Raisa Kolbe cast a worried stare through the glass partition at the only swaddled newborn not crying. Baby Boy Arturo’s eyes focused on the ceiling as if he were sending up his prayers before the inevitable happened. Raisa tapped on the glass in an attempt to rouse him but only succeeded in garnering the attention of the nurse.
Raisa pointed to the baby and mouthed, “Is he okay?”
The nurse looked down at the preoccupied infant for a moment, smiled, and then mouthed back, “Perfect.”
Raisa breathed a sigh of relief then walked to Room 602 at St. Jude’s Hospital.
“Did you see him?” Darlene asked, smiling the smile of a first-time mother.
“Yeah. He’s beautiful,” Raisa said.
“I told you, didn’t I?” Darlene asked. “I told you he’d be okay. That you didn’t have nothing to worry about.”
Raisa nodded her head and looked around the room. It was devoid of bouquets and ‘It’s A Boy’ blue balloons. She felt bad for not having remembered to bring something celebratory.
“Why didn’t you call me when you went into labor?” Raisa asked.
“I kept telling Sonny to call you, but he said we could handle—” Darlene said.
“Sonny?” Raisa interrupted. “Why was Sonny at your house?”
Darlene’s petite body shifted beneath the thin hospital blanket as she tried to find a more comfortable position. When she finished the diversionary tactic, she leaned back and offered Raisa a reassuring smile. “He’s been coming by,” she said. “You know. Staying over a couple of nights.”
“You mean he’s been squatting at your house, because he doesn’t have a place of his own.”
“No. That’s not it. He just wanted to make sure I was okay.”
“Mmm hmm,” Raisa said. She looked around the room again. “Where is he now?”
“He’ll be back later. He said he had to take care of something.”
Raisa nodded her head knowingly. “Like what?” she asked. “Does he have a job interview? Is he looking for a more suitable place for you and the baby to live? What’s so important that he can’t be here?
“He was here,” Darlene said. “He just got a little jittery with all the baby gook and the screaming. You know how he is.”
Raisa nodded her head again. “Yeah. I know exactly how he is.”
The nurse that Raisa had spoken to earlier knocked on the door and came into the room without waiting for a response, pushing Baby Boy Arturo in his wheeled crib. “Hi there. You ready to try breastfeeding again?”
Darlene rubbed her breast and made an unenthused face. “Do I have to?” she asked. “Can’t you just give him another bottle?”
Holding the still unemotional baby in her arms, the nurse immediately went into her spiel as if she had been waiting all day for an ill-informed new mother to ask her that question. “A mother’s milk contains the nutrients and antibodies a newborn baby needs to fight off infections and build a strong immune system. Don’t you want your baby to be protected?” she asked without the least bit of irony in her voice.
Darlene answered by pulling down the left side of her gown, displaying an irritated nipple, and reaching out to take the baby from the nurse.
Without the glass partition and white noise cries of twelve other babies to interfere, Raisa took the opportunity to examine the baby more closely.
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at a patch in his mass of black hair.
The nurse leaned in to have a closer look. “Some babies are born with gray hair,” she said.
Raisa let out a bellow of laughter. “Good Lord. The boy’s been on this earth just two days and he already knows he’s got a tough row to tow. God bless him.”
The nurse joined in with nervous laughter. She looked at Darlene, then at the baby then at Raisa. “Are you the grandmother?” she asked.
Raisa could understand the nurse’s confusion. Darlene was Caucasian, Raisa was African American and little Baby Boy Arturo looked Hispanic. “In a roundabout way,” she said. She wasn’t about to tell the nurse all of her business.
The baby started to get fussy, unable or unwilling to latch onto Darlene’s breast.
“He won’t do it,” Darlene said. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Maybe if you gave him a name he’d be more inclined to suck on your breasts,” Raisa said.
“I told Sonny I’d wait until he comes back to name him.”
The nurse was more helpful. “Try the other breast,” she said.
Darlene switched breasts but the baby still would not attach to his mother. Defeated, she handed the baby back to the nurse.
“I’ll go make him another bottle, dear,” she said, consoling Darlene by rubbing her arm. “Don’t worry, honey. Sometimes these things take a while. When he’s ready he’ll latch onto you. You’ll see.” She patted Darlene’s arm one last time before placing the baby back in the crib. “I’ll be right back, sweetie.”
Raisa examined the baby again when the nurse left. “He seems so listless.” She gave him a little poke. “Did they test him?”
“What for?” Darlene asked.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Raisa said. “You know what for.”
“I told you I didn’t do anything while I was pregnant.”
“I know what you told me, but that don’t mean you didn’t.”
The door flew open and in walked Sonny. An unlit peach-flavored Philly Blunt dangled from his lips and his arm held some freshly-yanked daisies. “Where’s my boy?” he asked. Sonny dropped the daisies and the blunt on the food tray and picked up the baby, who finally started to cry.
Darlene reached for the baby, but Sonny held him up in the air, out of her reach.
“Sonny, be careful,” she said.
“Whatta ya mean be careful?” he asked. “This is my new baby boy. My pride and joy. The fruit of my loins.”
“Sonny, don’t…you’re gonna…don’t hold him like that,” Darlene said, getting anxious.
The nurse came back in with the bottle of formula. “Mister Arturo, you can’t…Mister…please…you shouldn’t hold him like…,” she said, trying to get Sonny to put down the baby.
“Santiago Luis Arturo!” Raisa’s voice boomed.
The sound momentarily stopped all movement in the room, including the baby’s crying. Sonny lowered the baby and both the nurse and Darlene reached for him.
“Boy, what’s wrong with you?” Raisa asked.
“I wasn’t gonna drop him, Ma. I’m just happy to see him. Happy to be a father,” Sonny said.
“You can be happy without acting a fool,” Raisa said. “Are you high or something?”
Sonny looked in the direction of the nurse, who was gently handing the bottle and the baby to Darlene.
“Sorry,” he said.
The nurse gave him a wary look and then gave the entire multi-colored motley crew another once over before she exited the room.
Sonny walked over and hugged Raisa. “How’ve you been, Ma?”
“I’m doing alright. How are you?” she asked with poignancy, staring into his dilated pupils.
“One day at a time,” he said.
Raisa could smell the stench of liquor with every exhalation. “Mmm hmm,” she said.
“I thought of a name,” he said, turning to look at Darlene feed the baby. “Future,” he said.
“What?” Darlene and Raisa asked at the same time.
“Future. You know. As in not the past or the present. Future,” he said.
“You wanna name the baby Future?” Darlene asked.
“Yup. You like it?” he asked.
“It’s original. I’ll give you that,” Raisa said.
Sonny sat on the bed facing Darlene and the baby. “How do you like that name, little man? Future.” He took the baby away from Darlene and began to gently rock him. “That’s a somebody kind of name, right Ma? With a name like that he can’t help but be somebody important.”
Raisa breathed a heavy sigh and shook her head. She reached into her purse and pulled out her point and shoot camera. “Smile,” she said.
God bless the child.
Stephanie Leary lives in Rochester, New York and recently earned a creative writing degree from The College at Brockport State University of New York. She enjoys writing essays and short stories but her goal is to obtain a MFA in playwriting.