Tuesday, October 14, 2008


He has powers, you know. He can heal the sick and raise the dead. He would have prevented my death had I allowed it. Even in my newness, I would not let Solomon interfere with my decision ... for he is my assignment.

I detached from my fetal body and emerged from that dark womb-tomb for I am the Pure One. I walk with him in the placeless realm. I witness as tendrils of knowledge and wisdom penetrate his being. I tell him that there is no hell, and then I show him its gates where sulfurous clouds sting his eyes.

But wait ... I’m getting ahead of my story. Let’s go back to before I died, back before the scar-faced widow woman penetrated her granddaughter’s cervix with a dirty shard of wire, back before the sick and dying came to beg Solomon for healing. In fact, let’s go back to a stall in the girl’s bathroom at Rooster Cove School.

Chapter 1 - A Boy for a Midwife!

March 1943

Shirley braced herself against the walls of the stall in the girl’s bathroom. She sucked in her breath between clinched teeth and held it. She let it out with staccato gusts of panting. Her face twisted. She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled her lips tight. Pain blasted her in waves. What did a twelve-year-old know about having babies?

In the sixth grade classroom a little blond whispered to her teacher, “Miz Hamilton, Shirley’s sick.”

Mrs. Hamilton looked around the room. “Where is she?” She hadn’t noticed that one of her thirty-seven students was missing.

“She’s in the bathroom.”

Frances, Shirley’s younger sister, stood outside the stall holding the door open.

“Shirley,” Mrs. Hamilton said, “what’s wrong?”

“My stomach hurts real bad, ma’am,” she said leaning her head over on the wall of the stall. Shirley had always been a big boned, chunky girl. She’d never had a period in her life, and of course she didn’t have a clue how it felt to be pregnant. When her baby moved, she thought it was gas. And when her labor started, she thought it was a stomachache.

Shirley played down at the stone mill on Bristle Creek everyday with fifteen-year-old Edgar Taylor. They’d walked home from school together since the first grade. She screwed up her face again as another pain crashed into her. Mrs. Hamilton touched Shirley’s belly. It was rock hard.

“Go get Solomon,” Mrs. Hamilton said, “and hurry!”

Through grunts and groans Shirley said, “No, please don’t!” She thought, I’ll die if he sees me on the pot like this. All the girls in the sixth grade had a crush on Solomon. Just seeing him in the hallway was cause for giggling outbursts. And if for some reason he spoke to them, they’d brag on it all day. His Greek-god look was the reason he’d been voted Most Handsome in the school and Prom King too. Dear God, don’t let him see me like this.

Frances burst into Mr. Allen’s room. Mr. Allen had grades nine, ten, and eleven. It was study break, and Solomon was kicked back in a chair by the windows reading his history book. His chair was balanced on two back legs as he tapped or pulled on the desk in front of him to keep a perfect balance. Frances gasped for breath, “Mr. Allen…we need Solomon…in the girl’s bathroom!” Her frantic eyes searched the room for him.

Solomon pulled his chair into an upright position and paused for a second. When he sensed panic in others, his mind kicked into calmness. He stood up and all six feet of his lanky frame moved towards the door. Frances took off running for the bathroom. Solomon trotted to keep up with her. Mr. Allen followed Solomon, and the rest of the class watched with heads peeking out the classroom door.

They snickered and speculated that some girl had probably fainted. They knew that Solomon helped his grandmother with her midwifery. A girl could ask him questions about female stuff, and she could tell him things like when she had cramps. He didn’t mind hearing that kind a stuff. He even looked like he cared.

Mrs. Hamilton grabbed Solomon’s arm. “I think Shirley’s in labor,” she whispered.

Solomon, in a manner of speaking, wore two hats. He was a sixteen-year-old boy, but right now he was a midwife. And there could be no doubt that he was in charge. He squatted down in front of Shirley and put his hands on her knees. “What’s going on, hon?” He ran his fingers through his hair to brush the curls off his forehead.

“I don’t know. I got a bad stomachache,” she answered. He was already pulling her panties off over her boots. They’d been down around her ankles.

Shirley’s face turned blood red as she put her hands on the walls of the stall pushing them away from her. They swayed outward. She was a strong girl. “Uurrgghh,” she strained.

Solomon felt of her belly. It was solid. Her abdominal muscles had clamped down on her in a cramp from hell. “Shirley, don’t push! Pant for me.” He pursed his lips and panted to show her what he wanted.

“I…can’t…help…it,” she grunted as she strained. She hurt too bad to pay attention to him. She pushed harder, “UURRGGHH!” Her grunts were punctuated at the end by a rush of air from her throat.

He waited for the pain to ease up, and then he said, “Shirley, walk with me to the cot.” The school kept a cot in the girl’s bathroom and first aid supplies in a cabinet.

“I can’t,” she whined.

“Yes, you can,” he told her. He put his arms around her and pulled her up to a standing position. I’d rather catch the baby on the way to the cot than fish it out of the toilet, he thought.

“Oh no, please no! I have to go to the bathroom!” She complained, but she cooperated. She dropped into a fetal position on the cot and buried her face in her hands.

Solomon knelt beside her and said, “Shirley, do you know what’s happening?”

She shook her head, no.

“You’re having a baby.” His eyes scanned her face as he moved the hair off her forehead with his fingertip.

She looked at him with wide unbelieving eyes. “No, please don’t say that!”

“You’re going be fine,” he said wiping her wet forehead. “Roll over for me, hon,” he said as he rolled her on her back so he could palpate her abdomen. He was feeling for the baby’s position.

“But I can’t be pregnant,” she said, “honest.”

Mr. Allen leaned over to Mrs. Hamilton and whispered, “Yeah, right.”

Solomon cut his eyes at his teachers and glared. “Mr. Allen,” he said, “go get Ma Patsy.”

“Okay,” he said hurriedly leaving the bathroom. He was ashamed of his comment.

Solomon touched Shirley’s knee. “Hon, I need to look,” he said.

“At what?” she asked. “Please don’t hurt me!”

Mrs. Hamilton said, “Just let Solomon look, Shirley.”

Solomon took off Shirley’s boots. He put the bottoms of her feet together, which spread her legs like a lab frog. The saggy cot swayed under her bottom so he picked up the leg closest to him and pushed her knee up towards her belly. A three-inch-wide circle of baby’s head glistened at the entrance to her vagina.

Solomon looked up at Mrs. Hamilton. “She’s crowning, and her water’s broken,” he said as he stood up and pulled the cot away from the wall. Urgency was in his voice and his movements.

“Raise your hips, Shirley, before you have another pain,” he said stuffing a pillow under her bottom. He grabbed an armful of towels and sheets out of the first aid cabinet and spread a sheet over her. He hurriedly washed his hands and wished for a pair of gloves. I’ll have to do this barehanded, he thought shaking his head.

Shirley began a high-pitched squeal building up to her next contraction. “Please help me!” she cried.

Solomon straddled the bottom of the cot and pushed the sheet out of his way. The pillow had raised Shirley’s hips up high enough that he could see now. “Put your hands behind your knees, Shirley,” he said, “and pull your legs up against your belly. I want you to push like you have to go poop.”

He barely had the words out of his mouth when she began pushing. Her bottom swelled out with the baby’s head. “You’re doing good, Shirley,” he said, “push and hold it while I count to ten.” There was less than thirty seconds between her pains now. “That’s right, push and one…two…three… keep pushing, four…five…six, quick breath and hold and push, seven…eight…nine… and ten.”

He put his palm against the baby’s head to control its movement. Then he inserted the tip of his index finger between the baby’s head and Shirley. He ran his fingertip round and round gently stretching the vaginal opening so it wouldn’t tear. He massaged her perineum which had blanched white from the pressure of the baby’s head. Her abdomen bowed up with another contraction. “Push, Shirley,” he said, “you’re almost there, hon. Push your little boy out.”

Mrs. Hamilton smiled. She’d never known Solomon’s predictions about a baby’s gender to be wrong.

Shirley curled over her abdomen and pushed with all her strength, “UUURRRGGGHHH!” A fat little head with curly dark hair popped out.

“Good job, Shirley. Stop pushing,” he said quickly.

Shirley relaxed back onto her pillow. Her little sister, Frances, squealed with delight. She’d never seen a baby being born.

Solomon held onto the baby’s head as it turned sideways. I wish I had a suction bulb, he thought. In one smooth motion, he swiped his index finger through the baby’s mouth. He slid two fingers under the cord and slipped it over the baby’s head. Then he carefully pushed the head downward. He stuck the same fingers inside Shirley feeling for the baby’s armpit. When he found it, he rotated it counterclockwise. A shoulder popped out, and immediately the rest of the baby spilled out.

“You did perfect, Shirley.” The infant lay on Solomon’s forearm while he wiped it briskly with a towel. It let out a healthy howl. “I’m proud of you,” he said placing the baby on her belly.

Mrs. Hamilton echoed, “Yes, you did great, Shirley! Solomon, you did great too!”

“Thanks,” he said with a little blush as he got up to wash his hands and forearms. The pulsating umbilical cord still hung out of Shirley. Drying his hands and arms, he eyed it and decided that it was long enough to let her nurse her baby. He knew that would help deliver the placenta.

The baby’s mouth made contact and closed around Shirley’s nipple. With the eagerness of a newborn, it buried its face in her breast. The audible swallows thrilled Shirley. She was the picture of maternal love.

There had been very little bleeding during Shirley’s delivery and within a few minutes, the cord had quit pulsating. Solomon looped a finger around it and gently pulled. It suddenly lengthened and a gush of blood flowed out as the placenta released from the uterine wall. He looked up at Shirley, “Give me one more push, hon.”

She pushed, and the placenta tumbled out of her. He caught it with towel.

Solomon bent over Shirley and the baby boy sleeping on her belly. His hair hung down in his face now. He blew a puff of air at the curl tickling his eyelashes. It fluttered up and fell down again. He pushed it back with the forearm of the hand that held the scissors.

Shirley gasped, “What you gonna do with those?”

“It won’t hurt,” he said turning the baby on its side. He tied off the umbilical cord a few inches from the baby with a strip of gauze, and then he tied a second one closer to the placenta. He cut between them and laid the placenta on a cafeteria tray. He spread it out to make sure it had come away intact.

Frances grimaced and said, “Yuck, don’t send that tray back to the kitchen.”

Mr. Allen stuck his head into the bathroom. “Ma Patsy said she could be here in an hour,” he said.

Solomon smiled and nodded.

Copyright © 2008 by Robbin Renee Bridges
Coping with Grief through Afterlife Communication

Chapter 2 - An Abortifacient

March 1943

Ma Patsy had been running around all morning like a chicken with its head cut off. It wasn’t quite noon yet and already six patients had been in to see her. Doc Wall had called and said that he had her package from the drug company. He’d ordered Patsy’s quinine when he ordered his monthly supplies of medicine. He didn’t have much need for quinine. It was an anti-malarial medicine, and he didn’t see much malaria in Rooster Cove since TVA had waged war on mosquitoes.

He knew what Patsy intended to do with the quinine. She’d mix it up with some cocoa butter and make vaginal suppositories for her patients. It was an abortifacient. If one of Patsy’s patients missed her period, she’d come in for her to take care of it. Patsy would slip one of her quinine suppositories into her, and she’d be bleeding again in a few days.

That’s what Clara Cash had come in for this morning.

“Clara,” Ma Patsy said looking up from what she was doing, “don’t Henry have any condoms left? These quinine suppositories don’t always work, ye know.” She unwound the wax paper she’d wrapped around the suppository. She kept them in the icebox so the cocoa butter wouldn’t lose its bullet shape.

“Yeah, he’s got a plenty left,” Clara said. “He don’t like rubbers.”

Ma Patsy looked exasperated. “Why in God’s name is Henry so pigheaded? Ye’ve had five babies already and three miscarriages. Ask him if he’d cotton to raisin’ five young’uns by hisself. This is gonna be cold, hon.” Ma Patsy said as she slid the suppository into Clara’s vagina. She pushed a tampon in after it so the quinine wouldn’t leak out. “Be sure and take this tampon out in the morning, Clara,” she said pulling off her rubber gloves, “and let me know if you don’t start bleeding in a few days.”

Clara sat up and swung her legs off the side of the examining table. Pa Shiver had made the table before he died. It was just a narrow table with some quilt batting under a red and white checkered oilcloth. He’d nailed the oilcloth to the underside of the table. The batting made it almost comfortable, and the red and white tablecloth was waterproof. Ma Patsy kept a white rubber sheet on top of that so she could keep things clean. At the end of the table Pa Shiver had drilled two holes. They were for the dowels that held two wooden contraptions where Patsy’s patients could rest their feet during a pelvic examination or during delivery.

Clara stood up still holding her panties in her hand. She stepped into them and straightened up smoothing her calico dress over her hips. Clara was only thirty-one years old, and she already had a potbelly from too many pregnancies. Her stringy hair was dull. It looked like last year’s straw. Her gray eyes were tired and bloodshot from not enough sleep. Clara worked hard to keep herself, her house, and her five kids clean. She was a good mother. She was just caught in a situation like a lot of other women in the cove.

She loved Henry, her husband, and she loved to sing and play the guitar that he’d bought her out of a catalog. Every night she’d croon sweet lullabies to her kids with a voice like a nightingale. You could hear her Irish roots when she sang.

Ma Patsy straightened up her instrument tray and wiped down the white rubber sheet on the exam table with chlorine water. She looked over at Clara and asked, “When have ye been to see Doc Wall? Ye look pale.”

“I hain’t never seen him fer myself,” Clara said. “I taken Henry Junior to him when he broke his arm. Ye remember that?”

“Yes, I remember,” Ma Patsy said. “Well, ye need to go see him. He should check yer blood. Ye look anemic.” She pulled down Clara’s lower eyelid and looked at the pale mucosa. She pinched Clara’s fingernail. It blanched and slowly turned pale pink. “Until ye get over there to see the Doc, put a rusty nail in an apple and leave it overnight,” Patsy said. “Come morning, take the nail out an’ eat the apple. Do that everyday ‘til ye get to see Doc Wall. Okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll do that.” Clara replied.

Solomon left school at noon and trotted the mile across the cove to his house on Rooster Cove’s main drag. He’d lived there with his grandmother since he was two years old. He hit the front steps taking them three at a time. The screen door banged against the door jam when he let it go. The commotion announced to Ma that Solomon was home from school.

He only went to school in the mornings now. Not many kids stayed at the high school in the afternoon. The ones that did were the few that were going on to college. Solomon planned to go to college, but he needed to work in the afternoons to save money for the University in Knoxville. Ma had been paying him to help her with patients and with things that had to be done around the office like sterilizing instruments. Solomon wrapped each item in butcher’s brown wrapping paper and put it in the oven for an hour or so according to how many things needed sterilizing.

Delivering a baby like he did this morning at school was nothing out of the ordinary for Solomon. He’d hung around Ma’s office for as long as he could remember. He’d seen or heard of most female complaints and conditions. He was like a sponge. He remembered everything, and he wanted to help with everything that Ma did.

When he helped her with the herb garden, he wanted to know the name of every plant and what it was for. Of course that led to more questions like, “What’s asthma?” and “What’s a poultice do?” The herbs looked different when Ma brought them in the house and dried them. She’d hang them in little bundles from the ceiling. Some she’d hang in the kitchen where they’d stay moist. And some she’d hang in a cool storage room that she kept closed off. Solomon would ask, “What’s this one for? And what does that one smell like?” He stayed by Ma’s side as she chopped, shredded, or mashed the stems, leaves, and flowers. Some of them she’d boil on the stove, some she’d mix with alcohol for a tincture, and some were just dried and put in jars to make tea.

With plants like the dandelions nothing went to waste. She’d collect the milky white liquid that oozed out when the stem was cut and save it in a jar to use for warts, corns, and eczema. The leaves she dried to make a tea for patients that needed a diuretic. Of course, Solomon’s next question was “What’s a diuretic?” He cackled like a hen when Ma called it “piss-a-bed tea.” Finally, she gave the flower heads to Pa Shiver so he could make dandelion wine. Sometimes he’d even let Solomon try a sip after supper.

For the past four years, Ma had been officially instructing Solomon in the art of midwifery. He’d delivered his first baby all by himself when he was fourteen years old. The mother that he’d delivered was his same age—fourteen. Her name was Missy Hawkins. He’d been in grammar school with Missy, but she’d dropped out after the fifth grade to help her ma around the house with the little’uns. Now she was having little’uns of her own. Ma had watched the delivery from the sidelines, but she didn’t need to say a word. Solomon’s labor and delivery skills were perfect … something that the folks at school could attest to after this morning.

By the time Solomon was fifteen years old, he could do anything Ma Patsy could do from setting broken bones and sewing up cuts to delivering babies and, if need be, executing a perfect mediolateral episiotomy to prevent tearing of the vaginal opening, which he then expertly sutured.

Ma’s womenfolk patients didn’t mind the teenaged boy’s presence at their most intimate moments. They knew that he would be taking over Ma Patsy’s work and probably Doc Wall’s too. They didn’t think of him as a teenaged observer. They thought of themselves as helping to train the man who would take care of their families for decades to come.

He had decided a long time ago that he wanted to be a doctor for Rooster Cove. Now that he was sixteen years old, he planned to ask Doc Wall if he could help out around his clinic. That way he could save the money for college and medical school faster. Solomon was a good saver. He hardly ever spent any money on foolishness.

Ma Patsy heard him coming into the house, and she hollered, “Solomon, come in here, please.”

He could heard Clara Cash’s voice in there with Ma, so he slowly opened the door to the exam room and peeked in. He didn’t want to embarrass Clara. There was no telling what Ma might be doing to her. The coast was clear. Clara was dressed and just standing there with her arms crossed in front of her breasts. She looks awful tired, he thought. “Afternoon, Miz Cash, how are you?” he said.

“Fair to middlin’ thank ye, Solomon.” Clara couldn’t have cared less what Solomon saw. He’d helped Ma Patsy deliver her last baby, and he’d been the one to slip the quinine suppository into her more than once in the past. Solomon was just overly sensitive about the way people felt. It was as if he walked around with his psychic radar up. Sometimes people would say they didn’t mind the things that he did to them, but he sensed it when they were afraid or embarrassed. Whatever they might say didn’t fool Solomon.

“Sounds like ye had a tad of excitement at school this morning,” Ma said.

Solomon grinned, “Yeah, a little bit.”

“Would ye run over to Doc Wall’s?” she asked. “He says my quinine’s here. I need ye to fetch it.”

Copyright © 2008 by Robbin Renee Bridges
Coping with Grief through Afterlife Communication