Monday, March 23, 2020

Monday, March 23, 2020: National Women's Month: Kathie Giorgio's short story "What She Did"

When Kate pushed herself away from the twilight sleep, she realized her belly
felt deflated and flabby and there wasn’t the baby she expected in her arms. She felt
a panic, but the blue fog whirling around her wouldn’t let her gesture in alarm or
form any words. All she remembered was the pain and the doctor yelling, “Now!”,
which she’d been told would mean it was time to knock her out.

It did.

Kate did her best to focus and flex the muscles in her arms. There was definitely
no baby there. Her arms lay still and useless on either side of her body. Not crossed
over her newly empty belly. Not cradling the baby she’d waited for.

Where was it?

She heard her husband’s voice and managed to turn her head toward him. Steve
was talking to a nurse and his voice didn’t sound ominous. But it also didn’t sound
celebratory. It was… flirtatious. Like when he nuzzled up to her at night. Like what
she imagined when he was with another woman.

He promised that was over.

She tried to say his name, but with her tongue still thick, it came out as an
incoherent blurt. He startled, turned to her, and put on a smile. She recognized that
smile. It was how he smiled before the promise. The promise stopped her from
walking out the door and returning to her parents’ house. The promise was also
supposed to stop him.

Now there was a baby, and the baby was the point of no return. But was there a
baby? Her arms and belly were empty. She heard no newborn cry.

“Honey!” Steve said. “You’re awake! Katydid, we have a son! A boy!”

The worry over how he spoke and his smile faded away, replaced with blue-tinged
wonder. Steve was excited, his face glowing with pride and accomplishment.

A boy. A boy! Stephen Junior. That was the name Steve wanted, and the name
she agreed to.

“Where is he?” she managed as the nurse came over. A blood pressure cuff was
wrapped around Kate’s limp arm.
The nurse said, “He’s in the nursery right now, being checked over, but no
worries. That is one strapping boy, Mrs. Hale. They’ll bring him to you as soon
as you’re fully alert.”

Kate looked around. They were in a room and a curtain was drawn around
her bed. There was the soft murmur of other conversations. She had no recollection
of getting there from the delivery room where her doctor yelled, “Now!” and where
pain threatened to split her in two. That room and the pain seemed very distant now. 
Steve settled into a chair beside her. “I held him, Kate,” he said. “I held him. Little Stevie. He’s over eight pounds!”

Kate felt every pound, every ounce, every inch. The nurse cranked the head of
her bed up and Kate looked down. She was in a fresh gown and she had no
recollection of being undressed, dressed, settled into a bed in this unfamiliar room.
She felt a wad of something between her legs and, at first, she thought maybe they
forgot the baby there. But then she remembered he was in the nursery.

Kate wished her mind would wake up. The blue twilight still floated around her
vision like a halo.

The nurse seemed to understand her unspoken confusion. She leaned over and
said quietly, “Later, when we get you up, I’ll help you change into your own
nightgown. You have a very large sanitary pad on right now, we call it a birthing
pad, and it’s held in place by some mesh panties. When your bleeding slows down,
probably tomorrow or maybe the next day, you can put on a regular Kotex.”

Kate nodded. Carefully, she raised one arm, then the other. Her limbs were
still heavy, but they were responding again. Her hand, as it slowly lowered down,
was caught by Steve, who held it tightly. She felt a burst of pain in her wrist and
gasped. Steve let go quickly and they both stared at a bracelet of abrasion, bright r
ed and seeping. Kate’s other wrist was the same.

“What in the world?” Steve asked.

The nurse brought over a warm washcloth and carefully dabbed at the wounds.
“You were strapped down after being given the anesthetic,” she said, as easily as if she
was talking about how a tear happened in a favorite pair of pants. “Women sometimes
pull and jerk in childbirth. We had to hold you down to keep you and baby safe. Your
ankles may be rubbed raw too.”

Kate tried to remember, picturing a struggle, arching, grasping, but there was
just nothing. After the shouted “Now!”, everything went blank. Not even black, not
even white, just blank. She went from the shout to this room. She watched as the
nurse gently wrapped her wrists in gauze, then moved on to her ankles. Kate felt the
burn there now too.

“My gosh, Kate,” Steve said, and he looked at her with a blunt admiration.
“What you just did!”
She looked at his face and recognized his admiration as the same as when they
were dating. When he sat in the bleachers as she pitched in the girls’ softball game
and struck everyone out, one, two, three, without a single hit. When she beat him in
bowling, rolling strike after spare after strike. The first time they made love. She saw t
his look then, and she saw it now, but something new too. An awe. A respect. She’d d
one more than meet him head to head.

She did something he never could.

He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, the cheek, and the mouth. Kate
eased her body into a sigh and settled back to wait for her son.  Her husband, once she
was bandaged, never let go of her hand.

Maybe, she thought, he didn’t sound flirtatious before. Maybe he didn’t smile
that way. Maybe the twilight sleep with its deep blue fog left her seeing what wasn’t
there. The struggle, the arch, the grasp. Maybe she didn’t hear a broken promise
at all.


By the third day into her week-long hospital stay, Kate’s originally empty
arms were beginning to adjust to the new weight of her son. She looked at him
with wonder that just kept expanding, leaving behind that blue fog and replacing
it with a brilliant white light, edged with the red of her newfound ferocity. She had
no sense of pushing this child into the world, but here he was, she was told he was
hers, and her body yearned to envelope him in constant watchful protection. When
he cried, she felt a clutch in her chest. On the second day, her milk let down and
from that point forward, her breasts filled at the sound of his voice. Kate was
reassured that her body remembered what her mind didn’t, it recognized this
little boy, so he must be hers. Her body and this baby were in communication
from the moment of conception. She held him close, nourished him, and felt
her love grow.

He was only brought to her for feeding, so on the walks she was encouraged
to take three times a day, she moved along with other new mothers, stood outside
the nursery window, watched a nurse cradling her son, and longed to take him
home. Kate and the other moms chattered and pointed and compared. Kate
thought her boy was the most beautiful.

Steve came in every evening just before visiting hours ended. Kate knew he
liked to stop at the tavern after work and so she wasn’t surprised by these late
visits, though she was a little hurt by them. Still, he was a man, and when he told
her about handing out cigars at the tavern, she laughed at his exuberance and
pride. When they got home, she thought, both she and Steve would have more
time with their son.

That third evening, she was nursing the baby when Steve came in and he
was delighted to see the both of them. He watched her, his eyes wide, as he took
in her engorged breast, the nipple pressed firmly in his son’s mouth. “Look at
him go,” he whispered. “Oh, he knows what’s what.”

Kate flinched. The baby jerked off the nipple and wailed and she switched
him quickly to the other side.

Steve came close, draped his arm over her shoulders, and pressed his lips
against her cheek. She admired the smooth curve of the baby’s cheek against
her breast, the strength of his suck, the brightness of his eyes as he stared up
at his father. That’s when she smelled it.

Perfume. Not cologne, Steve didn’t wear cologne. It wasn’t soap either,
or laundry detergent. It wasn’t the heady smell of cigarettes and drinks at
the tavern. It was perfume.

Kate pulled away and looked at him. He smiled. That smile.

A gentle chime admonished that it was the end of visiting hours. Steve
kissed her again. She didn’t turn toward him; he didn’t meet her lips. “I’ll see
you tomorrow,” he said. He cupped the baby’s small head. “I’ll see you
tomorrow too. Can’t wait to get you home.”

After Steve left, Kate looked down at her baby, still pulling at her nipple.
As her tears fell on his round cheek, he didn’t fuss. His body knew hers too.
He recognized her tears. She wiped each one away.

Her baby. Steve’s.

The point of no return.


The day before Kate and the baby were to go home, a nurse brought her
in the form for the birth certificate. “We’ve already filled it out,” she said. “We
just need your signature, saying that all the information is correct.”

The baby was finished nursing, but Kate hadn’t called the nurse to bring
him back. She sat in the bed with her knees raised up and she propped him up
against her thighs. They looked at each other and Kate marveled. He was so
complete, so compact. She thought his gaze was amazingly steady for a baby
and she felt a sudden sense of responsibility for this bright little being. She
had to make sure that he grew up right. That he grew up to be good.
A good man.

Her thoughts flitted over to her husband. The baby blinked, and then l
et his eyelids lower into a slumber.

The nurse set the form on the rolling table where Kate took her meals.
“I’ll leave this here for you while I bring him back to the nursery,” she said.
“I’ll come back for it.” She scooped the sleeping baby up like a football
under her arm and left with him, not giving Kate a chance to kiss him
goodbye. She listened for the nurse’s footsteps and heard nothing. It was
like she disappeared with the baby and Kate suddenly felt bereft.

She studied the form for the birth certificate. Her correct name was
there, including her maiden name, and Steve’s, and the baby’s gender, birth
weight and length, the time and date of his birth. She couldn’t verify the time;
she was asleep in the bluest twilight then. She looked the longest at the
baby’s name.

Stephen Thomas Hale Junior. The name she agreed on.

Each night since that third night, Steve came in for his visit, smelling
of perfume. The first perfume, and then another one. On the fifth night,
the zipper of his work dungarees was down. When she pointed it out, he
smiled that smile, then laughed as he pulled it up. “Must’ve been in a
hurry to get here,” he said, “to see you and Stevie. I ran out of the

Stephen Thomas Hale Junior. Fully named after Steve.

Kate wanted to raise the baby to be a good man.

She pressed the birth certificate form against her tender breasts.
They were so heavy. In between feedings, the nurses bound her breasts,
wrapping them tightly. Whenever she walked to the nursery, she crossed
her arms under her breasts, lifting them, carrying them, to keep the ache
from worsening with the pull. She thought of her body, changed with
pregnancy, changed with birth, and she remembered pitching in the
softball game, throwing the bowling ball, making love for the first time.
Steve saying, “What you just did, Kate!” That look of admiration and
new respect.

She had to raise her son right.

When the nurse came back, Kate asked, “Can we still change the
middle name? We’ve decided on something different.” When the nurse
nodded, Kate carefully scratched out the Thomas and the Junior. She
replaced Thomas with her maiden name. Who she used to be before
marriage. Who she still was, really, behind this name and behind this c
hanged body.

Stephen Jackson Hale.

“That’s nice,” the nurse said when she took the form back. “It sounds

Kate thought of the name that represented her, her part in making
this baby, the act shared with Steve, and her part of bringing him into
this world, all by herself.  What she did. “He will be,” Kate said. “We’re
going to call him Jack.”


That night, before Steve came in, Kate held the baby again propped against her thighs. She ran her finger over both sides of his little face, feeling the fullness of his cheeks. She chucked his chin and she swore he smiled at her.

“Your name is Jack,” she said. “We’re calling you Jack. Stephen Jackson Hale.”
She nodded. “Jack.”

The baby opened his eyes wide. His arms, unswaddled, opened wide too, and
he stretched his little fingers as far as they would go. He looked like he wanted to
embrace the world.

Or her. He wanted to embrace his mother.

He would be such a good man.

Kate picked him up and cuddled him close. “Jack,” she whispered in
his ear. “Jack.”

Oh, what she did.

© 2020 Kathie Giorgio

Bio: KATHIE GIORGIO is the author of five novels, two story collections, an essay collection, and two poetry chapbooks. A full-length poetry collection, No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See, will be released on 9/4/20. Giorgio’s work appears in countless literary magazines and anthologies. She’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in both fiction and poetry. She’s been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, the Silver Pen Award for Literary Excellence, the Pencraft Awards for Literary Excellence, and has been nominated in both fiction and poetry for the Best Of The Net award.

Website: (blog on website)
Twitter: @KathieGiorgio
Instagram: @KathieGiorgio

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