I’m in the idea stage for my next fictional project. I plan to write about two brothers placed in foster homes and the experiences they encounter. The theme I want to investigate is how love shapes our development as individuals. I’d love to hear your ideas. Feel free to leave a comment below.
Here is my working Prologue for the next novel. I’d love to get your feedback!
The taxi came to a soft stop in front of the hospital. It was dark as she opened the backseat door, putting one foot out then the other. She steadied herself, scooting to the edge of the seat, then shimmied out of the Checker Marathon cab.
The driver watched her in the rearview mirror, saying nothing. He smiled to himself. It wasn’t the first time he’d dropped an expecting mother off in the cool darkness of night. She hadn’t spoken since she told him where to take her. He knew enough not to ask.
Shutting the car door, she felt the humidity envelop her. She pulled her thin cardigan close around her bulging belly as she turned to waddle into Saint Margaret’s Hospital. Though it was July, the temperature had dropped, and the humidity had risen. Typical for summer nights in Kansas City.
Tonight felt cold. Perhaps, it was what she was about to do that brought a shiver to her spine. She sighed. It was no matter. It was happening, and she’d been through labor pains before.
“How can I help you, miss?” The receptionist at the ornate desk paused as she spoke, eyeing the young woman standing in front of her.
“I’m going into labor.” Her words were curt as she held one hand under her belly, resting the other on the desk’s rounded ledge.
The receptionist rose from her chair—more out of duty than compassion—then silently passed a clipboard over to the stranger. Out of a similar silent obligation, the pregnant girl reached out to receive it.
“Miss, you need to fill this out and sit right over there.” She pointed, offering a cursory nod. “I’ll have a nurse come to check you in.” The receptionist began to walk down the hall, her shoes echoing with each step on the cold tile floor in the cavernous entryway. She stopped, shifted her weight, then turned around to look at the pathetic figure hunched in a chair filling out the papers. “Um, Miss, is your … husband coming? It’s late … and I don’t want you to be alone.”
“I haven’t got a husband.” The girl didn’t look up as she spoke, her attention focused on the papers. “Or a boyfriend either. It’s just me.”
The receptionist pursed her lips then gave another slight nod of her head as she turned to continue down the corridor. It was a Catholic hospital. She felt obliged to ask, though she suspected the hard truth when she watched the poor creature clamber in from the night.
Several minutes passed as the girl sat staring at the clipboard. She’d only just begun to fill it out when she stopped at the line to write in her name. Her breathing was heavy, and the baby inside her was moving, adding physical discomfort to the emotional turmoil she suffered.
Okay. You’ve been over this. Just write it. The girl recited the same thought again and again in her head.
With a quick scribble, as though she’d lose her nerve if she waited any longer, she entered the name ‘Jane Doe’ on the form. She scrawled what other information she must. She kept back that which she didn’t want to be known, then rushed a signature bearing the same false name before turning the clipboard over in her lap.
She couldn’t look at the page. She didn’t want to think about her decision any longer. It was for the best.
The receptionist in the white smock returned, followed by a nurse. The nurse wore the same uniform, only with a matching white bonnet for her hair.
The girl jerked her head to the side at the sudden sound of muffled footsteps approaching. With narrowed eyes, like a hawk, she examined the two walking towards her. The red cross on the nurse’s bonnet stood out like an omen. It was like a scarlet letter. It burned itself deep into the girl’s mind, as though she were being watched.
The receptionist quietly took the clipboard from the girl, scanning it as she did. The girl hung her head, casting her gaze down, staring only at the floor. The two women mumbled something the girl couldn’t make out as they reviewed the form.
It was the nurse who spoke. “Dear, why don’t you come with me. We’ll get you set up in a room to get you prepped.” The nurse reached out a hand to help the girl along, a forced smile cracking the veneer of her face.
As the girl would be known to Saint Margaret’s, Jane pushed herself up from the chair, taking the hand offered. She studied the nurse, trying to decide if this middle-aged woman judged her for what everyone knew was happening.
The two walked arm in arm down the corridor, taking measured steps as they went. The receptionist stood behind the heavy wooden desk, watching the nurse and girl leave, judgment and sadness mixing inside her. She’d never gotten used to young mothers coming to a Catholic hospital to have their babies in secret. She hoped this one would change her mind after seeing the birth of her child. If not, the state would carry the burden of another small mouth to feed.
As Jane and the nurse made their way to a semi-private room, the nurse inquired about the girl’s care during pregnancy. Jane cut her short, telling her she’d not been to a doctor once since discovering she had a baby on the way. The nurse gulped down her thoughts, offering the same faint smile and silent nod from earlier. Like the receptionist, she had the same sinking feeling.
The room was sparse, separated only by a privacy curtain between the two beds. Jane breathed a small sigh of relief when she saw the other bed was unoccupied. At least she may be able to do this without the scorn of some other expecting mother.
Jane quietly disrobed and put on the hospital gown, as instructed. It was faded. Probably green or blue at some point. She had the room to herself for now. The nurse had departed to fetch the doctor who would oversee Jane’s delivery.
She propped two pillows on the bed, gently smacking at them with her open hand to fluff them. With the same silence Jane carried all night, she climbed into the bed, pulling the thin sheet over her legs. She stared at the wall across from her, breathing more heavily now. With any luck, this would be a quick delivery.
A doctor entered the room, followed by the nurse who’d escorted Jane here. The doctor reeked of cigarettes. Jane knew the smell well. She smoked regularly—even throughout her pregnancy.
The doctor looked up from the chart, his eyes making a mental picture of the girl. He wore reading glasses that barely held onto the bridge of his nose. He cleared his throat twice, never covering his mouth as he did. “So, young lady.” His disdain filled the otherwise quiet room. “Mrs. Murdock tells me you haven’t seen a doctor once during your pregnancy.” He glanced between the nurse and patient as he spoke, acknowledging his colleague only by name and the briefest of eye contact.
Jane nodded, her lips pressed hard together.
The doctor took a step towards the bed and resumed. “Listen, I know it’s 1977, and you young girls are running around all liberated.” Another step towards the bed. “But I don’t like the idea of delivering a baby to someone who hasn’t got a husband or boyfriend and goes by the name ‘Jane Doe.’”
“Do I need to find another hospital?” Jane’s words were much sharper than the doctor was accustomed to hearing.
With paternal condescension, the doctor put his hand on Jane’s shoulder. “No, Jane.” His mouth twisted as he forced out the placeholder name given to unidentified dead females. “I’m just not very happy with the circumstances. But, we’re going to get this baby out of you, and we will go from there.”
Again, Jane said nothing. Her eyes filled with ice as she glowered up at the man pretending to care yet knowing nothing about her. He didn’t know she had no family. He didn’t know she’d had her first child at nineteen. He didn’t even know her current age, twenty-two, not that it mattered now.
The doctor left, stomping as he went. Nurse Murdock stayed behind, only speaking occasionally to instruct Jane on her breathing.
Jane breathed in and out—slow, long breaths. She pushed and tensed her muscles, following Nurse Murdock’s instructions.
The doctor named Smith or Smythe—Jane didn’t care enough to ask again—came and went every fifteen minutes. That was preferable to her anyway. He seemed like the sort of man she only vaguely remembered as her father—another womanizing beater. Of course, she couldn’t know that about the doctor. Still, he gave off a certain air of superiority that seemed like it was backed up with a heavy hand.
After four hours of pushing, the doctor sidled up to the end of Jane’s bed. She was covered in sweat and growing tired from the effort. She’d been given the lowest dosage of painkillers the hospital could get away with. It was a game. The doctor was punishing her. She punished him back by glaring through squinted eyes with every contraction. Her cold stare was her only weapon against his judgment.
“Alright, one more push, and the first baby will be out.” Dr. Smythe glanced up at Jane and then back down at the crowning baby.
“What?” Jane exclaimed upon hearing the news.
Dr. Smythe was smug and dry in his riposte. “If you’d have gone to a doctor, you’d have known you were having twins, young lady.”
Again, with the young lady barb.
Jane shut her eyes tight, offering a silent prayer to a God she wasn’t sure she believed in. Four hours of pushing for one baby. Who knew how much longer for a second child. Was she really going to abandon two helpless infants to a cruel world?
She hadn’t the time to worry about that now. Mustering what strength remained, she clenched and squeezed with every muscle in her body.
“Good work. The first baby is out.” Dr. Smythe held the child up, inspecting it, stretching the umbilical cord for Nurse Murdock to make her cut. “Relax for a couple of minutes, and we’ll get the other baby out too.”
Dr. Smythe stepped out of the room, presumably for a cigarette. Nurse Murdock set about cleaning and swaddling the screaming boy Jane had just birthed. The nurse went about her duty in utter silence, not even looking to the mother heaving in the bed under her own exertion.
Jane felt woozy but wasn’t going to give this nurse or doctor the satisfaction of holding something else over her head. She began her breathing technique again, summoning her muscles to push out an unexpected second child.
Dr. Smythe returned to the room, again reeking of smoke. Nurse Murdock batted her eyes at the stink that followed him, saying nothing. Jane cocked her head to the side, boring a hole through him with an intense flash from her eyes as he came to the foot of her bed.
“Keep pushing, dear.” The words were strange and foreign as they left the doctor’s mouth.
Another condescension. He and Jane weren’t kin. Nor were they on friendly terms. Why call her dear?
Jane pushed until she felt faint. She could sense the doctor fumbling around, almost pulling the second baby from inside her. She was too weak to care. Just get the infernal thing out so she could rest.
“Nurse. I need a hand.” Dr. Smythe’s voice rose with uncertainty.
Nurse Murdock leaned over the seated doctor, holding her hands underneath the unmoving baby coming through the birth canal. The child was blue, the life-giving cord wrapped around its neck.
In the background, the other child screamed into the desolation of the room. The newborn’s cries went unheeded. The doctor and nurse were preoccupied with what appeared to be a lifeless child coming into the world.
Nurse Murdock untangled the umbilical cord from the second baby’s neck, cutting it in one swift motion. She wrapped the baby in a blanket then hurried out of the room with the limp infant cradled in her arms.
Doctor Smythe let out a long sigh, his elbows resting on his knees. His hands were covered in blood as he looked at the floor for several moments. Slowly craning his neck upward to peek at Jane one last time, he inhaled through his nostrils and asked the question that had been on his mind for some five or six hours. “Have you thought about what you want to name them?”
Jane pulled the sheet back over her legs, clutching it tightly in her fingers. “I don’t care what you call them. They’re not mine.”
Dr. Smythe narrowed his eyes, leaning forward with a look of incomprehension on his scrunched-up face.
Jane continued. “You don’t know me. I can’t look at those babies knowing how they were made. I’ll always hate them. I’ll see him every time. Call them ‘baby’ for all I care. After I get some rest, I’m leaving this damned hospital.”