Scene 3

MALE DOCTOR’s office. MRS. SWANSON and MALE DOCTOR. MRS. SWANSON is very pregnant. MALE DOCTOR, though entirely compassionate, is also very busy, and he speaks quickly.

MALE DOCTOR: (He is periodically writing, filling out forms, and referring to notes throughout this scene.) There’s a problem—no, sorry, there’s no problem. That’s “Swenson.” You’re Swanson. Sorry. Now, we did some more tests on your little man. Everything looks very good. His Babinski Reflex, for example.

MRS. SWANSON: Is that where you—

MALE DOCTOR: (Interrupting, nodding.) Right—that’s where we stroke the foot to see if the toes curl. We do this with sound and tiny beams of light. We can do almost all these tests prior to the actual birth, now. It’s incredible. In a few more years, people won’t even have to be born. Anyway, he was magnificent. The first expressive gesture. From that little curl of the toes to all of the world’s bibles and languages, it’s just a matter of time. Everybody watched on the monitor. You probably heard a cheer go up from the other room. It’s like a space launch. Long way away, but, he could be a tiny little Beethoven, your boy. Get him a fun little drum or a bell. Now, will the father be in the room with you?

MRS. SWANSON: He said he would, yes.

MALE DOCTOR: Good. It’s good to have someone. This is literally going to be the first day of the rest of your baby’s life. Linguistically, you’ll want to start him out small. Simple words like hi and juice and tree and bye-bye. Say whatever you feel. Most of it happens on a vibrational level, anyway.

INTERCOM: (A brief staticky buzz. A voice comes over the office intercom.) I’m sorry, Doctor—I have Mrs. Swenson on the line.

MALE DOCTOR: (Brief pause. To INTERCOM:) Tell her I’m very sorry. I’ll have to call her right back. (To MRS. SWANSON:) Excuse me. That’s a sad story. But, back to you. We’ll generate a birth certificate, of course. That’ll start up the paper trail. Do you have a name?

MRS. SWANSON: We’re thinking possibly “John.”

MALE DOCTOR: “John” is perfect. Biblical, one syllable, no complicated back-story, just “John.” “John Swanson.” It’s like a little poem. (Very brief pause.) What else?

MRS. SWANSON: Can I ask you… sorry, this is so general, but… I mean, what should I do? How should I be?

MALE DOCTOR: Those are great questions. And here’s my answer. Love is all. It sounds so simple, I know, but, give him love. Without it, he’ll just go around the world saying different things and seeing this and that and none of it’ll make any difference. You’ve seen the type. Out in the rain, just kind of rattling around in their bodies. But, it’s easy. This is the time for smiles and simple rhymes. Let’s see you smile. (MRS. SWANSON smiles. He barely smiles.) Great. Wow. Did you see? You made me smile, too. Let’s be honest, part of the whole great March of Humanity is just swinging your arms and walking, just smiling and moving forward. One other thing is: you never know. So be forgiving, of yourself, of him, of nature, everything. Nature is so insane, it’s so rough, and we’re just humans, just these chatty mammals with different names and colorful clothing. So, forgiveness, forgiveness and love, and you’re all set. Now, I’m speaking quickly, and I’m sure there’s a lot of huge gaps in my thinking. Apologies, I’m sorry, I make this speech a lot.

MRS. SWANSON: No, no, it’s great, it sounds completely unrehearsed. Thank you. I’m grateful for anything. It’s good to hear these things. (She rubs her eye.)

MALE DOCTOR: Does your eye itch?

MRS. SWANSON: A little. Is that a problem?

MALE DOCTOR: Just for you. Because it itches.

MRS. SWANSON: Oh, right. Is there anything else I should do? In the first little while?

MALE DOCTOR: Just hold him tight, hold the little human tight. Sing as much as you can. After the first few weeks, the amniotic fluid will drain from his ears. Before that, mercifully, everything is just a muffled kind of music. Same as in the womb. Right now, to him, most words probably sound a lot like the word “mother.” Or “hearth” or “Earth,” something indistinct like that, sort of rounded off. Who knows what shamanistic sense he’s making of it all, you know? (He speaks toward her belly.) “Mahherhm. Herhomm. Mome gavnerma thurn.” As far as he knows, the whole world is a soft little murmur of gentle intent. His instinct is going to be to trust life. His actual animal instinct—I never get over this—is to hold your hand. He’s in there, right now, listening, forming, waiting to hold your hand. Wow, huh? Neither science nor religion has yet undone the wonder of the crying baby in air and light, grasping onto a finger.

MRS. SWANSON: You make it all sound so noble. Which it is, which I’m sure it is. (Brief pause.) I’m sort of alone, in this, at the moment. I’m sort of afraid, sometimes. It’s hard to believe so many women have done this before.

MALE DOCTOR: Oh, but they did. And they were scared. And they did great. So be scared. Be yourself. You look great. You look like someone’s mother. Don’t forget—it’s so easy to forget, but—everyone in the world was born. Try to name someone who wasn’t? You can’t. So just be a part of the whole crazy thing. The rest is details, little tests, taps of a tiny hammer. Oh, take one of these. (He hands her a tiny white cotton hat.) I get these free. Isn’t it great? Did you ever see a tinier hat? Anyway, don’t worry, why worry, come on, it’s life. It’s just good old life, been going on for years. (Brief pause.) It’s a lot, all at once, isn’t it.

MRS. SWANSON: Well, it’s just all sort of surreal.

MALE DOCTOR: It is. But it’s also sort of real. But, you’re right, it’s strange. A little person inside you is going to come out of you.

MRS. SWANSON: It’s almost vaudevillian.

MALE DOCTOR: It is, yes. (He doesn’t laugh.) That’s very funny. But let’s not overthink it. This is one time it makes good sense to just sit back and breathe and try to believe in miracles.

MRS. SWANSON: All right, I will. (Brief pause.) What happens to you when you’re born? (Very brief pause.) Does it hurt?

MALE DOCTOR: Okay. Distress is certainly the first event. I’m sure there’s a lot of pain, maybe even infinite pain, seeing as all we’ve known before has been infinite warmth. Even the gentlest birth must feel like a car crash. We’ll probably never know the full effect. It could be the full effect is our life, our personality. Then it’s over. He’ll fall asleep in your arms, on your chest. He’ll grasp your finger, because that’s what the deepest thing in him tells him to do. It’s so beautiful, it’s so mysterious. You won’t believe it. We have three.

MRS. SWANSON: Congratulations. That must be great.

MALE DOCTOR: It is. They are. My wife—her name is Jen—she said she forgot the pain, the worry, everything, the second she saw our firstborn. And she suddenly understood this word she’d been hearing all her life— Love. I felt it, too. You can’t really describe it. As for the actual birth, we were worried, too, but, no surprises.

MRS. SWANSON: I’m glad. (Brief pause.) What about yours?

MALE DOCTOR: What, my own birth? Oh. I don’t know. I’m sure it was fine.

MRS. SWANSON: Were you close to your mother?

MALE DOCTOR: I don’t know, yeah, you know—just regular mother and son. She’s still with us. Great lady. (Very brief pause.) What else, anything else?

MRS. SWANSON: I’m sure, but nothing I can think of.

MALE DOCTOR: I see you brought some stay-over things. Good. You’re going to be great. Now, I’m sorry, please, excuse me. I really have to return this phone call. Go take a stroll. Walking is good. It’s what we do. We hold hands and we walk. Activity can help the labor along. All right?

MRS. SWANSON: Thank you. Yes. Thanks.

MALE DOCTOR: Good. Perfect. Sorry I have to rush.

MRS. SWANSON: No, I appreciate your time. If I think of anything or if I have any—you’re busy, sorry, thanks. Bye.

MALE DOCTOR: Great. Sorry. See you soon. (MRS. SWANSON exits. MALE DOCTOR begins looking through some paperwork.) Now, Swenson, Swenson… Swenson or Swanson? (Quickly checks some other paperwork.) Swenson. One vowel away. Ahhhh. Eeee. Owww.