There had been twelve births that morning on the maternity ward at St. Hope’s Hospital. Marcy knew this for a fact. She knew because, in each case, she had been present for the infant’s delivery. In each case, she had removed the infant to the nursery. In each case, she had placed the infant in its little bed, prepared the little pink or blue name card, and slotted it into place.
Twelve births. Twelve babies. All accounted for.
Why then, as she looked up and down the row before her, did she count thirteen little beds? Why, even more, did they all appear full, each with its own tiny, wriggling occupant?
A fellow nurse bustled by. Marcy gently laid a hand on her arm.
“Rosa,” Marcy asked, “did any of this morning’s mothers have a surprise twin?”
Rosa laughed. “Of course not. How do you think we’d have snuck that past you?”
Marcy couldn’t bring herself to share in Rosa’s mirth. “So then only twelve single births this morning?” she asked.
“Yes,” Rosa said. Her laughter died away and she regarded Marcy with a worried squint. “You were there for all of them, just like I was. Is something wrong?”
Marcy gestured toward the row of baby beds. “How many do you count there?”
Rosa counted silently for a moment. “Twelve. Just like there should be.”
Marcy felt a coldness wash over her. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Rosa said. “Here, I’ll show you.” She sauntered to the start of the row and touched each bed as she went down the line. “One… two… three….” Onward she went, until finally coming to the last few beds. “Eleven… twelve. See? I told you.”
Marcy shook her head. “No. No, I could have sworn there were thirteen a minute ago.”
Rose looked from Marcy to the babies and back again, her eyes nearly disappearing in her tightening squint. “Are you feeling all right, Marcy?” she asked. “You have been working a lot lately. Too many double shifts can kill, you know.”
Marcy shook her head as if to snap herself from a dream. “Nonsense. I’m fine. I must have just miscounted before.” She let her gaze wander up and down the row of beds, refusing to let herself recount them. “Sorry to distract you, Rosa.”
“No worries,” Rosa said. She took a few steps and then turned abruptly. “Oh, by the way,” she added, “tell Scooter I said happy birthday!”
Marcy was momentarily confused. “Birthday….” She repeated. Then the realization hit her like a truck. Her eyes darted to the calendar across the room. Yes, it was indeed her son’s birthday. She had forgotten entirely. “Shit!”
“What’s the matter?” Rosa asked.
“I completely forgot it was Scooter’s birthday! Oh my God, he’s going to kill me!” She closed her eyes tightly and rubbed her temples. “I mean, maybe he’ll understand. I’ve just been so busy with these extra shifts. Sixteen is old enough for a birthday rain check, right?”
“Um, Marcy,” Rosa said, her head hanging, “he’s seventeen.”
“Oh, God damn it!” Marcy exclaimed. She immediately bit her finger, remembering the room full of children in which she stood. “How could I let this happen? I’m a horrible mother.”
Rosa placed her hands on Marcy’s shoulders. “Hey. Listen. That is not true. The fact that you are working so hard to keep a roof over that boy’s head is proof that you are not a bad mother.”
Marcy nodded, though she found herself unable to meet Rosa’s gaze.
“And hey,” Rosa continued, “it’s not like the day’s over. It’s barely past noon. You could skip out on your second shift, grab him a card, take him to dinner. Not all is lost, my friend.”
Marcy brightened. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right. Thank you, Rosa.”
“No problem,” she said. “Now, I’ve got to do my rounds. Are you going to be okay here?”
Marcy nodded and smiled. “Of course. Go. Be nursely.”
Rosa smiled and sauntered from the room.
Marcy once again eyed the row of infant beds, her previous trepidation gone. Stupid, she thought. How could I have thought there were thirteen babies? Rosa’s right. I need to take it easier.
Unconsciously, she found herself beginning to count the little infants in their beds once more. One… two…. Some still wriggled while others lay still with gently rising and falling chests. Seven… eight…. Eight girls, she counted. Eight future American beauties, she was sure. Ten… eleven…. At last, she came to the final beds. Twelve… thirteen….
She froze. No. She must have been mistaken again, she thought. But how could she? What were the odds?
She stepped toward the first bed, determined to settle this once and for all in her own mind. Just as Rosa had done, she touched each bed as she went down the line. One… two…. On and on, until finally…. Eleven… twelve… thirteen….
Marcy stood shaking before the last little bed. Her hand flew from it as if it might burn her. Within it was a larger than average infant, wide awake and cooing. Its eyes darted around the room as if it were greedily drinking in every detail it could find. The card on the end of the bed was rimmed in blue. A little boy, Marcy recognized. She studied the name that had been written there.
Funny, she thought. Scooter’s real name.
She let a mix of curiosity and her nurse’s instinct to overcome her uneasiness, and she took a step closer to the bed. The sight that met her there was completely unexpected.
Smiling up at her with joyful eyes and wet, glistening lips was the most charming baby boy she had ever seen. She found him especially dear because he reminded her so much of how her own son looked as a newborn.
“Well, hello there, Mr. Solomon,” she said softly, reaching for the infant. As her hand neared him, he reached out his own pudgy arm as if to meet her. Their fingers made contact.
The moment was electric. The touch of this baby’s skin against hers filled Marcy with an immense feeling of love. The emotion was so strong, she could not hold back a tear that rolled down her cheek.
She could have stayed there in that moment forever, looking down and bonding with this clearly special baby. But the sound of the door creaking open stole her away.
“Marcy,” Rosa said. “Scrub up. We’re needed in the delivery room.”
Instantly, Marcy flipped into work mode and hurried about her task.
As soon as her shift ended, Marcy took Rosa’s advice and headed out of the hospital. She was determined to do right by Scooter and salvage what was left of his birthday. Poor kid, she thought. It pained her to remember how busily she’d rushed him out to school that morning. She hadn’t even remembered to wish him a happy birthday. Never again would she make that mistake, she promised herself.
After picking up a sentimental card and calling Scooter’s favorite steakhouse to make a reservation, Marcy finally pulled into her driveway. The house seemed quiet as she made her way toward the front door. She could see the living room window was dark. Normally, that was where she would find her son, neglecting his homework and sitting far too close to the television.
She turned her key in the lock and let herself in. Only silence met her.
Strange. Is he even home?
“Scoot?” Marcy called. No answer came. She tried again. “Scooter? I’ve got something to tell you.” All remained silent. Worry began to creep in. “What the hell?” Marcy muttered.
Maybe he’s asleep in his room? Or maybe he has headphones on? Worth a try, right?
She made her way up the creaking stairs and headed down the corridor. “Scoot?” Still there was no reply. Arriving at his door, she gave a solid knock. “Scooter, are you awake?”
Instinctively, she tried the door knob. It moved easily. The parents’ dilemma spun around in her mind. To just barge in was an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, it was her house and her rules. For what seemed like ages, she stood there, debating.
All right, enough, she said to herself at last. He’ll get over it.
She turned the knob and pushed the door open.
The scream that escaped her lungs seemed foreign, as did all of reality in that one horrible moment. She barely felt the impact when she dropped to her knees and collapsed against the door frame.
She had found Scooter, but could not bring herself to look at his face. So instead, she stared at his feet for what seemed like an eternity, as they swayed so slightly, dangling a foot or so off the ground.