An unusually strong first book, this collection of short stories depends on exquisitely crafted surfaces that conceal shocking emotional force. Three of the stories are obliquely connected and feature young women on the edge. In the first of these, a new mother contemplates her new baby; in the second, a girl finds herself in rehab; and in the final story, the main character goes to jail. Other characters include a New Zealand serviceman returned from active duty in Dili, the employees of a $2 shop, and a vegan couple at a Samoan resort.
|Publisher:||Victoria University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Pip Adam has written for Blackmail Press, Glottis, Hue & Cry, Lumière Reader, Sport, and Turbine.
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Everything We Hoped for
By Pip Adam
Victoria University PressCopyright © 2010 Pip Adam
All rights reserved.
A Bad Start
'Look at my watch.' The anaesthetist was holding his wrist so Ruth could read the time. The baby cried as the second hand struck eleven o'clock. 'It's a girl,' Nicholas said. As they lifted it over the screen Ruth saw it was hideous. A doctor took the baby away, leaving Ruth numb from the chest down, arms out like Jesus. Most of the people in the operating theatre followed the baby. Two surgeons stayed to sew up Ruth's stomach. She heard them say 'floppy uterus' more than once. She turned her head back to the anaesthetist and said, 'I'm going to be sick.' A nurse held a plastic container in front of Ruth's face. Nicholas came and sat beside her with the baby. It was screaming. He started to sing. 'I'm going to be sick,' Ruth told him. When the baby cried it sounded like something was squeezing it from deep inside. The midwife came to where Ruth's head was.
'I'm not staying here,' Ruth said. 'I want to go home.'
'You can't walk,' the midwife said.
'That's not my fault,' Ruth said.
'You have to stay here.'
'I want to go home.'
'Well,' the midwife stroked her hair, 'you can't walk, so you have to stay here.'
Ruth, Nicholas and the baby were the only people in the recovery room. It was late: the nurse had left. 'Get me more ice,' Ruth said. Nicholas took the polystyrene cup and filled it with ice from a small chilly bin near the nurses' desk. The baby sucked at Ruth and slept. Ruth crunched through the ice and said, 'Get me more ice.'
About an hour later, someone came and wheeled Ruth, the baby and the bed into an elevator, and then into a room. A nurse told Nicholas he had to go because Ruth wanted to sleep. There was another baby in the room, another woman, behind the curtain next to Ruth's bed. The other baby cried when Ruth's baby cried. Ruth rolled over; they'd put the baby in a small plastic box – like the fishbowls in primary school classrooms. She put her hand in the box and rubbed the baby's stomach. 'Shh,' she said, 'shh.' The baby stopped crying and Ruth rolled onto her back. 'What a bad start,' she said to the ceiling and to the baby and to herself.
Ruth's share of the room was still dull when the sun came up. The curtains cut her off from the other woman and the only window. More curtains cut her off from the wall, the sink, and the door that people came in and out of. The baby slept and Ruth lay on her back, still looking at the ceiling. Fluorescent tubes came on above her; the woman behind the curtain went to the bathroom and had a shower.
Someone wearing a white smock pulled the curtains back, looked at Ruth's catheter bag, lifted her sheets and said, 'Good grief. Someone should have changed these. Did no one change these?' Ruth shook her head. 'Your baby needs feeding.' The woman in the smock started winding the bed up. 'I know it's nice to have a rest but you need to wake that baby up and feed it.' She looked at Ruth's chart. 'Have you had pain relief?' Ruth wasn't sure. They'd given her an injection in her spine before the caesarean and there was a drip in her arm. The woman wrote something down and said, 'You should stand up and have a shower. You'll feel better once you're moving again.' While the woman changed the bloody sheets, Ruth stood like she was on a ledge, holding the tube for her catheter in one hand and the frame her drip hung on in the other. The baby slept. Ruth got back into bed and the woman checked her dressings. 'When you have a shower you need to take these off.' She meant the bandages. 'If you can't take them off, get one of the nurses to take them off. You can't have a shower until they take the catheter and the drip out.' The woman took the baby out of the plastic box and gave it to Ruth, saying, 'You need to feed the baby,' and then she went out, leaving the curtain open.
Ruth tried to remember the diagram from antenatal class. The one with the baby's cheek cut out so you could see the nipple in its mouth. She was pretty sure she was doing it wrong, but it would look right to anyone passing by the open door. Like the Madonna. She wasn't sure how long to feed the baby for, but every time it cried she really wanted to feed it and it cried every time it stopped sucking, so she kept feeding it. An hour later Nicholas arrived.
'You're feeding the baby,' he said.
'They say I have to have a shower and take the bandages off.'
'I don't want to take the bandages off.'
'Have you stood up already?' He touched the back of the baby's head.
'Yeah, while they changed my bed. There was blood everywhere – it looked like something dreadful had happened.'
Nicolas nodded. 'How long have you been feeding her for?'
'A couple of hours.' Ruth arched her back.
'Have you had breakfast?'
'They won't give me anything to eat until I fart,' she said, 'to make sure they've put my bowels back in properly, or something.'
'Oh.' He looked up from the baby for the first time. 'So it's pretty much exactly as we dreamed.'
'Everything we hoped for,' she said.
They both laughed. Nicholas looked at the baby again, dropping his head from side to side. 'She's very cute, you know?' The baby had nodded off and was rubbing its face with its tiny hands.
'Her head's gone down a bit,' Ruth said, smoothing the place where the lump had been.
'And she's not blue,' Nicholas said.
* * *
There was a birthing pool set up in their spare room at home. They'd put it together when the baby was a week overdue; to cheer themselves up and give the baby some encouragement. Nothing happened. Ruth walked up hills, moved the refrigerator, ate curry. She did everything the midwife suggested. She and Nicholas had sex in a pragmatic way that felt, for the first time, like the sex their parents had explained to them as teenagers; this going here, that going there. When the baby was two weeks overdue the midwife sent them for a scan. The radiologist said, 'This is never coming out – it's huge.' Their midwife said, 'She shouldn't have said that. That's pretty unprofessional.'
Seventeen hours into the induced labour, the registrar said 'caesarean' in a sentence Ruth didn't hear the rest of. Ruth said to Nicholas, 'You talk to her, I can't talk to her, I'm not staying here another night.' He talked to the midwife, then came back and said Ruth and the baby had to stay at the hospital if there was a caesarean. Ruth said, 'There's a motel across the road. I'll stay there. Tell her that.' Nicholas went away, came back and said if there was a caesarean Ruth would have a catheter and a drip; she would have to stay in hospital with the baby.
Every time someone looked at Ruth's chart they said, 'Failure to progress,' and, 'Have you had pain relief?' Nicholas made notes on the back of his hand with a pen because Ruth couldn't remember and no one who worked at the hospital seemed to know. That afternoon, someone took out the drip and the catheter, but not before Nicholas's father visited and made a joke about the bag hanging off the side of Ruth's bed. Nicholas held the baby and walked around the room while Ruth went to the shower and looked at the bandages. She had no idea what was under them. She was sore. She couldn't imagine being more sore. She left them on. There was a laundry bag in the bathroom; Ruth put her hospital gown in it and put on the clothes Nicholas had brought in for. Her own clothes.
'Is that better?' Nicholas said.
That evening one of the nurses said the baby wasn't getting enough food. 'It needs formula.' Ruth said no. 'Well, you'll have to express, to try and speed things up.' The nurse went away and came back with a syringe without a needle and a diagram showing how to hand-express. It was like milking a cow and being a cow at the same time. Ruth sucked a tiny amount of watery colostrum into the syringe. The nurse took Nicholas and showed him where to put it in the ward fridge. Ruth dozed, and when the baby woke up said, couldn't Nicholas go and get the stuff from the fridge and give it to the baby so she could sleep some more. He went and came back and said someone had taken it. Someone else's baby was drinking Ruth's milk.
At home, around the birthing pool, they'd put pillows and a CD player. She would have the baby, then they would all crawl into bed for a couple of days. Feeding, eating, staying warm. People would visit them. They would hang a sign up when they were sleeping and people wouldn't visit them. No one that visited would drink her breast milk.
Around ten thirty a nurse came and told Nicholas to go home and took Ruth's bandages off. The baby woke up, crying. Ruth fed the baby for another three or four hours. The woman behind the curtain shouted out for Ruth to keep the baby quiet because it was waking up her baby. Ruth took the baby and the blanket her mother had knitted and went to the television lounge. There was a vampire movie on. The baby dozed in her arms. Ruth walked slowly back to her room and put the baby in the plastic crib. She got herself into bed and shut her eyes. The baby woke up half an hour later. The woman behind the curtain made a disapproving noise. Ruth went back to the television lounge and fed her baby in the dark illuminated by the television. As the night went on, the baby started to talk to Ruth, saying 'No' when she took it off her breast. It was a boy, then a girl, then a tiny strange monkey who had lost a hat or a glove.
A nurse came and told her she needed to go back to her room. It wasn't good for the baby to be up all night watching television. Ruth said the baby was disturbing the other woman in the room. The nurse said she couldn't be afraid of other people. It was her room and she needed to stay there. Ruth went back to her room. The baby cried and the woman said, 'Be quiet,' so Ruth snuck out of the room, out of the ward and walked the baby up and down in the foyer by the outpatient clinic. When she came back, the door to the ward was locked. There was a phone by the door; she lifted it to her ear. A nurse answered. She told Ruth she couldn't just leave the ward; they'd been looking for her, where had she been?
'Can I go home?' Ruth asked.
'If you're asking whether you can discharge yourself,' the nurse on the other end of the phone said, 'we wouldn't advise it, but we couldn't do anything about it if that's what you decided you wanted to do and there are plenty of people who would be happy to have your bed.'
'Can you bring my clothes out?' Ruth asked.
'You can't discharge yourself now, it's late. You have to wait until morning.'
The door made a clicking noise and opened out toward Ruth. She and the baby went back into the ward and sat in the dark in the television room. She watched the baby until the sun came up. It wriggled slowly, like it was struggling to get out of something. It scrunched up its nose and every time it opened its eyes it looked like it had woken up on a bus, or at work, or somewhere it didn't expect to wake up. Ruth held its hand and found a plastic bracelet on its wrist. 'Baby of Ruth Spencer,' she read. It was true – she'd seen the baby come out of her body and it hadn't left her since. And now it stretched and started nuzzling into her, looking for food.CHAPTER 2
At six o'clock on the morning of the sixteenth of December, the soldiers of Echo Company woke in Dili, showered, dressed in civilian clothes and made their way to the vehicles that would take them to the plane that would take them home. There was towel-flicking and a shared feeling of excitement and joy. They had packed the night before and their rifles would travel separately. In Darwin they changed planes and boarded an Air New Zealand flight. They laughed at the safety instructions, ate small bags of peanuts and drank complimentary beer. Several air hostesses declined to give their phone numbers. The flight home was noisy; there were jokes and horseplay, head-rubbing and play-fighting. In all the noise a few soldiers looked out the windows at the clouds and felt their eyelids drop.
As the plane flew over Canterbury some of the men shouted out landmarks that became apparent as they continued their descent. From the plane they could see the airport and a large sign saying 'Christchurch'. They couldn't see the crowd of family and friends in the arrival area, but they felt it. On the ground, and as the seat-belt sign went off, they felt the weight of the people waiting for them. They disembarked, saying thank you to the air hostesses.
Before the doors through to the arrival area there was a duty-free shop. The first off the plane stopped at the shop and the others, one by one, five by five, fell in. Recognisable as soldiers by their short haircuts and tidy jeans, they tried on sunglasses and looked at bottles of spirits. The married soldiers sniffed perfumes and asked the women behind the counter about them. Three soldiers, almost the last off the plane, stood at the entrance of the shop until they saw another soldier looking at a shelf of aftershave. Wyatt, a broad man who wanted to be a chef and was everyone's first pick for anything needing weight and force, joked that even the most expensive aftershave wouldn't help the soldier have sex with anything resembling a woman. The others laughed. They started looking at the aftershaves, joking about the names, spraying each other with the testers. Lennon wore his glasses. Knight, the third man, called him 'my blind foot-soldier' when they were on patrol. Lennon said he was fine unless it was raining or humid which, Wyatt pointed out, was all the time in East Timor. Knight said, 'Exactly, a blind assassin – stay in front of me.' The first soldiers stayed as long as possible, then began to disperse into the arrival area. The soldiers left in the duty-free shop heard the shouts and cheers andscreams of excitement. They looked toward them as the shop fell silent for a moment.
As they walked through, Wyatt was grabbed by his mother and sisters who met him with kisses and hugs, whoops, small jumps and claps. Knight was met by several women who called themselves his good friends; they hugged and kissed him, except the ones who were in the army as well, these women stood back, shook his hand, then walked into sportsfield hugs. They thought this meant more than thrusting their chests forward and wet- kissing his cheek. Knight didn't.
Lennon was the last to come through the double doors, his mother was there. His girlfriend ran to him, grabbed his face in both hands and kissed him on the mouth. She looked odd. He'd forgotten about her. He'd seen her name on the letters she sent, called her a couple of times. He'd mentioned her name and had her name mentioned to him in strip bars and mess tents but he'd forgotten about her – the her that stood in front of him now, smiling broadly and wiping tears away like something he was sure she'd seen on television. She was something waiting for him – what could be done with her now? He kept his distance. Lennon wasn't frightened of anything but he kept his distance, unsure of what she could tell or smell or sense. He smiled at her carefully from beside his mother. Wyatt and Knight came over and said something about a party in the afternoon. Wyatt was going to have breakfast with his family and Knight said he was going to have sex with one, or more, of the women. They left.
Eventually everyone left. Lennon kept saying, I just need to see so-and-so, and ducking off, but eventually everyone had left and he was there with them so he said, 'Shall we go for some breakfast? I could murder some food.' He would travel with his girlfriend, his mother would come in her own car.
On the way to the restaurant there was a long silence. Lennon put his hand on his girlfriend's thigh and said, 'Good to see you.' She said, 'Oh Mike.' He didn't have to say anything else or touch her again for the rest of the journey.
They talked at breakfast, told him someone had died, someone else had got married and the weather had been warmer than last year. Did he like his mother's new haircut? It was shorter. Lennon ate and looked at his watch and the clock on the wall behind his girlfriend. He paid the bill and met them in the car park. His mother said goodbye. He thought he would mess around in town until the party but his girlfriend held out her car keys and asked if he wanted to drive. She meant back to her place, to drop his stuff off, and he realised she expected him to stay there. He was going to crash at the party or catch a lift back to barracks but he didn't tell her that. It could still turn out that way, but not if he told her. He hadn't driven for nearly a year. He'd been awake for almost twenty-four hours, travelled hundreds of kilometres and she wanted him to drive, so she could feel like a war-bride. It would get him into town and there wouldn't be a fight. Concurrent activity, he thought, eating and marching. It was money in the bank, easy money.
Excerpted from Everything We Hoped for by Pip Adam. Copyright © 2010 Pip Adam. Excerpted by permission of Victoria University Press.
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Table of Contents
A Bad Start 9
The Kiss 17
This Is Better 30
Over Again 45
One of Your skies 53
When You're Sick 72
Like a Good Idea 75
A Lightness 84
Funny Too 95
Mary's Job 98
You Might Be Right 111
The Other Side of the World 116
A Noisy Place 126
Hank Nigel Coolidge 137
A Bad Word 141
All at Once 153
A Village 161
You've Come a Long Way Baby 166
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