The hot, liquid ache
of a migraine starts behind his eyes
and Paulo lifts a hand
to shield himself from the penetrating
lights suspended above
Diana’s splayed form.
There are others nearby,
and squawking orders.
One of the nurses turns
to a nearby closet, retrieves a cart
and lands it next to the bed.
Another lowers Diana flat,
removes the mask to intubate.
Her expression is slack,
but the dark rings under her eyes
Sweat beads from every visible pore
like a steaming jungle leaf.
A rolled cloth is dragged
across her belly, staining it orange.
A voice says to Paulo,
“The umbilical cord
is wrapped around the baby’s neck.
He’s losing oxygen.
We’re going to perform
an emergency caesarian.”
“Sir, we’re going to need you
to stand over here,”
as he’s dragged into the corner.
A surgeon bursts through the door,
gloved hands held aloft.
The rapid blip of the cardiac monitor
clangs in Paulo’s ears
as she draws a line
across Diana’s belly with her scalpel,
then proceeds to retrace it,
descending another layer of her
with each stroke.
Paulo can hear
the stands of muscle in her abdomen
acquiesce to the blade
from across the room.
“Ok. I’m going to break the bag.
Clamp the cord and clear the neck,”
the surgeon barks to a nurse.
With that, the final cut is made
and Paulo’s mouth falls open
as his pale blue boy is lifted
from the carnage of his wife’s belly.
He instinctively rushes bedside
as the nurses remove
the infant noose.
One of them suctions the nose
and blue becomes pink before him
as a beautiful scream
leaves fresh lungs.
as a joy he could only have imagined
overtakes him, until
the bell of Diana’s heart
lets out a sustained ring
and he turns to his wife.
The nurses work feverishly,
commanding her to stay.
Unable to process the sight,
his foot landing
in a small pool of blood
that shoots his weight out
from under him. The nurses
attending to Diana and his son
pay no mind as he plunges backward,
landing not on the cold linoleum
of the hospital floor
but again onto the sands
of the eternal lakeshore.
The world has succumbed to gray.
in all he sees—
from their skeletal frames, the surf
foams with the fetid flesh of dead fish,
and the steely sun now a mere outline
to give definition to the horizon.
Paulo’s ears train on an infant
just outside of view.
It only takes a moment to recognize
his son. Both foreign and familiar,
it prickles the sensitive hairs
attuned to the cries of his offspring.
His eyes sweep the beach,
desperate to find its origin.
A single gut-wrenching shriek
cries out with alarming finality.
Paulo turns to the source
and finds the black door,
its trisecting metal belts still surging
with electric light,
sinking steadily offshore.
The lingering silence beyond it
terrifies him infinitely more
than the cry escaping moments before.
Three steps and he’s wet,
spinning frantic limbs toward it
as the top descends
below the surface.
With a lung-filling breath,
he plunges himself down,
to grasp the coursing light
as it once again becomes one
with his memory.