written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Excerpt from "One of Us," Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Charlotte let out a wail that traveled to the edges of their thousand-acre ranch. Armadillos stopped in their tracks. Tiny white butterflies paused on blades of grass swaying in the hot August breeze. A rattler or two slithered out from beneath a rock, stunned. Somewhere a dog howled. And three or four newborn kittens emerged from the barn.

“Get it out of me,” Charlotte screamed. “Get it out!” When once modesty prevailed, she made no attempt to cover her exposed breasts. Instead Charlotte slapped at the nurse, the doctor’s daughter actually, with no real nurse training at all. Nurse or no nurse, Charlotte wasn’t about to let the young woman tie her fists to the bedpost that her husband hand carved for their marriage.

“You’ve got to push Charlotte.” The town’s only doctor leaned in and forcefully pried Charlotte’s knees apart.

Hatred peered through the dark hair that hung over Charlotte’s eyes. And she did happen to note that the recently purchased General Electric oscillating fan provided absolutely no relief. It was at her insistence that her husband paid the only electrician in fifty miles a small fortune to come out and wire the place. Before that, Dwight swore that they would do without the modern convenience. Despite his wealth, her husband was a man of simplicity.

“Get it out,” she screamed. “What kind of doctor are you? Ahhhhh!”

A pound sounded from the bedroom door. “Don’t let him in,” the doctor growled.


“Damn it Doc – what are y’all doing to her?”

Charlotte struggled to raise herself from the bed. Balance lost, she fell back onto the mattress. Before she could raise herself again the nurse had her left wrist yanked back. Charlotte pulled and fussed but had not the strength to fight the doctor’s daughter as she tied her wrist to the bedpost.

“You bitch!” Charlotte wiggled and squirmed. “Untie me,” she screamed.

A succession of pounds came from the bedroom door. “Give her some whiskey,” yelled the shaken male voice from behind it. Awaiting the birth of his first child, Dwight had no idea the trouble little ones made coming into this world. “My God Doc. I can’t stand it.” Thud, thud, thud.


The nurse made a movement towards the door. She didn’t think that she could stand it either. Her first birth as well, she thought that Dwight might help his wife through this ordeal.

“You stay put Dolly,” the doctor snapped.

“Come on Doc, let me in.”


“PUSH Charlotte.”

Before Charlotte even realized, the nurse had her other wrist successfully tied back to the bedpost. She tugged, but the knot only tightened.


“What do you think I’m doing – Damn you!”


Charlotte blew at the hair obstructing her view of the doctor for a better look at the man she intended to fire first thing in the morning. She swore underneath her breath that he’d never work in Dublin again – in the whole county of Erath for that matter.


Charlotte groaned, finding little energy to scream. An urge to pound her tied back fists overwhelmed her instead. Yanking her wrists only tightened the ties further. So she bucked like a wild horse and though it did not relieve the pain, possibly even worsened it, the ruckus at least provided her some satisfaction of having done something about the throbbing pain in her thighs that radiated up into the abdomen.

Dolly placed her hands on Charlotte’s belly and pushed in her father’s direction.

“Push,” he hollered again from the end of the bed. His hands still held her legs apart despite the wild bucking. Then finally, “I see the baby – yes siree, that’s a baby,” he said.

“Ahhhhh! Please Lord.”

“Push. You can do it Charlotte. Push.”

Charlotte bore down and let out another monstrous scream. Dolly jumped back. But then with a look from the doctor she fell onto Charlotte’s belly again pushing, pushing, pushing. Charlotte bore down and like with the last, thought this one would finish her strength.


Charlotte obeyed without complaint and with that, a small baldhead crowned between her legs. The doctor smiled, relieved. Charlotte found comfort in his expression.

The nurse leaned her weight into her hands placed on charlotte’s abdomen, and pushed from her end some more.

“Just a little longer,” Doc said. With a scalpel he cut her where she would otherwise tear. Charlotte shrieked – this scream was unlike all the others, one that would add three or four gray hairs and steal her voice for the next week.

A succession of pounds sounded from the door more forceful than before. “I’ll knock this door down,” Dwight threatened.

“Damn it, PUSH WENCH,” screamed the doctor.

“Daddy, please.”

The doctor’s cheeks blushed with embarrassment that his daughter should hear him use such language. But she’d have to get used to it, he reasoned, if she intended to work with him again.

Charlottes eyes bulged, but not over the language. “Damn you,” she mouthed. She whimpered a cry and bore down with all of her might.

“You can’t expect me to do this all myself,” the doctor said. With his forearm he wiped the sweat from his brow then bent in to gently tug at the newborn’s head. One shoulder slid out, then the next, and like a damn bursting, flowed the rest – a tiny pale chest, spidery arms, stomach, skinny legs with scrawny toes and along with it all, what everyone had been anxiously waiting for . . . a penis. Baby boy screamed furiously, seemingly angry that someone yanked him from a cozy sleep. His face flushed with color, his little legs squirmed and kicked.

“Will you look at that?” the doctor exclaimed. He held the baby up for Charlotte to see.

She reached out for her baby. “Thank God,” she whispered. “Thank God.” Charlotte could manage no other words. She merely whimpered as all the hate she had felt for the doctor faded away.

Thud, thud. “Come on Doc,” Dwight hollered.

“Let the father in.”

With the baby in arms the nurse unlatched the door then hurried over to the hand basin where she scrubbed the screaming boy clean. His bottom lip quivered from the chill. Even the hot August air of central Texas was cold compared to a mother’s womb.

Dwight usually didn’t mind the heat, never much did. People often commented how he rarely broke a sweat – even out beneath the hot sun as he drove his herd into town. Now, he just stood there, his felt hat pressed against his chest, his Sunday best shirt drenched in sweat. “Charlotte you did good,” he said. “We have a baby boy.” His voice cracked, his eyes teared up. He didn’t notice the agony across his wife’s face as the doctor leaned in with needle and thread, poking in and out of her skin, to repair the cut he’d made.

“Here you go, Papa,” the nurse said. “Congratulations.” Wrapped in a clean bed sheet, she handed baby Payne to Dwight. They all noticed that the world seemed to pause for a glimpse at the Payne heir. He would after all, have claim to some of the best land outside Dublin, Texas, not to mention the best herd of Red Angus west of the Mississippi. Even Dolly noticed the two cardinals that landed on the bedroom windowsill to take a peek. A gang of squirrels frolicked on the lawn below, as if to celebrate the newborn.

Clean baby in arms Dwight approached the nightstand and poured a tumbler of illegal brew. He often said, “I’ll be damned if any lawmaker’s gonna stop the whiskey from flowin’ here.” He went to his wife’s side and carefully poured the liquid into her mouth as she lay on her back looking up to him. Baby Payne closed his eyes. Red faced and crinkled nose, he yawned.

“Hurry it up Doc,” Dwight said.

The doctor pulled another stitch through. Then he laid the needle down and wiped the sweat from his forehead again. “You’ll want this done right if the missus plans on more younguns – specially if she’s wanting a delivery as easy as this.”

“You did good Charlotte,” Dwight repeated. He pulled the baby up to his clean-shaven face.

With a weak hand Charlotte reached up and caressed the sheet that held her son. “We’ll call him Jeremiah,” she said barely audible.

Dwight hesitated. He had hoped for a namesake.

“Jeremiah,” she whispered. She reached for his cheek then caressed her newborn’s sheet again. “Jeremiah Payne.” She paused to contemplate the sound of the names combined. “Yes, Jeremiah, like your granddaddy,” she whispered.

“Jeremiah,” Dwight repeated, nodding his head to confirm approval.

“And no one, Jeremiah Payne” she added, “no one will dare disrespect you.”

A full twelve hours passed before someone put Jeremiah Payne into the arms of his mother for the first time. Looking back she couldn’t recall just who that was. All she remembered from that moment was that the only person in the room was her baby boy, Jeremiah Payne. Before then she had ached a great deal and called on the nurse frequently to change bloody sheets. But with her son finally in her arms, she let the blood flow without a whimper. She had yearned for her baby boy too long to be bothered by pain, blood or anything silly like that.

At age twenty-nine Charlotte imagined that Jeremiah would be one of many in a long succession of children. In her perfect world, baby number one would have arrived before she turned twenty, nine months after her marriage to Dwight. Who lives in a perfect world? Perhaps Dwight, she thought. But Charlotte had not. She’d be damned if anyone was going to take that perfect world away from her son though.

She squeezed her infant, kissed him on the forehead. So peaceful, his eyes closed in deep sleep, she could see Dwight’s features in the boy – his high forehead, light eyebrows, long dark lashes. A single tear ran down Charlotte’s cheek in gratitude – certainly he would take on the traits of his grand daddy later on. It was after all what the fortuneteller said. Charlotte would have a dark-haired heir, a boy to rule over others, one of authority and great mission. Charlotte rocked him in her arms, humming the only lullaby she knew as a child, a tune her grandfather taught her. Jeremiah opened his eyes and appeared to gaze in the distance. Then they both fell asleep together in bed – a picture reminiscent of a Cassett painting, except for the bloody sheets.

Charlotte awoke empty handed to the nurse tugging at her undergarments. She gasped at the sight of her vacant arms.

“Time for a change Missus.”

“My baby?”

“Don’t you worry, he’s with his father.”

“His father,” Charlotte whispered. She felt relieved now having finally given Dwight a child, and a son at that. For years her constant prayers couldn’t give him that. She wondered what he’d think if he knew about her visits to the gypsy – the one who pitched her tent with other traveling families on the southeast corner of the Twitchell ranch. It had taken her weeks to gather up all the items the gypsy needed to cast her spell – a toad’s left leg, a thorn less branch of the mesquite, and one hundred, brand new dollar bills. The money, the gypsy needed to meditate over, as money was the root of all evil. Charlotte wasn’t sure if the quote went exactly like that, as she remembered her granddaddy once said, “it was the love of,” or something like that. Regardless, the fortuneteller promised to return the cash. Never did. But Charlotte considered it a worthwhile investment.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

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