Unreal Nature

October 20, 2017

He Looks Into Our Faces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:28 am

… the baby closes his mouth, opens his eyes, and peers about like a sibyl.

Continuing through For the Time Being by Annie Dillard (1999):

… This is where they wash the newborns like dishes. A nurse, one or another, spends most of an eight-hour shift standing here at the sink.

… [The babies’] faces run the spectrum from lavender through purple and red to pink and beige.

Nurse Pat Eisberg wears her curly bond hair short in back; her thin neck bends out of a blue collarless scrub as she leans left for the next bundle. The newborn’s face is red.

“Now you,” she says to it in a warm voice, unsmiling. She slides it along the counter toward her, plucks off its cap, unwraps its body and leaves the blanket underneath. This baby is red all over. His tadpole belly is red; his scrotum, the size of a plum, is fiercely red, and looks as if it might explode. The top of his lead looks like a dunce cap; he is a conehead. He gazes up attentively from the nurse’s arms.

… The nurse washes this boy; she dips a thin washcloth again and again in warm water. She cleans his head and face, careful to wash every fold of his ears. She wipes white lines of crumbled vernix from folds in his groin and under his arms. She holds one wormy arm and one wormy leg to turn him over; then she cleans his dorsal side, and ends with his anus. She has washed and rinsed every bit of his red skin. The heat lamp has dried him already.

… Nurse Pat Eisberg drains the sink. She drops the newborn’s old blanket and hat into an open hamper, peels a new blanket and hat from the pile on the right, and sticks the red boy on the right-hand counter. She diapers him. She swaddles him … . Now he is tidy and compact, the size of a one-quart Thermos. She caps his conehead, and gives the bundle a push to slide it down the counter to the end of the line with the others she has just washed.

The red newborn looks up and studies his surroundings, alert, seemingly pleased, and preternaturally calm, as if enchanted.

… Every few minutes another nurse comes in to pick up whichever washed baby has reached the head of the line. The nurse returns the parcel to its mother. When the red boy’s number is up, I follow.

… There are six of us in this room — the parents, the baby, two nurses, and I. Four of us cluster around the baby. The mother, across the room, faces ahead; her eyes are open and unmoving. Winter light pours through a big window beyond her bed. Everyone else is near the door, talking about the baby.

A nurse unwraps him. He does not like it; he hates being unwrapped. He is still red. His fingernail slivers are red, as if someone had painted nail polish on them. His toenails are red. The nurse shows the father how to swaddle him.

… ” … and then you wrap the last corner tight around the whole works,” the nurse says. As she finishes binding him into his proper Thermos shape, the baby closes his mouth, opens his eyes, and peers about like a sibyl. He looks into our faces. When he meets our eyes in turn, his father and I each say “Hi,” involuntarily. In the nurses, this impulse has perhaps worn out.

My previous post from Dillard’s book is here.

-Julie

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