Frank and I worked together to guide Mary up into the house and onto the couch in the living room. Once she was inside and more comfortable, Mary stripped out of her winter jacket, hats, and gloves, and tossed them onto the floor in front of the fireplace. At first I thought that she had clumsily dropped them on the floor, but it really did seem like she had launched her things onto the floor.
Frank had returned to their truck to shut off the engine and get some of Mary’s things. By the time he had returned, Mary had arranged two of our blankets in front of the fireplace, and sent me into my parents’ bedroom to find more.
I was finding it hard to understand Mary’s requests, but couldn’t find a way to argue with her without being disrespectful. And, it just seemed best to be as helpful as possible. Frank, on the other hand, felt free to express exactly what he was thinking.
“Mary, no, not here.”
“I’m sorry, Frank, but it’s time.” She stammered as she arranged the blankets, her coat, and the couch cushions into a circle on the floor. “It can’t wait.” To my shock, she began unfastening the straps on her maternity jumper. I took several steps back and averted my eyes.
“Aunt Mary,” I said. “What are you doing?”
“Having a baby,” she said plainly. Through the space between my fingers I watched her jumper slide down her legs and land in a pile around her legs. I wondered if her clothes would join the growing mass of blankets and pillows.
Frank stepped between the coffee table and the fireplace, blocking my view. “Mary, we came here for your sister’s help. Not to deliver the baby..”
“Where else do we go?” Mary shot back. “We can’t do this alone, and we can’t go to the hospital.” She sat down on the floor and began wrapping herself in the blankets. “My sister went through the same thing with Tina. She’ll know what to do.”
At first I denied that they were talking about my sister, but as I thought about it I knew there was no other explanation. “What do you mean?” I said.
But Mary was going through another contraction. She let out a long cry and gripped her stomach. Frank was upon her at once, holding her shoulders. “Shawn, we need several towels, and a cup of ice.”
“What happened to my sister?” I insisted. Memories of those days following Tina’s death were running through my mind. All those years where I should have been a big brother, but just wasn’t. Seen as an only child by friends and family while knowing in my heart that I would have given almost anything to have a sister to share my things with.
“Shawn! Towels and ice, now please.” Frank repeated above Mary’s screaming.
I snapped to, and hurried down the hallway to get towels out of the linen closet, then headed to th kitchen to grab ice. I found the biggest container I could in the cupboards, then popped the entire contents of the ice tray into it. I returned to the living room with my supplies. Frank set the container of ice on the fireplace, and began arranging the towels. Mary was on her hands and knees, breathing in and out very precisely whenever she felt a contraction.
“We need more room. Help me move the coffee table.” Frank and I took each end of the coffee table and slid it over until it was pressed up against the couch. Frank then knelt down by his wife and helped her through another contraction.
“Frank, I’m cold,” Mary said. “See if you can get the fireplace going.”
Without a word, Frank lifted the latches and swung open the doors to the stove. He tossed in the couple of logs that had been sitting nearby on the fireplace, then handed me the empty carrier. “I’ll need about eight more logs.”
While Frank worked on starting the fire, I slipped on my boots and went out to the back of the garage where Dad had stored the firewood. After I had loaded up the carrier with as much as I could lift, I headed back towards the back door. My parents pulled up in their van just as I made it into the garage.
I heard my dad shout, “Shawn!” and poked my head back out through the opened access door. The van’s engine was still running, and my parents were watching me through the passenger side door window, which was also rolled down. “What’s going on? Why are Frank and Mary here?”
“Mom, Dad,” I began. “Mary is in labor.”
“What?” Mom exclaimed. She sounded as surprised as I was when my aunt and uncle first arrived asking for help, but she looked almost three times more shocked than I would have even expected.
“They were asking for you. I-I think Mary’s getting ready to have the baby here.”
The engine shut off, both doors opened and my parents leapt out of the van. They squeezed past me and stepped around the log carrier which I had set down on the floor. I was left to ponder everything which had gone on, and stare at the van which was still sitting in our driveway with both doors left wide open.
I followed my parents into the house with the firewood. A small blaze in the fireplace was pouring heat out into the living room. Frank had been very efficient about starting a fire. My mom was crouched on the floor next to my aunt in front of the fireplace. I could hear my father and Frank both having a conversation somewhere else in the house.
“Mary I need you to lay back on the floor. I want to check your abdomen.” Mom said. Mary was so busy with her lamaze breathing that she didn’t even stop to answer, other than to nod. Mom helped her into a sitting position, then helped her lay all of the way back. “How do you feel?” Mom was softly pressing on Mary’s stomach just below her belly button.
“A lot of pressure,” Mary answered. “And, itchy.” She sat up and reached her hand around her neck and began to scratch. “My neck’s itchy.” When she pulled her hand back, there were large flakes of skin stuck to her fingers. Not teeny-tiny like dandruff, but the size of corn flakes.
It was like we all were frozen by the sheer grossness of that much skin falling off. Then, mom said as if unphased, “That’s alright. That’s normal.”
Normal? I wanted to ask my mom how losing that much skin could be normal, but didn’t dare. Perhaps this was one of those things that happened during childbirth that they didn’t tell us in health class?
“Shawn,” mom said to me. “Can you get my robe from the closet, and tell your Father to grab my suitcase from the hospital.”
I nodded, then froze in my tracks. “What suitcase?”
“Just tell him I need the one I brought with me when I was in labor,” Mom clarified. “He’ll understand.”
Still feeling a little uncertain, I grabbed Mom’s robe from the closet in her bedroom, dropped it off, and then looked for Dad. I found him and Frank in the basement.
“I don’t know what you were thinking,” My dad was saying. “After everything that Beth and I went through.”
“Mary wanted a baby so badly, and we took all of the precautions. We had to try. There was no way to know until we saw the ultrasound.”
“Dad?” I called. He and Frank were standing at the far end of the basement. I felt bad interrupting, but Mom sounded like the suitcase was pretty important.
“What is it Shawn?”
“Mom wants you to get the suitcase for her. The one she brought with her when she went into labor, she says.”
My dad nodded slowly. “Okay. I’ll be up in a few minutes. Tell your mom its in the attic above the garage, but shouldn’t take too long to get.”
“Okay.” I stopped, then looked across the basement at my dad. Both men were still watching me. “Dad, I was just wondering. What does this have to do with Tina?”
For a second, he looked like he had been punched in the gut. Then, he shot a glance at Frank before looking back towards me. “As long as we get medical help for Mary in time, nothing at all.” He said.
But, there was something about the sound of his voice, and the looks on both of their faces that kept me from believing him.