by Serita Stevens
Serita Stevens story, The Unborn, was an Edgar nominee and has now been adapted into a screenplay currently being produced by Pupperazzi Productions.
Watery warmth surrounded me as I wriggled my toes, my fingers, and allowed my eyelids to flutter open. The gentle motion of the rocking chair combined with the vibratory hum of my mother’s singing lulled me into a peaceful mood. I didn’t even feel like kicking today.
I think my first awareness was of mother—of her heartbeat, her humming, and her happiness. I was glad to be a part of her. But the blissful existence didn’t last long.
I was in my sixth month of uterine life when Eddie stormed into our presence. Even before he yelled, I sensed the anger and heard the heaviness of his footsteps thumping on the wooden floor. “You whore! Why the hell didn’t you tell me the baby wasn’t mine!”
Mom jerked her body upright, forcing me into a sitting position. I could hear the shocked surprise in her voice. “But it is yours, Eddie. I swear it. You’re the only one I’ve slept with. The only one I love.”
“Liar!” He slapped us then. I cringed with the pain almost as much as she did.
It didn’t take me long to understand that Eddie was the creep who’d fathered me—and that he wasn’t too excited about my existence. But I knew Mom loved me. She’d told me so often and I believed her. I wanted to believe that everything would be okay for the two of us. The trouble was, she loved Eddie. I think it was because she’d been beaten by her father.
Eddie moved in with us and nothing seemed the same after that.
Oh, sure, he could be nice. He’d take us to the park and buy us ice cream. But when he’d drink, he was horrid. He’d get to talking about his folks and how his mother had betrayed his father.
After he beat us, he’d always ask, “You okay, babe?”
Mom would nod and they’d make up. But I felt my tiny heart harden against him.
When she wasn’t feeling well, he’d coddle her, but I never felt he really meant it. She would tell him she was okay and smile—as if she believed him. I loved to feel her smile. She would rub her stomach. I yearned to have her hold me.
“The baby moved today. You want to touch?” Mom asked him one night.
“Can I?” Eddie asked.
He never bothered asking me so I didn’t usually oblige him. Sometimes I’d kick—but not often because that hurt Mom, too.
“Gonna be a football player that kid,” Eddie bragged after one of my more vicious kicks. “Maybe he’ll come out with a wrench in his hand.”
“Eddie, please,” Mom pleaded. “If anything, she’ll come out with a book in her hand.”
“No kid of mine’s a patsy.” His snarl startled me. “Sounds like you’re trying to prepare me—so I won’t be suspicious, huh. I know damn well my kid’s a boy.” He slapped us. I winced feeling my mother’s pain. “Well, who the hell was you with before me?”
Mom was crying. “Eddie, I swear. It’s you I love. The baby’s yours. It can’t be anyone else’s.”
“Yeah, well, you better believe I’m gonna make sure.” He stormed out of the house and stayed away for several days. It wasn’t nice, but I hoped he’d drink himself to death and get out of our lives. Mom and me needed only each other.
Both Mom and I were glad when he was gone. Then she could play her music. Mozart, she told me, and would hum to me. It was times like these when I really wanted to be born, to let her cuddle me in her arms.
* * *
Eddie continued to become more and more irrational in his behavior. I pleaded with Mom to get away from him. Maybe I had a premonition. I tried to tell her that I didn’t like him, but she’d talk to me and placate me, saying that she told me lots of other things, too. Things she probably wouldn’t have said if she knew I really listened to her.
I was reaching the end of my seventh month. Only two more to go and then Mom and I would be, really be, together. But I feared for her and I was afraid of Eddie.
* * *
“Did you have to look at that guy like that?” he asked, slamming the door as we came home one night from a party.
“Eddie, that guy is my doctor!” She paused. “And I wasn’t looking at him.”
“Don’t lie to me!” He hit her again and again. I felt my own anger growing as I clenched my fist. If I could have cried I would have. But my tear ducts weren’t yet formed.
Eddie was beating us almost daily now. I hated him more and more. Now when we were alone, she didn’t play her music. She just cried. I wanted to reach up and comfort her. I wanted to tell her how it hurt me when she was sad. But she wouldn’t listen to me and she wouldn’t leave him.
This man wasn’t worthy of being my father. I knew I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.
I was eight and a half months when he hit us again.
“Eddie, please. I love you. The baby loves you.”
No, I don’t! She knew I didn’t. But she was so scared of him she would lie.
He continued hitting her. I tried covering my head and fending off the blows that were coming to me. I yearned to protect my mother, but I couldn’t. I was too helpless.
The punches continued until I could barely breathe—and suddenly there was silence. Not even a heart beat from above.
I found myself gasping for air.
In the distance I heard him crying, “Oh, Janey! My God, Janey!”
The sound of the ambulance siren was the last thing I heard as I vowed that I would survive and I’d make him pay.
I’m not sure exactly what happened after that. I heard noises again and knew that I hadn’t died. Then I saw the brilliant white lights. Rubber-gloved hands lifted me out and away from Mom. They cut the cord which had bound us all those months.
“Apgar 5,” a voice said. “I think we might have saved her. Get her into the incubator. Start the oxygen. Run a bilirubin.”
They righted me and I looked back at the table. My mother lay there—unmoving. I knew she was dead and I let out a shriek.
The nurse rolled my crib out past two men standing in the hall. I didn’t have to ask which one was Eddie. His nervous pacing and blood shot eyes gave him away. God, he looked hideous with his low bushy brows and huge nose. I hoped I hadn’t inherited anything from him. Hatred curled my fist which I stuffed in my mouth, vowing my revenge.
As I was driven past, the guy in the white coat put on a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Mr. Hutchins. We tried to save her but–”
“Oh, my God! No! No, Janey isn’t dead. I loved her. I swear, I did.”
The doctor’s voice was smooth. “Of course, you did. But we reached her too late.” He paused. “However, we did save your baby. You have a wonderful baby girl. Quite a fighter considering her prematurity. Do you want to see her?”
Eddie’s mouth dropped open. “Her! You saved the kid and you didn’t save Janey!” He grabbed the doctor’s collar and began to shake him.
“Please, Mr.—Hutchins –” The doctor paused, trying to catch his breath. “We performed an emergency c-section. I thought—you’d be—pleased.”
Eddie released the doctor, nearly throwing him against the wall. “Yeah. I’m pleased,” he said, scowling. “How d’ya suppose I’m gonna raise a brat by myself.”
“Mr. Hutchins, I realize your situation is difficult but it’s not unique. I’m sure –” He loosened the knot on his tie. “Do you want to see your daughter?”
They brought Eddie into the nursery. I knew I must look a sight with all these tubes and things they’d stuck in me, but no matter what it took, I was going to live—and make him pay for murdering my mother.
His mouth gaped open as he stared at me. “My God, she looks like—Janey.” As he looked down at the crib, I hated him even more than before. I would have my revenge.
Weak as I was from the delivery and everything that had happened already, I managed to summon all my powers as I stared directly at him and forced my brain to project the message: “YOU KILLED HER. I HATE YOU.”
I saw the horror in his eyes and knew he’d heard me. I cooed and smiled as I kicked off my blanket.
“I gotta get me a drink.” He turned and left the nursery.
* * *
It was several days before he came back. I struggled to get stronger and knew he was supposed to take me home today. I didn’t want to go with him, but I was still helpless in this new body. I tried to tell the nurses what Eddie really was, but none of them seemed to understand that he’d murdered my mother. But I cared.
It was after five when he came into the nursery to fetch me. I waited until he stood over the crib and I could smell his whiskey breath. “I’m gonna kill you, Eddie.”
Once more I saw the reaction as his eyes glazed over. He’d probably drunk too much. I gurgled and gave my cute baby act for the nurses.
“This kid’s not normal. She can talk.” Eddie’s voice cracked.
“Oh, Mr. Hutchins.” The older nurse, the one I called Granny, laughed, clucking her tongue. “Of course, she’s normal.”
“You don’t understand. The kid talked to me.”
Granny laughed. “Oh, Mr. Hutchins. All new parents think their baby’s special. But I assure you, little Jane won’t be talking for several month’s yet.”
“Her name ain’t Jane,” Eddie looked like he was going to swing at the nurse. “Her name’s Jennifer.”
Granny shook her head, putting me down as she opened the chart. “You wrote the name yourself.” She showed him a copy of my birth certificate.
I cooed and smiled.
Granny picked me up again, wrapping me in the blanket. She handed me to him.
“I’m going to kill you, Eddie Just like you murdered her.” I stared directly at him and knew he—and only he—could hear me.
“Jeez! I need a drink.”
“Careful, Mr. Hutchins,” Granny warned. “You’ll drop her.” She paused, taking me away from him. “Are you sure you can take care of her?”
He picked me up gingerly. I stared without blinking at him and thought how much I hated him.
Weeks turned into months. Eddie hired a nurse to take care of me so he wouldn’t have to bother. I was happy that he didn’t come near me, didn’t try to touch me.
Sometimes I’d laugh and smile. Sometimes I’d pretend to be his loving daughter. But other times, when he’d be drinking, I loved speaking my mind to his.
“I’m gonna kill you, Eddie. Just like you killed my mother.” He would blanch and then I’d take it a step further, drawing Mommy’s voice from memory.
“Eddie, I swear. This baby is yours. I love you, Eddie. I loved you.”
Eddie would grow pale and drop whatever was in his hand—usually a drink. He’d flee my room and not return for several days.
As I got older and began to talk, it seemed wisest to bide my time.
Gradually, Eddie forgot about my threat. Probably, he thought it was just the alcohol talking. But I didn’t forget. I waited and waited. One day, my chance would come.
“D’ya always gotta have a book in hand, kid?”
I smiled. I knew it irked him. “But I like to read, Daddy. Didn’t Mommy like to read, too?”
I’d just shrug. Unnerved, he’d head off for the nearest bar. I wasn’t strong enough yet, but the time was coming closer. I would get my revenge. Only I didn’t know how.
* * *
The older I got the more I looked like my mother. I grew my hair long, like she had.
Eddie never said anything but I knew my resemblance to her unbalanced him.
It was on my 16th birthday that I found the trunk of old clothes stuffed in the back closet. I knew they had belonged to my mother.
Other kids had parties for their sixteenth birthdays, but then other kids didn’t have a father who’d killed their mother.
It didn’t take long for me to find the flowery print dress Mom had worn on the day she died. It billowed out about my waist because of course she’d been pregnant with me then.
I knew Eddie would be home soon. Finding the Mozart record, I sat down on the rocking chair and waited.
Twilight turned to darkness and I continued to sit.
It was after midnight when I heard the sound of his steps in the hall.
Waiting in the bedroom. I let the motion of the rocker soothe me as the outer door opened and closed.
“Where the hell you get that record, kid?”
He was drunk—just like before. I didn’t answer but allowed the spirit of my mother to enter me and then I stood, silhouetted by the moonlight as he opened the door.
“Eddie, I love you, Eddie.” It was her voice I spoke in and her face I took on as I walked slowly toward him, pleased with the shocked look on his face. “Eddie, why’d you have to be so cruel?. Why’d you have to kill me? I loved you, Eddie.”
With each step I took toward him, he took several back. I don’t even think he realized how near the window was to him. The look of horror on his face was worth every moment of my life on this earth plane with him.
He took yet another step backward—falling through the open window that I had waiting for him.
I walked to the window and looked down five floors below at the twisted remains of the body which had been my father.
The police and doctor who came with my call were as nice as could be. Everyone in town had known about Eddie’s drinking problem—and no one suspected anything.
“I’ll report this as an accident, Miss Hutchins,” the doctor said.
I looked up at him and realized he was the same one who had delivered me.
“Thank you, doctor.” I paused, waiting a moment as the words sank in. “You know, he was never the same after my mother died.”
The doctor turned to me, startled. I knew he was wondering how I knew my father before.
I merely smiled.