By Steve Emmerson
© Steve Emmerson 2001
A scream exploded out of her as Veta Manni sensed the oncoming pain like a rapidly expanding storm. It hit. Ripped through her. Subsided and left her shivering and gasping for air. She chased rivers of sweat from her face and tried to prepare for the next giant wave. Her body was a wreck. Muscles and sinews torn apart by the tornadoes that struck one after another. A relentless, perpetual torture. She thought she must have experienced heights of agony well up there in the outer reaches of human tolerance.
And it was building again. She gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. The pain came with terrifying intensity. She lost her grip. Howled and screamed and produced animal sounds that weren’t her voice. She was so entirely lost in the suffering now that she felt she’d left her body and crashed around in a tumultuous sea of pain.
Josef watched his wife undergoing her private torment, and the fear tore at his throat. His insides were knots. He took her hand, feeling powerless to help. As the pain died away, she gripped his hand tight and gasped for air. He leaned in close and kissed her cheek, then found her eyes imploring him.
‘More drugs,’ she pleaded.
Josef shook his head sorrily. ‘They won’t let you. Too dangerous.’
‘I can’t go on, Joe.’
‘Course you can,’ he told her, forcing a smile into his face. But he wasn’t so sure. She was visibly weakening now. Wet with sweat and quivering with a mixture of exhaustion and fear. Her eyes were dark hollows, full of dread thoughts. He swallowed back the compulsion to sob and tried to force down inside him the feelings that were screaming to get out.
The past six months had been a huge strain on both of them. Even before today, and the panic of the baby arriving a whole two months early, Josef had long been gravely worried for his wife and their child. It had been one endless catalogue of terrors. The abnormal scans, the changes in Veta, the intense bouts of sickness. His wife had gone from being a blissful prospective mum to a physical and psychological wreck in the space of those six immeasurable months.
Sensing movement behind him, Josef turned to find Dr Pryce in the doorway, regarding them with a curiously absent look as if his mind were elsewhere. There were two nurses behind him, and a man in a suit who Josef didn’t recognise. Pryce’s face abruptly broke into a disarming smile and he stepped into the room to look over Veta.
‘Everything going all right?’ Pryce asked, not bothering to introduce the nurses and suited man who’d followed him in and now stood observing Veta’s naked bottom half with a keen scrutiny.
Josef threw the sheet over his wife’s legs and nodded uncertainly. For a moment there was only the sound of Veta’s coarse breathing as she prepared for the next contraction. Then she began to scream and Josef grasped her hand, this time feeling her squeeze so hard he thought she was going to crush the bones in his fingers. The scream lasted forever, and all Josef could do was watch the suffering so obvious in her contorted face. This wasn’t his wife. His wife was a pretty girl, not this snarling, screeching, crimson-faced monster.
The wave subsided and Josef was relieved to feel the pressure on his fingers released. Veta was sobbing gently now, and she watched him through her tears for a moment before recovering her voice.
‘Next time,’ she hissed, ‘you can have the baby.’