Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

All Or Nothing At All

Terry Collett

You hardly hear the door close behind you; it seems some distance off and you focus on the diminutive blanketed body close to your breast. You notice the pink blanket; take in all the fibre, the way the pattern runs in and out of the plain pink and white. You move your fingers, clear the blanket from the body, and look at the petite off-white features of the baby.

“Just for a while,” the nurse had said. “It’s best not to leave it too long.” And all the while you were gazing at the package she held closely in her arms as if it were your birthday and she was about to offer you a gift.

“Where can I be alone with her?” you asked, not taking your eyes from your daughter, not letting one second pass away from the sight of her.

The nurse pointed to a room along the corridor. “You’ll be alone there. No one will disturb you.” You walked with her to the room and as she opened the door a smell hit you, which momentarily made you feel nauseous. “Take your time. Be positive, Clara.” The words hung around you like shadows and seemed to move with you as you walked to the chair by the window.

Now, holding the baby and standing by the window, you want to look at every inch of the pale features until they are branded into your memory, sealed into your mind never to be lost. The stillness tears a small hole in your heart and slowly worms into your very depths. You hear far off sounds from the traffic from the road, the sounds of voices along the corridor, the faint murmur of your heart beating against your daughter’s head.

“Is it a girl?” you had asked excitedly as the last push had eased things for you.

“Yes,” a voice replied. And there was a slight uncertainty in the voice. A controlled panic seemed to be in the air. Bodies moved away from you, your daughter was whisked off across the room, and you stared at them as if it was a game and you were being left out.

“What’s the matter?” you asked, sitting up in the bed, sensing a panic rising in your voice. “Is there something wrong?”

The small head is motionless as if your daughter was sleeping. A name, you ask, she must have a name. And you rush through all the names you and Richard had gone through, but none seemed to suit the occasion.

You look away from the face and look at the orange curtains. A name now seems so important; seems as important as anything ever will from this day onwards. You look out at the grey skies and shudder. The room seems so large now that you feel as if you were a small speck in a large universe that is spinning out and off to nowhere for all eternity.

“The baby’s not breathing,” a nurse had said. “We need to take measures.” And then she was gone and no one seemed to know you were there, as if you had been forgotten, a mere onlooker.

“Why isn’t she breathing? Can’t you do something?” you asked. But no one seemed to hear you. The room was full of bodies moving and rushing and you were sitting there staring at them like a ghost watching a drama unfold from some other sphere. “Help her,” you said. Your words seemed to drop to the floor and then they had gone out of the room and you were alone, staring at the door, taking in its whiteness, the bland whiteness that you will never forget.

“Rachel,” you say to the room and the baby in your arms. “Rachel. Mummy’s here.” You move back from the window, turn, walk towards the bed, and sit down. The white features are so still that it seems to you as if Rachel is holding her breath like a child in play, pretending to be diving under water. You move your finger along the cheek. The sensation of touch. You want to hold her for always and not let her go. Want to wrap her inside your nightgown and run off with her away from all these interfering people, and eyes, and opinions, and just find a small area to look and talk and listen to the baby’s silence. You kiss the forehead gently as if you were afraid to waken her. The tiny nose seems so perfect. The closed eyes like sealed parcels. You want them to open, to reveal to you two small eyes of blue, alive with interest and wonder. You want the sound of breathing to begin from Rachel’s chest. But nothing happens. All is still. “Rachel? Mummy’s here,” you whisper. You breathe in deeply. The sounds outside the room are as nothing now. The traffic far off out side seems a world away.

You open the blanket and look at the tiny feet. They are slightly curled. You touch them with your finger as if you might tickle them into life. But they do not move. You stare at the small thin legs. And for a moment, you imagine they kick into life and a wail from the throat of Rachel will bring a deep intake of breath, but it doesn’t happen. Only stillness.

You take Rachel’s hand, open the tiny fist, and recall a doll you once had that you loved that had hands just like these. You want the hand to squeeze yours, to have the tiny finger surround your finger and hold on to it and squeeze and squeeze until you could barely even think of it anymore and move your finger away as if you had been electrocuted.

When had Rachel been conceived? you wonder, moving your finger over the cheek once more. That weekend when Richard was home from Saudi Arabia. He had to return again and he said to make the most of it and had booked you both into that hotel by the coast where you had had your honeymoon. Yes, you say, that was it. That weekend. Seems ages now. Seems almost a waste that time in bed together. That laughter and fun.

Voices from the corridor come closer and the door opens. “Are you all right, Clara?” the nurse asks from the door.

You nod. Words don’t come. You fold Rachel close to you and search for words. “Just a little more time,” you say.

“I must take her from you soon, “she says. “It isn’t going to be easier by holding her for too long.” Then she goes out and her footsteps go down the corridor and silence returns.

“What is Mummy to do, Rachel?” you ask. You look around the room, at the bare green walls and empty beds. Your eyes go off to the windows and the grey skies outside. You stand up, carry the baby along the floor, and stand looking out for a few moments. “I can’t let you go off alone,” you murmur to the room and baby. You hold Rachel to your breast, and with a free hand you pull wide the window to let in air. You try the door that leads onto the balcony and it opens. You sense a thrill of release. You walk out onto the balcony and breathe in the air. The baby is pressed tight against you as if it were about to seek a dug to drink, but it is motionless and you sense a fullness in your breasts.

You look over the balcony at the area below. It seems so small a world down below. The greyness seems so depressing. Not even the weak sun can move it. Looking at Rachel, you kiss her lips. Feel the coldness and want them to open and cry. But they are still and pink, slightly purple.

With one hand holding Rachel, you climb the steel bar and sit on the balcony wall looking at the far off horizon. How far off it all looks. Grey and dull. Lifeless as Rachel. You lean forward and hold tight to the parcel like a child leaping from a wall in a game long forgotten and far away.


Terry Collett is a fifty-eight-year-old poet who has been writing since 1972. He has had two slim volumes of poems published in 1974 and 1978. Since that time he has had poems printed in anthologies, magazines, and newspapers.

© Terry Collett

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012