The words did not mean anything yet in Dagor’s mind. They were just words that didn’t make any sense, that were disturbing the sleep he so needed before getting up to go to work at the mine before first dawn. His wife didn’t seem to appreciate how much he needed those few precious hours of sleep to gird himself for the physically grueling work. He tried to will himself back to sleep.
“It’s time, Dagor,” Terpa said again patiently. This time her words had meaning. Dagor shot up to a sitting position in their bed in a sweat trying to think of the list of things he must do now that the time had arrived. She smiled at him, knowing he would fall apart when the time came. She loved him anyway. “Go fetch the midwife and the preacher. Tell them the baby will come soon. Fetch my mother too. I’ll be ok until you return,” she said to him.
Terpa sat in a warm pool of amniotic fluid and blood. There was nothing to do about it now. She’d wait until female help came to get the bed sheets changed. Dagor pulled on his pants and slipped his arms through the sleeves of his shirt. He put on his heavy coat, boots, hat, and gloves. Dagor bent down to kiss his wife and ran out the door into the cold night.
Terpa’s mother lived next door to them, so he knocked on her door first. Her father answered the door. Dagor said, “It’s Terpa. She’s ready to give birth. Tell your wife she’s needed. I’m going on to get the midwife and the preacher.” Terpa’s father produced a toothless smile and mumbled male encouragement. Dagor had not waited for her father to finish his blessing. He disappeared into the night.
The midwife lived in a small cabin on the far side of their village. Dagor ran through the gate and up the steps to the porch. He pounded on the door with his gloved hand. After a few moments, the door opened cautiously. The midwife stood inside the doorway clutching her tattered robe around her corpulent body. Her face was not appealing, but neither was it unkind. Dagor told her to come with him now. “Why,” she asked. “It’s Terpa, my wife.” He knew he had mixed up the order of what he was supposed to say. “She’s big with our baby,” he stuttered, “and it’s about to come out.”
The midwife said, “You just wait here on the porch. I’ll close the door, get myself dressed, and come back with you to your wife.” Dagor waited impatiently on the porch. He beat his arms and stamped his feet against the biting cold. After a few endless moments, the midwife opened the door, slipped through the doorway with a bag in her hand, and closed the door. “Lead the way,” she told him.
When they had gone a short distance, the midwife asked Dagor whether he had called for the preacher. He shook his head and said they would call for him on the way back home since the church was on the way.
Dagor ran up the steps of the church, taking two at a time. He banged on the heavy doors with his gloved hand until it throbbed with pain. There was a creak that descended slightly before it rose as the massive doors opened. The preacher was a tall skinny man in a nightshirt. “What do you want?” the preacher asked gruffly, somewhat resentful of having to relinquish his warm bed. Dagor told the preacher his wife was going to give birth any time now and the midwife was here beside him. “Do you have your towels, scissors, and salts?” the preacher turned to the midwife. “Yessir,” she answered. The preacher closed the door without saying a word. In a few moments he returned, fully dressed in a black suit and more-or-less white shirt, and a bible of sorts. The preacher and the midwife trotted behind Dagor as they hurried down the muddy lane to his cabin in the woods.
When they entered the gate, Terpa’s mother opened the door shedding cold light on the snow and ice. “Hurry!” she whispered, “She can’t keep it inside her much longer.”
“You stay outside and wait,” the preacher ordered Dagor. “You and you get to work on that young woman,” the preacher pointed at the midwife and the mother with his skeletal finger. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him. He opened the bible and began to drone relevant passages from the open pages of the book, scarcely audible, while Terpa groaned. The midwife told the mother to boil water for the towels. She lifted the bed sheets and examined Terpa’s swollen vagina. She did not like what she saw, one bit. Between the parted lips she saw a small patch of hairy scalp. The patch was bluish in color, rather than the usual reddish-brown. The midwife shuddered. “What is it?” the mother asked. “Is something wrong?” Terpa asked, “What’s wrong? Is something wrong with my baby?” The preacher paused momentarily from his droning and glanced under the sheets. He lacked the experienced eye of the midwife. Terpa screamed. “Push!” the midwife ordered Terpa. “Push now … wait … now push! Push again … again!” Terpa was arching her back and pushing for all she was worth. The head was already in the midwife’s open hands and the slippery body was about to follow. The baby was blue all over, skin, hair, and eyes. The midwife cut the umbilical cord quickly, spurting blood over the bed and floor. Terpa’s eyes were still closed against terrible pain she had just undergone. The mother looked at the baby with terrified eyes. The midwife showed the baby to the preacher. The baby’s eyes opened widely, deep pools of blue. The preacher whispered, “I commend thee to Thy Maker little one.” He put the palm of his hand over the baby’s mouth and twisted its head until its neck snapped. “Ashes to ashes,” the preacher said sadly. Terpa keened uncontrollably. Dagor broke through the door. “What’s going on?” he demanded. “What’s wrong with our baby?”
“Your baby son was born dead,” the preacher explained as sympathetically as he was capable of doing. “He was blue when he came out … he didn’t even cry.”
The midwife looked blankly at the preacher and did not challenge his words. Dagor held Terpa in his arms, rocking her back and forth as she screamed.
After awhile Dagor took a shovel from behind the cabin and dug a small grave in a corner of the backyard. It took him a long time because the ground was frozen hard as rock. He came back to the house. Dagor took the dead infant, wrapped in towels, in his arms. The preacher followed Dagor to the grave, along with Terpa’s mother and the midwife. Terpa was moaning inconsolably as the midwife shut the door.
The preacher praised the infinite wisdom of god and prayed for the infant’s soul. After they had shoveled dirt into the open grave, the preacher offered words of condolence to Dagor and his wife. Lies, every one of them.