Saturday, September 4, 2010

Glide Like Ghosts - December 1983

Have had this one for a while but forgot to post it.
Welcome to Viola's birth and the beginning of the end for Alicia Ashwood.

December 1983

Until the birth of her third child, Alicia Ashwood had happily lived under the notion that she was her husband’s entire world. Gerard was kind to their two other children. He had started training Sebastian in the ways of the Network, and he paid sufficient attention to Olivia, but he was not overly affectionate with either of them. It was Alicia that he doted on, that he complimented and brought gifts. After nearly two decades under her mother’s distant, tyrannical thumb, Alicia had basked in the attention.

She didn’t mind being solely responsible for raising Sebastian and Olivia. She didn’t mind that he disappeared for days on end on Network business. She ignored the snide remarks her mother made and prepared Gerard’s favorite dishes when he came home. After Olivia’s difficult birth, she was even willing to give him the third child he wanted. It was, after all, the only thing he’d ever requested of her.

She had assumed, foolishly she realized later, that he would treat this third child the same way he treated the first two. The present but remote parent. She could handle a third on her own. Sebastian was in school all day and Olivia attended class in the morning. With her mother’s help, Alicia could raise another child. A girl, if Gerard’s special tricks worked.

Her water broke while she was washing breakfast dishes. She called her mother first and her next-door-neighbor Mrs. Gibbons second. Mrs. Gibbons, whose husband had been killed twenty years earlier and adored both Ashwood children, helped Alicia retrieve the duffel bag she’d packed at the start of her eighth month and agreed to walk Olivia home from the bus stop.

Opal Ashwood drove like a bat out of hell to the hospital. She didn’t know why, but the third child was important to the Burke family. She’d seen the look on Warwick Burke’s face, recognized a fellow predator. She didn’t want to be responsible for anything happening to the baby.

Both Alicia and Opal were surprised when Gerard and his aunt Hattie Burke met them at the hospital’s front desk. No one had called them. How had they known it was time? Moreover, why was Gerard there? He hadn’t been present for the birth of their first two children.

“How are you, darling?” Gerard bent to brush a kiss across his wife’s head. “How’s our daughter?”

Alicia didn’t get a chance to answer. The nurse helped her into a wheelchair and wheeled her down the hall. Peering over her shoulder, she saw her mother and husband arguing. Opal shoved the duffel into Gerard’s arms and stormed out of the hospital. Hattie chased after her.

By the time she was settled in the bed, the contractions were growing more regular. When asked if she wanted an epidural, she nodded frantically, remembering the pain from her previous childbirth experiences. Her mother had called her a sissy during Sebastian’s birth, but Alicia didn’t care. She hated pain or even the promise of pain.

“No,” Gerard spoke up from the doorway. He set Alicia’s bag on the chair near the door and ventured further into the room. “No pain medication. Labor won’t last that long. Could we get some water for my wife, though?”

The nurse, after glancing at Alicia for confirmation, dashed off to get a glass of water. Alicia grasped the hand Gerard held out to her. “Are you that certain Gerry? I don’t handle pain well. I had the epidural for Sebastian and Olivia.”

“Please understand, Alicia, I don’t want to risk harming our new daughter.” Gerard pulled a syringe out of the pocket of his overcoat. He uncapped the needle and injected a milky fluid into Alicia’s arm. “This will take care of the pain, darling. I would never make you suffer.”

Alicia licked suddenly dry lips, blinked blurry eyes. “’Kay. Thank you, Gerry.”

Gerard returned the syringe to his pocket. He brushed sweat-dampened hair off her forehead. “Of course, darling. Just relax. This will be over before you know it. Very soon, we’ll be holding our precious… what did you decide to name her?”

“Viola,” Alicia responded drowsily.

“Ah, yes. Continuing with your Twelfth Night theme, I see. I suppose if it had been a boy, you’d have named it Cesario?”

“You said it would be a girl.”

“Yes,” Gerard smiled broadly, “yes, I did. It will be. A beautiful addition to our beautiful family. Would you like for her to have your features, darling? Those Ashwood genes do seem to be dominant. I swear, I cannot see any of myself in either of the other two.”

Confused but pleased by Gerard’s continued presence and his lighthearted conversation, Alicia shook her head and grinned. She liked that Olivia and Sebastian had inherited her fair hair and light eyes, but she wanted a child who was the spitting image of her beloved Gerry. “I want her to have your eyes.”

Gerard chuckled darkly. “Oh, that’s already a given.”

He stayed in the room while she continued to dilate at a rate that pleased the doctor. He scrubbed up when the nurse suggested it. He held her hand during the worst of the contractions, but moved towards the doctor when the baby’s head crowned. Though his face was masked and her eyes were filmy with tears, she thought she caught a glimpse of a broad smile when he cut the baby’s umbilical cord.

He refused to let the nurse take the baby away. He held her close and helped clean her off. The tiny purple cap placed on her soft, dark hair was one he’d picked out himself. Dressed in clean scrubs, he cradled the baby against his chest and perched on the edge of Alicia’s bed.

“Look at her, darling. Look at our precious Viola Melinoe,” he urged, voice gentler than she’d ever heard before. She wanted to pretend that the tone was for her, but his eyes were glued to the baby.

“Melinoe?” Alicia hadn’t chosen a middle name. She’d still be torn between ‘Grace’ and ‘Elise.’ Gerard had picked the middle names of the other two, but hadn’t offered any suggestions for Viola.

“Yes. You have your themes, Alicia, and I have mine. Melinoe was also a Greek goddess.”

Alicia nodded to herself. He’d chosen Iaso, the goddess of recuperation, for Olivia and Apollo for Sebastian. She was unfamiliar with Melinoe, though. “I like it.”

Gerard reverently stroked the side of Viola’s cheek. Tiny eyes fluttered open. They were not as blue as her siblings’ had been. Alicia held out hope that they would darken to the same green-gold hazel as Gerard’s eyes.

“Hello, my precious violet. Welcome to the world,” he whispered in the baby’s ear. He tickled the bottom of her small foot. She let out a squeak of protest. Gerard’s grin broadened. “Daddy’s going to help you rule it someday, precious. I promise.”

“C-can I hold her?” Alicia held out her arms. The baby looked hungry and she wanted to hold the child she’d carried for nine months. Truth be told, she also wanted to divert Gerard’s attention to herself for a bit.

“No,” Gerard snapped. His eyes flashed with anger and something darker that made Alicia shiver. He curved his torso over the baby, turned from Alicia. “She’s going to sleep and then I will have the nurse put her in the incubator. Aunt Hattie is going to help you bottle breast milk. If Viola can tolerate it, that’s what she will drink.”

“I breastfed the other two,” she protested weakly. Whatever he’d given her in lieu of the epidural was wearing off. She hurt, she was tired, she didn’t know why he was angry, and she wanted to hold her damn baby.

“Yes. I am aware of that.” Gerard’s lips compressed. He bit back a remark about how the other two still acted as if they were breastfeeding. Neither of them seemed inclined to have an independent thought.

Without another word, Gerard swept out of the room with Viola in his arms. He didn’t return. Hattie appeared an hour later to help Alicia express milk into bottles. The older woman’s motions were gentle but her face was unreadable. Alicia had never been entirely comfortable around the formidable woman.


“Yes, child?”

“Who was Melinoe?” Alicia kept her eyes on the bottle in her hands. She missed the gleeful smile that appeared on Hattie’s face. “It’s the middle name Gerry gave the baby.”

Hattie patted Alicia’s hand softly. “That, my dear, is Gerry’s sense of humor in action. Melinoe was the daughter of either Hades or Zeus and Persephone. She was the goddess of ghosts.”

“Thank you,” a stunned Alicia murmured softly.

“Child of the underworld?” Hattie hummed to herself, resumed capping a bottle. “Rather fitting, I suppose.”

The bottle Alicia had been holding slipped out of her hands. It shattered upon impact with the floor. Breast milk, glass, and Alicia’s dreams littered the hospital floor.

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