Fria and Hadies: The Ice & Fire
Fria stands in the threshold to the kitchens, a bowl of fresh melon slices in her hand, scowling. She hates how these entitled girls order her around and she is very much enjoying telling the kitchen staff how annoying this one is, sending her off on wild goose chases across the hospital, just because she fancies the one fruit that isn’t routinely provided. Sighing, she takes her leave and begins the long walk back to Persephone’s birthing suite.
Persephone is in the shower, the warm water hitting the sore parts of her feels so comforting. There is a convenient bar attached to the wall, which she grabs when a contraction hits and uses to ease herself down into a squatting position. She isn’t sure why she is doing this, but it just feels kind of right. Her mother is standing on the other side of the glass shower screen, holding a glass of cool coconut water, which she passes to her daughter after each contraction. It feels so good to be tended to like this, just as Demeter had done when she was a little girl feeling poorly.
‘You’re doing so well Sephy’, Demeter murmurs. ‘Remember to let everything relax – I saw you clenching your jaw during that last one.’ And she was right. Sephy had been grinding her teeth; the intensity of that last one had left her breathless.
The long walk back down the corridor holding the melon has wound Fria more tightly than ever. She, too, has her jaw set and she can feel the beginnings of a headache behind her eyes. She hasn’t drunk enough today, she knows that, but management docks their pay when they go to the toilet too much. She walks into The Oak Suite without knocking, the door banging against the sideboard yet again. The room is empty, except for Walter, who is reclined in a chair, absent-mindedly scrolling on his flexi-screen. He looks up at Fria and thanks her for the melon and gets up to take it from her.
‘My wife is in the shower, I’ll take this to her’, he says. But Fria has other ideas.
‘I’m afraid that before I can allow your wife to eat I need to check her again and put her back on the monitor.’
‘Oh, I see’, responds Walter with a hesitancy in his voice that betrays his knowledge that this is going to be far from straightforward now that Demeter is here and Sephy has found her voice. ‘I’ll go speak with her’, he says, reaching forward, eyes locked with Fria’s, taking the melon from her hand. He feels confused but also upset at the way this woman speaks and is frankly far more frightened of his wife and mother-in-law than he is of Fria.
So he dutifully walks into the bathroom. Sephy is now on all fours in the shower, emitting a low moan. Her cheeks are flushed, damp hair stuck to her cheek, her eyes, when she looks up at him, are deep, dark pools that sparkle at the centre in a way he’s never seen before. For a moment he is lost in them. He’s never seen her look more sexy. The bathroom is dim. Demeter has turned out the light and has magicked a soft glow with a torch set on the shelf under the mirror. She smiles at Walter and looks down at the melon in his hand. This brings Walter back to himself and he crouches down and offers his lover the sweet fruit.
It is as she is wiping melon juice from her chin and feeling the next tight, crampy feeling building that Fria is suddenly there, taking up her whole field of vision. She seems enormous, towering above her, arms crossed, acres of green scrub fabric seem to fill the room. Her mouth is moving, but Persephone can hear nothing. There is a roar in her ears that is part cascading water and partly the blood pounding in her head. She can do nothing but concentrate on the huge force that is flowing, like electricity, through her body. She shuts her eyes, trying to block out this unwelcome distraction.
When she opens them again, the birthnurse and her mother are over in the corner having a quiet but animated discussion. Eventually they appear to reach a tense truce and Demeter returns to her daughter and son-in-law, kneels down to Sephy’s level and says, ‘she wants you back on the bed for monitoring and an internal examination. I have told her you are comfy here and asked if she could listen to the baby without moving you. She said she needs to speak with you.’
Sephy nods and asks Walter to pass her her robe. Using his strong arms to help lift her off the floor, she tries to draw herself up to her full height to meet Fria on an equal footing. It is an immense feat of self control when every cell in her body is telling her to be a four-legged creature howling at the moon. And Fria’s words upset her. She doesn’t want to move, but she would like to know her baby is doing fine, although she is pretty sure all is well as she can feel her wriggling down and periodically giving her a kick under her ribs.
‘Can you listen to her heart beat here, please? I found the bed very difficult and feel it’s helping me being here.’
‘I’m afraid not. It is much safer for you to be on the bed. You wouldn’t want to endanger your baby, would you?’
Demeter is by her side in a flash. ‘Remember darling, it’s your call.’ Then turning towards Fria says, ‘perhaps Fria would be kind enough to explain what she means about it being safer and why it’s not possible to listen to the baby with you in an upright position.’ This was too much for Fria. With a grunt of annoyance she turns on her heel and leaves the room. When she returns five minutes later, Persephone is having a contraction on the toilet, Walter kneeling in front of her, her head buried in his neck. Demeter is standing sentinel at the door. Fria is not alone. She has brought back Dr Haidies, who, looking harried and frustrated, begins to talk to Persephone while she moans and writhes her way through this contraction.
Demeter is incensed. This is too much. ‘Per-lease, she is having a contraction. She can’t hear what you are saying. I must ask you to wait until my daughter is able to focus on your voice.’ Dr Haidies stiffens. All he needs right now on a busy nightshift is a know-it-all mother. He crosses his arms and purses his lips and waits. These are, after all, his customers and he can’t afford to offend them, but his blood is boiling. Persephone lifts her head from Walter’s shoulder, breathes out audibly and spots the Dr and Fria, crowded into the doorway of the en suite, and is visibly startled.
‘Please give me some privacy for a moment’, she whispers. Stony faced, the doctor and birthnurse take a step back while Persephone wipes herself. There has been gooey stuff each time she peed all day, but this time there is also a little bit of blood and this scares her.
Standing and leaning on Walter, Demeter tying her robe, she walks back into the room, reflecting that what she’d actually like to do is step back into the dimly lit en suite, slam the door and lock it.
Haidies loses not a moment. ‘I’m afraid we need to monitor your baby and examine you to determine whether your labour has progressed. It is not safe to be walking around. What if you were to fall or faint? And how can we tell if your baby is tolerating the contractions without continuously monitoring you? Dear girl, you want to go home with a live baby, don’t you?’
Walter’s heart races and he can feel sweat run uncomfortably down his back. He feels Sephy squeeze his arm tightly and hears Demeter gasp. The fury he felt at Fria earlier returns. ‘I say, that’s a pretty awful thing to say, old boy. My wife is feeling the baby move and is certain things are progressing.’ But it is too late. Persephone has loosened her grip on him and walked across the room to get on the bed. The fire has gone out. She can’t do this; it is too hard. Perhaps they’re right and the baby is in trouble. What was that blood? Let them do what they need to do. All she just wants is a healthy baby; nothing else matters. Letting out a huge sigh and a single tear, Persephone spreads her legs for Haidies.