Let me begin many years later, after my arrival in America and finally Nebraska. Let me begin with Jeannie and Farthest House. On the 3rd of May, 1960, I stood unseen in the sad bedroom, watching the small group huddled around her: the doctor, her husband Julian, and his mother. As Jeannie struggled in childbirth, we all prayed the doctor could somehow stop the excessive flow of blood. Had I been alive, I might have been of use, for I’d been something of an herbalist, picking up my skirts as a girl and trampling through the French countryside. Later, as a grown woman, I walked through trees and along the banks of the Elkhorn River searching for the medicinal plants I needed. But I’d been dead nineteen years. What could I do?
Jeannie’s husband, Julian, knelt beside the bed, holding her hand, whispering encouragements and placing cool cloths on her forehead. Watching grief and fear harden the muscles in his jaw—a man who at thirty-eight had already seen so much—tore at me.
The middle-aged family physician, Dr. Mahoney, placed shiny metal forceps on a clean white cloth, but he kept his scalpel tucked deep in his aging leather bag. He would not use it. He thought Jeannie a bleeder.
Need I say a person’s thoughts are never a secret? The living pretend not to know another’s thinking, but this is partly a human attempt at propriety, and partly a means of self-defense. The truth is, all things are energy with shape and color. Seen from the spirit world, all thoughts are as bright as washed jewels.
And so, I knew Dr. Mahoney was considering how every year medicine made bounding strides and how in 1960 the advances were nothing short of miraculous. However, he knew no doctor or procedure that could stop this volume of blood, and he had no intention of cutting into a hemophiliac—she must be—to try and perform a C-section. He wouldn’t try that during a home-delivery, not without assistants ready with clamps and pints of blood. He saw no point either in waking a volunteer to crank up the village’s old ambulance. A driver would need a few minutes to pull on his pants, find his boots, get to the fire station, and bring the ambulance up the hill. There’d be the time it would take to load Jeannie onto a stretcher, the strain and jostling she’d suffer being hoisted down the stairs on a gurney, and the thirty-mile trip to a hospital in Omaha. She’d be dead before the ambulance lights swung into the emergency lot. The infant with her. For the infant’s sake, it was best to keep Jeannie as still as possible. If the newborn’s head miraculously descended within reach of the forceps, he’d harvest the child. Then, if the mother still had a pulse, he’d pack her and call for the ambulance.
Julian’s mother, Luessy, paced but never stepped more than a few feet away before turning back, often needing to touch her son’s shoulder, only to pace again. Her hands went in and out of her sweater pockets. Her long gray braid lay quiet over one shoulder, and she watched the laundry basket in the corner with its growing heap of bloody, rubber-backed pads. She was a mystery writer, and she knew the human body held as many as a dozen pints of blood. How much more could Jeannie lose before she bled out?
As that last dark hour wore on, Jeannie, who through the evening endured stages of pain and sobbing, now only moaned. Softly, semi-consciously. Dr. Mahoney had given her sedation, and she’d lost so much blood that she also lost her desire to try and speak. She used her waning strength to will her heart to keep pumping until her baby entered the world. She knew she’d not walk Luessy’s rose garden again or live to raise her infant, but she’d fight for breath until she saw her child alive. She’d know whether she’d given life to a boy or a girl. She’d look into the infant’s eyes so that she could recognize her child when they met again.
I imagined Death pacing at the foot of her bed, rubbing his arid hands together, grinning at the blood—rose after rose, a garden blooming from between the young and too pale legs.
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