1st Place – April 2022

She Wore a Red Dress

by Gary Christenson

I screamed in agony. Tears cascaded down my cheeks. My hands shook as I told my husband, “Howard, I lost the baby.” Light disappeared from the room. Dark shadows covered the windows, like riding in a hearse.

He wrapped his arms around me. “Samantha, we’ll be fine, and you’ll give birth to a beautiful child someday.”

“No, I won’t. I’ve lost six babies in the first or second trimester. I’ll never carry a child to term. I’m taking three sleeping pills, so I won’t slice my wrists. Good night!”

Howard gave me a hug, kissed me, and tucked me into bed.

The dreadful Dallas summer roasted our childless family. The Texas sun fried my garden, and I moped around the house, unwilling to leave the air-conditioning. My husband, bless his soul, did his best but couldn’t lift me out of my all-consuming depression, more debilitating than the 105-degree heat.

In October, the weather broke, and a tiny ray of hope entered our lives. Howard and I tried again, and again, to conceive. In November I felt something change inside me. I peed on a stick and cried with joy. Feeling hopeful, I scheduled an appointment with my OB-GYN in December.

Doctor Benton’s office depressed me. I obsessed over the memory of six lost babies and too many examinations in her office. I steeled myself, pushed the glass door open, and checked in with the nurse.

Minutes later, an adorable little girl pranced into the waiting room. Her blue eyes sparkled as she scanned expectant mothers reading magazines. She wore a red Christmas dress with a green belt and looked radiant. The dreary room filled with light. My anxiety faded like morning mist. Everyone smiled at her.

She stood in front of me and flashed her big blues. “Hello, I’m Mary. I’m six, almost seven. What’s your name?” To my surprise, her eyes communicated both wisdom and childlike innocence.

I said, “Hi, my name is Samantha. I’m pleased to meet you. Where’s your mother? Doesn’t she worry when you talk to strangers?”

Mary’s cute smile displayed a missing front tooth. She said, “My mother will be here soon, and she likes it when I talk to strangers. Besides, you and I will become friends.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled at her and prayed God would bless me with a beautiful child like her.

Mary waited a moment before she asked, “May I rub your tummy where your baby is growing?”

What an unusual request. Where is her mother? “I guess so.”

She placed her tiny hands on my slightly enlarged belly and rubbed in circles. Warmth and contentment filled my stomach. Peace and confidence washed over me. I couldn’t stop smiling. “Ahhh, that feels good.” I thanked God for this tiny miracle.

She smiled and said, “I wish you and your baby love and happiness.”

The nurse broke our magical moment when she called my name. “Samantha Johnson, please come with me.”

I stood, looked at Mary, and said, “Thank you. I hope to see you again.” After squeezing her hand, I followed the nurse to a sterile examination room where Doctor Benton told me my baby and I were healthy.

When I emerged, Mary had disappeared, and sunshine no longer streamed through the waiting room windows. Clouds blotted the sky, darkness filled the room, and anxiety gripped my gut. Other expectant mothers frowned at each other. I drove home feeling depressed while thinking about Mary, an amazing child. I missed her goodness and light.

***

Months later, I screamed, “Howard, my water broke. We need to go now!”

He grabbed my overnight bag while I changed into comfy clothes. Five minutes later, we drove to Mercy Hospital, disregarding speed limits. Nurses hustled me into a gown and a maternity bed, but a dilation to four wasn’t enough.

I went deeper into labor with heavy contractions. They lasted for hours, but I couldn’t fully dilate. Howard’s face had turned pale. He held my hand and reassured me, “Breathe! Breathe slowly and the baby will come.”

I yelled, “Oh, shut up.” Another contraction struck like a baseball bat smashing into my gut. I tensed while he mopped my forehead and then I screamed, “The baby isn’t coming and I’m dying. Something bad is happening. Call the doctor.”

Four contractions and four screams later, Doctor Benton and a nurse rushed into the room. She glanced at my eyes, looked at the chart, checked instruments, and examined me. Moments later, she said, “Howard, please step outside. The cafeteria is down the hall. Grab a cup of coffee and take an hour or more before you return. I need to reposition the baby before your wife can give birth.”

Howard turned white and rushed from my hospital room.

I screamed when another contraction slammed me into a deeper level of misery. I begged the doctor, “Please save my baby. Something is wrong, and I don’t want to die.”

Doctor Benton worked on me, but the pain and my anxiety increased. My tears soaked the bedding. I knew something was horribly wrong.

I passed out from pain and woke as the doctor announced, “I’ve done what I can. Now, we wait and see.” She and the nurse left me alone in my room.

Everyone had abandoned me. Dr. Benton had banished Howard from my room, and her ‘wait and see’ comment scared me. Between screams, I moaned. “I’m going to die alone and miserable. Please God, save my baby!”

My body ached, and I needed sleep, but that was impossible. The door opened and someone entered. Another contraction made me scream. “Owwww, this one is bad.”

After the pain subsided, I saw Mary, dressed in the same red dress and green belt she had worn in the doctor’s waiting room last December. Her blue eyes danced with light. She frowned and said, “I know, you hurt. And you’re scared. Let me help.”

She pushed a chair over to my bed, stood on it, and stroked my huge tummy. A few minutes later, the excruciating pain subsided, and I relaxed. She smiled at me and announced, “You’re safe now. The baby will come soon, and she’ll be healthy.”

Mary had reduced my pain to a fraction of what I had endured for hours. Somehow, I knew my baby and I would live. Now, after Mary had stroked my stomach, everything felt good and right with my pregnancy, even though I couldn’t explain it. Through tears of joy, I beamed at her and said, “My daughter and I thank you.”

Mary patted my stomach, smiled, and jumped off the chair. “I must go now, but you’ll be fine. I’ll watch over you.” A moment later, she disappeared, and I fell asleep.

Howard touched my shoulder, waking me. I gazed at him, and said, “I love you. We’re going to have a healthy daughter.”

He asked, “How are you? You look good. What changed?”

“I feel great! My xChristmas angel gave us a wonderful gift, a miracle that saved the lives of our daughter and me.”

An hour later, we delivered our darling baby girl. We named her Mary.

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