Ann: The Stirrings of Life

The room to which the nurse led her looked like all the other rooms that Ann had seen before. She set down the baby carrier and waited. Margaret smiled up at her. Some people said (never in Ann’s own hearing, but then, there were other ways of finding things out) that Margaret was a funny name for a baby, especially since Ann had thus far refused to abbreviate it with a nickname. Too formal, they said, or too much of something. But Ann felt the name imbued her sweet daughter with a great measure of dignity, as good names are able to do. “Margaret,” she said softly, and Margaret watched her mother with eyes of laughing joy.

There was nothing distinct about that room. It was exceedingly sterile, as a room in any doctor’s office should be. White walls gleamed and a white tiled floor could almost have reflected her face back to her as Ann stared down at it. On one side of the room there was a chair perched beside a computer, and a few feet away was another identical chair. This chair belonged to Ann. That is, this was the chair on which Ann was currently sitting.

On the other side of the room was the bed, stood high with white paper stretched across it, ready as it was to receive another body. Glancing around, Ann read the posters secured neatly on the walls, to pass the time. All of them rallied the reader to health with enthusiastically generic tones. But after reading all the posters two, three (or ever four) times, Ann felt no healthier than before. She was suspended in that state between perfect health and utter calamity.

Margaret had fallen asleep. This made Ann feel relieved. It wasn’t as if Margaret could understand what would take place in that room. But though Ann had never wanted to part from her daughter, she felt as if she would rather undergo the next half an hour alone. A strand of her blonde hair fell before her eyes and it seemed almost as if it had faded. The longer Ann stared at the piece of hair (there was nothing else to do), the more she was convinced that her hair had become (or was becoming) that noncommittal shade between brown and blonde. It was as if all the colour had been sucked out by the plainness of that personality-less room, and by being inside it too long.

“Smithson,” someone said in a sharp voice, and there was the doctor, brandishing Ann’s last name like a systematic summons towards certain doom. In her brightly bleached white coat, the doctor blended into the room. “How have you been feeling?” she asked brusquely.

“Lately, not so bad,” Ann replied. The doctor sat down, pulled in her chair and began clacking away at the computer. Ann, sitting there in self-imposed silence, resented the loud voice in which the doctor spoke. It was as if she did not see the baby was sleeping. It was almost as if she did not note the baby’s presence at all, did not realize or remember that Margaret existed, when it was Margaret’s existence that changed everything.

“So,” the doctor said, and Ann’s irritations all fled in the face of greater concerns. Straightening some papers on the computer desk, she blinked twice and her glasses slid down her nose. “After looking over the results, it seems the problems were stemming from a series of…”

Ann nodded her head and listened as the doctor continued, trying very hard to concentrate, but she was intent only on waiting for one particular phrase (or for its opposite). The medical jargon quickly overwhelmed her, until she was drowning in a sea of it. None of this jargon mattered to Ann, but to the doctor it was a matter of great interest: all those large words, storehouses of knowledge, grand theories, and fascinating phenomenons. To Ann, it was really quite simple, and far more important: either she was fine, or she was not.

The doctor looked down, blinked again, and asked Ann another question. Ann did not answer. “But will I be fine? Is it okay?” she said instead.

The doctor paused, blinked several times and stared at Ann. Ann, in turn, became very still, until she felt like an object in the room.

At last (after a few painful seconds of breathless and nearly inanimate waiting), the doctor cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

There were more words after this, but Ann did not hear them, layered over as they were by some internal music brimming with strings and heralding trumpets. Suddenly she forgot that the doctor knew neither she nor Margaret; she forgot that to the doctor she did not matter and was simply another entry in a list, to be checked off on another passing day. Forgetting all this, she stood up, moved towards the doctor, and embraced her. Forgetting all this, she said “thank you.” And seeing the doctor from so close, so that her white coat was not so all-defining, Ann felt as if she loved her.

The doctor was surprised and noticeably flustered. As all this happened, Margaret woke up and began to cry: a long, searching wail. Dropping her notes, the doctor looked down at the baby. “What’s her name?” she asked. “I’m sorry if I woke her up.”

“Margaret,” Ann said proudly. But as for the crying, she did not mind. To Ann, it was the most precious and wonderful sound: the unmistakable stirrings of life.

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