Daniel and Ju­lia and Me

AM­BER McMIL­LAN

Room Magazine - - MCMILLAN -

The night be­fore I was born, my mother’s wa­ter broke all over the kitchen floor. She lived with my fa­ther in an old brick house along the outside ring of Erin, On­tario. They’d set­tled into that par­tic­u­lar house be­cause of the good price and the charm­ing, orig­i­nal in­te­rior. My mother would of­ten stand around the empty rooms and ad­mire the plas­ter crown mould­ings, the solid wood frames and the rosettes pre­sent­ing large crys­tal chan­de­liers on the ceil­ings. Over­due, she’d hold her heavy belly and linger on the quiet walls, imag­in­ing the wall­pa­per she’d hang and the place­ment of fur­ni­ture. Mauve pa­per for my room, she thought, with small yel­low flow­ers.

Her wa­ter broke like a rush af­ter a split­ting dam. So much liq­uid fell to the floor it formed a wide pud­dle at her feet, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for her to step clear of it. She tried to leap over the mess, but she lacked agility now and ended up slip­ping and fall­ing against the cab­i­nets and onto the floor. From this po­si­tion on her back she had a clear view of the fresh hole my fa­ther had put into the wall and which con­tin­ued across the ceil­ing. He told her he had plans to take down the kitchen wall to “open up the space.” While he was at it, he dis­cov­ered the old tube and knob buried in the plas­ter and said he had to re­place that too. Now that it was ex­posed like this, he had no choice. She had come home a few days ago to find him bar­relling through the wall with a sledge­ham­mer and then pulling back the metal mesh of the wall with his bare hands.

“God­dammit!” he yelled as she’d opened the door. She’d put down the gro­cery bags and peered around the cor­ner into the kitchen.

“Christ god­dammit!” he’d yelled again, wip­ing a bleed­ing hand on the in­side of his shirt.

“Dan, what’s hap­pened?” she’d asked, look­ing at the new holes and cracked plas­ter cov­er­ing the full area of the wall which used to sep­a­rate the kitchen from the hall.

“I cut my god­damn hand is what hap­pened! I pulled out this wall here and the Christly metal edges of ev­ery­thing gouged open my hand!” He held out his arm, now begin­ning to drip blood onto the floor.

“We’d bet­ter wrap it up be­fore you bleed out. Take off your shirt.”

He un­but­toned his shirt with the good hand while hold­ing out the other above his head like an of­fer­ing. My mother slid the rest of his shirt off from his back, rolled it into a long rope, and af­fixed it tightly around the wound.

“I’ll make din­ner while you rest up. There’s beer in the fridge,” she said, her voice lower than usual.

“Can you grab it for me please? I’ve hurt my hand.”

Ly­ing on the floor in her own bro­ken wa­ter, my mother man­aged to roll over and pull her­self up us­ing one of the cab­i­net knobs for sup­port. Her dress was now wet and she knew she’d have to change be­fore head­ing to the hos­pi­tal. She called out to my fa­ther, but he didn’t an­swer. She went up­stairs and to her room, clos­ing the door be­hind her. She had a small pile on the closet shelf that was just for ma­ter­nity wear. It was mostly wide dresses and over­sized T-shirts. She pulled one from the top of the pile along with a new pair of un­der­wear, and threw them on the bed. She then shim­mied out of the dress she’d been wear­ing when she fell, and kicked it into the laun­dry bas­ket with her foot.

“Dan!” she called again as she slid the new dress over her head. No an­swer. She pushed on her slip­pers, looked at her­self in the bed­room mir­ror and opened the door lead­ing to the hall­way and the rest of the house.

“Dan, my wa­ter’s broke! Can you grab the keys and meet me in the car? I’d like to go to the hos­pi­tal now,” she called out to a quiet house. “Dan?”

She walked down the hall­way, lis­ten­ing for her hus­band’s voice. She heard noth­ing and so headed down to the sec­ond floor and back into the kitchen that led to­ward the den. As she care­fully crossed the kitchen floor she heard the sound of snif­fling phlegm, the sound a child makes un­der the cov­ers in his room when he doesn’t want any­one to know he’s cry­ing.

“Dan, my wa­ter’s broke. The baby is com­ing. I need you to drive me to the hos­pi­tal. It’s time,” she said thinly, her voice trail­ing off as she rounded the pantry and en­tered the den to find him pressed into the cor­ner of the room, his knees up to his fore­head, his arms wrapped around his legs and cry­ing. He didn’t look up when she stood be­fore him, but the cry­ing slowed down and be­came less and less alarm­ing as the sec­onds dragged on.

“Okay. I’ll get my coat. I’ll drive you,” he said, still col­lapsed in the cor­ner. My mother turned from him and stood again in the kitchen,

star­ing down at the pud­dle, the torn open ceil­ing vis­i­ble in the wob­bling re­flec­tion, wait­ing.

Within a few min­utes, my fa­ther had found his coat and was able to push his ban­daged-up hand into the arm hole with­out get­ting too much blood on the sleeve, even though he had al­ready soaked through the ban­dage. He took the keys from the small hook near the foyer and opened the front door. He stood in the open door an ex­tra few sec­onds, star­tled by the dark sky, darker out here in the woods, catch­ing up to the re­al­ity that it was al­ready night. He then de­scended the few steps to the laneway, and made a less than straight line to the driver’s side car door. My mother fol­lowed through the still open door, closed it be­hind her, and keep­ing her head down to mon­i­tor the dark path, made her way to the pas­sen­ger side, opened the door and got in.

On the high­way to­ward the city of Guelph and the only hos­pi­tal for miles, my mother be­gan to no­tice the first of many signs that my fa­ther was un­rav­el­ling in front of her and at a rapid pace. She no­ticed his hands were shak­ing as he gripped the steer­ing wheel. She no­ticed his blink­ing was ur­gent and er­ratic. She no­ticed he in­creased and de­creased speed with­out rea­son or warn­ing. She felt, and not for the first time, dread resur­face from her pelvis and climb up­ward into her throat. She felt adren­a­line tickle the tips of her fin­gers and the bot­tom of her feet. She felt rage move in.

“Stop the car,” she whis­pered. “Stop the car, Daniel,” she said again louder.

He looked over at her quickly and then back to the road, his manic ex­pres­sion prod­ding her anger fur­ther.

“Stop the fuck­ing car, Daniel,” she said, louder still. Just as she said this, he swerved into the on­com­ing lane for a frac­tion of a sec­ond and then back into his own.

“I’m tak­ing you to the hos­pi­tal, love. To have our baby.” He turned to her with a sac­cha­rine smile. She could see the golden crowns in his mouth, it was open so wide.

“If you don’t stop the car, I’m go­ing to jump out and we’ll lose the baby,” my mother threat­ened, star­ing ahead at the road.

“For Chris­sakes, Ju­lia.” He lurched the car and its con­tents over to the side of the road and brought it all to a fum­bling stop, dust swirling up around the tires, the smell of burnt rub­ber ris­ing to the open win­dows. “Happy?” he yelled. “Now what?”

“Get out.” She pulled the lever to open the car door, hauled her body out of the low seat, stepped out, and slammed the door. She chose to walk around the front of the car and into the head­lights so her hus­band could see her walk­ing there and dis­cour­age him from peel­ing away and out of sight.

“Get out of the car, Daniel. You need to throw up.” She opened his car door and held out her hand for him. He slapped her hand away and lifted him­self out of the driver’s seat. As he stood up, the blood rushed into his head and he felt woozy. He swayed a lit­tle to the left and then fell to the ground on his knees, propped up by the palms of his hands, with his head hang­ing so low it al­most rested in the dirt. His blood­ied hand ex­plod­ing anew as he ground it hard into the gravel of the road, try­ing to force it open and swal­low him.

“Throw up,” she said, and he did. He heaved ev­ery­thing in­side of him out, in a candy-coloured rain­bow of pre­scrip­tion pills. Red, yel­low, blue, orange, some still in­tact, now fall­ing out in front of them. Af­ter emp­ty­ing out three or four times, he slumped over on his side, ex­hausted, and closed his eyes. My mother stood over him and watched him in the on­com­ing and then out­go­ing head­lights. He didn’t move. She picked up his near­est wrist and felt for a pulse. He was alive, it turned out.

My mother drove her­self the rest of the way to the hos­pi­tal that night, her enor­mous mid­dle pressed against the steer­ing wheel, my fa­ther’s blood all over her fin­gers and wrists, my dad asleep on the side of the high­way. She told me later, when I was older, that she’d never seen any­thing as beau­ti­ful as me.

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