and bone, sinew and nerve without experience?
And yet a woman’s face was there, unfamiliar … strange, enchanted.
Mark and Cassie spoke of wasting a name on one that had no life. But there was little choice. This was little Demi.
She only had her name.
They could not take it from her.
After a few hours rest, Cassie responded as well as possible. She was up and walking soon. They moved her out of maternity to a private room with a lovely view of the city and the mountains. They had time then to rest their jangled nerves. Later they could make new plans.
The plan was to bury her homestead style in a crude pine box that Mark would make himself. They wanted to take her to a high mountain valley and place her down beneath the western sky.
Red tape got in the way. The hospital would only release the body to a funeral home. The funeral home had to provide the state with a certificate of burial. Instead, they chose cremation and the burial of the ashes at a sight of their choosing at some later date. Above the grave, a carved board would read:
Demores Walker, born 1992, died 1992.
Never had a fucking chance.
FOR MORE IN THIS SERIES SEE: https://kennethharperfinton.me/2014/10/10/from-whence-cometh-the-song-1/