Excerpt #114, Rocking-Chair Moon (Penultimate Post)

Meet Hannah
—Carly

I don’t know about this situation,
obligation, privilege, puzzle.

I’m used to a smile shining
from Megan’s face,
but now I see a grimace,
and fear in her eyes, and I feel helpless,
not helpful, not a coach—
I don’t know anything
about this birthing stuff
—and not a photographer, either—
I can barely hold the camera
with my sweaty, jumpy fingers—
here in this softly-lit room
with string music trickling
from Ben’s speakers,
and the nurse (Call me Pete)
poised like a bodyguard (Why?)
at the foot of the bed,

and Ben hovering, another layer of worry
on his too-often-troubled face,
but he wanted me here, and Megan insisted,
and although I’d rather be jogging
down an Oregon beach, devouring salt air,
I’d figure out a way to coax out
this baby girl myself if they’d asked me to,

so here I am, trying to look positive,
be supportive, supply ice water
and back rubs and a hug or two
whenever Ben gives me
a little maneuvering room
between his chest and hers,
and finally the doctor waltzes in,
immune to the jittery atmosphere
and unaffected by most of
the unpleasant preliminaries,

and offers her unruffled observations,
that things haven’t progressed,
that it appears they won’t, and
that even though she’s sure this baby
is eager to meet her parents,
the door’s locked up tight,
so it’s surgery, now,
and two orderlies hurry in and transfer Megan
to a gurney and propel her out of the room
and along the hallway,
Pete the nurse
running broad-shouldered interference,
Ben clinging to her hand,
bobbing along in her wake
like a duckling riding the ripples
from the bow of our long-ago raft,
and the doctor follows, close, and I tag along,
more unsure than ever of my role,

until we get to surgery,
and Megan disappears behind swinging doors,
and in the tiny anteroom the doctor suggests
I wait outside, and Ben takes one quick look
at me and sees the skittish look in my eyes,
maybe, and agrees, and I breathe a secret sob
of relief, and wait
while they toss on their scrubs and masks and
whoosh through those doors, too, and I’m left
with the camera, and my cell phone with the
anxious text message from Mom and Grandpa,
rushing back from somewhere
in the Arizona desert, and I pace, I sit, I pace,

listening,

and before I have time to think
Too much time has passed,
I hear something—a tiny one-note song,
a hit for sure—and a moment later
Ben backs through the doors,
and turns to face me, mask-less,
and the worry’s gone,
replaced by a huge grin,
and cradled in his left arm
—his only arm, now—
is the most beautiful baby
anyone’s ever seen,
and I blink my eyes clear enough
to get a look at the camera’s display,
and click off a couple of photos,
and Ben walks over close, and
while I stare down
at his wonderful daughter, he says,

Aunt Carly, meet Hannah.

Side By Side
—Ben

A second sticker,
blemishing the beauty of the Beetle’s bumper:
Great Granddaughters
Make Your Heart Young.

Phone Call, 9:46 P.M.
—Carly

I crash on the couch,
legs tingling from nonstop standing,
face fatigued from simulated smiles
and clever comebacks and
clear-eyed feigned interest directed at
just the right people for
just the right amount of time,

at the after-work tapas party,
a reward I’d rather have skipped
in favor of a run with my furry buddy
Retread, my housewarming and heartwarming
present from Jonas Felder,

but rookie employees don’t choose dogs over
opportunities to see and be seen,
so I went, but now I’m home, in my sweats,
in my small but cozy apartment,
in my smaller living room,
comfortable with my garage sale furniture,

my thrift store art hanging on the walls,
my job, my aunt-hood, my life,
Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo,
Retread’s head warming my feet,
and I open Slaughterhouse Five
to the bookmarked page and

resume reading about Billy Pilgrim’s travels
through time and revelation,
when my old relic of a wall phone rings,
its rare, persistent jangle knifing under
my skin as I imagine the telemarketer,
real or recorded, on the other end,

and wish upon him, or her, or it,
the curse of silence,
but voice mail picks up the call at last
and in spite of myself I listen for the message,

and when it comes on it’s not the scripted,
self-assured pitch of a salesperson,
live or recorded, but a real voice,
a man’s, searching for words:

Carly? This is, uh, Pete…
the guy from the hospital…the nurse…
I helped with your brother’s little girl…
Hannah…
But I don’t need more clues,
and I lift the phone and say Hello
in my friendliest tone,
picturing his smile
before he slipped on his mask,
the light in his eyes afterward,

the caring that furrowed his forehead
like a gentle plow,
the way he moved down the corridor, fluid,
and he asks me how I am,
if I’d be interested in getting together
for coffee or something sometime,

and I find myself nodding,
getting ready to say yes, finally,
to a voice on the phone.

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