The Pickle Barrel Incident
copyright 2012 by Shan Jeniah Burton
Ella half-dropped, half-fell into the chair, sending an uncomfortable heavy jolt into her back, to join the dull, insistent pain that had been with her for the past three days.
She wasn’t at all sure she wanted a sandwich anymore – she had wanted it so intensely she could almost taste it, only a few minutes ago, but now that she was in the cool but crowded little deli, occupying a chair right near the door at the only available table and smelling aromas mixing and coagulating all around her, she felt disoriented and slightly nauseating.
The place was packed – it was Labor Day Saturday, and everyone, it seemed, had plans to be somewhere – and, maybe, the Pickle Barrel was the perfect stopping- off place for many of those plans.
Ella had always been a little overwhelmed by too many people, too many conversations, in too small a space, and, now, she was acutely aware of how the snatches of conversation wove and wound through one another, a whirling calliope of noise and ideas and laughter and edginess that made her feel oddly dizzy, as though she should be able to take it all in and understand it –
But she couldn’t.
“And so I told him he was grounded for a week, and he YELLED at me – ”
“I’m thinking of dying my hair blonde and trying Botox- maybe THEN he’ll notice -”
“She wants a nice house and a Lexus, then she bitches that I never spend time with her and the kids -”
“I’m not dead yet -”
The noise becomes a droning, irritating constant, meaning nothing, and Ella wondered why they’d come here, why she insisted to Mike that they needed to stop walking out in that damned Montana heat, and go into the deli, “where it’ll be cooler, and we can just sit and take it easy for a while.”
He stood at the counter, now, not looking back at her, because he was focused on the matter of procuring food…
Food she no longer wanted.
Ella felt herself shifting, away from the physical plane of empty conversation just meant to fill in the space between bites, and the mundanity of buying and eating food. It was just background, meaningless, punctuated by the occasional nuisance of someone passing by her chair, which was almost in the flow of traffic – the other tables were all full when they came in, and moving was too much of a bother, now that she was sitting at last.
That dull pain in her back sharpened – although she had known it would, Ella gasped at its power, then stared around the room as the band of pain tightened and wrapped itself hard around her belly…
She was sure everyone must be staring, and know that she was having a powerful contraction. She felt naked and raw and elemental, as though she were a wild animal, there in the deli, and surely everyone must be as held in that primal, seizing grip as she and her baby were…
But no one seemed to even notice her; so busy with their empty chatter and filling bellies –
The baby, as if protesting this forcible eviction, shoved a knee up under her rib, and Ella bit her lip to keep from crying out.
Suddenly, this seemed far too strange and public place to be, and Ella wanted to jump up and tell Mike they needed to get out of here, right now, and go back home, where their midwife was waiting for them.
But she couldn’t. The pain – insistent, indescribably powerful, and somehow, paradoxically, pleasant – would not allow it. Her mind was turned inward, and her energy was precious, being conserved for the birthing to come –
Mike had the sandwiches now, as the pain hit its peak, and was turning toward her, with a smile to see that she had found them a place.
As he began threading through the closely-strewn tables, Ella felt a gushing and a release of pressure, and the chair beneath her became very wet…
She was panting, now, and sweating, and, although Mike was saying something, she could not make out his meaning. she felt an instinctive need to curl herself around her middle, to bring all of herself to focus on her womb.
“Here’s your sub, Honey- I’ll go back for the drinks – ”
“Ma’am, I think you spilled your -”
Both men stopped; Ella didn’t have the focus, now, to answer either of them, as they silently stared.
The pain was subsiding, but, almost at once, another rolling wave built, and crested, hardly falling off before gathering again, and again….
Ella slipped from the chair, no longer caring who saw, and used it as a brace, and was barely aware of the exclamations and questions, as she shoved her shorts and panties down, and crouched right there, holding to the wooden chair for support.
There was nothing else but this, this compelling need to push, to bear down, to help the child make this first, most important journey….