Rachel Schwartz

Shereef tentatively enters the private hospital room, a can of Coca Cola in hand. Ilani lies in bed. There is a bouquet of flowers with a balloon attached to it on the windowsill. She nurses the tiny baby in her arms. Shereef approaches the bed, blinking back the harsh daylight flooding in from the lone window.

Ilani takes the baby away from her breast and cradles it. Shereef leans in and kisses her neck, then playfully bites her shoulder. She pushes him away with a quick swipe of her long red nails and goes back to nuzzling the baby. Shereef utters an exasperated sigh and, pouting, goes to the chair in the corner. He moves the bassinet with a little stuffed bumblebee at the bottom to the floor and sits down. His head lolls sleepily, his eyes narrowing to slits with Ilani and his child the final sight before darkness takes over.


Shereef Houseman grips the hand of Ilani Tigra, his other hand pushed tightly against his head, palm covering his ear. The couple’s intertwined hands reveal matching, cheap gold wedding bands set against chocolate and mocha skinned backdrops. Shereef tries unsuccessfully to suppress the wild, animalistic screams of Ilani as her body racks and heaves against the operating table of Mercy Hospital’s obstetrics’ ward.

An array of doctors and nurses scramble for various sharp, prying instruments. One of the nurses shakes her head at the heart monitor, which shows two dropping pulse rates on its screen. Shereef looks longingly at the door behind him, the only exit.

Ilani continues to scream and another nurse thrusts an IV into her arm. The room swarms with surgical masks and scrubs. Shereef stares at the nurses and doctors. Their exchanges are only Charlie Brown warblings. There isn’t enough air in the room.

A nurse throws a thin blue smock over Ilani’s belly. Her tight polyester camisole has shimmied its way up over the lower part of her breasts, exposing her oversized nipples, her best feature.

Shereef brushes Ilani’s hair out of her face, and then recoils in disgust. Rivers of sweat run off his hand like waterfalls. Ilani is no longer Ilani. She is a creature. A dark thrashing thrusting animal. A pig. A pig woman. His pig woman. He draws back but his hand is still cuffed to her. The death grip.

The doctors huddle around the edge of the surgical table. They are up to their elbows in blood. One of them reaches for Ilani’s end zone. Shereef doesn’t see it coming. The lab coated shoulders barreling into his chest, the snap of his ribs, and the weightlessness of his fall. The perfect tackle.

Shereef’s back thumps against the tile wall, then his head. His cuffed hand snaps back against his chest, his own once more. His body folds and he embraces the floor, the human puddle. His eyes roll into the back of his head.


The surgical room is empty. Ilani is perched on the table, head cocked to one side. Still wearing her tight camisole and miniskirt. Her body is now slender though, her midsection tight and defined. Her hair is long and sleek. Her lips are slick with gloss.

She motions with one finger. Shereef walks towards her. Kisses her. She pulls back. Entwines her hand with his own. Gone are the matching gold bands. She is no longer his. No longer dark or thrashing or thrusting. Not an animal. Certainly not a pig.

She puts his finger in her mouth, takes it out, and then slides it down her body towards her crotch. Ilani and Shereef exchange knowing grins. She leans back against the table and gracefully scissors her legs apart. He leans over her and pulls her thin skirt up.

Ilani suddenly keels backwards sharply, moaning in pain. A tiny bloody foot wriggles from underneath her skirt. Shereef jumps back in horror and falls to the floor.


A doctor offers his hand to Shereef. The room is full of medical practitioners once more. Embarrassed, Shereef pushes the hand away and climbs to his feet.
Ilani is propped up on the table, weary, eyes glazed. She holds a blanket awkwardly in her arms. Two nurses stand beside her, efficiently taking her blood pressure. The doctors toss off their gloves and jog out of the room, on to the next game.

Shereef leans over her and sees the baby’s face. Scrunched, dark, wet. Ilani smiles, satisfied with the birth of her messiah. Ilani offers the blanket to Shereef. The baby coughs slightly. Shereef pushes it away but it is forced onto him again. He cautiously accepts the gift. A piercing wail emanates from the creature right before he makes contact. Shereef takes a step back and accidentally bumps into the wall again.


The baby coughs loudly. Shereef opens his eyes, searching out the sound. In the bed, Ilani is asleep. The baby lays precariously on the edge of the bed, moaning and shaking about.

Shereef jumps out of his seat and grabs the baby as it inches towards its death. Close. The baby makes a gurgling noise, as if clamoring for breath. Shereef pats it on the back. Once, twice, again. The baby spits up all over Shereef. Then the crying begins. Shereef looks desperately to Ilani. Asleep and resting.

Shereef resumes a bouncing motion. Stops, remembering the disastrous results. He picks up a Kleenex from the box on the window and wipes at the little face. He cradles the baby and rocks it back and forth. Nothing. The cries get louder and more urgent. Shereef starts humming "Ain’t Nutting but a G-Thang." The baby is not a Snoop Dog fan.

Shereef grabs the toy bee from the bassinet at his feet and floats it in front of the baby. The baby quiets down nicely. Shereef floats his son in a superman fashion, matching the flight of the bumblebee. Even better. The baby almost claps his hands in mock appreciation. Shereef takes one hand and compares it to his own. David and Goliath. Shereef takes the little hand and puts it to his cheek. Such soft skin.

The baby coughs again. Shereef opens his eyes, concerned once more. He strokes the baby’s cheek and it stops coughing. Shereef stands there for who knows how long. Time does not exist. Nothing exists save this.


Shereef enters the hospital room, zipping his fly. Ilani’s head rests against the shoulder of a nurse. Tears soak her face. A red faced doctor in a white lab coat stands at the foot of her bed with a clipboard in hand. The doctor turns on his heels and walks past Shereef and out the door without saying a word.

Shereef approaches Ilani’s bed. The nurse leaves the room. Ilani turns her back to him and rests on her side. Shereef glances around the room. Flowers, balloon, bassinet. Without its occupant.

He pulls at Ilani’s shoulder and makes her face him. She keeps her head bowed. He shakes her shoulders. She pushes him off her then stops and hugs him tightly, so tightly. He pushes her away and looks at her eyes welling with tears. She shakes her head "no." Oh.

Shereef goes limp. He sits on the bed. Ilani moves over and makes room for him. He lies down on the bed on top of the covers. He takes her hand and compares the size of it to his own. Samson and Delilah. He entwines his hand with hers, their wedding bands casting rainbows against the wall of the room.

There’s a lump in the bed. He investigates. The bumblebee. Shereef picks it up and moves towards Ilani. They hold each other close, Shereef curled up in the fetal position against her slim stomach. He floats the bee in front of him, floats it in front of the window and into the setting sun. Fly away little bee.