Monday, 7 June 2010

Hallowe'en Parade

Hallowe’en 1933, Jackson, Mississippi:  A storm rages. A storm blows. A quiet night in at the emergency ward at the Jackson Municipal Penitentiary.

Most nights saw the full slate of wounds. The whole gamut. Wounds from carelessly operated farm machinery. Wounds from carelessly swung sickles. Wounds from carelessly swung punches. Wounds from carelessly drunk whiskey.

"Quiet night in": a fine change to the routine.

The storm rages. Only a fool would venture out. The storm blows. The streets are busy.

Hallowe'en, 1933, Jackson Municipal Penitentiary: Sister Irene Lyons stares out the window. All is black. The storm rages. The storm blows. Tendrils whip the window. Tendrils scrape the window. Rain clatters. Rain spatters. Droplets track down the pane. Branches crash. Sister Irene watches her reflection. It distorts. The droplets track. It distends. The droplets track. The tendrils whip. Sister Irene keeps watching.

The storm rages. Only a fool would venture out. The door is battered. A man staggers in. He's wet. He's carrying a woman. She's wet. She's heavy with child. They're all wet. They both collapse on the floor. A puddle pools. A dirty pool.

The woman moans.

Sister Irene removes her spectacles from her nose and gently places them on her book.

The man groans.

Sister Irene regards the woman. Sister Irene diagnoses. Sister Irene swings into action. Sister Irene barks instructions. 

“Hester, put the kettle on. And git me some towels.” Ward Nurse Hester Ratchet bustles for the sink.

Jed lies on the floor. Jed diagnoses. “it’s her appendix, ma’am”.

Nurse Ratchet drops the kettle. Sister Irene arches her brow. “Her appendix?” 

“Yes Ma’am. O-bese Appendicitis.”

Nurse Ratchet stiffens. Nurse Ratchet is is skeptical. Nurse Ratchet picks up the kettle. Nurse Ratchet exclaims: “Whut?” Nurse Ratchet fair spits out her words.

Sister Irene soothes. Sister Irene calms. Sister Irene eyeballs Nurse Ratchet: “How you doin’ with them towels, honey?” Nurse Ratchet glares.

Harriet groans. She's on the floor. She's wet.

Sister Irene turns to Jed. “Now, what’s that you sayin’, honey? Appendicitis?”

 Harriet catches Sister Irene's eye. Harriet shakes her head. Harriet scowls. Harriet contracts. Harriet groans.

"It's a family condition," says Jed. "On my wife's side." Jed pauses. "This here's my wife." Jed pauses. "Harriet". 

Harriet catches Sister Irene's eye. Harriet shakes her head. Harriet scowls. Harriet's eyes show fear. They're big like cue balls.

Sister Irene opens her mouth. Harriet shakes her head.

Sister Irene remarks cryptically. Sister Irene alludes to some other news. Jed looks blank. Sister Irene figures she has some talking to do. Harriet figues she has more.

Harriet contracts. Harriet howls. Jed looks blank.

A muted squeal issues forth. 

Jed looks around. Jed looks blank. Jed looks at Harriet. Harriet winces. Harriet didn't say a thing.

Jed looks blank. Jed pauses. Jed cries out: "What on God’s earth was that?" 

The storm rages. The storm blows. Only a fool would venture out.

Harriet is quiet a while. Harriet ventures out. Harriet groans. "It’s the baby, honey, He’s calling to get out!" she says. Harriet is calm. Harriet is equable. Harriet contracts. Harriet howls.

"Baby?" said Jed. "But we..." Jed fumbles. "I … but it’s not…"

Sister Irene interrupts. Sister Irene understands. Sister Irene gets the gig. “The Lord moves in mysterious ways. He is a merciful God, and he loves his children”.

Nurse Ratchet stiffens. Nurse Ratchet is is skeptical. Nurse Ratchet fair spits out her words. Nurse Ratchet plays it sotto voce.

The storm rages. The storm blows. The tendrils whip and scrape.

One hour before dawn, Harriet Delores Guinn is delivered of a baby boy. He's a big size. He's a beauty. You wouldn't throw that one back. Sister Irene smiles.

The child goes puce. The child goes wild. The child howls. The child screams. The child screams as though the vengeance of the Lord is in his heart. The tempest rages.

The storm blows out. The thunderclouds clear. The child sleeps at his mother’s breast. His mother sleeps. A finger of sunlight  reaches through the window. It feels its way across the floor. Sunlight fills the room.

Sister Irene goes to the window. Sister Irene watches her reflection. It's true. It's straight. The sunlight plays.

Harriet has the name. Harriet knows what she will call him. Her son, who sang before he could speak. Her son, who sang before he could breathe. Her son, who found peace in the morning sun: Ray.

Half an hour later another child arrives. He does not cry. He does not sing. He does not whimper. This child is docile. He lies with his brother close to his mother’s breast, mute and placid, until the morning. His name will be Jesse.

Harriet sleeps. The children sleep. The sun streams in.

Jed Guinn lies silent. Jed lies next to Harriet’s bed. Jed is stretched out on the floor. Jed is on the spot where, three hours earlier, he fainted clean away.

Sister Irene watches her reflection. It's true. It's straight. The sunlight hardens.

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