It was unnatural, the silence that followed the screaming of seconds before, and FF was certain that it was not a good sign. Pacing, such a good idea before, now seemed out of place and over anxious, like he was trespassing in his own domain. His hands clasped behind his back strained for some other action, which is why he kept them clamped there with a tremendous force of will. Unusually he could feel his moustache tickling his top lip and his nostrils. He wanted to sneeze. He wanted it all to be over.
The balding man before him coughed again, slightly and with some tremor. “We… ah…”
Snapping his eyes to meet those of the small man, FF frowned. “Yes?”
“A decision, sir, we need a decision.”
The silence lingered. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t right. “A decision.”
“Well, more- that is- we need your decision.”
“Quite right,” FF puffed his chest out to emphasise his point, “Quite right. Very well. Yes.”
“I consent. Pull the bastard out.”
“Yes sir.” The little balding man scurried away, almost ratlike FF reflected, and then closed the door. There was a little commotion from beyond that door, sounds like people talking quietly. A groan escaped FF’s wife.
When the screaming resumed it was loud, lusty and long. But, reflected FF, at least it was right. Pacing resumed for a short while, and then his hands stopped straining, the screaming continued as he turned on his heel, took a seat and pulled out his hip flask. A swift slug of whiskey warmed his insides, the fire of Dutch courage as his father would have said, God rest his soul, and FF felt more like himself. He inspected the artwork on the walls, some of it the traditional style and some of it the more modern stuff coming out of Spain and Italy. He didn’t really know what to make of it all – lines and splotches and colours intermingling. All a lot of rot, of course, the true masters of the art were all gone now. No one seemed to have time to study the classics properly and no one seemed to have learned anything from the history books. He harrumphed and sat back more heavily in the chair to wait.
Presently the screaming stopped. FF stood, dusted himself down from any dirt, imaginary or otherwise, and walked briskly to the door. There was a new sound, mewling and pathetic, and that announced the entry into the world of the little bastard who must now meet his father. He hoped that everyone would be decent. Door thrust open with a little more force than was strictly necessary, FF entered the room. Ignoring the woman on the bed whom fate had made his wife, her legs strapped down to the iron frame to allow better access and covered with the aftermath of delivery by forceps, and nodding to the surgeon with his paper mask FF turned to face the two nurses hastily wrapping the mewling bundle.
“Is that it?”
One of the nurses made to curtsey, but stopped when she realised no one else was doing so. Out in the provinces old habits died hard and FF felt a flash of recognition at the gesture. The old ways were dying out. “Yes, sir, it’s a boy.”
“Hmm.” It came out as an admonishment. “I know. Is it healthy?”
“Good.” Squinting he could almost see a face in amongst the bundle and blood. “Shouldn’t it be louder than that?” He waved irritably at the first nurse to open her mouth. “Never mind, the bastard will do, I suppose.” As if noticing the woman on the bed for the first time he started a little. “Clean her up and get her decent, she’ll be home by the evening,” then to the woman herself, “I think we’ll have steak tonight. I shall be back in the evening.” His hands went back to their old position above his rear. “Doctor, thank you, it must have been a difficult one. I hope the bastard didn’t give you too much trouble, sir.”
“No more than one would expect,” the Doctor answered with a tired smile.
FF clapped him on the shoulder, once, then walked to the door. “I think this calls for a little celebration.” And then he was gone.
“Can- Can I hold him?” whimpered the woman on the bed, her legs were still immobile, her face still drawn from the pain and a sheen of sweat still glistened from the travails. “I want- I want to hold him.”
“No, dearie, you just rest yourself,” replied a nurse in a businesslike fashion, “Doctor here’s got to stitch up that nasty tear before you’ll be up to moving much. We’ll see the boy is well looked after, don’t you worry yourself. Get you home and rested in no time.” She fluffed a pillow and thrust it under the woman’s head brusquely, but not unkindly. “Steak’ll help you feel right soon enough.” A thin smile of comfort.