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December 1, 2020


Bezalel Stern

Have you heard of Midas? I have a gift like that, except with bringing dead babies back to life. I stand outside the hospital in my town, smoking in the back alley, unobtrusive. When the doctors have tried everything, when they have given up, they come out back and sneak me in, past security, up to intensive care, the nicu. I save the children.

Sometimes, when I am walking around the streets of my town, of my city, I will wander into the shops, peek into the baby carriages. Once, just once, I saved a child that way. He was choking on a chicken bone, had already choked on it. He was too young for solid foods, his parents should have known better. When his mother saw me laying hands on her six-week old infant, she began to scream at me, not knowing that I had just saved her child’s life, brought it back from wherever it went to. I had to run away from there fast, to avoid being brought up on charges of kidnapping, reckless endangerment. To avoid looking like a freak.

At the hospital, where I work with my friend the doctor, I am more respected, or at least tolerated. The doctor, let’s call him Dr. G, because I don’t want his name out there for obvious reasons (it is not technically legal, what we do; the man could lose his license; plus, think of the insurance costs) and I met on a less happy occasion. Before we knew I had the gift.

On the night my son died I was sleeping. It was awful. I was sitting in the hospital and sleeping, in one of those hardback chairs they have outside the nicu because they don’t care about the backs of the parents who will likely be losing their newly recovered children. I had just gone to take a quick nap – I hadn’t slept much in the forty-seven hours since my wife had gone into labor (unexpected) and given birth via emergency c-section. I was not ready to be a father. I was supposed to have two more months. And then the baby came, and he was not ready. He was having trouble breathing, I was told. I was told, before we had come to the hospital, that we would be with the baby all of the time. Everything was made to sound so pleasant, so regulated. Now I was alone, my wife was (they told me) recovering in intensive care and my son was in an intensive care ward of his own, and I was outside the locked double doors, waiting for somebody to tell me what the hell was going on.

I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. It wasn’t right of me, with my wife and child’s lives hanging in the balance. Selfish. To console myself, I remind myself that I did not know yet that I had this gift, that I could have saved my son, if only I had been able to touch him. I never touched him.

When Dr. G came to find me, woke me up, told me Eric was gone (Eric is what we had named him; a wasted name, now), I cried and asked if I could go home. I went home and slept for at least a day, maybe more. I never held my child; I never felt his lack of breath turning into a faint, rhythmic breathing in my arms, as I would for so many other children, as the years went by.

Our marriage didn’t last. It was too hard. We would look at each other, my wife and I, and think of the little child that almost came between us and then disappeared, shattering everything in his wake.

How did I recognize I had this gift? I don’t know. It was, maybe, the time when I stole into the nicu to look at the dying babies. I couldn’t help it. It was something I did, at first, out of curiosity – what did it look like, behind those iron doors, beyond the gaze of the glazed over security guard. I donned the purloined scrubs and made the mad dash behind a preoccupied nurse and I was inside. Around me, everything was frantic. I saw a baby who for all the world could have been Eric, if Eric would have been alive. He was dying. I could tell. I needed to touch him, I wanted to feel his warmth in my hands, in my arms. I touched him and he recovered. I could tell by his breathing, becoming less faint, harder to strain to hear, easier to notice.

It was at that time that Dr. G noticed me. One thing led to another and now here I am. The wraith of the hospital ward. Saving all the children who are not mine.

Like Midas, it is my curse.