May 6

[continued from May 5 entry…]

 

Something was wrong with the baby.

Of course, that’s why the midwife was here. Encouragement, advice, experience. It was Nikki’s first baby, but the midwife had delivered hundreds. Thousands, maybe, judging from the woman’s age.

No need to worry, right?

“It shouldn’t hurt this much,” Nikki said. “Should it?”

“Every pregnancy is different.” The midwife’s voice seemed to emerge from the ground. The angle of Nikki’s body, the mound of her stomach and the spread of her legs, all conspired to block the woman from view. “The herbs I put in your tea should relax you.”

She didn’t feel relaxed at all. Perhaps the midwife was lying to comfort her, and the woman knew all along the pregnancy was doomed. Nikki wished she could see the midwife’s face, to get a better sense of how things were really going.

Her insides seemed to stretch in agonizing directions, with sharp pains as if the baby was trying to claw its way out of her. The child was positioned the wrong way, it was too large… They needed a hospital, a maternity ward with a full staff of specialists.

Then a thought came into Nikki’s head that she’d been trying to fend off. What if the baby wasn’t the problem? What if there was something wrong with the midwife?

Susannah had shown up at her house, out of nowhere. The exact person she needed, to help during the final, frightening months of her pregnancy. A little too much of a coincidence, perhaps?

“Tell me what you’re doing,” Nikki said. She tried to shift her body, to move one leg aside to better observe the midwife’s actions.

“Hold still.” Her hands grabbed Nikki’s leg and returned it to its previous position. “I’m not doing anything. We have to wait until the baby is ready.”
The midwife’s grip was surprisingly strong. Susannah definitely wasn’t a frail older woman: it felt like she could twist her wrists in opposite directions and snap Nikki’s leg in two.

She could do the same to an infant.

Nikki struggled in the improvised bed of pillows, shifting her elbows and propping her head higher. She still couldn’t gain an unobstructed view of the midwife, but the woman’s satchel of medical tools was slightly to the left.

Nikki moved her other leg, kicking the satchel over in a twitchy moment that she hoped would look like an accident. Some of the satchel’s contents spilled out and rolled across the carpet.

Not tools or medicine, but cans of food. A stash of provisions the midwife had stolen from Nikki’s cabinets.

“I trusted you.” Nikki tried to scream, but the birthing pains had sapped her energy. She felt like she was in a fog. “I brought you into my home. Fed you, gave you a place to sleep.” Nikki wondered what kind of drugs the woman had actually placed into her drink.

“You would have done that for anybody, if you’d been a better person.” Susannah stood up now, abandoning all pretense of midwifery, and began gathering the cans of food. “This will all be mine now.”

The woman looked like a stranger — the kind of crazed stranger Nikki had deliberately shut her house against, to save her own life and the life of her child.

Nikki’s vision grew more blurry.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” the woman said. “I’m no midwife. I needed food, and I remembered the pregnant woman who lived in the house on the hill.”

The woman looked like a hunched-over troll. She moved closer, hovering over her “patient’s” stomach. The baby kicked hard at Nikki’s insides, and the women drew back her leg, preparing to aim adult kicks at the same target.

Nikki’s vision blurred, and went black.

 

#

 

Crying. Crying.

The crying of an infant.

Nikki opened her eyes. She was in her own bed, instead of on the floor in a pile of pillows. Her arms and legs were tied to the bedposts.

No. It only felt that way. Her energy was so drained, she could barely move.

The infant’s cries grew louder. The baby floated through the air and hovered close to the left side of Nikki’s head.

She was too weak to turn her head and look. Too frightened to look.

“It’s a girl,” the evil, false midwife said.

Ever since the world ended, Nikki had a frequent, recurring dream. In the dream, her husband came back home, smiled at her, kissed her. He wasn’t dead, because the wars hadn’t happened, and neither had the fighting and looting and further killings that followed. It was all a bad dream.

Such a terrible thing to wake to the truth.

But this time, maybe the dream was the bad part. Maybe she’d dreamed of a painful pregnancy, of a deceptive midwife, and would wake to a happier world.

Nikki was still too weak to move. “Susannah? Is that really you?”

The baby continued to cry. A blur of pink flesh came close to her face, and Nikki tried to distinguish a healthy infant’s features.

The woman she’d trusted, the woman she’d known as Susannah, spoke again. “Do you still want to name her Hope?”

Nikki tried to trust her, tried not to hear a terrible undertone of irony in the woman’s voice.