The sounds that woke Robby in the dark made him think he had a bad dream. Bad dreams always plagued him when he was ill. But this time his eyes were open, and he could still hear the sounds.
The noise started with a soft whimper, then a loud sob. The sob would continue to grow into an ear-piercing howl that seemed to last forever. These sounds would stop for a short time. As soon as
the whimper came, he held his hands over his ears. He never heard sounds like that before, and they frightened him.
He left the warm bed and trudged in the dark to Luke's bed, his blanket trailing behind him. Reaching out a hand, meaning to shake his brother's shoulder, Robby grabbed his head and shook it
"Ow!" Luke cried. "What the hell?"
"Shh." Robby placed a hand over his mouth. "Be quiet. I hear strange noises coming from Mum's room."
Luke grabbed Robby's hand. "Get your smelly paws off me. They stink!"
"Shut up and listen, Luke! What is that?"
"Jesus fuckin' Christ," Luke swore. "If you woke me up for nothing, I swear, I'm gonna beat you half to death." He sat up and rubbed his eyes, his head cocked.
The whimper started, next came the sob. When the sob rose in crescendo to a howl, Luke jumped from his bed. "Holy Christ!"
"I told you!"
"I don't know. But I'm going to find out."
Robby fell in line behind him, and they stepped to Caleb's room, opening the door. Luke crept up on Caleb and shook his shoulder.
"Caleb, wake up. Somethings going on."
Caleb opened his eyes. "What are you guys doing up?" He gave both brothers a dirty look.
"We're hearing things," Robby said.
"Robby woke me up and said he's hearing strange noises coming from Mum's room," Luke said.
"You believed the runt?" Caleb shook his head in disgust. "What the hell is wrong with...."
The howl stopped him, and he turned to his brothers. "Is that the strange noise?"
"Yeah," Robby bobbed his head up and down.
Robby's eyes grew wide in the semi-darkness of the bedroom. "What's wrong with her?"
"She must be having the kid. Go back to bed."
"Mum's having the baby?" Luke questioned. "Aren't you worried?"
"Nope." Caleb settled back into the mattress and covered his head with his pillow. "I've seen more than one of you brats born. Go back to bed."
"I'm not going back to bed. I'm going to see if Mum's all right," Luke insisted.
"I'm going, too," Robby said, hoisting his blanket up farther in his arms.
"Suit yourself," Caleb mumbled from his bed. "Dad won't be happy."
They waited impatiently outside their mother's bedroom until the door opened and their father finally came out.
"Dad, is Mum okay?" Luke asked.
"For Christ's sake!" His voice was a loud whisper in the quiet hallway as he closed the bedroom door. "What the hell are you boys doing out of bed?"
"We were worried about her," Luke said. "And the baby."
"Nothing to worry about," his dad scoffed. "Your mother has done this before, every time one of you came into the world. I'm sure she will be able to do it again, too."
"Again?" Robby's voice trembled. "Was this baby another boy, Dad?" Robby was horrified at the thought of another brother.
"Nope." His chest puffed out as if he'd delivered the baby himself. "I got myself a daughter."
Robby breathed a sigh of relief. Dad did promise Mum she could stop having babies once she gave him a daughter. "She can stop having babies now?"
He shouldered roughly past the boys and headed to the kitchen. "Sure, but accidents happen."
Robby looked questioningly at Luke.
Luke only shook his head and shrugged. "I'm going back to bed."
Robby stood alone in the hallway. He didn't want to go back to bed. He wanted to see Mum.
He listened to the noises of the house and waited. It wasn't until the refrigerator door opened, the loud pop from the beer tab, and the soft sounds of a guitar coming from the living room reached
his ears and he quietly opened his mother's bedroom door.
Mum was in bed. Her eyes were closed, her face pale. The baby lay at her breast.
He approached her as silently as possible, but she must have heard him, for she opened her eyes. Her smile reassured Robby she had made it through the birthing process and would recover.
"Hi, Mum," he said shyly. "Can I see the new baby?"
"Of course, you can. Come here."
"Mum!" Robby gasped. The baby was red, her head stretched.
"It's fine, Robby. She had to travel through the birth canal. Her head will be normal soon."
"What's her name?"
His mother paused. "I think I'm going to name her Ruthie. What do you think?"
"I like that," he said the name out loud. "Ruthie. Yep, I like that name."
Robby watched the baby feed. "She must be hungry."
"They're always hungry when they're firstborn. You were, too."
"I'm still hungry, Mum."
Robby's mother patted the space beside her on the bed. "Come on."
After a glance at the closed bedroom door, Robby climbed up on the bed, snuggling close to his mother. She quickly unlaced her nightgown to expose her other breast and lifted it so Robby could take
it into his mouth.
He suckled for a moment, then pulled his head away and looked up at her. "There's no milk."
"Not yet, but there will be soon. It will take a few days. Right now, what she's drinking is colostrum. It'll give her lots of vitamins to keep her healthy before the milk comes in."
"Did I drink coldstream too?"
She laughed at his pronunciation but didn’t correct him. "You did. But you didn't mind it."
"I'll guess I'll wait." Robby grimaced. "I don't like the taste of that stuff right now."
His mother was still laughing when the bedroom door flew open.
His dad's face was red with anger, his hands balled into fists at his sides. He glared at Rachel lying on the bed, her breast resting close to Robby's cheek. The new baby, on the other breast,
still slept soundly.
"Get out." His dad staggered toward the bed. "Get out now. Go to bed."
Robby slid off the bed, his eyes round in fright. He felt ashamed, but he didn't understand why. He turned his eyes to Mum. She only patted his shoulder and nodded her head, but he saw the fear in
her eyes, and he was suddenly terrified.
"You're nursing him?" Carl hissed. "You're nursing a six-year-old? Isn't he enough of a fucking sissy without you helping him out?"
"Don't, Carl," Rachel sighed. "Please watch your language."
"I'll watch my language when everyone in this house starts paying the bills. And, right now that someone is me, and if I want to drink, cuss or shit on the floor, I can. You have a problem with
She ignored her husband and slid from the mattress, the new baby in her arms. The child had fallen asleep on her breast, and she didn't want his shouting to wake her. She leaned over the bassinet,
kissed her fingers, and planted them on the baby's forehead. She covered her with the thin blanket.
Blind with rage, Carl grabbed her arm. The pain shot up her elbow into her shoulder as he spun her around to face him. "Don't ignore me, Rachel. Don't you dare."
"You're hurting me." She pulled from his grasp.
He stank of beer and cigarettes, and Rachel knew she was treading on dangerous ground. Her glance fell on Robby. She didn't realize he was still in the room. Her children knew they argued but not
once did any of them witness a fight.
"Carl," Rachel nodded her head at the boy.
Carl either chose to ignore her or, in his anger, didn't realize she spoke at all. But the fact she'd even tried fueled his rage. He pushed Rachel away from him in disgust. In his anger, he jostled
her again until her back nearly touched the wall. He shoved her, and she lost her balance, knocking the picture of Jesus off the wall.
Carl didn't spot the nail in the wall from where the picture of Jesus fell. Jesus lay on the floor, his sad eyes watching the scene play out before him.
He shoved her one last time, and her head lurched backward, striking the wall, the nail piercing her skull.
Her eyes fluttered for a moment, rolled up in her head, and she collapsed to the floor. She landed on the picture, a trickle of blood from her skull seeped onto the face of Jesus, and Jesus
appeared to be crying blood.
Rachel lay still and silent.
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