It all began the day I performed an amniocentesis in my modest medical clinic in the small town of Herring’s Jaw. The needle had penetrated Claudia’s abdominal wall and the uterus and just as I was about to draw the fluid from the amniotic sac, I was distracted from the ultrasound monitor, just for a moment, by the light squelching sound of an insect authoring its own end on the outside of the office’s window. Immediately looking back at the monitor I noticed, to my horror, that the needle had shifted dangerously close to the bulbous skull of the foetus. Had I accidentally nicked it? Starting to perspire, I searched the screen desperately for injury or blood as I slowly drew the fluid, mercifully clear, into the syringe’s chamber. There was nothing out of the ordinary that I could see but the head of the foetus had turned away, as if abruptly bashful.
“What’s the matter?” asked the young woman’s boyfriend, noticing my sudden anxiety.
“Nothing, Brody,” I snapped, perhaps a little too quickly, as I gently eased the needle from Claudia’s protruding stomach. “It’s done and everything’s fine. We’ll get the results back from the city in a couple of weeks.”
A few minutes later, Brody and Claudia were on their way home, elated over the ultrasound’s grainy, black-and-white images I had printed out for them. The moment they had left, my barely masked irritability over the random distraction during the procedure turned to anger. I had advised the couple that an amniocentesis was totally unnecessary and only recommended for women over 35 years old. Claudia was all of 22 and Brody only a few months older. As far as I was concerned, they were far too young to be starting a family in the first place. They had insisted, however, and I had stupidly indulged them and their stupid, juvenile love. The question was already eating away at me: had I botched the procedure? If I had, would Claudia imminently suffer a miscarriage?
Deep down, I knew the anger was more directed at myself. I was a mediocre doctor, at best. I had muddled my way through medical school 3 decades earlier in the city. Thoroughly disenchanted at the university, and only there due to family pressure, I graduated close to the bottom of my class. My father, a renowned oncologist, despairing in me, pushed me to specialize in obstetrics as “there will be an ever-increasing need for obstetricians wherever you may land and however meagre your abilities are”. Because my lack of ambition was aggravated by my lack of any alternative identifiable talent, I did as my father wished and he was, after all, footing all of the costs of my education.
To some degree, my father had been right about the usefulness of specializing in obstetrics. In my final year at the university hospital, I began a reckless and purely sexual relationship with the daughter of the dean of medicine. At the age of 16, she was exactly 10 years my junior so the relationship took on the quality of a top-secret affair. It was not long after I began sleeping with her that she became pregnant. As her belly became more pronounced and less easy to hide with flowing dresses, a lurid campus scandal imminent, I performed an illegal late-term abortion on my own child. I could not bring myself to look at the bloody mess of bone and tissue until just before I threw it into the hospital’s incinerator. When I did, the coal black eyes of the dead foetus bore into me in cold damnation. Almost as soon as I graduated, I fled the city for Herring’s Jaw where there was an urgent need to replace the town’s general practitioner who had recently been struck by lightning, and killed, during a boating trip. I had gotten the job, in large part due to the added benefit of my being a qualified obstetrician, and never returned.
As I brooded on my past and worried about Claudia, I sighed and walked over to the window, sullenly, where the guts of the insect remained flattened against the pane in a syrupy, yellow soup from which broken black legs and wings jutted awkwardly. Although it was a clear mid-summer’s evening, the sun setting lazily over the thick blanket of pine trees to the west, I could not help but feel, chewing on a fingernail, that a storm was coming.
To be continued…