On the day he learned that all his life savings were lost from the Madoff’s scam, a man walked into a park, sat down on a bench and blew his brains out. Crosstown in that moment a man jumped in front of an oncoming subway train and killed himself, just after he’d read a rejection email from his most coveted literary agent – his novel didn’t excite her enough to read through until her other shoe dropped. At that hour a baby was born in a hospital somewhere in town. It was a premature birth. The nurse said she would wash him up as the doctor slowly removed his latex gloves. The doctor patted the husband on the shoulder and said sorry under his moustache. After he left the nurse brought the baby to the bed and placed him in the mother’s arms. He was wrapped in a small blanket and wore a stocking cap pulled down past his ears. The nurse said she would be back to pick him up, and she said that in a hushed, casual voice.
The baby looked as though he were asleep in the cradle of the mother’s arms. She was sitting up on the bed, her back cushioned by a pillow against the head railing. She bent her head to look at his face, then parted a corner of his blanket to look at his limbs. Slowly she touched his nose, his closed eyes, his tiny mouth, trailing her fingers along his jawline, pausing to dab his skin with her fingertips. Then gently, she pulled the blanket over his chest as if to keep him warm. With one arm cradling him, she freed the other and peeled back his pom-pom cap. He had dark hair in thin curly wisps. She caressed his pate, then combed his hair with her nails, brushing it back and forth like fingers strumming the guitar strings. She tilted her face to one side to gaze at him then to the other to look at him again. She held her gaze like that without moving her head and she kept gazing at him like waiting for a miracle to breathe life into this stillbirth that never moved. After some time she broke her gaze and dipped her head to kiss him on the brow. She pressed her lips against it, not moving, in that eternity. Quietly she cried. The husband leaned over the bed to hug her.
“Do you want to hold him?” she said.
Yes, he wanted to. This tiny thing. Brownish. Dry chafed skin. Smelling of antiseptic. Still warm. His small mouth was red without the fine curves of the lips. His tiny hands clenched. He had fingernails too, and his hands felt soft like the hands of a newborn baby. So this is you who kicked and turned and moved around playing hide-and-seek in Mommy’s tummy. Did you hear Mommy and Daddy talking to you then? Did you hear Mommy sing?
He kissed the boy on the forehead. His skin no longer felt warm. Watery discharge was seeping from his nose and the corners of his mouth. The nurse came back. She asked to take the boy away. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said. She wrapped the boy up in his blanket and the mother said she would like to hold him for the last time. Then holding him in the crook of her arms, she rocked him gently and she kept on rocking him as tenderly as a mother would rock her baby to sleep until the nurse held out her hands. The mother shook her head. Her lips parted but no words came out and the nurse touched her elbow.
“I must take him away,” the nurse said. “I know how you feel, Ma’am.” She stroked the mother’s hands until they yielded their grip and the boy was back in the nurse’s arms, tucked neatly in his blanket, the knitted cap pulled down to cover his brow, and the nurse said goodbye and left the room with him and the door clicked shut.
In the night came the sound of a baby crying. Perhaps just born.
Causes Khanh Ha Supports
- American Red Cross
- Purple Hearts
- Direct Relief International
- Asia Society
- Lupus Research Institute