A New Life
By R. D. Flavin

     Leonard rubbed sesame-seed oil gently on his wife's perineum to help relax the skin and muscle and save her the savagery of an episiotomy. His oiled fingers slowly massaged her skin and he found the act of intimately touching his wife for the first time in nearly five and a half months to be unnervingly erotic. His wife's body pulsated with the warm smells and colors of childbirth and it was all Leonard could do to keep his mind on her labor and not on those swollen breasts or the wonderfully engorged flower blossoming between her legs. He longed to caress the red flower, to hold those heaving breasts, or to kiss those sweet lips which twisted in the pain of birthing, but he dared not. He bent and kissed her shoulder instead.
     “Stop that...,” Cynthia yelled through her pain.
     His tongue tasted the saltiness of her skin. Cynthia's body was covered with a thin layer of perspiration and it made her shine and illuminate the entire delivery room. Leonard looked onto his wife's eyes and saw there a look related to both disgust and toleration. He answered the look with a weak and languorous smile and returned his attention to massaging her perineum.
     She screamed. The midwife ran quickly from the rear of the delivery room and pushed Leonard aside. Cynthia's best friend, Julie, tacitly approached the bed and took Cynthia's hand and pressed it against her own cheek. Over the shoulder of the midwife's shoulder, Leonard saw the flower open and looked upon a small mass of wrinkled skin covered with tiny red hairs. It was the head of their child!
     “Honey, I can see the baby's head,” Leonard said excitedly, his voice thick with compassion and awe.
     Cynthia tilted herself and made a terrible grimace. “Don't call me 'honey', she spat vehemently. She then cried out loud and horribly as the baby's head crowned and passed from the birth canal into the world outside.
     Leonard Hughes was married to Cynthia Moore in a trendy Northside tavern on Valentine's Day by a Unitarian minister who was also a pagan and a pantheist. They were married in a bar by a witch and Cynthia was eight and a half weeks pregnant. Leonard did his best to smile and not sweat during the entire ceremony, but failed at both. It was a small service with only their parents, the best-man, and the bride's-maid in attendance. Even friends and siblings were not allowed to be there per Cynthia's insistence. They didn't make love or 'consummate their marriage' on their wedding night, nor the following morning. They joined bodies briefly the following night, but neither was satisfied. Their first big fight happened two weeks into their marriage.
     She insisted he was immature and lacked any sense of responsibility because he had many unpaid medical bills from an injury the year before and was still working the same low paying job as when she first met him. Her idea of security in a relationship revolved around money, benefits, and social status. Leonard suspected she was probably right – he just didn't care for her attitude.
     He maintained Cynthia was 'too' forward to the point of being a bully, unemotional, and 'cool' to a degree of near frost. Leonard argued he needed reassurance in some form from his new bride. Not only didn't he get it, but she adamantly refused to acknowledge she even understood what he was talking about when he brought up the subject of his need for reassurance. He knew she was correct in her admission of not understanding his request. She would say, “Get a job; it's that simple,” as if it was the answer to all of their problems. What she refused to say was his need for reassurance and her inability to understand it would just have to wait. She didn't have to say it, as the unspoken words hung in the air around them like a dreary fog.

     With the full emergence of the baby's head, Cynthia carefully reached her hand down and felt the head of the child as it was still a part of her. She stroked the wet hair of the child while the midwife eased out one shoulder and then the other. Cynthia could feel the comforting hands of Julie upon her and knew she had reached the end of her long labor. In just a few heartbeats, she would be holding her baby in her arms.
     Leonard saw blood and water. He saw the wound in Christ's side and witnessed the birth of Ecclesia, the Church. He saw his wife on the cross of motherhood giving life to a new religion of love. He heard a scream and felt cold all over because he knew the scream had been his own.

     Five weeks into their marriage they began sleeping in different beds with Leonard sleeping in the guest room. They talked of therapy at the top of their lungs and threatened each other with divorce. Neither were behaving properly at the time and both displayed indications of being in a state of emotional shock. It was soon after Leonard began sleeping alone the dreams began.
     A tall and fair-haired child would address him from across a large room. The child was beautiful and proud and angry. Instinctively, Leonard recognized the child as his and Cynthia's. In the dream, he'd quit the the marriage and divorced Cynthia during the seventh month of her pregnancy. He'd shouted he didn't want to be a party to an “emotional bastard,” because the child's parents, though married, were not in love with one another. And, they were divorced, many years had passed, and now the child was confronting his father.
     “You left me alone with her,” the child stated flatly.
     “I couldn't bear it anymore,” Leonard explained.
     “You left me alone with her,” the child repeated.
     By the end of the third week of nightly visitations by the child of the future, Leonard had begun to doubt himself. He questioned whether or not the child's best interest would be served by divorcing Cynthia. Weary from apprehension, he agreed with Cynthia to enlist the help of a psychologist to attempt to right the wrongs in their marriage. Leonard vowed secretly to himself he'd give his 'all' to this woman, his wife, the mother of their child and give totally and completely of himself to their child. He swore he'd endure sleepless, loveless nights and Cynthia's scathing bitterness, the likes of which he'd never imagined. Leonard promised himself he'd do the right thing.
     The psychologist accepted seventy-five dollars (discounted because of Leonard's low income) for every fifty minutes of her time. She was professional, dignified, charming, and listened to their every comment and complaint. Some sessions provided a temporary prophylactic of sorts protecting them somewhat against further hurt and acrimony as they acknowledged the other struggling through the motions of emotional repair. Yet, in a few hours or days, they'd return to the marital battlefield of caustic remarks, hopeless projections of a shared future, and, of course, no physical contact. Nearly two thousand dollars ultimately was spent in therapy and all it basically accomplished was to hold them together by a thin, strained thread, and a vague pledge things may eventually get better. Cynthia grew larger in her pregnancy and their relationship and ability to successfully communicate actually got worse.

     Leonard felt the dark envelop him and his heart felt porous like a clump of coal expired and all used up. A high pitched whine arose all around him raging like a thousand pound sea-shell attacking him with the sounds of forceful waves crashing onto a lonely shore, only much faster and louder. Instantly, all changed and he was at home and at peace with the blackness around him. Leonard couldn't accept anything existing outside of his inky and shadowy world. However, even if he could have summoned his consciousness to acknowledge anything beyond the dark, it wouldn't have done any good. Nothing existed for Leonard outside of his light-less resignation.
     “Oh, Mr. Hughes,” the midwife called out. “We've had our share of problems with babies and mothers in the past, but we've 'never' lost a father before...”

     One session in therapy, Leonard made the grand confession – he regarded his wife as pretty, desired her physically, thought her extremely intelligent and longed to share her mind, and believed Cynthia had the capacity for kindness, joy, and wished to love her and be loved by her. He also admitted a sense deep within him, his wife had long ago turned away and would never look back. Leonard stated without hesitation, he was alone.
     The therapist interpreted his words as negative in the worst way that a married man with a child on the way could express himself in such a fashion. Tossing aside professionalism, she scolded and berated him for daring to exclaim he “was alone.” She added, with perfectly enunciated vehemence, Leonard didn't deserve the life and wife he had. It was a venomous pie in the face, as the therapist expounded upon the myriad problems which made up his flawed and damaged psyche. Defensibly calculating to himself, Leonard projected if the therapist and his wife were correct, it would take several thousands of dollars to rid himself of the delusions he was alone. Clenching reason once more, he smiled to himself at the number of truly disturbed people in the world which would enable the shrinks and psycho-kinks to manage an income and not starve.
     “You have to find your 'true' voice,” the psychologist instructed him, adding, “Think about it...”
     Leonard attempted to do as the therapist said. After several days of searching and failing to discover his “true voice,” he resigned himself to believing the psychologist was aggressively suggesting he speak his 'true' feelings to Cynthia. Which, as Leonard understood the situation, is what started the marital problems in the first place. He tried to talk to his wife, but they predictably disagreed over what were 'true' feelings and delusion. It was a one-way street and while Cynthia's 'true' voice was one of disdain, Leonard was repeatedly told he was thinking, feeling, and speaking the wrong way.

      The murky blackness was complete. He had achieved acceptance at last. The pent-up tensions, the weight of stress, and the sad and sick perception of hopelessness left him as he settled down and began to explore the dark. Leonard felt like a baby once more, in a safe and secure womb of existence. It was warm and wonderful. Peace, at last...
     “Mr. Hughes, you're a father,” the midwife announced as she gently placed the newborn on its mother's stomach. “Get up off the floor and come and see what nine months of waiting has produced!”
     Cynthia touched its tiny feet hands and feet, while lovingly letting her fingers glide over its wrinkled brow. The baby was slippery and wet with amniotic fluid, but a greater intimacy she couldn't wish for. A blessed, healthy child. And, if only her 'husband' would get up off of the delivery room floor and start acting like a man, a husband, and a father, then a sense of completeness and celebration could truly begin.

     They separated during the sixth month of her pregnancy. Cynthia squared her shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes and told him to pack his belongings, leave, and to re-think his life's goals. Leonard looked at his wife  with incredulity and asked how their relationship could continue, how their marriage could survive, how their love could grow when they weren't even living together.
     “Maybe it won't...,” she answered without any apparent emotion.
     Leonard moved into a cheap flop-house and continued in therapy with Cynthia. He landed himself a better paying job with complete medical benefits, began to pay off his bills, debts, and gave as much money to his wife as he could afford. An infinitesimal fraction of her bitterness was checked by this, but love never returned. Leonard felt betrayed.
     A little bit of sex, a few weeks of love, and months of acrid and harsh words had produced a failed relationship. Leonard cried often, sometimes sobbing in the middle of the night for no reason he could name. Failure welled up and overflowed out of his lips like a wounded animal getting ready to die. He whimpered at the injustice and meanness around him.

     But, now the hurt was gone and he was safe once more.
     The hospital staff talked about Leonard Hughes and nothing else for weeks, as they'd never 'lost' a father in the delivery room before or since. The efforts to revive him were valiant, however as the coroner's report later showed, Leonard died of a massive heart attack the instant he collapsed to the floor. The father died at the same moment his child was being born. Everyone thought this was nice and remembered Leonard fondly for waiting until the birth of his child before passing on.
     Cynthia took her newborn home from the hospital the next day and resumed her life with a reaffirmed hope and vigor. She had lost a husband, ...but, she had gained a child.
     At her six-week postnatal checkup, Cynthia was told she was remarkably well healed and it made her feel ebullient. The nurse upon further examination ordered blood-work to be performed, as the new mother showed certain symptoms which were unexpected. Blood was drawn and tests were run to find out why Cynthia's body was behaving as it was.
     The results of the tests indicated she was pregnant again. Deep within her body, her womb had conceived a new life. Now, it was Leonard's turn...

The End.

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