“Henry’s Birth”

On a bed of straw on the backporch, the pewter-muzzled old bitch is dying. Long and faithful servants all meet the same reward. Lorelei is in labor and has been for hours: her husband, William, wants to perform couvade, to cry out with her, but instead wipes her forehead with a thin washcloth and lets her talon his ineffectual hand. The midwife wields forearms like Popeye, fingers of steel, and hums snippets of commercial jingles, then muddling medley into a cooing garble of reassurance – you deserve a break today push so get up and get away breathe have a Coke and a push smile. The light from the window is brittle and amplifies floating dust motes to constellations. In a panting moment the mother charts the Cygnet, Pleiades, Orion, Ursas major and minor. A teddy bear awaits, yellow-ribboned, gender-neutral, observing from the windowsill. Some far outpost of her mind mutely registers the maudlin witness from a pinnacle of muscular gore. Pain blooms again. She screams. Faded daisies blossom on the cloth.

An hour later, Henry is here. Lorelei feels like some exhausted gristle husk. William will tell her that she’s beautiful, that she’s a champ, that their son is perfect. This is the last time in life the child will hear this announcement as fact. The midwife gathers all the scraps into a plastic ‘biohazard’ bag, competition orange warning label on the side. Taking it out to the trash, she sees the cold body of the dog, after rabbits in a final dream.

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Erika Mikkalo

About Erika Mikkalo

Erika Mikkalo received the Tobias Wolff Award for short fiction, and has appeared in Nimrod, Exquisite Corpse, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Spoon River Poetry Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Columbia Review, The Notre Dame Review, fence, Another Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Review, and other publications.