Walter awakens before this wife this morning. He can feel her soft breath on the nape of his neck and her bump squashed up against the small of his back. He holds his breath, feeling the unmistakable movement of his daughter, stretching and squirming inside her mother. The movement wakes Persephone and he turns to face her, breathing in the sweet, warm, sleepy smell that emanates from her alabaster skin. He kisses her on the mouth softly and murmurs, “today is the day we meet Demi, child of my goddess.”
Persephone smiles at the old joke. Walter has called her his goddess since they first got together, so as a child of a goddess, Demi seems an obvious choice. She cups Walter’s face in the palm of her hand, smiles into his eyes and rolls over onto her back, yawning and stretching, before hauling her considerable balk up to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. The sight of the leather case, contents neatly folded inside – one compartment for her, one for the baby – suddenly fills her with dread. ‘Today is, indeed the day’, she thinks, grimly. Induction is not how she wanted this baby to enter the world. But if Dr Tabib feels it is necessary, then induction it must be.
Three hours later Walter and Persephone are standing at the entrance to the Birthing Suite in the west wing of the Taramco Arcadia. They are greeted efficiently by a Birthnurse who introduces herself as Fria. She shows them to their room – a large, brightly lit space with a window over looking the immaculately manicured Taramco gardens. The room is painted a baby blue, a colour picked up in the trimmings of the curtains and cushions on the stylish sofa. The room is dominated by a large bed; king sized and draped in an attractive quilt. An en suite with bath and shower is just visible through a partially open faux-wood panelled door. Apart from the sofa there is a reclining chair and a sideboard, on top of which is a veritable smorgasbord of things to eat and drink: fresh fruit and juices, biscuits and cakes, raw vegetables and a bottle of champagne on ice.
Persephone allows herself to breathe out. Perhaps this isn’t going to be as awful as she imagined. Fria enters, holding a flexi-screen, jabbing at it with a frown. Looking up at Persephone, she says, ‘I am sure you will be much more comfortable in a hospital gown. You will find the correct size, in the shade you choose, in the closet over there. Once you are changed I will return to begin the induction process.’ She is gone before either Persephone or Walter can open their mouths to say hello or ask a question. They look at each other, not sure whether to feel exasperated or confused. Dr Tabib had told them Persephone would be able to wear her own clothes, yet somehow now, they get the distinct impression Fria would not allow this at all. Persephone thinks of the peacock silk kimono in her case, sighs and chooses an indigo gown from the closet; Walter makes himself useful, folding her discarded clothes and piling them neatly in the nightstand cupboard.
‘Just like a spa hotel’, Walter says jovially, as much to jolly himself along as cheer up the obviously nervous Persephone. She can find no words to answer him so just sits next to him on the bed and leans her head on his shoulder. Just then, Fria opens the door just a little too forcefully, making it bang in the sideboard, fracturing their peaceful moment of communion. ‘It is not permitted for relatives to sit on the bed, for infection control reasons. Please use the sofa or recliner if you wish to sit or sleep. Thank you. Dr Tabib is not here today; he is presenting at a conference. Dr Iuvenior will be here soon to assess you, and then we will insert the pessary. If you could make yourself ready for the assessment, please,’ and with a very slight hesitation, adding ‘dear’, looking for all the world like any term of endearment tastes bitter in her mouth.
Persephone lays back on the soft pillows. The quilt is taken away and replaced by a hospital-green sheet. Fria magics stirrups from the bowels of the bed and lifts each of Persephone’s legs into the strange hammocks. Walter sits by her side, patting her hand absent-mindedly, then looking up sharply when the door opens – again too forcefully, the noise jarring both their nervous systems – and a bright, overhead light is flicked on. Here is Dr Iuvenior: dark blue scrubs, impossibly handsome in a brooding, Mediterranean way. ‘Hello, er, Persephone’, he says, glancing at his flexi-screen. ‘My name is Dr Iuvenior’. Then, turning to Fria he mumbles, ‘Cervical assessment and application of cytotec?’
‘Yes, doctor. She is prepped and ready. What size gloves to you need?’
After more conversation that Persephone and Walter only half hear and half understand, the doctor turns to them with a winning, reassuring smile and say, ‘Right, lets see how well you are doing and get this little one born, eh? By some slight of hand a trolley has appeared at his elbow and Fria is passing him things. Without warning, freezing cold fingers touch Persephone’s vulva, push past and probe her innermost depths. She jumps, then freezes, holding her breath and squeezing Walter’s hand. As suddenly as she is invaded, the fingers withdraw, but before she can breath out, something hard and cylindrical is inserted inside her, makes a clicking sound and is taken away. ‘There, all done’ says the doctor. ‘I have given your cervix some medicine to encourage it to relax and start letting this little baby out. We find that nature isn’t that great at this business, so believe me, we will have this baby in your arms in no time.’
Before Persephone has time to pull her gown down and lift her legs out of the stirrups, the door bangs open again and both Fria and the doctor are gone. Walter helps his wife get more comfortable and at her behest, walks across to the light switch to dim the room again. Neither of them speak much. Both feel as though on a rollercoaster; perspecitives muddled, an unsettling feeling in the pits of their stomachs and a sense that all they can do is hold on tight til it’s over.