I gave her a suspicious look. “Tina told me about this walking exercise you prescribe. Is this one of those ‘gravity is my friend’ type things?”
Cheryl chuckled. “Yes, yes it is.” She patted my leg through the covers. “Now I’m going to get you a dress and get all those men out from under foot.”
I moved but the sudden additional wetness where I wasn’t expecting it was very disconcerting. “What on earth?”
“It’s all right dear; I put a pad under you while I was examining you.” When she saw I didn’t understand she explained, “You’re still leaking amniotic fluid. It will happen all through your labor to one extent or another until the baby descends into the birth canal to act like a cork.”
Ew. But I didn’t say it out loud because Cheryl acted like it was a completely natural thing under the circumstances. “Youch!” I tried to move and it felt like I had a couple of loose boulder down there.
Someone’s patience finally snapped and Dino stomped into the room. “Didn’t you hear that? She’s in pain … and you said it would only be a few minutes.” The look on his face when he said it reminded me very strongly of his five year old son in a snit.
I snapped, “Well, if you were trying to get a watermelon out from a certain part of your anatomy you’d be saying a few choice words to I reckon.”
Rather than make him upset he grinned in relief and took me into his arms. Cheryl said, “Easy on that Romeo.” To me she said, “I’ll be right back Riss. You’re going to want something big and comfortable.”
“Hanging in the closet,” I told her as she left the room pulling the door closed behind her.
“Riss?” Dino asked.
I sighed in reluctant acceptance. “Doc Cheryl says I’m to walk, that I need to … uh … stimulate labor.”
Concerned he asked, “Isn’t this too early?”
I shook my head, “According to Cheryl I probably would have popped off within a week anyway.”
A weezy “Good Lord” left his mouth quickly covered by him asking me if I was in pain. “No though I expect before this is over you may want to duck and cover. Tina says that women can get a little irritated when they are in labor.”
The look on his face was pretty funny but he said he wouldn’t leave my side for even a minute. Uh huh, I gave him points for really meaning that too but wouldn’t hold him to it.
After a moment of quiet where he just held me gently Dino said, “Riss, I need to know. Did Sol touch you? Hurt you in anyway?”
I really did not want to think about anything other than what I had before me but Dino sounded so … so lost, like he though he hadn’t been there when I needed him and was suffering for it. “No Dino, he never even came on this side of the gate, not even to give me … give me …”
I could feel that blackness waving at me from the edges of my mind and I got nauseous so fast Dino almost couldn’t get a basin under me before I started vomiting. So much for my famous cast iron stomach.
When I stopped I said, “I don’t want to think about it Dino … not think about it, not talk about it, not …”
“Di-o-nysius Pappas!” Aunt Adona to the rescue. “I believe … you were told … not … to overset your wife.”
I have really got to learn how to do that look she does. I reckon it could come in real handy when Kerry gets to be bigger than me.
“I didn’t mean to upset her!” Oh yeah, now I know where Kerry gets it all right.
Aunt Adona even snorts better than I do. “Be that as it may you obviously are. Now is not the time for that particular discussion.”
Cheryl came into the room with an old raggedy dress than I’d pieced together just to have something to cover me on laundry day when everything else that fit was getting washed. They helped me slide it on and adjust a few things for comfort and then I started walking.
I swear I love Cheryl and Aunt Adona. Nothing flummoxed them. I’d cry they’d cheer me up. I’d get giddy they’d calm me down. I got tired they were the best cheerleading squad ever.
By the time nightfall came and went and even midnight was a memory, I was finally in full, hard labor. I must have walked the shine off of those wood floors. I walked a flaming marathon. And Dino was with me every step of the way, even after his bad leg started thumping … even after I started threatening to thump him if he didn’t stop being so nice.
“I do not want a back rub. I do not want you to wash my face. I do not need my feet rubbed. What I want,” I told him as I grabbed his shirt front. “Is to get this buffalo out … of … me!”
“Ow … ow … chest hairs Honey. You grabbed some chest hairs that time.”
Finally it was time to push. But nothing was happening. Cheryl said, “OK Riss, up you go.”
“Noooo, I’m sooo tired.” My voice cracked and the very idea of having to move any more, find the energy to do anything anymore, just aggrieved me something awful.
“We need to get you up and out of the reclining position. Come on now up you go.” It felt like a lightning bolt struck me in my sensitive parts. I squealed like a stuck pig and I’m not afraid to admit it. “That’s my girl. Baby likes this position muuuuch better. There now, one last push. Lord have mercy, what a lot of hair on that head.”
Well, it worked and that’s all I’m gonna say about it. There are simply some things that are between a mother and her baby. I felt something finally slide out of me all slippery and wet and squalling like it’d been done a severe injustice already in this life.
“Well, you have a girl.”
I don’t remember too much for a while except for snatches. They laid me back down in the bed and this big ol’ wet blob of a baby was plopped on my now flaccid stomach while they took care of the afterbirth and some of my other womanly needs. Dino just stood there for a minute staring and then started to topple. If Aunt Adona hadn’t had the presence of mind to slide a chair under him I’m not sure we would have had the chance to scrape him up off the floor for a while.
The baby wasn’t even cut loose from me before she was snuffling like a little pig and searching for something to eat. It was just the most amazing thing to realize this was what had been baking inside me all those months. Dino finally recollected himself, leaned over and kissed my temple and said in amazement, “She’s already half grown. Look at all that hair.”
I looked and though she was the most beautiful baby the truth is it broke my heart a little. It was like looking at a miniature Harry, if you ignored the girl parts. She didn’t have the freckles yet but I knew she would if I couldn’t get her to wear a hat to keep the sun off her face. And that hair was the color that you couldn’t even get out of a dye bottle.
“She’s got your eyes and curls.”
I denied it. “They aren’t the same color. Besides, not all babies keep the color of eyes they’re born with. And how can you tell if her hair is curly? It’s all plastered to her scalp with … with gunk.”
He chuckled. “I’m talking about the shape of her eyes. They’re like yours to a tee.”
“How can you tell? She looks like a red headed sumo wrestler right now.”
That made him chuckle and the baby blinked in his direction getting his immediate attention. “Aw now, you don’t worry about it Pip. You’re just as beautiful as can be, yes you are. Bet I have to clean my shotgun so much when the boys come around I’ll wear the bluing off of it.”
“Dino!” I said laughing at his nonsense. Then I grew serious. “She’s not going to have the boys come around. She’s gonna wait until they’ve all outgrown their silliness before she even bothers looking them over. I don’t want her making the same mistake I did and feeling like a fool.” I felt my eyes watering up.
“Hey,” he whispered softly. “Now, none of that. We’ll work on it together. I’ll hold the boys off while you fill her with good sense. Can’t lose that way.”
I asked for a handkerchief to wipe my nose. “Help me sit up a bit Dino. She’s going to chew a hole through my nightgown at this rate.”
As soon as the two of us had figured out how to get things set she went to town. No worry about that girl being puny; she may have come a wee bit early but she wasn’t gonna use it as an excuse to miss a meal.
“Riss?” Cheryl interrupted Dino and I from contemplating the ravenous little piglet. “Riss, let me have her to clean her up and measure her. She may not be one for my record books but she’s a good size nonetheless.”
It was hard, harder than I ever imagined, to turn loose of her and give her over to Cheryl to take into the next room. As soon as she left I teared up all over again. “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“It’s hormones. They’ll settle down in a while,” he said stroking my empty hands that seemed to need something to hold so badly.
I sniffled and said, “That’s right. I read it somewhere. I don’t like this at all.” For some unaccountable reason I wanted to cry even more.
To distract me if for no other reason Dino asked, “What do you want to name her?”
Well didn’t that just stop me dead in my tracks. “I … I don’t have the foggiest idea.”
“I … uh … I have a suggestion if you want to hear it. It was my sister’s name.”
“You’d name her after your sister? You really would? But won’t your family want that to be … you know … a family name?”
Dino got a stern look though not a hard one. “Damaris Pappas, whose name is going on that birth certificate?” I caught my breath. “That little girl is mine. God gave you to me and through you her. There is no way I’m going to let anyone say otherwise, family or not. We’ll raise her together. She’ll be Kerry’s little sister. And God willing we’ll add more little brothers or sisters.” Then he went from serious to begging with a little green tinge around his gills, “Just please, Riss, not until I recover from this time.”
I laughed a little but it hurt so I had to stop. I still felt better. I sniffed back
my tears and asked, “So what is this name?”
“It’s Greek and means beloved and wanted.” That made me tear up again. “We called my sister Pita but the full name was Agapita.”
I tried it out, “Agapita Pappas. It sounds nice.”
“Now for the middle name I thought Damaris and … uh … what’s wrong.”
I sighed. “There’s a … uh … tradition in my family. The oldest daughter has passed along a certain name for … oh Lord, I guess eight generations now and maybe before that. Anyway, some ancestor of mine started the curse.”
“You don’t like the name Damaris?”
I shook my head. “Damaris is my first name.”
He grinned, a great big pie eating grin. “Someone has been hiding something.”
I gave him a look to scorch metal. “If you laugh …
“Come on … what is it … might as well fess up. My family is very, very partial to traditions.”
I gritted my teeth, grimaced, and then muttered, “Zipporah.”
He deflated. “And here I thought it was something awful.”
“It is,” I complained. “I had an aunt that used to call me …” I bit my lip.
“Call you what?” he asked starting to grin again.
“Zippy all right? She used to call me Zippy. She thought it was cute.”
He had to shove his wrist in his mouth so he wouldn’t wake the whole house up with his laughing. Cheryl walked back in with the baby and said, “What on earth? Has he finally cracked?”
He got up and wiped his eyes and took the still snuffling, but now clean and swaddled, baby from Cheryl and said, “I’d like you to welcome Agapita Zipporah Pappas to the family.”
Cheryl shook her head and said, “That child is going to drive you crazy for cursing her like that. You know Pita hated her name. And where on earth did you come up with Zipporah?”
Dino sniggered and if he hadn’t been holding the baby I would have thrown something at him. Cheryl, intercepting my look asked, “What?”
I sighed and finally admitted, “It’s my middle name. I was cursed by a family tradition.”
“You too huh? Wait until Adona gets irritated at Dino and calls him …” Over the top of Dino’s “Hey … hey don’t …” I heard it. Dionysius Archimedes Pappas.
Then it was my turn to snigger – though I couldn’t do much of it ‘cause it was jiggling my sore insides – Dino said, “I’ll have you know it was my grandfather’s name. It’s just that everyone called him Archie.”
I kept laughing and holding my stomach. “Ow … oh … funny … ow … so funny … ow … stop … stop making me laugh … ow.”
Dino sat down in the chair with Pita while Cheryl looked on shaking her head while she finished cleaning up in the room. Grinning he said, “Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal. You don’t call me Archie and I won’t call you Zippy.”
Taking the baby from him so that she could finish her first meal I told him, “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
I knew the euphoria of birth – the sheer magic of it now that the pain was over – wouldn’t last. Nothing like that ever lasts. But in the back of my mind I also knew that Dino and I needed to talk. I to him and him to me. Harry wasn’t the only one in his family that had red hair, Pita came by it honestly. I needed to know, for her sake and mine, that the knowledge of who her sperm donor was wouldn’t eventually eat at him. It might have been a little late to be thinking of that but I hadn’t really thought she’d come out quite so … so red headed. I knew Dino needed to ask me more about what had happened, the details that there was no way Kerry would have known. And I needed to be careful how I handled it. I was beginning to get the idea that these people I married into were a might on the protective side and while that can be good, it can also have its dark side.
Mostly though I needed to be able to talk about Harry. I needed to find some explanation and if not an explanation some kind of understanding … and if not that at least some kind of closure. I couldn’t leave this wound hanging open like a tear in my heart. I bore enough scars, I wanted to be able to bury Harry with some peace … for all our sakes.