In bed the night after receiving this news, Lorrie said, "We'll never have the five. Four is the most there's any hope of. This will be the last chance. Maybe it's risky. Maybe it's not."
"I don't want to lose you," I whispered in the darkness.
"You can't," she said. "I'll haunt you in this life and kick your ass for dawdling when you finally join me in the next."
After a silence, I said, "I'm paralyzed by this."
"Once we were together and knew it was for always, after each of us had the strength of the other to rely on, when were we ever gutless?"
I thought about it awhile. Finally, I said, "When?"
"Never. So why start now?"
Months later, when little Rowena arrived, she popped out as easy as bread from a toaster. She was eighteen inches long. She weighed eight pounds even. She did not have syndactyly.
While we were still in the delivery room, as Charlene Coleman (on the eve of her retirement) handed our swaddled infant to Lorrie for the first time, a young redheaded nurse stepped into the doorway and asked to speak to Mello.
He conferred with her in the hallway for a few minutes, and when he returned, he brought her with him. "This is Brittany Walters," he told us. "She works I.C.U, and she has a story you need to hear."
According to Brittany Walters, an elderly woman named Edna Carter had been admitted to the I.C.U forty-eight hours earlier, after a massive stroke paralyzed her and left her unable to speak. Suddenly this evening Edna had sat up in bed-minutes before Lorrie delivered, as it turned out-no longer paralyzed. She had spoken clearly, too, and with urgency. By the time Nurse Walters reached that point in her story, I dared not look at Lorrie. I didn't know what I would see in her eyes, but I was afraid of the terror she would see in mine.
The nurse continued: "She insisted that a baby named Rowena woulc
be born in this hospital in minutes. That Rowena would be eighteen inches long and weigh eight pounds on the nose."
"Oh my," said Charlene Coleman.
Nurse Walters held out a sheet of notepaper. "And Edna insisted that I write down these five days. When I'd done it... she fell back in her bed and died."
My hand shook as I took the paper from her.
When I glanced at Mello Melodeon, he didn't have as grim an expression as I thought a friend should have at a moment like this.
Reluctantly, I scanned the dates on the paper and murmured strickenly, "Five terrible days."
"What did you say?" Nurse Walters asked.
"Five terrible days," I repeated, but didn't have the strength to explain.
"That's not what Edna Carter said," Nurse Walters told me.
"What did she say?" Mello urged her, but I could see that he knew the answer to his question.
Puzzled by our reactions, Nurse Walters said, "Well, she told me these were five glorious days, five especially joyful days to come in a blessed life. Isn't that odd? Do you think it means anything?"
At last I met Lorrie's eyes.
"Do you think it means anything?" I asked.
"My hunch is yeah."
Folding the paper, tucking it in a pocket, I sighed. "It sure is spooky this side of paradise."
"Oh, yeah," she agreed. "Sweet."
Gently, reverently, I took tiny Rowena from Lorrie. So small she was, but in spirit and in potential, no smaller than any of us.
Holding her so that she faced away from me, I turned in a full circle. Even if her eyes were as yet unfocused, perhaps she could see the room in which she had been born and see the people who had been present for her entry. Perhaps she wondered about them and about what waited beyond this room.
Turning with her, turning, I said, "Rowena, this is the world. This is your life. Prepare to be enchanted."