Monday, October 7, 2013

Alpha and Omega

"You're an uncle?" The nurse asked me.

I looked up from the infant, smiled and shook my head. I was just a visitor, a volunteer: a friend.

"You look so natural," she told me and I said I just blend in with folks.

Some days I hate myself for it, hate myself for feeling like I'm as common as a copper penny. Other days it's not as bad. Today, I didn't mind being mistaken for the girl's family for a little while.

The nurse resumed her rounds, went on her way, while I rock back and forth.

The girl didn't sleep, but she wasn't awake either. She lolled in and out of the twilight, her blind eyes accidentally slipping open to instinctively follow a sound, a smell, perhaps. The mystery of what these things were didn't seem to trouble her. Always, her eyes closed again and she rested, if not dreamed.

The doctors kept her drugged. It was the right thing, the humane thing to do. Without the drugs, the pain might be unspeakable or it might not. There was really no way to know. So, they kept her pretty stoned and that was fine with everyone.

It was fine with me, too.

I held the girl to give her peace, to show her there was mercy and kindness in this world she would not long inhabit. What had been done to her was cruel only in the way gods can be cruel. It was irreversible. The best I could do was keep her company. So, I whispered to her, told her about my dog and said it was pretty outside.

"Fall is beautiful," I said. "Right now, the colors are just starting to come in."

She wouldn't know a word I was saying and might not even know what a color was. It didn't matter. I kept talking, told her I wished I'd brought a book to read to her, told her I wished I knew how to sing, but that I wouldn't wish me singing a bad pop song on anyone --at least, on nobody sober.

An old woman came in with a cup of coffee, sat in a chair on the other side of the room and told me she was the girl's great, great grandmother.

I doubted that, but she said, "I had my first baby when I was 13. I had 10 kids, six boys and four girls." She sipped from the paper cup. "I grew up with those kids, you know what I mean?"

I kind of did, though I came to fatherhood much later than 13.

"My kids had three or four kids a piece," she said. "There are 36 of them and after that, I lost track."

She grinned. She still had some of her teeth.

Surprisingly, not a local, the woman had come from up north and had decided to come south, following a funeral for a niece. Graveside, a granddaughter asked her if she wanted to come visit for a few weeks. She took them up on it and here she was.

"I came to see that baby," she said. "I mean to be here as long as I need to be: She's precious."

After she finished her coffee, I gave her my chair and lowered the baby into her arms. I offered to stick around in case she needed something.

The old woman told me she could buzz the nurses, if she needed to.

"I got nowhere else I want to be," she added.

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