Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Something to Focus On," a short story by Therese Montes Hall

Marisa lay back on the reclined hospital bed and pulled the thinning cotton sheet up to her chest.

“You cold?” Jules played with his cell phone, holding onto the belt clip with one hand and turning the phone around with the other so that it made a clicking noise with every rotation. He leaned forward. “I could get you another blanket.”

“I’m fine. I’m just nervous… and excited. Aren’t you?”

“Of course.” He leaned back into the seat then started drumming the sides of the chair with his thumbs. “I think this is one of those chairs that turns into a bed.” He raised his eyebrows at her playfully, channeling Charlie Chaplin.

“Is that all you ever think about? It’s for the comfort of the father, should he decide to stay.”

“Whoa! Easy, babe. I’m just kidding.”

Marisa looked down at her feet, peeking out below the blanket; her toes looked like ten little sausages jammed on muffin tops. Her ankles were so swollen that she couldn’t distinguish her feet from her legs. “You’re staying, right?”

“Of course. Don’t be ridiculous.”

Marisa shrugged and rubbed the top of her rotund belly. Inside, Eve was still, typical for the afternoon. In the last trimester, she’d noticed that “Eve’s dance parties,” as she thought of them, were prompted by food or by the sound of her voice when she spoke in a low, soft whisper.

Jules’ deep, booming voice elicited nothing from Eve. On one hand, Marisa was pleased that she and Eve were so bonded that she alone could evoke a response. On the other hand, she was saddened that Eve didn’t react to her father’s voice. Evidently, absence did not always make the heart grow fonder.

“I had to ask,” she said.

She massaged the sides of her stomach in a circular motion. The clock on the wall showed 4:30 PM. Though it had been only three hours since she had come in to be induced, she felt like she’d been there for an eternity. The pitocin in her drip was working, albeit slowly. She thought she might have felt her first contraction moments ago when she pulled the blanket up. It had felt like a concentrated cramp low and deep in her pelvis.

She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t told Jules about the contraction. He’d been more attentive to her these past couple of months. Perhaps it was because although he would do anything she asked and would even offer to do things for her without being prompted, his offers seemed half-hearted, as if he were hoping that her requests were not serious. Like with the car seat. Two weeks ago, she had bought it – by herself because he had been too busy at work to go with her. She dragged it from the trunk of her car, left it by the front door and asked him to please put the car seat in because even though the delivery date had been set, there was always the possibility that she would go into labour early. For one week and five days, she walked by it, sitting in its unopened box until she asked him again.

His response had only frustrated her more. “I was going to do it tomorrow morning, before we go to the hospital."

“But I asked you to do it two weeks ago. What if I’d gone into labour early?”

“But you didn’t, so it’s fine.”

“That’s not the point, Julian.” His full name she used when she was frustrated; since the start of her pregnancy, that “Julian” seem to punctuate all her conversations with him.

“What is the point? You want the car seat in? I’ll put it in now.”

She followed him into the garage even though she knew it would only lead to greater aggravation. She watched him tear open the top of the box and pull the car seat and base out.

“The point, Julian, is that I asked you to do something that was important to me. Even if you didn’t think it was important, it was to me. Because you love me, shouldn’t you have just done it?”

He’d struggled in the back seat with the base and seat belt and gave no indication of having heard her. She’d stood by the garage door, waiting for his response. He’d pulled himself out of the car, rubbed his palms together then he’d pointed with both hands at the car. “Done.”

The onset of the next contraction pulled her back from her reverie. This one started like the first but increased in intensity as it progressed, so she could not hide it from Jules. She sat up, grabbed the side rails and tried to breathe like the nurse in the prenatal course had showed the class: two quick breaths in, one long exhale out. “It won’t take the pain away,” the nurse had said, “but it will give you a job to do; something to focus on.”

Jules looked up from playing with his phone. “Are you having a contraction? Should I get a nurse?”

She didn’t answer until the pain had subsided. “Who could you possibly be texting that we haven’t already told?”

“It’s my brother. He just wants to know how it’s going.” Jules stood up to show her the screen of his phone.

She waved the phone away. “Please, just… I need you here.”

“I AM here, babe.” He shoved the phone into his pockets. “You don’t see me standing here?”

Marisa covered her face with her hands, then leaned back and put her arms around her stomach. “You know what I mean. Why do you always try to misunderstand me? It’s like you’re always trying to pick a fight.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

Marisa looked up at the ceiling. “Can we just stop this? Can we just focus on Eve?”

Jules took in a deep breath and then exhaled. He covered Marisa’s hands with his. “Of course.” He chuckled, then leaned into her and said, in the deep, throaty voice he knew she loved, “You know this is the way with us. What’s that saying? ‘You always hurt the one you love’.”

Marisa nodded and smiled at him weakly. “I know, Julian.”


Eve was a screaming ball of life who came into the world demanding Marisa’s attention. She was placed briefly on Marisa’s chest for their first hello then whisked off so her nurse could finish their duties.

Jules stood beside the nurse as she showed him how to swaddle Eve. Cocooning her inside the soft cotton wrap silenced her new born cries. From the bed, Marisa craned her neck to glimpse her baby.

“Here’s your daughter. Just cradle her in your arms like a football.” The nurse laid Eve in Jules’ arms. Eve opened her mouth and let out a whimper.

“She’s like her mama,” Jules said, chortling as he bounced her gently, “never happy.” He brought her closer to his face and nuzzled her neck. Her whimpers escalated into cries. “C’mon, Evie, stop crying.”

“Don’t tease her, Julian.” Marisa pushed herself up on the bed.

“She’s gotta learn who I am.”

“Just give her to me. Please.”

Jules rocked, bounced and cooed. Still, Eve’s wails reverberated in the room.

“Julian, I am not asking.”

Shaking his head, Jules put Eve into Marisa’s outstretched arms.

“She’s gotta learn,” he muttered, returning to the chair beside the bed.

Marisa brought Eve into her chest and whispered softly into her ear until Eve’s cries were assuaged into silence. Marisa smiled down at Eve, whose eyes were wide open, staring into hers. Marisa had read that newborns could not see well in their first few days, but she was positive, as they stared into each others eyes, that Eve knew who she was; knew that this person holding her was the one who would take care of her.

Marisa held her like that until, eventually, Eve’s eyes closed and her steady, quiet breathing told Marisa that she was asleep. Only then did she look up at Jules, slouched in the chair like a petulant child who’d been scolded.

“When Eve and I get home, I want you gone.”

Julian balked then opened his mouth to protest, but Marisa continued. “I’m not asking, Jules. I was so scared you were going to leave me alone… I didn’t want to raise this baby by myself. But it’s been such a fight to keep you here. I didn’t want to see that it’s because you don’t want to be here.”

“You’re being a fool, Marisa. You need me. Eve needs me.”

“Eve doesn’t even know you. I give it two weeks before the novelty wears off and you’ll be back to your wicked ways. I’m not waiting for that. You’ll always be her father, but you don’t need to be my … whatever you are.”

She looked down again at Eve, sleeping peacefully in her arms. Jules continued to sit in the chair, fuming. She knew that it would take time for him to realize that this time, she was serious. She was okay with that. He would just be in her periphery now because this bundle of life in her arms, this was her job to do; this was her something to focus on.


Therese Montes Hall lives in Oakville with her husband and their labradoodle, Ella. She’s had a keen interest in storytelling since childhood, though always in secret, until she stumbled upon Brian's creative writing course. “Something to Focus On” is her first published story – she hopes, the first of many.


For information about Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

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