Iowa Writes

JEFF ROBERTS
The Red and the Black


As I parted the curtain and stepped toward the bed, I heard a whimper, then a groan. I inhaled deeply the smells that saturated the air, it was sharp, stark; the smell of primitive life, brine and flora all mixed with the sweet medicinal smell of a hospital. I took Sarah's hand, drew it to my lips, and kissed it lightly. She pulled her hand away, clutched her face with both hands, squinted her eyes, and turned toward me, moaning, "God, it hurts so much, Jeff."

Sarah was sprawled across the hospital bed, her body coated in sweat, her blond hair matted. Two nurses and the doctor stood at the foot of the bed, commenting nonchalantly about how well this delivery was going, that she was fully dilated, and the baby was crowning. Sarah cried out and then exhaled heavily; her body not her own as she breathed in…out…in…out, as she twisted from the contractions. She arched her back as she pushed downward with all her might, her eyes closing into two small slits. All these sounds, motions, and smells were swirling around us in the miracle of birth. Sarah grabbed my arm again, clinched her teeth, dug her nails into my arm, and let out a low moan, "Oh…Jeff….Oh, God, Jeff."

As I parted the curtain and stepped toward the bed, I heard a whimper, then a groan. I inhaled deeply the smells that saturated the air, it was sharp, stark; the smell of primitive life, brine and flora all mixed with the sweet medicinal smell of a hospital. I took Sarah's hand, drew it to my lips, and kissed it lightly. She pulled her hand away, clutched her face with both hands, squinted her eyes, and turned toward me, moaning, "God, it hurts so much, Jeff."

Sarah was sprawled across the hospital bed, her body coated in sweat, her blond hair matted. Two nurses and the doctor stood at the foot of the bed, commenting nonchalantly about how well this delivery was going, that she was fully dilated, and the baby was crowning. Sarah cried out and then exhaled heavily; her body not her own as she breathed in…out…in…out, as she twisted from the contractions. She arched her back as she pushed downward with all her might, her eyes closing into two small slits. All these sounds, motions, and smells were swirling around us in the miracle of birth. Sarah grabbed my arm again, clinched her teeth, dug her nails into my arm, and let out a low moan, "Oh…Jeff….Oh, God, Jeff."

Hunching forward, Sarah breathed harder, deeper, and pushed from her very soul as the head slowly emerged and a baby's cry rang out in the delivery room. After he clipped the umbilical cord, the doctor placed this bundle of wet hair and soft folds of flesh into Sarah's waiting arms. As she pulled the naked little infant to her chest, Sarah turned to me with tears streaming down her face and sobbed, "We got our baby girl."

Far across town, an old man named Arthur Johnson dozed in an uneasy sleep in a hospital room that was filled with the acrid smell of urine combined with sweat. By his side, monitors glowed and lights flickered as they registered the slow progress of a life ebbing away. His shallow breathing was labored, as if a heavy weight rested on his chest. From days of struggle, this normally well-groomed man had a four-day-old beard, his body was covered with a thin film of sweat, and his hair had become a matted collection of overgrown gray ringlets…

Still further away, on the edge of town, Emily Johnson, Arthur's wife of fifty-three years sat at an empty table made up for dinner. Her face was fully made up, light red lipstick, rouge and eye liner. Her hair looked as if it had been done that day at the beauty parlor and her light brown blouse and pantsuit were sharply pressed as if she was ready to receive houseguests. She had cooked a full meal, roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, iced tea and a chocolate cake. This dark November evening she sat at an empty table, staring across an empty kitchen inside an empty house. After eating a few bites, she wrapped the leftovers in aluminum foil, loaded the refrigerator, cleaned all the dishes and put them away in the cabinets. A ritual she observed religiously for the previous fifty years. She retired to an empty bed and sat staring blankly at television screen contemplating the unimaginable.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JEFF ROBERTS

Jeff Roberts is a 45 year-old father to two, lover of one and is blessed with the friendship of many. He's finishing the last 3 hours in the Bachelor of Liberal Studies Program at Iowa and will graduate next December. This piece is from his book, Little Stories, which is a collection of his undergraduate writing here at Iowa is now on sale at Praire Lights Books in Iowa City, Prospero's Book in Kansas City, and on-line.

This page was first displayed
on January 02, 2008

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