Small Great Things(8)
Written By: Jodi Picoult
It took me five hours to track my grandfather—a combination of racking my brain to remember what he’d been yammering on about in terms of directions that morning when I was half asleep, and walking down the highway looking for clues—like the wrapper from the tobacco he liked to chew, and one of my mittens. By the time I found his truck pulled off on the side of the road and could follow his footprints through the snow into the woods, I wasn’t shivering anymore. I was a furnace. Anger, it turns out, is a renewable source of fuel.
He was bent over a campfire when I stepped into the clearing. Without saying a word, I walked up and shoved him so that he nearly fell into the burning embers. “You son of a bitch,” I yelled. “You can’t just walk away from me.”
“Why not? If I don’t make a man out of you, who the hell will?” he said.
Even though he was twice as big as me, I grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and hauled him upright. I drew back my fist and tried to punch him, but he grabbed my hand before the blow could land.
“You want to fight?” my grandfather said, backing away and circling me.
My father had taught me how to punch someone. Thumb on the outside of your fist, and twist the wrist at the very end of the throw. It was all talk, though; I’d never hit someone in my life.
Now, I drew back my fist and shot it forward like an arrow, only to have my grandfather twist my arm behind my back. His breath was hot in my ear. “Did your pansy-ass father teach you that?” I struggled, but he had me pinned. “You want to know how to fight? Or do you want to know how to win?”
I gritted my teeth. “I…want…to win,” I ground out.
Gradually he relaxed his grip, keeping one hand clamped on my left shoulder.
“You’re small, so you come in real low. Then you’ll be blinding me with your body, and I’m expecting you to bring the punch up. If I duck, my fist will hit you in the face, which means I’ll stay upright, and leave myself wide open. The last thing I’ll be expecting is for you to come up over the shoulder like this.”
He raised his right fist, looping it up and over in a dizzy arc that stopped a breath before it kissed my cheekbone. Then he let go of me and took a step back. “Go on.”
I just stared at him.
This is what it feels like to beat someone up: like a rubber band stretched so tight it aches, and starts to shake. And then when you throw that punch, when you let go of the elastic, the snap is electric. You’re on fire, and you didn’t even realize you were combustible.
Blood sprayed from my grandfather’s nose onto the snow; it coated his smile. “That’s my boy,” he said.
EVERY TIME BRIT gets up during labor, the contractions get so bad that the nurse—a redhead named Lucille—tells her to lie back down. But when she does, the contractions stop, and so Lucille tells her to take a walk. It’s a vicious circle, and it’s been seven hours already, and I’m starting to wonder if my kid is going to be a teenager before he decides to come into this world.
Not that I’m saying any of that to Brit.
I’ve held her steady while an anesthesiologist put in an epidural—something that Brit begged for, which totally surprised me, since we had planned to do a natural birth without drugs. Anglos like us stay away from them; the vast majority of people in the Movement look down on addicts. I whispered to her as she bent over the bed, the doctor feeling along her spine, asking if this was a good idea. When you have the baby, Brit said, you get to decide.
And I have to admit, whatever they’ve got pumping through her veins has really helped. She’s tethered to the bed, but she’s not writhing anymore. She told me that she can’t feel anything below her belly button. That if she wasn’t married to me she’d propose to the anesthesiologist.
Lucille comes in and checks the printout from the machine that’s hooked up to Brit, which measures the baby’s heartbeat. “You’re doing great,” she says, although I bet she says that to everyone. I tune out as she talks to Brit—not because I don’t care, but because there’s just some mechanical stuff you don’t want to think about if you ever want to see your wife as sexy again—and then I hear Lucille tell Brit that it’s time to push.
Brit’s eyes lock on mine. “Babe?” she says, but the next word jams up in her throat, and she can’t say what she wants to.
I realize that she is scared. This fearless woman is actually afraid of what comes next. I thread my fingers through hers. “I’m right here,” I tell her, although I’m just as terrified.
What if this changes everything between me and Brit?
What if this baby shows up and I don’t feel anything at all for it?
What if I turn out to be a lousy role model? A lousy father?
“The next time you feel a contraction,” Lucille says, “I want you to bear down.” She looks up at me. “Dad, get behind her, and when she has the contraction, you help her sit up so she can push.”
I’m grateful for the direction. This I can do. As Brit’s face reddens, as her body arcs like a bow, I cup her shoulders in my hands. She makes a low, guttural noise, like something in its last throes of life. “Deep breath in,” Lucille coaches. “You’re at the top of the contraction…now bring your chin to your chest for me and push right down into your bottom…”